my coworkers have all but disappeared since the pandemic

A reader writes:

Recently, you shared a letter from someone who wrote that they don’t want to talk about their life outside of work with their colleagues, and it got me thinking about the dynamics of the team I work in.

I’ve been at my company for many years. I empathize with the writer of the original letter to a degree – I don’t see work as a means to have my social needs met, and I enjoy working the sort of job that allows me to log in and log out without taking work home with me. I’m not someone who would typically invite coworkers to my wedding or baby shower, or go to a coworker’s house for a housewarming or Christmas party. However, I do like feeling like I know my coworkers and that I’m part of a team. Pre-pandemic when everyone was in the office, I enjoyed talking with coworkers, feeling a sense of camaraderie with them, and knowing what was going on in their lives (broadly! – I’m talking “How is your son doing in his first week of school?” rather than “So how is your son’s bedwetting phase going?”). There were occasional social events and after-work drinks; I would participate around one-third of the time, depending on the event and whether my own circumstances made it convenient. While I enjoyed these events and the time spent socializing with coworkers, my personal life or “real life” would always take priority, and often I’d honestly just rather go home. All of this is to say, for context of what I’m about to write, that I like to think I’m friendly and social, but I’m also an introvert who enjoys the separation of work and home.

Cut to the pandemic, and everyone moved to WFH. My entire team still remains primarily WFH. We all have the option to go into the offices in our various cities, and very occasionally most of us do, but this is typically not something any of us do day-to-day.

Here’s my dilemma, and why the original letter got me thinking about my own team’s dynamics: About half of my team seem to be intensely private and/or camera-shy, and I don’t see or hear from them other than if they ask a work-related question in the work chat. Like: at all. They don’t turn their cameras on during meetings and stay silent towards the end of the meeting when our manager asks us questions about our weekends and tries to get us to chat. In a team of 10-15 or so, only a few people actually speak up during this time. Before the pandemic and in the early days of WFH, our team was structured differently and had more oversight, and these coworkers would usually participate at least a little. Now, we have different managers and more autonomy, and that combined with how long we’ve been WFH means people have stopped caring about the appearance of being “unapproachable.”

This is starting to get to me, more than I’d like and more than I would have assumed would be the case. I like keeping my camera off and staying silent sometimes too when my social battery is low, so it’s not that I don’t relate, but feeling like the few of us who regularly speak up in meetings are speaking to a bunch of brick walls is incredibly demoralizing. This has caused me to realize that I do much better as an employee when I feel in some way connected to my coworkers, which is something I never had the opportunity to realize about myself before the pandemic. When there’s a sense of familiarity there, it’s easier to want to jump in and help someone out on something, or speak up about things, or ask a quick work-related question. When I was regularly coming into contact with my coworkers – not just in my own team but company-wide – in the elevators or in the break room, it instilled in me a greater sense of responsibility and work ethic, as it led to caring more about the bigger picture. Now, I’m finding that I’m only really worrying about my own tiny slice of the company pie. Which should be fine, I guess! But I do better work when I care about the rest of the pie as a whole. The more narrow-sighted I get with my own work, the more I find myself doing the bare minimum and caring less and less. It feels a lot like burnout, but it’s less about the work itself and more about feeling like I’m working within a void.

I’ve spoken to my manager about struggling in this area. He’s quite social and has been trying to get the team to engage. He’s tried multiple ways to encourage a more social dynamic, but every time it’s just the same brick wall, and at this stage he senses it won’t ever change unless he requires participation, which he won’t do. He’s reluctant to require cameras on and I tend to agree with that (and also enjoy that I can leave my own off on days when I look more like Snuffleupagus than a professional human).

A solution we’ve come up with is for me to go into the office semi-regularly, but the only other person on my team who lives in my state has no interest in going in, seemingly ever again, not even for once-off events. I’d worked with this coworker for years before the pandemic and considered her a work friend. She was lovely and social while we were in the office and we had a lot of great conversations. She brought me a souvenir back from an overseas trip and would show me photos of her kid. Now I haven’t seen her face in years and have no idea how she’s doing — and I still work with her every day! Additionally, not many other people go into my office anyway as everyone prefers to WFH, so while it’s nice occasionally running into someone I used to see regularly in the “good old days,” the reality is that I’m still working from a hot desking space with pretty much nobody around. It doesn’t really help. I’m increasingly unsure who even still works at the company anymore.

I suppose my questions are:

1. In response to the original letter writer’s assertion that they don’t want to talk about their personal life at work, and speaking more broadly about people like my coworkers who have basically fallen off the grid since the pandemic: what is your opinion on how much we “owe” our coworkers when it comes to socializing? Shouldn’t a degree of social interaction be expected in any job? Of course, preferring to stick to work talk primarily and not discuss anything private or political is a reasonable boundary to have at work, but doesn’t working in an office environment – online or offline – require understanding that you will occasionally have to make small talk about TV or sports or come up with something nice that you did on the weekend? I don’t want to know how my coworkers vote, whether they get on with their parents, or if they’re in the middle of a divorce, but am I wrong in thinking that I should at least be able to ask my coworkers something innocuous like, “Have you been following the World Cup?” and get a friendly response? Or ANY response?

