14 September 2021

The New York Times: “If You never met your Co-Workers in Person, did You even work there?”

The coronavirus pandemic, now more than 17 months in, has created a new quirk in the work force: a growing number of people who have started jobs and left them without having once met their colleagues in person. For many of these largely white-collar office workers, personal interactions were limited to video calls for the entirety of their employment.

Never having to be in the same conference room or cubicle as a co-worker may sound like a dream to some people. But the phenomenon of job hoppers who have not physically met their colleagues illustrates how emotional and personal attachments to jobs may be fraying. That has contributed to an easy-come, easy-go attitude toward workplaces and created uncertainty among employers over how to retain people they barely know.

Kellen Browning & Erin Griffith

During the past year, I have had several similar experiences as I changed jobs a couple of times. The companies I have worked at since the start of the pandemic have all tried to compensate the lack of daily in-person interactions with regular virtual meetings with coworkers, but with limited success. Personally, I find it difficult to interact freely on a set schedule – also, most of the time, these calls were mixing job-related topics with small talk, not a terrific way to promote a relaxed atmosphere. Another factor may be that, even in the office, people developed closer ties to some of their coworkers, but not with others, depending on specific affinities and interests – putting a group together in a ‘social call’ does not automatically mean that each member feels equally free to chat and share personal stuff with all the rest of the team.

The only instance where regular videocalls have maintained a sense of closeness was at the company where I was employed when the pandemic started – but there we already knew each other from the office and had worked together for months, not to mention these calls were set specifically for social catch-up. As much as I prefer working from home, I am not sure that building lasting cohesion is possible without some form of face-to-face interaction. Companies could organize regular days at the office focused on interacting, trainings, and other group activities for example, provided people feel safe under these circumstances.

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