Work and Money
How Working Virtually Creates Real-Life Connections
As a writer, I revel in solitude. The luxury of it — peace, quiet, and no disruptions to steal my focus and demand my attention.
For years, I fantasized about working remotely full-time, undisturbed by the small noises of a shared office space, the sharp chirps and dull buzzing of polite chatter about nothing much at all. I dreamed of a work environment where I could be completely immersed in my thoughts and words — one where no one needed anything from me, and I was free to stay on task and just create.
I wanted to live in a world completely my own, in an isolated bubble of focus and determination, with little time wasted on things I thought were unimportant, like cliched small talk. I didn’t think it was important to see people on a day-to-day basis, to get dressed and go somewhere. It seemed inefficient when I could easily do my job from the comfort and convenience of my own home, and get right to it instead of wasting time putting on makeup, getting dressed, and sitting in traffic.
Or so I thought.
Now, because of COVID-19 quarantines, it’s been four months since I last worked in an environment with people. And I’ve learned that I’m not quite the extroverted introvert I thought I was. That none of us truly are.
Since the pandemic changed our lives irrevocably, I find myself on video calls more and more, connecting with coworkers in a way I haven’t connected with anyone since the days of AOL’s Instant Messenger — glued to my computer screen, waiting to LOL on multiple tabs. A conversation begins with a work topic, but turns effortlessly deeper and more meaningful as the force of nostalgic habit takes over. The confessionals, commiserations, and the anonymity of hiding behind a keyboard bring back those bond-forming feelings of shared experiences and complaints in the Xennial generation’s formative years, and they are strong.
"The informality forges trust in new friendships; side notes, observations, and grievances are pinky-sworn despite the creation of a paper trail."
We share bits and pieces of each other throughout the day, excited for new nuggets of reflection or humor. And in this way, video conversations and online chats have established new relationships I couldn’t have had before, bringing us all back to the age of AIM, where deep conversations about society, philosophy, efficiencies, and hope are sprinkled into each conversation to sustain you through the day.
And then to see their faces on video chat from time to time strengthens that bond and connection between people.
When we first began using video meetings at work, it was with audible grumbles that we started turning our cameras on. At my branch of the company, privacy was valued, and no one thought anything of putting a sticker over their laptop camera. In fact, it was uncommon if you didn’t. After all, I wasn’t the only one that wanted to be judged solely on the quality of my work.
However, as quarantine dragged on, something shifted. The importance of human connection and "relatability" became clear as I began to look forward to video calls. To hope for them, even if just to see some familiar faces for a moment or two.
I’ve learned that these points of contact make tasks feel more manageable, and grievances more shared. A backdrop of coworkers’ homes while dogs and children demand snacks in turns creates intimacy and familiarity. This peek into their lives — seeing their unfiltered, make-up-less faces, and seeing higher-ups in hoodie-wearing loungewear — lends a sense of humanity to leadership, creating sympathy and lessening intimidation while creating a safer environment for honesty. And most importantly, by humanizing leaders, giving them equal weight on a laptop screen, it eliminates leaders as a common enemy — often a way reports bond with one another — and instead, makes them part of the team again, in the trenches, working hard and determined to leave no woman behind.
And with these rewards of human connection, I learned that — like most people — what I really wanted was the choice to engage or not, and the opportunities to do so should I decide. So although I still do love my seclusion, I value more the ways technology keeps it from being isolating, as virtual meetings create bonds that are more real than water-cooler talk could ever be.