As I mentioned here, yes I am very grateful that starting 2020 until today I can still work from home. There are many advantages that I get from working from home, such as less commute stress, cozy clothes (I get to wear those sweatpants), even money savings.

During the two years I worked from home, I felt there were no obstacles that prevented me from working, communicating, conducting meetings, and also building trust. I am very grateful for the advances in technology that really help me to do this.

However, I also had the chance to meet my colleagues in the office in person.

Me and colleagues

Then that made me realize something. I feel quite privileged because before the moment of working from home I had the chance to meet and work in the office with my colleagues. That of course halved the effort for us to build trust when we finally worked from home.

Then lately I’ve seen a lot of companies decide to work from anywhere forever.

So, I’m actually a little nervous by so many companies saying, “Hey, turns out we’re highly functional by not having an office, let’s just abandon the office.”

Trying to build trust without any kind of human contact is way more difficult.

People are tribal creatures, we’re social animals, we need human interaction, and at the end of the day, though we can be functional and get things done, it’s very hard to have any kind of brainstorming or creativity over the webcam.

One of the mistakes that a lot of organizations have made is because we’ve adapted reasonably well to teleworking. We’re missing the fact that many of the relationships preexisted, just like me and my colleagues.

Good luck building trust with somebody who’s entirely new to the team and has never met anyone. That’s very different.

Because remember, we build trust between the meetings. Isaac Stern said, “music happens between the notes”. Well, trust happens between the meetings.

You build trust when you’re walking in and you’re a little early and you’re making small talk. You build trust as you’re walking out and you’re still talking about the meeting. You build trust when you bump into somebody in a cafeteria and you go, “Oh, I’ve been meaning to talk to you”. You build trust when you knock on someone’s door and you say, “You got a minute?”. You build trust when you say, “You wanna have lunch?”.

And it’s these social interactions over and over and over again. Just like brushing your teeth - brushing your teeth for two minutes is nothing. Do it twice a day, every day, it keeps your teeth clean.

And it’s way more difficult to do, not impossible to do, but way more difficult to build trust virtually because now you actually have to schedule that time because there are no such things as between the meeting. You show up for the call and that’s it. You have the call and when the call is done, you all get up. There’s no human interaction.

So, the way you do it is you have to schedule times for personal stuff. Like you actually have team huddles (or team virtual entertainment) where you get on outside working hour, and you say “What’s on your heart and mind? And here’s a fun or poignant question to answer, let’s go around the room”.

You have virtual lunches with people where you log. And even then, even on virtual teams, you still wanna meet at least once a year as a group to solidify those bonds.

And also, brainstorming sessions, anything to do with ideas, they’re more difficult to do virtually. You just don’t have the same flow of ideas. You can’t interrupt each other easily. Interrupting virtually is rude and disruptive. But, interrupting each other in a meeting room where there are 10 of us is easy and no big deal, you can have four people talking at the same time and it’s fun because we’re all in the same flow in idea generation.

We have to accept that yes, the ability to telework means we can keep these organizations functional and moving during these pandemic times. And for companies that think they never need to go back to the office, they’re in for a shock. I think what will happen is things will become a little more fluid, where people will actually have the option to telework when they can and when they need to. It’s not like, “Hey, next Thursday do you mind if…”. It’ll happen where somebody just emails or messages in the morning saying, “I’m working from home today”. And it’s fine. It’s just become a fluid part of our workday and way more socially acceptable. People working a half-day in the office, people working a half day from home because they gotta deal with something. They don’t need to take a day off.

This article is part of the 30 Day Writing Challenge. I’ll challenge myself to write whatever comes to mind.