Faculty and Staff

Chatting, connecting with colleagues over cups of coffee

September 21, 2021
Krisztina Fulop, left, program coordinator for the Semester in Dialogue and Brenda Tang, associate director of the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue catch-up over lattes outside Nemesis Coffee in Vancouver.

One of the joys of returning to campus has been seeing old friends and reconnecting with colleagues over a hot cup of coffee or tea.

With many staff and faculty returning to SFU campuses after almost two years of mostly working and teaching remotely, SFU launched a ‘bring a friend to coffee’ initiative to help employees connect socially again.

“I was elated to see my colleagues again and to see some for the very first time, as I had only met them on Zoom,” says Brenda Tang, associate director of the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue. “I somehow feel that everyone has gotten taller ­– or maybe I've gotten shorter. I'm an extrovert by nature so it's been very emotionally gratifying and soul-feeding to see folks.”

The ‘bring a friend to coffee’ program is one of several initiatives raised by SFU’s community building and wellbeing recovery committee, one of SFU’s COVID recovery planning teams.

Mark McLaughlin, chief commercial services officer for SFU Ancillary Services, says his team planned for a number of months different ways for staff and faculty to re-connect and one of them was the coffee connection idea. Hundreds of coffee coupons were given out to staff and faculty on all three campuses to encourage people to meet, chat and catch-up outside the office environment.

Melissa Smith, left, liaison librarian for the Faculty of Education at Fraser Library, and Carolyn Caseñas, user services and engagement librarian at Fraser Library, enjoy their Blenz coffees at SFU's Surrey campus.

“I was excited and a little hesitant to see my colleagues in-person,” admits Carolyn Caseñas, user services and engagement librarian at Fraser Library in Surrey. “On the one-hand, it is a sign that things are improving, but on the other hand, I hadn’t interacted with people outside my immediate circle, in person, in over year.”

Caseñas adds that despite her initial hesitancy, the conversation – she and her friend Melissa Smith (liaison librarian for the Faculty of Education at Fraser Library) chatted about their dogs, gardening and staying healthy as they walked back from Blenz with their teas – made her feel more at ease to be back in the workplace and grateful to have such great colleagues.

To make the program a reality, Ancillary Services worked with vendors at all three campuses – Renaissance Coffee and Starbucks at Burnaby campus; Nemesis Coffee at Vancouver campus; and Blenz Coffee at Surrey campus. The coupons entitle bearers to two complimentary coffees or teas and is good until the end of September.

“We thought the coffee program was a good, low-key way to get people out and about on campus with a colleague,” says McLaughlin. “We also wanted to show some support to our local coffee shops, some of who really struggled during COVID with few customers. It’s great to see the campus vibrancy coming back and I feel that this fall it is better than ever.”

For Nina Smart, subject librarian for gerontology, public policy, and urban studies at SFU Harbour Centre, it was just nice to meet with colleagues without having to schedule it on Zoom.

“The hardest part of the pandemic was the isolation,” says Smart. “Speaking remotely is just not the same.”

Smart, who sat with a cappuccino in the sunshine outside Nemesis, chatted with her colleagues about the passage of time and how the office had a “time capsule” sort of feel, with dried-up elastic bands that kept snapping.

For her part, Tang and her colleague Krisztina Fulop also discussed the trapped-in-time feel of their office, with its old pamphlets and out-of-date calendars.

“It feels that I have forgotten how to talk to people in a natural setting,” says Tang, who walked to Nemesis Coffee with Fulop and got their lattes to-go.

“I'm thrilled to be able to chat with my colleagues again both in our Centre and see the faces of folks that work around campus.”