2. Considering that I now know I work best when I get in some face-to-face time with my colleagues, how should I approach this? Is it simply the case that now that the pandemic has led to a rise in WFH across the board, that this will become the new normal for workplace dynamics, and I need to adjust my expectations and find new ways to feel connected to my work?

I think you are super normal, and your voice has been disproportionately left out of the discussion around remote work. But a ton of people feel like you do (probably at least a plurality, in fact).

It’s normal to want, need, and expect to have relationships with your coworkers that include pleasant conversation beyond a strict work focus. Until remote work became as common as it is now, I don’t think that would have even been questioned — of course a healthy work environment includes building relationships and having some amount of social interaction. There will always be people on both ends of that spectrum (people who want very little interaction with colleagues and people who want more of it than most) but the majority of people are somewhere in the broad middle of that. (It’s worth noting that people on the less social end of that spectrum tend to be over-represented in internet commenting sections  — I see it here all the time — but that’s not reflective of real life. And at least here, those voices are usually outliers but tend to be so vociferous that they feel like they’re a larger proportion of people than they really are. I once looked at actual numbers on this and it was fascinating to see how in the minority they really were.)

In any case, let’s state it clearly for the record: relationships at work matter! Not only do they make work more pleasant, but they have substantive work pay-offs too: When you have good relationships with colleagues, they’re usually more willing to go out of their way to help when you need it (beyond the bare minimum of what their job requires, like if you need something expedited or if you need help getting something fixed quickly rather than next month). They’re more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt, toss ideas around with you, and approach you with questions. Good work relationships can also give you the context to understand someone’s actions/mood/tone, and can help you access mentorship or support that might otherwise be less in reach. Good work relationships also mean you’ll be more likely to hear useful information outside of official channels, which could be anything from “That job you were interested in is about to open up again” to “The reason your travel costs are getting more scrutiny now is X.” Plus, when people know and like you, you’re more likely to come to mind when they’re thinking of someone to lead an interesting project or recommend for a job. And on and on.

I do think you’re somewhat off-base, though, to frame work relationships in terms of what colleagues owe each other. Colleagues do owe it to each other to be reasonably pleasant to work with, and should expect that in a workplace they’re going to encounter some amount of social chit-chat and shouldn’t recoil when it happens. If someone is rude or chilly in response to a coworker asking if they’ve been following the World Cup or how their weekend was, that’s a problem. But it doesn’t sound like you’ve been getting rude or chilly responses; it sounds more like those social conversations just aren’t coming up organically now that most of you are remote. When you’re in person, it’s natural to chat at the start of a meeting or when you run into someone in the kitchen. When most of a team is remote, those things aren’t happening — and if you don’t work somewhere that’s deliberate about creating opportunities for them or happens to have gregarious employees who create those opportunities on their own, those interactions can disappear altogether.

It also sounds like your team meetings aren’t being run well. I’d argue it’s generally fine for people to have their cameras off — there are lots of reasons for why someone might prefer that, including not having a private enough workspace at home — but it is a problem that only a few of you talk in meetings and you don’t get any response from the others when you do (assuming these meetings are ones where you’d normally expect fuller participation, which sounds like the case). That’s largely on your manager, who needs be clearer about what kind of participation is expected in your meetings.

But ultimately, I think this just isn’t an ideal job for you anymore. There are lots of jobs where remote teams do engage and build relationships and chat with each other; this just isn’t one of them. It also might be that you’re someone who doesn’t thrive on a team where most people are remote and you’d be happier with one where most people are in the office more. There are also people who would love how your job works, so it’s not necessarily a failing of the job itself; it’s just not an optimal fit for you.

{ 577 comments… read them below }

  1. king of the pond*

    The “talking to a brick wall” effect of online meetings is a very strong one. When I was a compsci TA in college and had to run online labs, trying to teach to a screen of silent black was very tough. I didn’t want to enforce cameras, as I personally also hate having my camera on, but getting absolutely no feedback from my students made it very hard to teach. I know I talk fast, so I would try to stop and go “any questions? Is this making sense?” but I’d end up sitting in the most awkward silence until I couldn’t take it and kept going. I tried to encourage/watch chat, encourage them to speak up… I don’t know. Not being able to passively read anyone’s facial expression can be very tough, but someone having their camera on doesn’t even necessarily fix that. As much as I adore learning/working from home and existing digitally, even I have to admit there’s some things about being in person that can’t be replaced.

    1. many bells down*

      I definitely considered myself very introverted, but I agree with you. Talking to a screen of black boxes is even more exhausting than talking to faces. It’s shouting into the void with no feedback!
      I make an effort to have my camera on unless I’m like… super sick, because I figure other people probably don’t enjoy talking to The Void either.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I try to mitigate this two ways, maybe others will find them helpful.

