At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a lot of giddiness about the wonders of working from home.
Freed from long-commutes, employees stayed in their pajamas and Zoomed with colleagues from their living room sofas. Others decamped from busy cities to more rural settings like Idaho. (I know someone who did that because they no longer had to take in-person meetings in L.A.) Architects began designing homes to accommodate not one, but two or three home workspaces.
But as the pandemic grinds into its seventh, eighth, or ninth month (I’ve lost count,) plenty of people who are fortunate enough still to have jobs are longing for their old corporate digs.
A screenwriter friend of mine says it’s more challenging to be creative without the fly-by office banter that often sparks new ideas. Another friend who took a new job just as COVID-19 hit says it’s been harder to get to know her new colleagues and learn the subtle politics of a dispersed, virtual office. It’s also lonely.
Then, there are the annoying logistical realities of working from home, whether it’s intermittent Internet or your 22-year-old cat caterwauling during a Zoom session because he wants food NOW. Spouses complain, too, when they can’t enter the spare bedroom turned home office to grab a pair of shorts.
Companies, such as JP Morgan, are taking a damn the torpedoes approach by bringing employees back into their Manhattan headquarters. A few others are doing the same, noting that the subtleties of working effectively together – such as trust among colleagues – erodes in remote settings.
But others, notably Twitter and Facebook, have told employees they can work from home, wherever that is, forever. “Location neutral” will soon become part of job descriptions.
All of it amounts to a massive social experiment that has rewritten the rules of the workplace. As with any upheaval, there are challenges and opportunities. There’s also a point of no return.
The Economist recently ran a cover story entitled “Office Politics: The Fight Over the Future of Work,” in which a picture of an optional office emerges where corporate workplaces become hubs for employees to meet sporadically.
Over my career, I spent time in plenty of offices. Some I dearly miss and others I’m glad I escaped.
But of those I miss, I still treasure my former colleagues and the way we came together around a shared mission. I miss bouncing ideas off each other and trying to solve problems together. I miss the inside jokes and occasional hijinks. In one newsroom where I was a reporter, we set up a miniature basketball hoop and held daily competitions, even on deadline, for who could sink a shot from the farthest distance.
Looking back, I realize that in a best-case scenario, offices are more like homes. And colleagues are more like family, complete with those we love and those we can barely stand.
More than anything, offices are places of belonging. And as virtual offices become a mainstay, creating a vital sense of belonging might be the most pressing challenge companies and their employees face.
I’ve written before about the amazing mental, emotional, and physical health benefits of being outdoors.
One reason nature is so incredibly beneficial is because it puts us in touch with the uplifting state of awe. Anyone who’s ever watched the sun go down over the Pacific Ocean or hiked up a trail to take in an inspiring mountain view has likely experienced awe.
But you don’t have to travel far or wait for a solar eclipse to be transported into a sublime state of wonder.
You can simply wander out your backyard and study the architecture of a cobweb or marvel at the intense purple color of a single flower. To learn more about how to find awe in the everyday watch the video below from Iraq war veteran and outdoors educator Stacy Bare.