I was reading an interesting article about Gen Z work culture in Fast Company. One thing I picked up was the caution to not rush to quick generalizations. According to the writeup, Gen Z is not a homogenous demographic though some commonalities exist due to pop culture.

Anyway, there was a fierce argument in the story on whether the world should return to in-person careers or fully embrace remote work, for those roles that can accommodate it. The magazine’s consensus seemed to be a preference for a hybrid model and this idea is becoming the reality in many workplaces today, after COVID-19.

Of course some roles require full in-person participation, e.g., hospitality or healthcare. But a few companies still insist on physical presence, in a bid to prevent employees from using their allocated time or resources for private pursuits on the company’s bill. However, other organizations make a case for deliverables-based targets. They say if an employee has 5 days to deliver a task for instance, they don’t care if they are on a beach from days 1 to 4, as long as they meet the target on day 5. Ostensibly, if you treat people like adults, they will prove you right.

Something is Missing.

I love the flexibility of deliverables-based or hybrid work, especially for creatives. You can choose your pace or can work where you are most comfortable. Groups can then congregate as needed, for collaborative tasks or brainstorms.

But if you opt for a fully remote workplace, here are a few things that may be missing – community, perspective, mentoring and socialization.

Community Rocks!

Community forms when you hang out with the same people regularly for a long stretch of time. It’s similar to what we enjoyed in school, when we saw the same classmates over many years. Out of a large group, you might form a closer bond with maybe just one or two people. But, the community provides an organic, low-pressure way to meet a pool of potential friends, partners, or collaborators.

Many people don’t have this organic community at home. If they did, the world wouldn’t be facing an epidemic of loneliness. According to Cigna, in the US, 43% of adults say they are lonely.

Now, Let’s Talk About Perspective.

It’s difficult to replicate a community completely online. You can try but the moment you choose your friends on social media, and the platform learns your preferences, the algorithm will place you in a bubble where you keep seeing more of what you already know and like. You won’t hear many dissenting and unfamiliar voices. Even in chat groups with dissimilar people, the fact that people can curate what they say before they say it puts a filter on conversations. You can’t always read body language or undertone.

To gain perspective in life, you should interact with people who are different from you, preferably in person. In organizations, it’s the ability to pop into other departments to see what folks are working on and to gain a deeper appreciation of how the company functions as a whole. This ability to roam provides invaluable perspective.

What About Mentoring and Socialization?

In the workplace, a chunk of mentoring happens by shadowing an executive and watching how they behave in different scenarios. This experience is difficult to get remotely and so, has been replaced in some quarters by more formal coaching. Yet, there’s something about accompanying an executive for physical meetings or even traveling together. You can pick up attitudes and mannerisms on the fly.

There’s also something about random water cooler convos and learning how to make small talk.

Hybrid Wins for Me.

It is perhaps all of these things and more that make me push for hybrid workplaces and not fully remote careers. There’s much to gain from real human interactions, even if done occasionally.

Thanks for reading.

For more, please read Doing Meaningful Work

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