        First, I set my “camera off” screen to a photo of myself smiling instead of a black box. It isn’t the same as real-time reactions, of course, but it’s better than the brick wall in my experience.

        Second, I think about the meeting as audio-0nly. Of course my coworker Greg isn’t using his camera, this is an audio call. If it’s a small meeting, I ask the same engagement questions I would on an audio call: “Greg, what would you need to make an estimate?” or “I’d love to hear Greg’s perspective on this.”

        1. rollyex*

          Good stuff.

          Without a strong reason otherwise, people should turn their cameras on when speaking and also for the first and last few minutes of meeting to seem engaged. During the bulk of the meeting, cameras off should be 100% fine and cameras on should be 100% fine. And everything in between. Leaders should model cameras on most of the time to promote that, but should also have cameras off sometimes to signal that is OK! They should also have a friendly headshot in their profile to show up when cameras are off as you mention. This is courtesy to others, particularly the speaker.

          Leaders should also model sharing in chat – some people find that easier.

          But the issues are deeper than this with these meetings.

        2. There You Are*

          I started my career back when video calls were pretty much the stuff of sci-fi. We built great relationships and work friendships over the phone and through email (and then instant messaging, which made communication much more interactive).

          For a lot of video calls, I turn off the other person’s / people’s video feeds so I can’t see them and just concentrate on what they’re saying.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Another introvert agreeing.

        Also, I find it easier to work with my coworkers if I know them a little bit and have a better idea how they’ll respond to things! I don’t expect us to be buddy-buddies, and we don’t work together intensively, but it’s still easier to interact with people in a work context when they’ll give you a little bit “socially” (although not even really socially).

      3. Sloanicota*

        I actually miss conference calls for this reason. We used to have someone share a powerpoint or document in advance and then have a conference call about it, back in Ye Olden Days. Or if there was no document to share, definitely conference call. It didn’t seem so unfriendly to have people being quiet or not “on” there, but because I’m staring at that wall of black boxes now, it’s much more noticeable. We never have calls anymore, it’s always a zoom.

      4. Olive*

        I think that being able to see facial expressions and body language can be extremely helpful to many introverts. It can make communication times shorter, not require everyone to be verbally explicit about how they’re thinking and feeling, and make people feel like surveilled via questioning and check-ins.

    2. Kes*

      Yeah the brick wall can be rough. I think for meetings that require engagement it’s on the meeting leader to call on people if needed, and in situations like the OPs for the team lead to make it clear to the team members that they don’t have to be the chattiest ever but they do expect some level of participation.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Based on this line:
        “They […] stay silent towards the end of the meeting when our manager asks us questions about our weekends and tries to get us to chat.”

        It sounds to me like they are participating in the actual meeting and then the boss tried to switch gears to some social chat at the end of the meeting and people aren’t volunteering what they are doing that weekend or whatever.

        [Sidenote: I feel like at my company that kind of social chit-chat is usually at the *start* of meetings as people are trickling in. I feel like at the end of the meeting people most probably just want to end the call!]

    3. Shirley Keeldar*

      I find there’s a higher barrier to speaking up on video meetings/class than there is in person. Maybe it’s due to missing all the small social cues (eye contact, nodding, facial expression) that say, “It’s okay and safe to speak here.” I don’t know. But it’s real! And it leads to the “talk to the brick wall” thing. I wish I knew how to solve it!

      1. kiki*

        Yes! The barrier to speaking up is definitely higher– folks don’t want to interrupt, it takes a bit of time to unmute so they may miss the opportunity to jump in during a natural gap, and there are issues with lag. Also, leading a meeting in person, I can pause when I see somebody looking confused or like they’re about to ask a question. In a video meeting, especially with cameras off, I have to build in gaps and pauses, which feels so much more awkward.

      2. irritable vowel*

        I have found I have a really hard time with this, much more so than I would IRL. My team has an optional informal Zoom on Friday mornings and I stopped attending after a while because I just couldn’t manage to insert myself into the conversation (and it often ends up being 1 or 2 people just monologuing regardless of who else is there). This is not a problem I feel like I have in face-to-face group conversations!

      3. English Rose*

        This can be true, but it’s partly due to how the meeting is run. We have a regular all hands video meeting and the chair is an excellent facilitator. He asks people to raise hands rather than jump in. (Everyone knows how to work the basic reaction options because we were taught.)
        I think it works though because our company culture is different – we are expected to have cameras on, not in a demanding way but because it was simply assumed from the start of Covid that we would. Otherwise why not just have an audio call?
        In fact it was only when I started reading so many posts and comments about it here on AAM that it occurred to me having camera off was even an option. It feels almost rude not to have your camera on.
        I get that some people who are neurodiverse struggle with this – and also some don’t. It also really helps people with hearing issues when they can see facial expressions.
        BTW for anyone running online training and events, I can recommend a book called Unboring, by Jackie Barrie.

