No coffee breaks or water cooler gossip – work from home is hurting office friendship and the team vibe

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  • Remote work has changed the dynamics of the office friendship and Zoom calls are sometimes just not enough to catch up.
  • The biggest of companies – Google, Uber – have announced work from home until next year, while startups in India like Zomato and OYO are considering a hybrid workplace model.
  • A recent CISCO report shows that 64% of the surveyed professionals experienced challenges with the loss of informal kitchen or watercooler exchanges.
In the pre-Covid era, when Shayandril Sen, an advertising professional, needed a quick brainstorming session, the team would huddle up in a conference room and a great idea would be out in less than an hour. Now, it has been replaced by a series of Zoom calls with the most-repeated question being, “can you hear me?”

Nearly months into the COVID-19 pandemic, giants like Google and Uber have already declared work from home (WFH) until next year. Startups in India like Zomato and OYO are already considering a hybrid workplace model, which includes a permanent work from home solution for a major chunk of the employees

Now, many workplace ‘besties’ are worried if their friendship will survive if the situation lasted any longer or, for that matter, forever.

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American standup comedian Jerry Seinfeld in his show complained about the number of times colleagues had to greet each other in the office but, one wonders, if he would change his mind post this pandemic. “Informal interaction is not as high because teams are remote. They don’t just happen to walk by each other to spark conversation,” said a recent CISCO report that showed that 64% of over 100 IT professionals surveyed miss these casual exchanges.

More importantly, this new arrangement threatens many precious workplace relationships that are, often, key to getting things done.

Office FOMO

Lawyers, young doctors, journalists, and many more such professionals tend to make friends mostly within their community or offices. “As lawyers, since we spend most of our day in our office, our colleagues do become an integral part of our lives. While work from home is a necessity in the present times, office banter is definitely something that's missed. Amidst immense work pressure, at least you have a group of colleagues with whom one can take a short 'chai-sutta' break or a walk to just release the stress,” said Adishree Mishra, a lawyer at a top law firm.
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Meanwhile, in cases where employees changed jobs during the pandemic, their first interaction was over a video call, completely devoid of the personal touch that is crucial to building trust and camaraderie. “A lot of us who still have a job find ourselves working with a completely new team, which on a lot of occasions is extremely frustrating,” said a working professional who didn’t want to be named.

Office pals are important in more ways than one

Gone are those days, when cheeky responses and eye-rolls were shared across the cubicle to hide the spite for the boss. Now, people miss the quick gossip next to the water cooler and the catch up over coffee breaks that helped take their minds off work, even if it was for just a bit.

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It’s not just the chilling and gossipping, the CISCO survey showed that sales employees miss the ‘togetherness’ on the floor.

It’s even more important for ideas.“As with any creative professional, in the advertising industry, we vibe off each other while brainstorming,” Sen told Business Insider.

And, the time saved by not commuting to the office is not always efficiently used. “Digital brainstorms have literally become as the saying goes, ‘This meeting could have been an email’. We are suddenly holding way too many meetings and spending way too much time on things which were earlier one line briefs to the team,” according to Sen.

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The ‘new’ fun Friday – online pictionary and Bollywood guessing games

Companies are aware of the new challenges posed by WFH. That has led to casual Fridays have been replaced by weekly team events. “We have a Fun Friday connect on the last Friday of every month, where we have engaging games/activities to keep everyone engaged. Just recently, we played Pictionary and Bollywood quiz and we had a fun challenge to see who could put up the most wacky/crazy Bollywood poster as their virtual background,” said Lorita, an IT professional working in an audit and consulting firm.

Interestingly, the most eager to join these sessions are those employees who used to shrug off such HR-led initiatives, like team-bonding activities, competitions etc. before the pandemic.

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