Remote work's achilles heel - human connection

We are a few months into this pandemic now. Remote work and Zoom social hangouts are the new normals and the word on the street is that they are here to stay. Video chats are functionally great - latency and quality are pretty good (well, except for the "hey, you are on mute" problem), there are good tools to collaborate well, work gets done, and most don't miss a long commute or dressing up.

What I'm missing in remote work is human connection. I'm not surprised as most of us don't have any close friends who we have met only online. 

Talking pictures on a screen don't evoke the same emotion and empathy as physical presence. Remote work interactions are structured and mostly transactional - through meetings with a set goal, agenda and attendees; you share your work, check in on status or ask for help. I miss the serendipitous and casual interactions. The water cooler or pantry chats, team lunches, corridor run ins and waves, casual desk drop by, walking 1:1s, celebrations, pranks or happy hours. Team spirit, camaraderie, culture and excitement for the mission are slowly fading. Without the personalities and interactions, I'm starting to feel more like an algorithm or machine in a factory! 

Some may argue that work isn't for social connections and we should find that elsewhere. But I disagree. We spend a LOT of our waking hours doing work and we often interact more with coworkers than close friends or family. So it's essential to also make friends at work and have fun. Work has been the main place where I met new friends after college. 

For just this reason, I predict that most of us will return to offices for at least some days. If fully remote work is going to continue and grow, we need to figure out how to make friends and build camaraderie on video.

Some related quotes from Jerry Seinfeld's NYTimes post on 'So you Think New York City is Dead'

There’s some other stupid thing in the article about “bandwidth” and how New York is over because everybody will “remote everything.” Guess what: Everyone hates to do this. Everyone. Hates.

You know why? There’s no energy.

Energy, attitude and personality cannot be “remoted” through even the best fiber optic lines.
Real, live, inspiring human energy exists when we coagulate together in crazy places like New York City.