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          I don’t work from home much, but on the rare occasions I have to take a video call from home I keep my camera off for privacy reasons. I don’t mind showing my face on zoom… but I have nowhere to take a work call that wouldn’t risk showing family members, personal items, etc. and I’m not comfortable with that.

          Obviously this should not be the case for someone who works remotely full time. I would argue that having an appropriately professional workspace is a necessary requirement for working from home, even if that workspace is just a tidy corner of the bedroom or something.

          1. Freya*

            When I’m on video calls in the office, I always blur out the background, because:
            a) half the office printers are near my desk, and anyone waiting for a printout is visible in my background
            b) decorations can be distracting – there’s carefully placed folders so the office gnome isn’t visible to my webcam, but there’s other things that bring joy to coworkers but aren’t relevant to whoever I’m talking to
            c) labelled client folders are visible in the background and client names are none of anyone else’s business

            When WFH I choose whether or not to blur video call backgrounds , based on whether my small shelf of fun activity medals otherwise clearly visible behind me when sitting at my desk would be considered inappropriate or a passing curiosity.

          2. allathian*

            Yeah, that’s a fair concern if you really can’t find a blank wall anywhere to take the call, and can’t teach your family members to stay out of camera range when you’re taking a video call (can be difficult with small kids, shouldn’t be a problem with reasonable adults and teens), and if your organization has issues with people using virtual backgrounds and the slight problems they can sometimes cause with hair appearing and disappearing, etc. Or if you have a bad internet connection/VPN that causes issue with video and backgrounds.

            1. Ace in the Hole*

              Absolutely can be a problem with reasonable adults and teens if you’re in a very small living space. At my old apartment there was nowhere I could realistically work that didn’t give the camera a good view of almost the entire living space.

              Again, though, this was not a normal circumstance… the only reason I was doing it at all was because of the pandemic. It’s one of many reasons I would not want a job that involved routinely working from home.

          3. just some guy*

            Pre-covid, I was WFH with a group that was mostly in-office, and apparently somebody complained that it was unprofessional that they could (if they looked closely at my background) see that I had clothes hanging in my wardrobe.

            My workgroup has changed since then, and I expect people’s standards of “professional” have too, but I still get twitchy sometimes about having my camera on in case somebody takes it upon themselves to fuss about this kind of thing.

            1. Liz*

              I always use virtual backgrounds, even in the office. I found one on Teams that looks similar to my actual office, and use that most of the time for external/client-facing calls. On internal calls I’ll use fun or seasonal backgrounds.

        2. ARW*

          I agree with this point! I have meetings all day, and it’s actually a surprise when you see someone live, but we all have our photo up, instead of a blank circle, so it doesn’t feel like you’re alone. We *try* to use the raise hand feature, so we don’t talk over each other, but my boss also insists that everyone participate, even if it’s just to say “I agree with that.” We also have an always open chat room where we say good morning, good night and generally chat, so we have a relationship with each other. It takes work but for all of my team, scattered across the US, we prefer it to being in office.

        3. Teapot Wrangler*

          We no longer have the ability to do just calls – our phone conferencing software was merged in so now it is all the same thing. I’ve tended to stick with audio only where I would have made a call / conference call in the past and only use video where it would have been an in person meeting but for someone looking at the screen it might be dispiriting!

    4. UKDancer*

      So much. In my last job during lockdown I used to run online webinars explaining topics to our suppliers (e.g. this is our company’s latest llama grooming plan and these are the services we offer). I would have about 20-30 people online and none of them put cameras on. It was painful trying to talk into the blank abyss. I would sit there wondering if anyone was listening, whether I was boring people, whether they understood.

      Truly it’s awful for a trainer to be getting no response. I was so happy when we resumed running them in hybrid format and I had about 10-15 in the room and the same number on zoom. It makes for such a better environment when you’re running the event.

    5. Dumpster Fire*

      I (and many other teachers) spent so many days teaching to a brick wall in 2020-21! The funniest part for me was one particular class – I would often go a full hour of teaching – including time for the students to work on their assignments – and not hear a single word, or see a single word on the chat. Then, they’d hear the bell ring and 25 kids would turn on their microphones to say “good-bye” and “thank you”!

      1. Butterfly Counter*


        My “favorite” is when I dismissed the class and there would still be 3 students still on and not logging out. For like 10 minutes. *eye roll*

        1. Ann Nonymous*

          It’s because they weren’t really there. They were logged in to the meeting but were elsewhere or doing something else…making toast in the kitchen, taking the dog to the backyard, in their bathroom doing whatever. They weren’t at the computer to hear the dismissal.

        2. Dumpster Fire*

          I actually set up one Zoom call for all five of my classes. Anyone left over from one class would just get tossed into the waiting room before the next class started – that way I could see how long they were napping (and how many other classes they were sleeping through lol).

