Day one (very nervous!) and I had my first Microsoft team meeting at 9:30am. Everyone gave their update on the week - it was like starting a movie half way through; you don’t know all the characters and some of the storyline doesn’t make any literal sense. And then when the meeting is over, I’m left sat at my desk staring at my laptop. Everyone is off doing their own thing and it’s easy to forget about the new person because you can’t even see them.
That is what is so fundamentally difficult about working online: the ultimate lack of any human interaction is not normal. So I begin my internship with a conflicted mindset; one of curiosity to the online world, seeing how companies become more virtual in the future. But also a mindset of is this really happening? Are we going to stop ‘needing’ each other and rely purely on a world online?
I know that many people have loved working from home. Granted, there is a sense of peace and freedom, which is absolutely true. But it’s the new people I’m worried about… new employees and interns who will have to build a network in their work environment from scratch online. Not knowing anyone is scary and especially so when you’re working and can’t physically see people to gauge where you’re at with anyone.
If you have a question you can’t pop over to someone’s desk and ask them because you have to send an entire email or a WhatsApp to ask. It makes things more formal than they may need to be and removes a level of friendliness. Also, how do you actually structure your day? Will anyone notice if you wake up at 10 instead of 9? During my internship experience, I felt it was very hard to get to know the company. You genuinely don’t know how busy people are because you can’t see them so don’t know how much you’re bothering them. I found myself grovelling over people so much and smothering them with so many thank yous whenever someone helped me because I wanted people to know I was grateful for their help and it was difficult to show it any other way.
You also can’t celebrate your achievements during the day. May seem like a small thing but good moments become deflated when they aren't shared. I learnt this from ‘Into the Wild’, a true story about Christopher McCandless who believes our only truth is freedom from society, but after being isolated for 2 years he realises,
“happiness is only real when shared”
and how true I found this to be.
So above all, the main thing was not feeling a sense of belonging. I felt like there was a community built up already and although I didn’t expect to be part of that so quickly, with everything online there was no way I was even going to get close. Now this experience is NO SOB STORY or something devastatingly tragic (although I know it may sound like that at this point) because it was actually really interesting and a very invaluable insight. HOWEVER, I did learn that the reality is: we are not going to be fundamentally effective online.
I want to use this experience to harness a sense of urgency in the way we work. What makes work bearable, is more than what you’re actually doing. It’s your day to day experience, your human connections that create an image of how you perceive the world and brings genuine meaning to your life. Life is shaped so heavily around other people and we just cannot adopt the same connection online.
Parts of working can and should definitely be online (we are connected to an entire world that way), but the predominant force should be in the humanly social world. Covid has helped us get a glimpse of what the world could be like online but in the long run it will not work. There is too much missed when not being able to share with other people. Motivation is challenged, loneliness is increased and effectiveness is ultimately halved.