Starting a new job can be daunting at the best of times but starting one during a pandemic is something that most of us would feel a little bit unprepared for. The experience is very different to starting under normal procedures in an office setting and for me, has brought to the forefront some interesting points to consider when contemplating the future of office-working and the rise of a new norm of working from home.

My name is Sophie Hill and I joined the Informare team as a Communications Executive in March 2020 during the height of the pandemic after working as an Operations Administrator in a Financial Ratings company. Since graduating with a Degree in English and American Literature from the University of Kent, I knew that I wanted to develop my knowledge and skills in marketing and communications, and I have had the opportunity to do this while working at Informare.

Starting a new role during the pandemic has given me a lot to think about, and since the Informare team have slowly began to safely return to the office, I have been able to compare clearly the difference between working from home and in an office environment.

Virtual Reality

Getting acquainted with your team virtually is very different to connecting with them in person. Communication is made via video call, emails, and phone calls whereas usually in an office setting you would spend time meeting your new colleagues in person while settling into the office.

Having spoken with Meera Yadave from BDG architecture + design, she said she felt that she had to make more effort to reach out and get acquainted with her colleagues, hoping they did not forget who she was. In a big team especially, this could be a worry for new starters who want to get involved in the culture of their new workplace.

There is a layer of communication absent virtually that you cannot match. For me, getting to know my team through a screen is just not the same experience as meeting them in person. It is more difficult, the calls are very limited when you have more than a few on a call at once, only one person can talk at a time to be heard, whereas in person people can break off into little groups and mingle. As a new starter, this can also feel a bit daunting as the attention is focussed all on you when you speak. You can easily fade into the background on a call, whereas in person everyone can see that you are present, and it is easier to interact.

To add to that, if you have issues with your microphone or video, or you are trying not to make too much noise because there are other people around, you cannot get the same experience as you would in person where you do not have these obstructions.

Starting Again

When I finally met the team in person it felt a bit like starting again, as had not met most of them in person at all or more than once. Meera from BDG architecture + design also said this was something she found to be the case and surprisingly other colleagues who had worked for BDG longer than her also agreed that they felt like they had to rebuild the closeness they had with their colleagues before going into lockdown as they had not seen each other in such a long time.

For me, also finally putting a face to people you have been working with, both team and clients who I had not even seen on a video call, really helped to build a stronger connection with them that just cannot be achieved through a few formal emails.

Meeting people in person helped the work to come to life more for me. I can also say the same for learning about clients’ work in person, as I had the opportunity to do this with BDG and it really helped me to understand and appreciate what they do when it was more than just pictures or text online.

Embracing the Informal

Starting a new role in the comfort of my own home meant I felt less pressured. I did not have to worry so much about what I wore to work, whether I had prepared lunch or dealing with a busy, long commute. It was also refreshing to see colleagues over video calls in their own homes, as it took some of the formality out of the situation of starting a new job. It gave me more time to adjust to things comfortably when I did not have these added pressures of normal day-to-day life.

Meera from BDG also found that these were positives for her, as well as allowing her to feel like if she was unsure of something, being in the comfort of her own home she could easily take some time to research and figure things out calmly without distraction from other office pressures.

However, there are times when I felt like working from home was too informal as it can be easy to be distracted by family being at home, home chores and more, whereas if you are in the office you are far away from these distractions and it is naturally easier to get in the frame of mind to be productive and work-focussed.

Lost in Translation

Despite technology advancing significantly these days, I have found that communication can be slow when working from home. Emails can get missed and with management attending different video meetings and taking calls regularly, it can be difficult to catch them.

However, this may be dependent on what industry you are in and what type of roles people have. When you are in a new role and you are not completely confident with all your tasks, yet it can be quite difficult trying to communicate with your team and learn these tasks virtually. If you are in the office and need to ask someone something you can clearly see when they have a free moment as you can see what they are doing.

Yes or No to a New Normal

After working from home for months and comparing it to being in the office, I feel that that people should have some flexibility – if you are happy working at home and work well at the same time, then why should you not have the option to work from home, at least on a half in the office, half in the home basis?

This might have to be regulated somehow though as companies will want to know how often their offices will be used to consider the costs and benefits, and how much space they need. They might want to downsize if less people are using the office or use hotdesking if desks are not used every day.

In my opinion, office-working is not dead and communicating with your team and clients in person is just not the same virtually, but it is nice to have an option to work from home sometimes as it is refreshing every once in a while to have a more slow-paced day at home without the pressures of the outside world getting in the way.