    6. kiki*

      Yes! I am somebody who has to lead meetings and while I support our camera’s off culture, it does make it so much harder for me to get a sense if my coworkers are getting what they need to from a meeting. A big part of the value meetings have is the ability for live feedback and participation. If I just have a simple update to share, I will email it out. When I have a meeting, I want folks’ feedback and the ability to take time to dive into different areas of discussion.

      Before working remotely, engaging meetings came naturally. People jumped in pretty organically and meeting leaders could “read the room” so to speak. Now, a lot of my coworkers view meetings as a time where they will be cameras off and on mute and listen to me talk for 15 minutes. Then they’re surprised when the session isn’t valuable or their perspective isn’t accounted for in a decision.

    7. Just Another Fed*

      This. In a recent webinar for a few dozen people, I asked people to raise their hands if they knew a basic fact that everyone should have learned their first week on the job.

      60% of people did not raise their hands. Does that mean 60% of then don’t know basic information that’s necessary to do their work? Does it mean 60% of them don’t know how to use the Raise Hand function? Does it mean 60% of them had wandered off to change their laundry? The wall of muted black boxes tells me nothing.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        I’m also curious about this – I’m now 3 years in to running virtual education, and I am beyond frustrated with how many faculty and attendees (more so faculty, since we’re paying them) can’t seem to figure out Zoom. I just don’t think there’s an excuse for it any more.

        1. Ssssssssssssssssss*

          We had no virtual or online workshops until the pandemic hit and we had to pivot our workshop delivery quickly. Zoom was chosen.

          Each virtual workshop had a PowerPoint that had several slides on where to find the basic tools (that needed updating at least three times as Zoom continually updated and upgraded their platform and our screen shots were suddenly out of date). AND the email reminder also reminded folks to join early if new to Zoom and where to download it if desired. Our facilitators were expected to be online early to greet nervous and newbie participants. AND we invested a lot of time training our facilitators – volunteers and staffers – on how to facilitate with Zoom.

          And three years later, we still have people – staff principally – who cannot figure out how to change their name or those who are leading the meeting can’t figure out “Mute all.” I feel your pain.

          1. CommanderBanana*

            It’s so frustrating. These are paid faculty who teach on classes that have been delivered over Zoom for literally years and they still can’t do things like share their screen or open the chat box. It’s not for lack of us offering training, helping, and a seriously ridiculous amount of hand-holding. At this point I think it’s just learned helplessness and malicious incompetence.

            1. fantomina*

              It’s also a lack of accountability for faculty in a lot of academic settings. It’s on the department chair to manage faculty, but academics aren’t taught to manage, and in a rotating appointment setup, chairs aren’t going to invest much time in learning to manage well if they’re only in the position for a year or two. And so many faculty are only (or primarily) there to get their research done and put the bare minimum into teaching, of course they’re not going to take the time to learn Zoom. It’s the same group who can’t be bothered to go to department events, who never talk to their PhD students without the student reaching out first, and who give half-hearted (if any) feedback on student assignments.

      2. Aggretsuko*

        Well, I don’t “raise hand” (I note it doesn’t always work on all Zooms somehow anyway, I’ve never even found the option on mine), but also I just don’t want to speak up in a meeting even if I know the answer. Raising a hand means you may want to call on and talk to me, and if I don’t want to….well, yeah.

        1. TechWorker*

          I mean.. ok.. but if the presenter is asking for ‘raise hand’ to be used as effectively a quick survey then this is about as reasonable as sullenly sitting in silence when someone asks you a question in an in person meeting.

        2. ClaireW*

          I mean if you think that sitting in a work meeting where you’ve been asked to participate, and you refuse not because you can’t or don’t know the answer but because “I don’t wanna!!!!” like a 14 year old child, then you probably have other issues going on.

    8. SpecialSpecialist*

      I’ve found a semi-solution to the nobody-on-camera problem. Whenever I’m running a meeting where nobody starts off on camera and I think actually seeing somebody on camera would help me better present things, then I just ask “Hey, would somebody be willing to be on camera so I can talk to a live face instead of a bunch of avatars?” A handful of people always willingly turn on their cameras after I ask and I have somebody to look at.

    9. Van Wilder*

      Hard same. Every Fall, I teach a grad class remotely. Last year, the whole class decided not to turn on their cameras, and I decided to go with the flow and not require it. The whole semester. Talking to muted, black boxes without having any idea if anyone was even there.

      This year, I required cameras on, which is something I wouldn’t do in my day job. It’s made it so much better even though the students still don’t speak a lot.

    10. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      Sidestepping what we “owe” coworkers…when someone is presenting or teaching I feel a huge pressure to be visible and give them something! I do feel I owe them that, so I’m the one in the front nodding and smiling, even if I would rather hide. It’s horribly draining to be in front of a room, black screen or physical room, and be getting NOTHING back.

      1. birb*

        That’s one of the reasons I love having my camera off! I’m the type of neurodivergent that struggles with eye contact but ALSO feels responsible for everyone else’s feelings, so if I have my camera on, I spend all my mental energy on what faces I’m making / appearing engaged. With cameras off, I can actually participate and retain information.

