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Life at athenahealth: So Much Fun, It’s Scary

by Jitin Asnaani, Director of Technology Standards and Policy

Over the past three months, I’ve spent a lot of time on college campuses, talking to dozens of potential athenistas about life at our cloud-based services company. During these chats, and especially during “infosession” presentations, I talk about how the athenahealth culture emphasizes authenticity, transparency, teaching & learning, and community--while driving the innovation of EHR services and other health information technology. 

Although there’s an array of efforts and investments that go into building a community, here at athenahealth we simply refer to it as “having fun.” It’s a point we drive home during our campus recruiting efforts through antics like, say, shooting each other with Nerf guns during career fairs. Lucky students who are invited to interviews on the athenahealth campus sometimes witness how dedicated we can be to our particular flavors of fun and say, electronic health records

Today, for instance, between interviews, a prospective athenista from Harvard noticed some curious drawings on outside panels facing the interview room. He asked me what they were and since I had never paid attention to them myself, we examined the sketches together. We finally figured out that someone had drawn scenes from an epic game of StarCraft played by  athenistas some nights earlier, captioned (of course) with some friendly heckling of the artist’s opponent.

I’m not a big gamer myself but it seems like, every other night, folks across athenahealth get together to play online games like StarCraft, or real-world board games like Settlers of Catan. As for those other flavors of fun: I play basketball with other athenistas on Friday mornings, and Tuesdays too, if I can get out of bed in time. I was a regular at the biweekly lawn games hosted by the Product Innovation team this past summer. Also, I organize a monthly get-together at La Casa De Pedro restaurant with the friends I made on my first day at athenahealth.

Sometimes, fun can be thrust upon you as well. Two weeks ago, I flew to the Bay Area to attend a Health 2.0 conference and speak at the Health Tech Innovator workshop. I was gone for a week… clearly, plenty of time for my team to cause some mischief.

The day I returned to athenahealth, my office walls were covered in hundreds of Halloween-themed paper plates and napkins (including my whiteboard and my monitors); there was 'bloody' graffiti on my laminated charts; and more than 100 plastic spiders and rats and ants and cobwebs and human body parts on my desk, chairs, and even hanging from the ceiling. I wasn’t sure if I was more impressed by the attention to detail or more disturbed by the result. 

To top it off, my team took pictures of themselves pretending to live within this mini-haunted house. Like this one of them sitting around the “dining table” enjoying a meal of eyeballs and spiders.

When your team pulls off such antics, you can’t help but have fun. This isn’t unusual either: One of my collaborators on another team, Tony, recently returned from Ireland to discover that his team members had entirely covered his workspace in an anything-but-subtle green and white decor. Much like Tony, I didn’t have the heart to immediately dismantle the festive masterpiece the team had created, so I kept the orange-and-black motif for a few days past Halloween.

But I did get rid of the plastic vermin a day after I had returned, because it turns out that if you sit in an office full of creepy crawlies all day, they have a way of creeping into your dreams at night. Apparently too much fun can be scary.

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