With thousands of office workers working remotely, brainstorming and socializing are suffering
Since lockdown, hundreds of thousands of Toronto office workers have been doing their jobs remotely. We’ve become so adept at working from home that some experts say workplace culture as we know will be forever changed, even after COVID-19. Of course, many front-line health care workers and other essential services employees like grocery-store workers and restaurant workers can’t work from home. But for those of us who have set up our workstations at home, there are definite pros and cons. Here are some big ones.
Although cellphones and shareable documents have meant most office workers have been reachable 24/7 for some time, at least at the office you knew you were supposed to be working, with separate email accounts and phones for messages, and meetings to attend and deadlines to make in person. When you left the office, you did so (at whatever time) because you were finished for that day. Now that so many of us are working remotely, the lines between work and play are blurring. Which explains why we often feel exhausted even when we’re “off the clock.”
Don’t underestimate the importance of the coffee run with co-workers. Whether it was a 30-second stroll to the kitchen or an actual physical trip to get a coffee or soda, this time provided a break from work where you could catch up socially, destress from whatever you were working on and bitch (or enthuse) about your day. Even at the proverbial water cooler, you could run into someone not in your immediate work circle and casually discover things that could be mutually beneficial – without going through the formality of an email and meeting.
I think I miss this most of all. In an old-fashioned office, especially one with an open-concept layout, it’s easy to try out ideas on your co-workers. Does this headline work? Is this reference too obscure and/or dated? It’s harder to do via Zoom meetings or Slack threads. And there are fewer “Aha!” moments when something one person says triggers an idea with someone else.
This may seem like a minor thing, but we’re social creatures. Whether it’s signing communal cards and taking up a collection to celebrate a co-worker’s engagement, impending parenthood or retirement, or just asking what someone did on the weekend can make us feel more connected to each other. Remember complimenting someone on that new haircut or pair of shoes? Or finding out about that new Netflix series someone just binged? It’s all a part of office life.
A computer with a decent-size screen and printer. Office chairs with proper lumbar support. A working (most of the time, anyway) photocopier. Every possible size of paperclip you could ever need. These are all things we took for granted now that they’re no longer available.
Most agree this is the number one thing they enjoy about working from home. There’s the time they save, first of all, but there’s also the expense and the stress of dealing with Toronto’s overwhelmed public transit system.
From overhearing loud talkers on the phone to music blasting from your co-worker’s headphones, or having to sign for courier’d packages using that unhygienic stylus system, there was often so much happening at the office that it was sometimes hard to get much solid work done. Now the only interruptions, besides the constant barrage of emails, are of your own making.
In an office, one person’s “too cold” or “too hot” might be another’s “just right.” At least at home, you can control the thermostat without resorting to passive aggressively pretending to be Bob Cratchit working for Scrooge.
Does anyone miss these, especially now that we’re so aware of the spread of germs? I thought not.