        1. king of the pond*

          This is exactly why I can’t stand having my camera on and don’t want to try to insist others have theirs on — having my camera on completely distracts me from the actual meeting for the same reasons you listed.

          1. rollyex*

            We cannot insist others have their camera on. But as a collective if no one’s camera is on as a regular thing it’s a sign of a problem with the meeting or the work culture or the staff. Probably a combination.

            1. Stormfly*

              I disagree with that. I think that cameras on are pretty important for one on one check ins and for some meetings with small groups. However, I don’t think they add much for medium or large groups, as people’s faces are so small anyway. Meetings with the camera on are way more exhausting, so I don’t think the benefits of mandating/heavily encouraging cameras are substantial enough to outweigh the cost. (A training session where one person is leading a group and doing pretty much all the talking, so requires non-verbal feedback is different.)

        2. rollyex*

          If you have your camera off, but are engaged – speaking sometimes or adding things to the chat or sharing emojis when you agree – that’s great. You’re engaged.

          But people with cameras off, silent, and no participation? Not good. It could be a sign the meeting is badly organized or it could be people not wanting to work. Or super busy and multi-tasking. Or having a really hard day. Or a crisis at home. But, in general, being present and at least somewhat engaged is part of work. That’s why we’re paid. Again, could be the meeting is bad could be staff attitudes is bad, or both.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            I’ve seen people ask for thumbs up in chat, and I think that’s a good indicator of “we’re here, we’re listening, carry on” which in person you’d get from nods, note taking, etc.

        3. JR 17*

          Do you find the same to be true when you hide your own picture, so you can’t see it? I get very distracted my managing my own facial expressions when I can see myself, but I worry about this much less when I hide self-view.

        4. Eldritch Office Worker*

          This is why I PREFER to have my camera on, actually. I’m also ND and I am so physically uncomfortable watching someone present to a wall of blank cameras, especially if they mention or you can tell it’s not ideal for them. I’d much rather be the one with my camera on giving little smiles of encouragement than contribute to the wall of black. I can still take notes and retain like I would in any conversation, it’s not so different than in-person classes were.

        5. just some guy*

          Same here. After a long day of meetings, when it got to the work neurodiversity group VC I was relieved to be able to say “camera’s off because I’m resting my face”.

    11. darlingpants*

      I switched from a cameras off job to a cameras on job in February 2021 and was so surprised at how much more energized I was talking to people’s actual faces!

      For me, being cameras off lets me zone out a lot more than at least being expected to be in front of the computer looking in the general direction of the screen. Which is lovely some times! But also led to me lying on the floor next to the laptop with the meeting full of black boxes 75% disengaged a fair number of times (blame pandemic depression, a boring job, or my own work ethic, but having no accountability didn’t help).

    12. Butterfly Counter*


      I was going to bring up lecturing during the pandemic (or on snow days here) over Zoom. I just dread it. It turns out I thrive on the give and take of lectures. It’s not just me up there reciting my notes and research. I’m trying to make real connections that I see (or don’t) on the faces of the students.

      I’m an introvert and lecturing takes a lot out of me. If I’m giving, giving, giving and all I see is a wall of black with some names on it, it’s too much for me. I need what the students are giving me back when I see their faces. I’m also not convinced more than 50% of them are actually listening. I feel like one of those online certification videos that people fast forward through until they get to the quiz (and then it really feels like the majority of my students then cheat). I don’t feel like I’m teaching and I don’t feel like they’re actually learning.

      I get why students want to do it that way, though. It’s easier. They don’t have to leave their cocoon. They can multitask. They can take care of their own mental health. They can concentrate on their day jobs. But as an educator, I feel like what I’m doing should be at least some priority to them. If I’m not, and they’re not doing the work I require, they don’t get my credit for mastering the material.

      I won’t ever do all online teaching again. If I have to, I will start looking for a new job.

      1. RM*

        In theory, I don’t mind having my camera on for class. However my desk is in a cluttered messy room with hideous lighting. My professor and fellow students aren’t owed a view into how trashy I am. The busted old laptop that must be plugged in can’t handle blurring backgrounds. Even if it could, people have to walk through this room to use the bathroom and blur always fails on people walking through the room. Especially if you’reat a community college, a lot of us are poor with shitty living situations. We don’t want to be forced to share that in the process of bettering ourselves. I can sit on my bed for a short time to present in class with a nice background but I need my desk to learn successfully in a 3 hour class.

        1. Anax*

          Early in the pandemic, a Black woman I worked with said “I’m not doing my hair just to be seen in an online meeting I’m not participating in.”

          It definitely gave me some food for thought about how beauty standards and expectations about being “put together” make video a different level of effort for different people, and probably weigh heavier on marginalized groups for all the usual reasons.

          1. SG*

            This is such a good point. As another example, I’ve often talked with my (female) friends about how even on-camera zoom meetings require less effort to look “put together” than in-person ones, because the back of my head doesn’t have to look good!

