I graduated into remote work. I felt so alone and left behind that I was desperate to return to the office.

I graduated into remote work. I felt so alone and left behind that I was desperate to return to the office.
The author during virtual graduation.Josh Axelrod
  • I graduated from college in 2020, which meant everything was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • We got a lot of sympathy for that. But things remained difficult as people like me entered the workplace.

Us 2020 college grads got a lot of sympathy back in the day. With pandemic-induced remote learning and virtual graduation ceremonies, we were missing out on what was supposed to be one of the best years of our lives.

But our class' actual trials began just when the attention started to shift away from us, as we clumsily navigated the pivotal transition to the working world from our childhood bedrooms.

When that fateful March afternoon first rolled around — the day a healthcare crisis officially became a pandemic — college campuses closed, sending students scrambling and initiating a diaspora of remote learning. For seniors, it was a bitter anticlimax to our four glorious years of schooling, with in-person graduation yanked out from under us to cap off our unceremonious finish.

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The class of 2020 received a lot of early pandemic sympathy because we were missing rites of passage

As I defended my honors thesis over Zoom and ironically wore my girlfriend's ill-fitting high school graduation robe for a virtual couch-viewing of commencement, our neighbors and community members consoled us.

But as we settled into our quarantine silos, individually trying to make sense of our new daily rhythms, recent college graduates like myself quietly struggled. I had chanced into a steady gig with my hometown newspaper after doing some freelance reporting during school, but my unemployed classmates endured an even bleaker daily routine as they strained to find jobs in a historically turbulent labor market.


The months following college are already challenging enough for graduates

Therapists agree that "post-grad depression" is a prevalent issue, as 20-somethings leave their previously known worlds behind for the tribulations and frequent boredoms of adult life. But maneuvered successfully, the post-grad period should allow students-turned-workers to acclimate to their new lifestyle: a consistent wake-up time, the routine of a morning commute, the workplace socialization with a cohort of peers and colleagues.

I graduated into remote work. I felt so alone and left behind that I was desperate to return to the office.
The author working remotely.Josh Axelrod

Instead, I spent many mornings lazily checking emails under the covers, unmotivated to make the 15-second commute from bed to desk to begin another day of isolated work, my only social contact coming from disembodied Slack avatars.

In lieu of an orientation or any on-the-job training, I was sent virtual training materials to leaf through on my own time. Save for my first day, when my boss went above and beyond to onboard me from his backyard patio, my job offered no other in-person introductions to colleagues or supervisors. No nice-to-meet-you lunches or welcome-to-the-office happy hours.

As I tried to orient myself to the skills of my job, I was also struggling with feelings of isolation

These feelings were familiar to many in those early days of the pandemic. As an extroverted 20-something used to being surrounded by people in dorms, dining halls, and classrooms at all times, I didn't take kindly to my new solitary surroundings.

Instead of confabbing with coworkers, my daily lunch hour entailed slinking down to the kitchen to dispassionately assemble sandwich fixings. Just like kids miss out on socialization when school moves online, so do workers — and lacking that small talk or midday strategy session can erode one's sense of belonging and drive to contribute to a team.


As time went on, long after my diploma arrived in the mail and temperatures had shot up to the sweaty heights of summer, I began acclimating to the job. Yet I still can't help but feel like I'd be leagues ahead in my career if I'd been able to shadow veteran colleagues, mingle with a cohort of similarly aged peers, and receive the real-time feedback that so often falls to the wayside when work moves online.

I've finally found a job where I can work in the office, and it's changed my life

It took a long time to get here. I moved out of my childhood bedroom and into an apartment in Washington, D.C., though the promise of returning to the office post-Labor Day was dashed a day after I unpacked my boxes. I worked in a silo, producing content and repeating labor cycles over and over again in isolation.

As others joyously discovered the freedom of working remotely, I quietly hoped to return to the office. Two years into the pandemic, I finally have.

Especially for new employees, there's simply no replacement for the camaraderie, education, and communication that comes from in-person work. As a student, I spent four years cultivating my professional skills and studying tirelessly to ready myself for the working world. I was desperate to put those skills to their full use.

But first, I needed to be in an office environment where I could thrive. I'm so relieved I finally am.