Building Relationships: It’s wonderful seeing people connecting more. My husband and I take time on Sundays to connect with our siblings, where it would have been much more ad hoc. We’re also much more intentional about connecting with our parents and making sure they are doing okay.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of my series about how women leaders in tech and STEM are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Kilback.
Jennifer Kilback is the COO of Hyper Hippo Entertainment, a mobile development studio, headquartered in Kelowna, British Columbia. Before joining Hyper Hippo, Jennifer was Director, Business Administration at Disney’s Club Penguin, one of the most popular virtual worlds for children. She has 21 years of experience in tech, and her strengths include strategic thinking, people development, and being a catalyst for positive change.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I’ve always loved working in a creative environment. I started my career working at a radio station, which had a lot of very unique personalities working at it. I’ve taken that creativity with me by finding ways to be innovative from a business perspective.
Working in startup environments, I have had to look at how to do things differently because they often haven’t been done before. For example, when I started working at the virtual world, Club Penguin, we were the first company to do a subscription model for children. We had to figure it out. I discovered that I have an aptitude for problem-solving and that I really enjoy a challenge.
At Hyper Hippo, I’m applying those creative and startup learnings towards the strategic planning of our growing company.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
When I first started at Hyper Hippo, Lisa, our Team Support coordinator at the time, told me that it didn’t matter what my role or title was that the team always came first. If I was going to make changes, they would have to be with a team-first perspective.
That strongly held belief of people first feeds into our player-first values as well and was a valuable initiation into the ethos of Hyper Hippo when I first joined the company. The fact that this pointer came from our office administrator gives credence to the depth of its belief throughout the organization!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Now more than ever, people are turning to entertainment, and we’re in the exciting process of creating four new games that we’ll launch this year. We hope this content will bring joy to people in the breaks they have during their day.
At the same time, we are continuing to focus on enhancing our Adventure games as we believe that games have the power to connect people, which is so important during this time.
We have joined the #PlayApartTogether movement, and we’re also doing a lot of charitable giving. We recently made a donation to the United Nations Foundation, and we’re making regular contributions to local charitable organizations throughout the pandemic.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’d have to say my husband. He has continually made sacrifices to help me get where I am today. When it was just him and I, before kids, he would spend his weekends doing the shopping and the cleaning so I could study.
We shared duties equally when the kids were small and we both had full-time careers. As the kids outgrew daycare and became more involved in extracurricular activities, he has steadfastly taken on the chauffeuring and the majority of the household responsibilities. He has been my biggest cheerleader and has always been fully behind my executive career.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?
It’s certainly a challenging time. Because I’m working from home, the family is integrated with me. My 16-year-old daughter has an intellectual disability, and she suffers from anxiety. When she is uncertain of her daily schedule, she seeks constant reassurance about what’s next, so having a routine is really important for her.
My eldest daughter is graduating from high school this year and the reality of missing out on the events that typically mark the end of the school years has added to the emotional roller coaster of isolation for her. ,
Although my husband is doing the majority of the homeschooling, my needs are divided between the office and the family. I can distance at the office, but at home, I’m mom and COO at the same time.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is knowing how to split my attention when I have conflicting priorities — I might have someone walk through the door at home needing me at the same time as a team member is sharing something deep and important on a video call. It’s difficult to know how to stay focussed — and on who.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We’ve worked hard to instill a sense of structure into our days. I try to start the day like I would when I was going into the office. I kiss everyone goodbye in the morning, and then I go to my desk. I close my door when I need to and use noise-cancellling earbuds.
I have advocated for our daughter to receive education assistance while she is doing schooling at home as she does while attending school. The support has been minimal, which is disappointing, but we’re figuring out how to adapt school work and find new routines and patterns. We’ve sought opportunities for her to connect digitally with friends and family as she is very social, and her favourite part of any activity has always been the people.
We are also working out how to mark the graduation occasion for our older daughter under these circumstances. She bought a beautiful vintage prom dress at an antique store in Calgary. The dress is a timeless classic from the 1950s with a trailing halter neckline in pink chiffon. It’s so disappointing that she wouldn’t be wearing it to the traditional prom, but I’m going to engage a professional photographer to take pictures of her in the dress. Hopefully, we’ll be able to invite a few friends and family to celebrate her in person.
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?
One of the biggest challenges that I am facing is separating work and home, It’s so easy to sit back down at my desk in the evenings or on the weekends to check Slack and emails or do a couple of “quick” tasks.
I’m also struggling with the lack of informal connection with the team, we have a couple of kitchen and lounge areas at the office, and I try to make it a habit to spend time in those areas to make casual connections. Those interactions and walking around the office provide a pulse and insight into how people are doing. I’m also mindful of keeping the team connected to what’s happening across our company and to our overall purpose and vision during this time.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges
Well, I try to limit the amount of work I do outside of work hours, however, if I have to do something, I’ll do it at the kitchen table so I can be around the family but still get a jump on the day ahead.
In terms of maintaining connections, I’m trying to be more mindful and more intentional. I don’t just jump into our calls with updates, but take time to check in with people. Plus, I try and reach out to people that I don’t often have meetings with to see how they are faring.
In addition to our weekly all team stand-up, I’ve also set up weekly meetings with the entire team to answer questions, do leadership training, and share project updates across the company. We have to understand and accept that this is the new norm, and regular, consistent communication is needed now more than ever.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
There are four things that have been vital for me in working from home:
- Having a schedule and routine for everyone in the household, even the dog!
- Having a workspace with a door that closes, it allows me to focus and gives a clear indicator that I’m at work when the door is closed.
- Sitting down with my husband and defining our roles and responsibilities related to homeschooling and housework has helped us coordinate our schedules to meet the needs of the family and work responsibilities.
- And last but not least, my husband and I do our best to keep communication going throughout the day, and often text each other in the house.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place for long periods with your family?
Regular exercise and getting outside every day, connecting with family and friends on video calls and social media, and working on projects around the house are all helping to keep me sane. I’m fortunate to live in an area with amazing hiking trails that are still open, and I try to take advantage of that on the weekends. Currently, we’re painting our gazebo and planting a vegetable garden as well.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- Building Relationships: It’s wonderful seeing people connecting more. My husband and I take time on Sundays to connect with our siblings, where it would have been much more ad hoc. We’re also much more intentional about connecting with our parents and making sure they are doing okay.
- Supporting Others: We’re thinking about which local businesses we can support. When we do order takeout, we find that there’s a mutual exchange of appreciation. It’s really heartwarming.
- Quality Time: I really appreciate spending more time with my daughters — and they’re enjoying spending more time with each other. I walk into the room and see them hanging out together. It’s lovely.
- Slowing Down: This experience is forcing us to appreciate the little things in life. I’m enjoying the beauty of spring. This is the first season in our new house and the hydrangea is growing as a vine on our backyard fence. I don’t even know what color it’s going to be, so it’s exciting to watch the transition each day.
- Reflecting on What Matters: Health and family, we take them for granted in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. This time is helping us refocus and reevaluate and consider how we’re going to change our lives when this period is over.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to your family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I think it’s important to remember we’re all in this together, it helps put things into perspective. That’s been helpful for me. It’s normal to feel anxious right now, we need to be compassionate to ourselves and others as we deal with difficult emotions.
I find it helpful to draw out the good things in this situation and to reflect on them. Having a positive mindset helps me sleep better, stay focused, and enjoy every day.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
When the kids were small, a good friend shared with me a saying her mother-in-law would remind her of when she was struggling, “This too shall pass.” It gave me hope then when the kids were teething, tantruming, and not sleeping through the night, and it gives me hope now as we walk day by day through this pandemic.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!