I won’t be Attending our Virtual Happy Hour

Dear Colleagues,

I love you. I miss you. I completely understand the impulse to find creative ways for us to sustain close ties. Nevertheless, I regret to inform you that I will not be attending this week’s virtual happy hour.

I could invent an excuse (I’m looking at you Marty) about having to take a client call; but honestly, the virtual happy hours wear me out. At least as far as I’m concerned, they are achieving the opposite of the intended goal. I feel less connected to each of you when I click the “Leave Meeting” button. Instead of feeling reinvigorated by warm interactions with people I care about, I just feel like taking a nap.

Boss, I know we may be discussing my absence during our next virtual performance conversation. Feel free to put a note in my permanent record about not being a team player. Also, I would follow up with Marty about the so called “client call” that excused him from last week’s happy hour.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I know that the pandemic is temporary, but I fear that its influence on how we work will be permanent. No doubt conversations are going on about how remote work is turning out to be a blessing in disguise. I can almost hear the number crunching going on in the finance department. Productivity is up. Our need for office space is down. Win-Win!

I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy my new commute from master bedroom to spare bedroom. I’m also grateful that I don’t have to label the food in my refrigerator, and I don’t need permission to be home waiting for the plumber. Of course, I wouldn’t need to label my food in the break room refrigerator if some people had more respect for other people’s personal property! Sorry, where was I? I have been more productive. I’ve been exercising more regularly, and my partner and I have the time and energy for an after-dinner walk most nights.

Here’s the thing, working from home is not just about a change of address. I appreciate all the webinars about effective virtual collaboration and how to set up my home office space. It’s just that all these efforts to make my new circumstances look, feel, and operate like my old circumstances miss the point. We’re not just relocating where the work gets done, we’re reinventing the way the work gets done.

Work is not just my productive output. For me, work was also the place where I noticed when someone bought a new pair of shoes or more importantly, the place where someone noticed when I bought a new pair of shoes. I realize that I could upload a photo of my new shoes to our team Slack Channel, but then everybody would feel obliged to respond with some digital simulacrum of an actual smile. Now I don’t even bother putting on shoes.

If this new arrangement is going to stick, we should have a conversation about how we’re all doing. Or, if that’s too touchy-feely for you, we could talk about dismantling some of our most painful routines instead of figuring out ways to keep them going virtually. How about we come up with a way to use technology to make our status update meetings less monotonous? They were bad enough when we met in person.

Some of you, dear colleagues, seem to be having an easier time adjusting. Maybe those of you who have always connected with friends through technology love the virtual happy hours. Do you? Really?

I’m sure we’ll figure all this out. Meanwhile, please excuse my absence this Friday. I’m not trying to be insubordinate. It’s just that I now realize that some things about “going in” to work are probably gone forever. Recreating an artificial version of them just reminds me of what I’ve lost.

4 Comments

  1. This was very insightful and resonated deeply with me. I hope people are not so obssessed with nostalgia for a “past” they didn’t enjoy to begin with, and I hope this goes viral to help (us) in that goal!

  2. Great points above Jay!

    I’m curious to hear what you recommend to make connecting in a virtual format beneficial? I agree virtual happy hours aren’t all that great, but I’m not entirely sure of a better alternative.

    What other ways would you recommend we connect to foster the relationships we’ve traditionally built up in person? Looking forward to reading more of your perspective!

    1. Hi t s,

      Thank you for the comment and question. Some of the best thinking on this topic that I have seen comes from Matt Mullenweg, the CEO of Automatic. Check out his post: https://ma.tt/2020/04/five-levels-of-autonomy/ and be sure to listen to the interview with Sam Harris.

      I would also say that there’s no one way that we develop relationships with people, even when we do it in person. The in-person part just means that opportunities abound because we’re stuck with each other. Some people thrive in an office setting, some people tolerate it because there’s no other option. I would start by having a conversation with my team about our needs and preferences when it comes to being in relationship with people at work.

      I don’t want to minimize or ignore the tragic consequences of the pandemic. At the same time, we have an opportunity to reinvent how we work rather than trying to retrofit our comfortable practices to a distributed workforce.

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