Friday, October 2, 2009

Where Have All Your Colleagues Gone?

Do you remember when the people that you worked with every day sat in the offices near you?

When I first started working in Corporate America, my entire department was located in the same site, in the same building, and on the same aisle. If someone transferred from one department to another, they moved into an office to be near their team.

My corporation was even a bit famous for moving employees from one location to another when they took a new job. And the company paid for the move.

“Work from home”, and “mobile workforce” became popular in the late 90’s. It was really tough for remote employees during that period; many of their colleagues still shared the same work location and the remote employees might be one of a few who were on the phone while everyone else was in the same conference room. They had to become really skilled at telepathically reading the white board while staring at their phone. If they were really lucky – and there wasn’t a freeze on travel – they might get to see their teammates once or twice a year.

By 2005, I was working with colleagues that I had never met in person. My boss was in one location, my peers were in multiple locations across the US, and teams that I worked with were spread across all geographies.

I interviewed and hired (and sometimes even fired) employees over the phone. If they didn’t post a picture in the online directory, I conjured up an image of what they might look like – which was invariably wrong. But we were all very good at recognizing voices. After all, we talked to each other every day – just not around the water-cooler, or in the hallway.

One day it occurred to me that I was getting dressed in work clothes, rushing to the office, closing my door, and hopping on conference calls, never seeing another person all day long. I came out of my office only to go the restroom. I realized that if I worked from home I would save at least an hour a day – an extra hour that I could spend working even longer.

I’m not complaining. I liked working at home. I could wear sweat pants and bunny slippers. I could walk across the room and make myself a cup of tea without ever leaving the conference call. I even got out of the house at least once a day – to check the mail around 2pm.

Sound familiar? Or maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who still sit on the same aisle with your team. You tell me:

How often do you see your colleagues?


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