When offices in the U.S. started shutting down to slow the spread of COVID-19, the telework timelines were optimistically brief. But as companies have extended deadlines and shifted to long-term remote work, employees across many different industries are accepting that the pre-pandemic workplace may be a thing of the past.
In the Before Times, many found respite during long workdays in the company of others. Heather Cody, a 30-year-old employee at an Oklahoman teacher’s nonprofit, loved getting daily lunches with co-workers before she went remote. Two Bay Area tech marketers, one 27 and one 23, regularly convened at their office for tea and tarot readings. (They requested anonymity because their company didn’t approve the interview.) “A lot of my work … is sending out emails, writing up docs, and there’s nothing glamorous or particularly exciting about these individual tasks that make up my day,” the 27-year-old told me. “What makes it a lot more enjoyable is being able to hang out with people … as I’m firing off these emails.”
Making friends at work is rarely a job requirement, yet in a 2018 survey conducted by researchers at Olivet Nazarene University, 82 percent of respondents reported having at least one work friend. Nearly 30 percent said that they had a work best friend. Some of this millennium’s most popular sitcoms revel in the antics of co-workers who have little choice but to bond while spending 40 hours a week together. Annie McKee, the author of How to Be Happy at Work: The Power of Purpose, Hope, and Friendship, told me that these relationships emerge from the nexus of convenience and necessity—convenient because of the low-effort opportunities to socialize, necessary because of our basic human need to connect.