In defense of the office

Video conferences serve a purpose, but they're no substitute for showing up in person.
Office lego
Office connections can be critical to careers.

Covid has changed the working lives of a big portion of our country – actually, the whole world. Half the people I know are now “Zoomers:” visible only from the waist up during working hours. So, the question to my Zoomer friends is: is that the way you want to spend the rest of your working life? If your answer is yes, please keep reading because I am going to try to talk you into going back to your workplace.

Think back to your first full-time job and I’ll bet you can name at least a few folks who started as coworkers, but became friends. You may still be in touch with them! I started my first full-time position in the 1960s and I am still regularly in touch with two of the friends I developed on that job. Those are friendships I can’t imagine forming through a computer screen. The physical workplace gave us the time and space to chat at the watercooler, to share ideas in the hallway. If we had worked as full-time Zoomers, I can’t imagine we would have formed connections deep enough to endure almost 60 years of life.

How is it possible to build a winning culture if employees seldom have the opportunity to work face-to-face?
Joe Scarlett

If you want to get ahead in your company, it is important to have a close working rapport with your boss and other key people in leadership positions. Ask yourself if you think you can develop those relationships as a full-time Zoomer. I ran into a situation recently where an employee working from home who had been on the job for six months had never met her boss and did not even know the boss’ name. With this level of disconnection, how can any employee hope to form bonds with their leadership team?

Don’t you miss being with your friends trading stories and discussing work projects eyeball to eyeball? Don’t you miss sitting down for lunch and talking about your kids or the latest football score? Don’t you miss the simple camaraderie of being with your business associates? There is so much to be gained from person-to-person collaboration.

And to business leaders, I ask: how is it possible to build a winning culture if employees seldom have the opportunity to work face-to-face? In my experience, team-building opportunities felt most effective when we were all together working on projects and problems. It is hard for me to believe that serious issues can be resolved as well via Zoom as they can with face-to-face discussion.

We have all read about the ways in which remote learning put a heavy strain on student performance in K-12 education. So, business leaders, I ask: is it possible that the same kind of fallback might be going on in your work world? Maybe it is, but it is just taking longer to materialize. I wonder – and think you should wonder, too – if the loss of an in-person work environment is a greater loss than any of us first realized.

I know that if I wanted to truly be a success in my company, the last place you would find me would be in my bedroom in front of a computer. I would be in the workplace communicating, achieving and being seen. If you want to get ahead, you need to be “on stage” where the leaders can see and talk to you.

I realize that some of you may be saying that I am simply lost in time warp, and that could be correct – but do want to bet your career on being a Zoomer?

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