      2. So Tired*

        I’m really interested in all the comments I’ve seen here, not just yours, with the supposition that someone having their camera off being a clear indication that they’re not working or not fully engaged. It sounds a lot like the “butts in seats” rhetoric we’ve seen a lot of pushback against, yet this doesn’t seem to get the same pushback. Above your comment are neurodivergent people saying having a camera on actually makes them *less* engaged with the meeting, and below are at least two comments from women who are tired of beauty double standards that would require them to continue to put in extra effort just to appear on camera.

        You are, of course, free to have the beliefs that you do, but I hope reading the other comments helps you deconstruct your thought processes a bit so you can stop assuming that at least half your students aren’t engaged or are surely going to cheat on tests/quizzes. There are a multitude of reasons people may have cameras off, and jumping to the conclusion that they’re not engaged or planning to cheat doesn’t really help anyone.

    13. Ellis Bell*

      When I was teaching during the pandemic, I learned very quickly not to phrase it as a request like “any questions?”, especially if the request could be answered with a no, or with silence. I made it a requirement; phrased like obviously everyone is going to respond to me now, and I would chase it up if they didn’t: “Everybody share their thoughts on this in the chat. Tom, what did you think? Either microphone or keyboard response is fine.” Or I’d ask them to each share their own picture they’d found online which related to the topic, and to praise the best ones. There’s something about praise that revs up interaction.

  2. ThatGirl*

    I’m with you, LW, and I think a lot of people are. The extreme introverts are not as big in number as they seem. I like having the flexibility to WFH part of the time and keep my camera off if I’m not feeling up to looking human. But I found during peak covid when I was home 24/7 that I missed having people to chit-chat with, a change of scenery, all that good stuff. Of course, part of that was just covid. But I think a little socialization is good for me, it does build relationships to share cookies or hear about someone’s vacation, and it’s something I appreciate about my office and coworkers.

    1. Van Wilder*

      Same. I don’t miss the commute and I wouldn’t go back just for that reason. But I do miss the office and the ability to have spontaneous conversations (about work or personal topics), and the chance of running into random coworkers that I don’t normally work with.

      What’s worse, we’ve had so many new people join in the last three years. I work closely with some of them but just haven’t gotten to know them in a way that I feel is appropriate. As a Manager, I feel responsible for building those bonds but I don’t know how and I’m on limited bandwidth.

      1. Minin*

        Yeah, as someone who joined a fully remote team in the last three years, I really related to this letter and your response. It’s hard to read someone’s tone on chat – are they too busy to respond fully to my question? or do they think they’ve answered it? or did they misread it, or did I not phrase it clearly, or is this something I should already know, etc. etc. – and this is all compounded by a team that’s mostly cameras-off, and small talk is like pulling teeth. It really sucks and I frequently think about trying to find a hybrid or in-person job, but life circumstances make that higher risk. I wish there were an easy solution!

      2. ThatGirl*

        I will say that another thing that contributed to me wanting to be in the office part time is that my commute is VERY short – when I drove 45-60+ minutes each way it frustrated and drained me for sure.

      3. SG*

        Someone who’s doing really good work on this topic is Marissa Goldberg ( She’s a Fractional Head of Remote for a few different companies and also does a lot of writing on how to manage remote work well, including building relationships, creating occasions for serendipity, etc. Her work has helped me think about how to approach this area well as a manager.

    2. GythaOgden*

      I’m worried about becoming a complete recluse when I start a 99% WFH job next month. I like the sociability of the office and for a while didn’t want a WFH job at all, but that changed a lot.

      I can work back at the office I’m about to graduate from reception at, and have already made my first plans to come in so I can go on to an event in the town later on. That might be one way of forcing the issue! But yeah, as autistic I also feel I need the feedback that comes with visible people — it does help me know that the other person is paying attention and overcome my feeling of just blathering into the void.

    3. No longer a full introvert*

      In 2019, I considered myself an introvert. But after the pandemic I realized how much my social life revolved around what I used to consider insignificant interactions. I am no social butterfly but once it was all online I found myself going crazy from just only talking work. I think I have now found my happy medium of socializing with some work friends and respecting those who aren’t so social.

      1. Maisonneuve*

        I remember reading about research once lockdowns and WFH took hold about how interactions outside of our main social circle (e.g., talking with the coffee server, person who warms up their lunch when you do, regulars at your local) are more important than previously thought. Those kinds of interactions help us feel seen.

      2. le teacher*

        I had a somewhat similar experience. I didn’t consider myself an introvert exactly, but I never thought much about my social habits. The pandemic REALLY shifted into focus for me how extroverted I actually am and how much I value spending time with friends/extended community. After the pandemic, I really threw myself into meeting people, joining Meetups, etc, and I can honestly say my life now post-pandemic feels more fulfilling than pre-pandemic.

