One Employee’s Unique Approach to Doing Good – With a Camera, a Tail, & a Flex-Work Culture
by Jenn Koiter
It started with a dare and a tiger suit.
When Just Kusko was preparing to travel overseas for work as a marketing manager at Dell, her father made her a bet: she wouldn’t be brave enough, or crazy enough, to wear her tiger costume there – and snap a picture with a bobby (one of London’s iconic police officers).
She got the shot and shared it on social media, and Happy Tiger Tales was born: a personal project that combines cross-cultural connections, remote work, and a fun social media game for children at Dell Children’s Medical Center.
Kusko, who prefers to go by her last name, started taking the tiger suit with her whenever she traveled, taking and posting goofy pictures along the way: in Paris, Rio de Janeiro, India, China, a South African safari.
“I started to realize this was bigger than just being silly. I was connecting with people from all over the world in the most wonderful way. So I shifted my interest to connecting humanity through happiness,” Kusko explains. “When I put on the suit, people don’t see me; they see the tiger. Not a race, not a religion, not anything, just a happy tiger. Their hesitations disappear, and they want to give me a hug or take pictures with me. That’s what it should be all about. ”
This fall, Kusko took Happy Tiger Tales to the next level: an adventure race around the world. She solicited suggestions for international destinations, then used them to plan her stops on a month-long epic journey, with the tiger suit in her carry-on, of course.
Kusko wanted to use the trip to spread happiness in other ways, too. So she tapped into Dell’s strong culture of volunteerism and created a special way for the kids at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas to play along via social media and become a part of the Tiger Team.
Kusko’s family, friends, and coworkers donated and assembled “Tiger Team Explorer Kits” for 150 children. The kits included a Happy Tiger Tales tee shirt, a world map to track the Tiger’s route, a dream journal, and a Google cardboard virtual reality viewer, so the children could virtually join her on her adventures.
Then, as Kusko made her way across the globe, she posted clues on Facebook and Instagram about which famous place she would “Tiger Nab” next, so everyone could follow along, guess where she was headed, and look forward to the next zany picture.
Before the game started, Kusko couldn’t be sure whether the children of the hospital would have fun with it or not, but parents have made it a point to reach out and let her know how much their children enjoy following her across the globe.
What makes Kusko’s project particularly impressive is that she was working for the duration of the trip.
“I asked myself, what would it look like, going to a new country every three days?” says Kusko, “How flexible could I be so that I wouldn’t skip a beat with my team?”
Dell is a strong supporter of flexible work, with a formal program, Connected Workplace, informal initiatives, and a 2020 goal for flex work. And Kusko’s team was in full support mode; they worked with her to successfully navigate her month of travel.
Staying connected was of paramount importance, so Kusko did her research and stayed at hotels with dependable WiFi, and carried a WiFi hotspot for backup. Scheduling meetings around changing time zones presented a challenge; Kusko did work odd hours at times. In Australia, she woke up at 3 a.m. for calls back in North America. It was worth it, though. Kusko says her job was enriched with the ability to see firsthand the opportunities and challenges, regionally, that directly related to her position in global retail.
In some countries, Kusko stayed with coworkers who became great friends. She was able to meet a team member from Ireland, for instance, that she had worked with for five years, but never met face to face, creating a great memory of tiger nabbing they won’t soon forget.
Happy Tiger Tales has been such a success that Kusko is already planning her next trip.
“We get so caught up in stereotypes that we miss making human connections,” Kusko points out. “Happy Tiger Tales makes those connections happen.”