It’s “Back to that bubble of isolation” for workers who aspire to the office

By Kellen Browning, The New York Times

Before the pandemic, Roya Joseph’s days at the office were defined by interaction. She looked forward to informal conversations with coworkers, mentoring sessions with managers, and periodic freewheeling discussions – known as “tea time” – in the office kitchen.

This was all swept away when Joseph, a water engineer for Black & Veatch, an engineering company, was sent home from her office in Walnut Creek, Calif., Along with the rest of her colleagues as the coronavirus began to take hold. spread to the United States last year. She jumped at the chance to return when her office reopened to some employees in June.

But two weeks ago the carpet was ripped from under her again. Black & Veatch has closed its offices as cases of the virus increased across the country, driven by the contagious delta variant.

“It’s depressing,” said Joseph, 32. “I have the impression that we are pushed back into this bubble of isolation. I feel like mentally I’m not ready to face this again.

While workers who want to stay home forever have particularly voiced their demands, a silent majority of Americans want to return to the office, at least a few days a week. But as the latest wave of coronavirus has led employers to delay plans to return to the office, this larger group is becoming increasingly brooding.

In a national survey of more than 950 workers, conducted in mid-August by Morning Consult on behalf of The New York Times, 31% said they would prefer to work from home full time. In comparison, 45% said they wanted to be in a workplace or office full time. The remaining 24% said they wanted to split their time between work and home.

Morning Consult interviewed workers from various industries, so white-collar workers were represented alongside those working in other fields, such as retail. The data intelligence firm’s findings echo recent internal investigations by employers like Google and Twitter, as well as external investigations by companies like Eden Workplace.

Among those who crave the routines of office life and cabin chatter: social butterflies, managers, new hires eager to meet colleagues and people with noisy or overcrowded homes.

Veronica Polivanaya, an account manager at public relations firm Inkhouse, quickly realized how noisy the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco could be when she started working from home. There was the distraction of her boyfriend’s daily routine – sometimes he would get up from his own job to make lunch or fetch water and find himself in the background of his video calls. Then there were the neighbor’s barking dogs. Parcel deliveries. Construction noise.

“It’s been a tough struggle for us,” said Polivanaya, 30. “I don’t feel like I have a good space to concentrate.” She was able to return to the relative calm of her office a few days a week starting in July, but feared the burgeoning virus would send her back to her hectic work-from-home life.

Certainly, some people have thrived in their new professional life from a distance. They saved time and money, and sometimes increased productivity. The extent to which employees have embraced permanent or hybrid remote working models has been “overwhelming” for business leaders, said Tsedal Neeley, a professor at Harvard Business School who has studied remote working for decades .

But for others, Neeley said, it removed necessary barriers between work and family life, increased feelings of isolation and led to burnout. “Some people just don’t like the screen – their looks and how close they are to others is a big part of what the job looks like,” she said.

Many workers are already back in the offices. Only 13% of Americans worked from home at some point in July, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated, up from a pandemic peak of 35% in May 2020. And some workers said the delta variant did not change the feedback from their employers. -office plans.

But a growing number of top companies, like Hollywood studios, Wall Street banks and Silicon Valley tech giants, have delayed their return. For the pro-back-to-office crowd, the jerks have been excruciating, Neeley said.

“We are in this state of perpetual waiting, and this has now extended with more uncertainty,” she said.

David Pantera, a new deputy product marketing manager at Google, said the company has decided to turn the September focus for him and other new hires into a virtual event due to the increase in COVID-19 cases . Google’s process, known as “Noogler Orientation,” is typically a social and community event meant to acclimatize employees to each other and to the corporate culture.

Pantera, a 23-year-old graduate, said he was eager to start his new job, but was concerned that missing out on the experience in person could hamper his career prospects.

“If we don’t get a really solid foundation in this business in our first six months, our first year, what footing does that give us for the rest of our time in the business? Said Pantera, who lives in San Francisco. “What if that disillusioned a lot of the really bright, passionate and intelligent people in the industry? “

For Michael Anthony Orona, 38, starting a new job during the pandemic was isolating. He was thrilled to finally meet his colleagues at Blue Squad, a company that provides technology tools to progressive political candidates, when his Austin, Texas office reopened several months ago.

Then his 10-year-old daughter contracted COVID, forcing Orona, his wife and two children to go into hiding at home. He found juggling work and caring for his children almost impossible to manage. Sometimes he had to cancel meetings to make sure his 2 year old son took a nap.

“I’m with our 2.5 year old all the time and try to do a few hours of work around that,” he said. “And then when we get him down to bed, I work until the middle of the night. It’s horrible.”

He also caught COVID, but recently tested negative and returned to work, and his children are back to school and daycare. But he expects additional quarantines.

“It’s like we’re never going to get out of this,” Orona said. “For people who work, both parents, it’s totally unbearable.

In Toronto, Alethea Bakogeorge is counting the days until she can resume her job in a musical theater company. Working from home, she said, has “eroded the boundaries between workspace and home space”, sometimes even causing her to skip meals to avoid spending more time in the kitchen, which also acts as an office.

Bakogeorge, 25, suffers from cerebral palsy, a disease that causes chronic pain. Her daily commutes to the office, she said, provided her with a form of light exercise that helped her cope.

“I hadn’t realized how much it impacted my physical health as a person with a disability and how much I missed it when it was gone,” she said.

But the surge in coronavirus cases has dashed his hopes of a summer return.

“In May, I thought we could go in a direction where I could go back to the office,” she said. “Now with the Delta variant being what it is, I think it’s a lot less realistic for me to expect a return to the office at any time in the near future.”

Copyright 2021 The New York Times Company

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