Those of us at Insurance Nerds are huge advocates for Work from Home opportunities. However, arguments tend to center on what Millennials want and the increased productivity of working at home. There is a potential shadowy side to this in-demand perk: losing a sense of camaraderie. Part of me wonders if this is really what Baby Boomers are worried about – that Millennials, perfectly comfortable with having entirely-online relationships, will leave Baby Boomers alone in the dark if Work From Home becomes too prevalent.
It’s a fair concern. People communicate best in different ways, which goes against Millennials as well. It’s common to hear insurance professionals complain of Millennials refusing to pick up or answer their phone. They’ll respond to voicemail with emails, a missed call with a quick message to check in. Talking in person or on the phone is often the better way to go in complex situations and Millennials may ignore that due to texting being more comfortable.
Based on those conceptions, it’s not hard to conjecture that if Work From Home were the standard, you may never know the sound of your colleague’s voice. Your communication with teammates could deteriorate due to different sets of communication skills or preferences.
However, under the right circumstances, this does not at all need to be the case. My Underwriting Assistant works from home all the time and I’m about 4 hours away from her. I’ve met her in person I think 3 times.
I’m closer to her than anyone in my physical office.
You can read that again. She and I talk all the time via the company messenger. We text outside of work, and when there’s an issue that needs a phone call, we’ll make a phone call. She explains situations thoroughly and succinctly in her emails to me when I need to step in, and vice versa. We have a great work relationship and friendship despite the lack of physical proximity.
When we start allowing for Work From Home (which is coming, mark my words), we will have to adjust. We might need to do training sessions with younger professionals on when to reach for the phone versus keyboard. We’ll have to implement text and video chat on work computers and provide light tutorials on making the best use of them. We might have to do some initially-awkward things, like virtual-ice cream socials or Fun Friday chats.
The biggest thing to stress in implementing these tools is that personal chatter is fine. There should be no concern that having a personal conversation with your coworker over text or video chat is going to get you in trouble (well unless it’s something bad, then you should get in trouble). This chatter is no different from walking in and asking your coworker how their day is going, what they did over the weekend, or how their kid is doing in sports. Information and emotional investment fosters connections with colleagues. Proximity often forces us into these states, but we can get there just as easily (and I would argue more honestly) by using text and other methods.
Understandable? Yes. But now that we’ve brought these concerns up, we can begin addressing them and make sure that communication is maintained and supported as Work From Home becomes more prevalent.