I returned from annual leave this week, and to be honest, I’m not sure how I feel right now. I feel like I’m in a half-way house, a kind of blur. I’m back but it’s not the same. I don’t feel the energy I would normally feel on that first day back from work. There is something missing.
It is strange to me not coming back to a physical office after a week out. For me, getting dress for work and driving to the office on that first day back kind of signified the end of a holiday and a real kickstart back into work. I loved walking in, having the team around me ask me about the time away, perhaps comment on my tan, and tell me how refreshed I felt. It was energising and motivating, and I felt ready to get back to it.
This week that didn’t happen. I simply walked down the stairs of our house and into our study. Oh, I did stop to make myself a latte before sitting down to my computer, readying myself to weed through the myriad of emails and calendar requests for this week.
This week there was no banter from my colleagues. In fact, my first meeting was at 9.00am on the Monday morning (first day back), and it was a client/supplier call. We briefly mentioned in our introductions that this was my first day back from annual leave, but we then quickly carried on to the task at hand. The meeting was scheduled only for thirty minutes and this wasn’t the type of call to get into all the fantastic details of my week away on the Cornish coast.
I’m not complaining about remote working. In fact, working from home isn’t all that bad. I do get a lot more time back from not having to commute, and I am able to flex my hours a little more to meet the demands of being in a global role and being available to all regions. Meaning I’m not sitting in traffic from 7.00 am and therefore I can take that call with my colleagues from Asia without trying to rush into the office. On top of this, there are less distractions. No longer do I get involved in the ad-hoc conversations with other colleagues in the office, varying from workload, weekend plans or holiday ideas. Nowadays there is no real opportunity to just bump into random colleagues on the way to a meeting, which then turns into a five or ten-minute conversation that in turn makes me late for my next scheduled meeting.
But this week, I’ve really missed these distractions. It has made me reflect on what we are potentially missing out on by working from home every single day, with no physical interaction. I miss the general banter, the noise and laughter from the teams around me. I have missed having people walking by, having conversations and just the presence of a workplace community. One of the big benefits of being in an office environment is meeting new people, building connections, running into random colleagues you’ve not seen for a while, and even reconnecting with someone who is maybe travelling through the office, and just having an unscheduled opportunity to catch up on what is happening in each other’s world.
It’s the simple and unplanned connections that I guess we have taken for granted. These are the connections that build our network of support who help us every day in our jobs: through the triumphs and troughs. It’s the friendships we build in the workplace that become incredibly important in our lives. Some of my closest friends have been past colleagues or team members or even clients. Now they are life-long friends who are a part of my life and our friendship goes beyond the workplace.
We spend most of our waking hours at work (this is true if we work full time). I solemnly believe that we need to enjoy the workplace culture and feel a connection to the people we work with. My question is, how do we do that now when we are working remotely, or virtually?
How do we build a network, friendships, and create that fun and light-hearted banter that the office environment offered? Does this now just go away as remote working becomes more popular as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
More importantly, are we ok with this, or do we have reservations about the future of work?