Working virtually from home, at least part of the time, has become the norm in many companies. The more senior you are the more likely you have the authority to decide when and where you work.
Working virtually no doubt has its benefits: no long commute on the train, flexible hours, problem solving in your pajamas.
It’s gotten so prevalent that companies don’t even have offices for a lot of their staff and do “hoteling.” You call ahead and reserve an office when you absolutely must be there.
So, what’s wrong with this picture?
But being isolated from other employees can be lonely. This isolation is part of what a recent article in the Harvard Business Review called Work and the Loneliness Epidemic.
The author, Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, former Surgeon General of the U.S., quotes a Harvard study that showed many employees — and half of CEOs — report feeling lonely in their roles.
He, says, “But to truly solve loneliness requires the engagement of institutions where people spend the bulk of their time: families, schools, social organizations, and the workplace.
“Companies in particular have the power to drive change at a societal level not only by strengthening connections among employees, partners, and clients but also by serving as an innovation hub that can inspire other organizations to address loneliness.”
Bring Back the Water Cooler
There are plenty of jokes about conversations around the water cooler. Those with lots of experience under their belts probably don’t miss the small talk around the water cooler. But for young people starting out, who are still expected to show up every day, this lack of communication with their bosses and other staff can cripple learning.
There probably isn’t even a water cooler to be found in most offices. You take a sip at a fountain outside the rest room or bring your own water bottle.
There is book learning and water cooler learning. New professionals are losing out on “learning at the knee” of the people who went before them.
The ability to pop into someone’s office when you’re stuck on something, a shoulder for a virtual cry when everything goes wrong one day, the buzz on the company grapevine that’s passed around to colleagues over paper cups of water – darn it, just the companionship that engenders trust and love. I know that’s a strong word.
Communication and Collaboration
But I can say I really loved some of my co-workers when I was still clocking in at an office. We worked side by side during over-nighters to get out a presentation, and then shared the sheer joy of winning the business and going out to hoist a few in celebration.
Bumping shoulders and clinking glasses is a tribal rite that goes back centuries. It’s a rite that encourages communication and collaboration among team members.
Then there are the intangibles that you share with being around the people who are pushing the ball up the hill with you to reach the company’s goals. You know, it’s just plain lonely for young people today
The notion of the apprentice is still valid, except now the master is out of the office most of the time. This doesn’t make for a good learning experience.
I don’t think so. You can’t clasp the shoulder of your apprentice with an “atta boy” on Skype. I’m glad I’m not just starting out.