The coronavirus pandemic has transformed office work to remote work. Dining tables are now work stations, living rooms transitioned to break rooms, and walking the dog is the new smoke break. Our favorite live television shows were filmed with cell phones from basements or attic spaces. It’s become impossible to avoid the countless advertisements for the “Must Have Products for Home Office.” I’ve got a tip for you: the last thing you need in your home office/dining/conference room is more stuff.
A year in and many people have gotten comfortable with the flexibility of remote work. Some industries are transitioning to a hybrid model, where workers will split time between the office and home. Some companies have already announced they’ll be fully remote, COVID or no COVID. And why not? It allows you to sleep in an extra 45 minutes each day. Errands can be run without every coworker hearing about it. The dishes and laundry can be knocked out throughout the day. With the micromanaging boss at arm’s length, remote work allows the workers to go at their own pace.
I, however, have been a remote worker for five years. I started my remote career as an on-the-road account manager, working from a car office as much as my real one. I’ve since become decidedly off-the-road. Now I spend the majority of my time at my home office with my cat and dog. The novelty wore off roughly two years into this experiment. I’m a different worker than I was before.
The social aspect of work almost completely disappears while remote. Used to be, I was a level headed coworker who said jokes in meetings and kept to his own business. Now, I crave office gossip. I’m desperate for any kernel of drama that someone may slip into a slack channel. As a social person, forming relationships has never been difficult, but everything’s different at a distance. Close relationships are exponentially more difficult to form while being a remote worker.
I still found lifelong friends at my past positions, but those were due to shared trauma as much as traditional friendships. I still have weekly calls with a former coworker who helped me lead a project destined for failure; I’m not sure either of us recovered. I also have a Discord server with some compatriots who are still fighting for recognition that has become impossible to receive if you can’t flaunt your victories in meetings or in break rooms. For those of you who have only known remote work during the era of COVID, it is a much different experience when the rest of the company is in a single location.
Video meetings are impossible to participate in as the only person not in the room. Imagine a conference room filled to the brim with your coworkers. Looking at them through a camera. Listening from your headphones. Unable to determine where voices are coming from. If more than one person speaks at a time, you won’t know what anyone said. For you to speak up, you have to interrupt the entire room. Draw all the attention directly to you or else you won’t be heard.
This makes fitting into a new company next to impossible. It removes your work from your identity. For me, it caused my work ethic to plummet. Sure, I still met expectations. But I no longer volunteered for projects, or worked with different team members, or took pride in the company as a whole. This has all improved since COVID leveled the playing field, but I am very excited to return to the office when I’m physically able. I cannot wait for my first after-work beer with my coworkers.