A few months into the beginning of my career in the spring of 2020, when the state of the pandemic went from “what is that?” to “how do I maneuver?” none of us knew we would be living through one of the most transformational periods of the worldwide workforce.
Our nation went from a majority of employees being in the office to remote environments and flexible work schedules seemingly overnight. The rules had changed, and the impact this would have on the workplace of the future was set in motion. Technology, not location, became the main driver of communication and collaboration. Zoom and Microsoft Teams made connecting with others easier than most people believed was possible at the time. However, what we failed to see was the impact this would have on company culture.
For the most part, business leaders were surprised to find that connectivity in a remote environment was better than anticipated. Communications, once everyone became proficient, were more or less seamless and allowed for most forms of commerce to continue. Meetings took place on time; commutes were reduced and deadlines were met.
The pandemic could affect our social lives by limiting personal interaction, but most industries adapted. Within months, business activity was increasing. Employees learned to juggle the fine line of the home office. After an adjustment period, many began to find the flexibility of their new arrangements. As the economy continued to rebound, many new functions could be performed in front of a screen that could be located anywhere. It was a brand-new world with endless possibility.
Employees began to demand more of everything — money, time, flexibility, etc. If their current employer couldn’t meet those demands, others would. Job-hopping increased, and it seemed as if this state would go on indefinitely.
But along the way, something was lost. When people are gathered in person, we cannot help but interact more with those around us, oftentimes with the people who can assist us in doing our jobs better. Being connected electronically filled the void for business continuity, but not for developing relationships with co-workers in a meaningful way.
As a young professional, it grew obvious that I was missing a central component of career and professional development. In a virtual world, I didn’t have the same opportunities to discuss questions that could benefit me. I was not running into other colleagues and developing friendships. I was not stopping into the offices of senior managers, looking for advice.
It was as if a piece of the culture that everyone had worked hard to develop had been abandoned. I learned from that time of working remotely that being in the office, fully engaged in performing my job, was what I needed. That was how I was going to get better and add more value.
Since our return to the office in fall 2021, I am determined to add value. The office environment is more than a building with people in it. When people are engaged in their work together, solving problems and offering solutions for clients, we grow as an organization and as individuals. We get better, smarter and expect to be successful.
Interacting face to face with colleagues has become much more meaningful. I would like to encourage all young professionals to get back into the office and interact with co-workers, mentors and leaders. Doing so benefits not only your company, but your personal and professional development, as well. ●
Peter Hyland is Assistant Vice President, Trade Operations at Ancora