Kathryn Gregorio joined a nonprofit foundation in Arlington, Virginia in April of last year, shortly after the pandemic forced many people to work from home. A year and a million Zoom calls later, she still hadn’t met any of her co-workers other than her boss, which made it easy to quit when a new job arrived.
Chloe Newsom, a marketing manager in Long Beach, Calif., Walked through three new jobs during the pandemic and struggled to make personal connections with colleagues she did not meet. Last month, she joined a start-up with former colleagues with whom she already had personal relationships.
And Eric Sun, who started working for a consulting firm last August while living in Columbus, Ohio, didn’t meet any of his colleagues in real life before leaving less than a year later to a larger cabinet. “I never shook hands with them,” he said.
The coronavirus pandemic, which has now started over 17 months ago, has created a new oddity in the workforce: a growing number of people who have started and left jobs without having met a single one. both their colleagues in person. For many of these largely white-collar office workers, personal interactions were limited to video calls for the duration of their employment.
Never having to be in the same conference room or booth as a colleague can seem like a dream to some people. But the phenomenon of job seekers who haven’t physically met their coworkers illustrates how emotional and personal attachments to jobs can unravel. This has contributed to an easy-to-come and go attitude towards workplaces and created uncertainty among employers as to how to retain people they barely know.
Already, more workers left their jobs during certain pandemic months than at any other time since the start of follow-up in December 2000, 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 throwing in the towel. In June, 3.8 million people quit smoking. Many of them were blue-collar workers who worked mostly in person, but economists said office workers stuck at home also most likely felt more free to say goodbye to jobs they didn’t like.
“If you’re in a workplace or a job where the emphasis isn’t on attachment, it’s easier to change jobs, emotionally,” said Bob Sutton, organizational psychologist and professor at the ‘Stanford University.
While this remote working phenomenon is not entirely new, what is different now is the extent of the trend. Changes in the job market usually develop slowly, but white-collar work has evolved extremely rapidly during the pandemic to the point where working with colleagues one has never met has become almost routine, said Heidi. Shierholz, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank.
“What it says the most is how long it dragged on,” she said. “All of a sudden, huge bands of white collar workers have completely changed the way they work.”
The trend of people working their entire shift without physically interacting with co-workers is so new that there’s not even a label for it, workplace experts have said.
Many of those workers who never had the chance to meet their colleagues face-to-face before leaving said they felt detached and questioned the purpose of their work.
Ms Gregorio, 53, who worked for the nonprofit in Virginia, said she often struggled to gauge the tone of emails from people she had never met and constantly debated to find out if the issues were serious enough to merit Zoom calls. She said that most of her colleagues wouldn’t miss her because she didn’t know anything about them.
“I know their names and that’s about it,” she said.
Other employment hoppers echoes the feeling of isolation but said the disconnect helped them reset their relationship to work and disentangle their identity, social life and self-esteem from their work.
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Joanna Wu, who started working for accounting firm PwC last September, said her only interactions with her colleagues were through video calls, which made it seem like they had a “strict schedule” that prevented the socialization.
“You know people’s motivation is low when their cameras are all off,” Ms. Wu, 23, said. “There was a clear disinterest on the part of everyone in seeing other people’s faces.”
Instead, she said, she found solace in new hobbies, like cooking various Chinese cuisines and inviting friends over for dinner. She called it “a double life”. In August, she resigned. “I feel so free,” she said.
Martin Anquetil, 22, who started working at Google in August last year, has also never met his colleagues face to face. Google didn’t go to much effort to make it feel socially connected, he said, and there was no loot or other desktop perks – like free food – for it. which the internet company is famous for.
Mr. Anquetil said his attention started to wander. His lunchtime video game sessions crept into his work time and he started buying basketball highlights on NBA Top Shot, a cryptocurrency market, while on the clock. In March, he left Google to work at Dapper Labs, the start-up that partnered with the National Basketball Association to create Top Shot.
If you want to work at Google and “put in 20 hours a week and pretend you put 40 in doing other things, that’s fine, but I wanted more connection,” he said.
Google declined to comment.
To help prevent more people from quitting their jobs because they haven’t made a personal connection, some employers reconfigure their corporate culture and create new positions as “teleworking manager” so that employees work well together and feel motivated. In November, Facebook hired a teleworking director, which is responsible for helping the company adapt to a predominantly remote workforce.
Other companies that quickly switched to remote working have not been adept at fostering community through video calling, said Jen Rhymer, a Stanford postdoctoral researcher who studies workplaces.
“They can’t just say, ‘Oh, be social, go to virtual happy hours,’” Dr Rhymer said. “That in itself is not going to create a culture of building friendships.”
She said companies could help lone workers feel motivated by embracing socialization, rather than empowering employees. This includes planning small group activities, organizing in-person retreats, and setting aside time for daily discussions, she said.
Employers who never meet their workers in person also help change jobs by being more willing to let workers go. Sean Pressler, who joined Potsandpans.com, an e-commerce site in San Francisco, last year to make marketing videos, said he was fired in November without warning.
Mr Pressler, 35, said not meeting physically and getting to know his bosses and peers made him essential. If he had formed relationships in person, he said, he could have gotten feedback on his panning videos and ideas with his colleagues, and perhaps even felt the cuts were coming long before he did. is not made redundant.
Instead, he said, “I felt like a name on a spreadsheet. Just someone you could hit delete.
What about his colleagues? “I don’t even know if they know who I was,” he said.