Kathryn Gregorio joined a nonprofit in Arlington, Va., last April, shortly after the pandemic forced many people to work from home. A year and millions of Zoom calls later, she’s still never met any of her colleagues, other than her boss – which makes it easier to quit for a new job.
Chloe Newsom, a marketing executive in Long Beach, California, took on three new jobs during the pandemic and struggled to forge personal relationships with co-workers, none of whom have met. Last month, she joined a startup with former colleagues with whom she had a direct relationship.
And Eric Sun, who started working for a consulting firm last August while living in Columbus, Ohio, hadn’t met any co-workers in real life before leaving less than a year later for another firm. bigger company. “I never shook hands with them,” he said.
The coronavirus pandemic, now more than 17 months old, has created a new problem in the workforce: more and more people are starting and leaving jobs without ever meeting their co-workers in person. . For many of these largely white-collar office workers, personal interactions are limited to video calls throughout their entire job.
Never having to be in the same boardroom or meeting room with co-workers sounds like a dream to some. But the fact that job-hoppers don’t meet their co-workers shows how emotional and personal attachment to work can fade. That has contributed to an easygoing, approachable attitude towards the workplace and created uncertainty among employers about how to retain people they barely know.
More workers have left their jobs during some pandemic months than at any other time since tracking began in December 2000, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. In April, a record 3.9 million people, or 2.8% of the workforce, told their employers they were struggling. In June, 3.8 million people quit their jobs. Many of those are primarily face-to-face blue-collar workers, but economists say office workers stuck at home are also more likely to feel freer to bid for work they don’t. like.
“If you’re in a workplace or job that doesn’t focus on engagement, it’s easier to change jobs,” says Bob Sutton, organizational psychologist and professor at Stanford University. emotionally.
While this remote working phenomenon isn’t exactly new, what’s different now is the scale of the trend. Labor market change is often slow-moving, but white-collar jobs have grown incredibly rapidly during the pandemic, to the point of working With colleagues one has never met has become almost routine, said Heidi Shierholz, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute. a non-profit organization.
“What it says the most is how long this has been going on,” she said. “Suddenly, a large number of white-collar workers have completely changed the way they do their jobs.”
The trend of people working through their full-time jobs without interacting with co-workers is so new that there isn’t even a label for it, say workplace experts.
Many of the workers who had never had a chance to meet their co-workers face-to-face before continued to report feeling isolated and questioning the purpose of their work.
Gregorio, 53, who works for a nonprofit in Virginia, said she often struggles to gauge the tone of emails from people she’s never met and is constantly debating whether issues are relevant. Is the topic big enough to attract calls? She said she wouldn’t miss most of her colleagues because she knew nothing about them.
“I know their names and that’s about it,” she said.
Other job-hoppers echo feelings of isolation but say disconnection has helped them re-establish relationships with work and untangle their identities, social lives and self-worth from their jobs. surname.
Business & Economics
Joanna Wu, who started working for the accounting firm PwC last September, said her only interaction with colleagues was through video calls, which felt like they had a “show”. strict agenda” does not include social interaction.
Ms. Wu, 23, said: “You know, people’s motivation is very low when their cameras are off.
Instead, she said, she finds solace in new hobbies, like cooking various Chinese dishes and inviting friends over to dinner parties. She calls it “a double life.” In August, she quit her job. “I feel very free,” she said.
Martin Anquetil, 22, who started at Google last August, has never met his colleagues face-to-face. Google hasn’t gone to great lengths to make him feel socially connected, he said, and without the glitz or other office perks – like free food – for which the internet company is famous.
Mr Anquetil said his attention had begun to wander. His lunchtime video game sessions had melted into work time, and he started buying basketball highlights on NBA Top Shot, a cryptocurrency marketplace, while clocking in. . In March, he left Google to work at Dapper Labs, the startup that partnered with the National Basketball Association to create Top Shot.
If someone wants to work at Google and “work 20 hours a week and pretend you’re working 40 hours while doing other things, that’s fine, but I want to connect more,” he said.
Google declined to comment.
To help prevent many people from leaving their jobs because they haven’t formed a direct relationship, some employers are reconfiguring their corporate culture and repositioning new positions such as “personnel”. head from afar” to keep employees working well together and feeling motivated. In November, Facebook hired a teleworking executive who was responsible for helping the company adjust to the remote workforce.
Jen Rhymer, a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford who studies the workplace, said other companies that quickly switched to remote work have not been adept at fostering community over video calls. .
“They can’t just say, ‘Oh, socialize, go to virtual happy hours,'” Dr Rhymer said. “That in itself won’t create a culture of friendship building.”
She said companies can help isolated workers feel motivated by embracing socialization, rather than making employees proactive. That includes scheduling small group activities, holding one-on-one retreats, and making time for daily conversations, she says.
Employers who never meet their workers in person are also contributing to job hopping by being more willing to let workers go. Sean Pressler, who last year joined Potsandpans.com, an e-commerce site in San Francisco, to make marketing videos, said he was fired in November without warning.
Mr. Pressler, 35, says not meeting and getting to know his bosses and colleagues makes it possible for him to spend lavishly. If he builds face-to-face relationships, he says, he will be able to get feedback on his videos and discuss ideas with colleagues, and may even feel that his limitations are limited. Death was going well before he was let go.
Instead, he says, “I feel like a name on a spreadsheet. Just someone you can hit delete. “
And his colleague? “I don’t even know if they know who I am,” he said.