      3. Ambiverted*

        The way I describe it is – I am an introvert, but the pandemic filled up my social batteries to overflowing, and now I need to bring them down again

      4. Too Many Tabs Open*

        This was my experience too. I’m an introvert; I need a large amount of alone time to recharge. But I need the interactions with other people too.

        Hybrid is great for me; I don’t have to make the commute every day, but on my in-office days I can talk to my coworkers; I can solve someone’s work problem that I learned about because I happened to be in the breakroom when they were telling someone else about it; I can have the interactions that take two minutes in person and multiple exchanges in email.

      5. There You Are*

        I am lucky in that, if I find myself craving human contact, I can just go out and do some minor work in my front yard. Within 5-10 minutes, either one of my immediate neighbors will come out and start chatting or someone who lives a few streets away will come by while walking a dog and start chatting.

        There are days, though, when I really, truly do NOT want to talk to anyone and I will look out of all my front windows before opening the door to grab the mail out of the mailbox on my porch. Half of the time, though, there’s a neighbor I couldn’t see from the windows who sees me and comes trotting over. :-D

    4. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      Can we please not frame this as an introversion/extroversion dynamic? There are many reasons people choose not to share or feel isolated when they can’t build relationships with their coworkers that have nothing to do with those tendencies.

      Especially, as you say, “the extreme introverts are not as big in number as they seem”, so that means that’s NOT the problem. Framing the problem as about introversion/extroversion distracts from the real questions we should be addressing, such as:

      1) How do we build strong relationships with others at work in different settings?
      2) What role do managers play in building a healthful culture? What are they doing that harms the culture?
      3) What tools (e.g., events, meeting norms, tech, processes) can we use to improve work culture?

      It has very little to do with intoversion /extroversion.

      1. allathian*

        That’s true. But it’s also important to note that being an introvert doesn’t mean the same thing as being a hermit, or antisocial, or shy.

        I’m a chatty introvert. I enjoy socializing with my coworkers, but it also drains me, and I have to schedule alone time to recover after a day at the office. I wouldn’t like it if I had to go to the office every day, but once or twice a week on average works for me. I find it’s a lot easier to work with people when you know them socially, at least a bit. That said, I work for a distributed team, and I see about half of my teammates only twice a year during our offsites.

        One of my work friends in another department is very extroverted, and her favorite working environment is an open office with lots of noise. She says it gives her the energy she needs to focus on her work like nothing else. But when we talk, I have to check myself to ensure that I don’t talk over her. You can be extroverted in the sense that you get energized by being around other people without having the need to be the center of everyone’s attention.

    5. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Same. I personally thrive in an office environment where there are just other humans AROUND, some accountability to be working, signs of life. Being at home is isolating and I have so much trouble focusing.

      I like the flexibility of an odd day from home here and there, people not coming in when they’re sick (and having to use less sick days myself), I think hybrid just makes a ton of sense. But permanent WFH would ruin me.

  3. Lucy*

    I’m an introvert and love working from home, but I have found that only interacting with coworkers when we need something from each other very much changes the dynamic.

    I don’t think that’s actually inherent to remote work – there are absolutely ways to build casually friendly relationships with coworkers you never meet in person – but it’ll take time for that to feel as comfortable as the kind of interaction most of us are used to.

    1. Hlao-roo*

      I worked from home 2020-2022 and have largely been back in the office since 2022. While working from home, I found I was able to build casually friendly relationships with my coworkers, but it only happened with coworkers I was actively working with (working on the same project, overlapping tasks, etc.). Now that I’m back in the office (and pre-covid) I have casually friendly relationships with people I don’t work with directly, because we say hi when we see each other in the hallways, chat in the breakrooms, etc.

      Also when WFH, I found most of the relationship-building happened on voice calls (phone calls or Teams/Zoom calls often with the camera off). A one-on-one call about solving part of a project offered opportunities for quick “how was your weekend?”/”are you following the World Cup?” asides. If the letter-writer has a WFH job where most of the one-on-one interactions are through email or IM, it’s harder to build/maintain those casually friendly relationships than it is through spoken conversations.

    2. hello*

      It’s definitely not inherent to remote work. I’m working hybrid right now, and I’ve definitely had days in the office where I hear and speak less words than when we’re all working from home.

      1. Double A*

        I think the difference is that with fully remote work, leadership needs to be deliberate about building a more connected culture and a lot of people don’t think about that much less do it.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          My spouse’s (tech) company seems to be good at this and a lot of it is very deliberate.

          They have quarterly physical meet ups which are 50% work and 50% social, the social side subsidised and varying. But for the day to day they use Slack a lot, both professionally (though with an informal tone) and socially. There’s a pets channel and a food channel and different TV shows and so on – the “water cooler” chat happens in those channels pretty organically.

          Now, that’s a bunch of people who already work collaboratively. I would *hate* it – so I work in a firm where everybody’s roles are very well defined and have no overlap. You collaborate when you hand over. So I agree with Alison that LW may not be working in an environment that suits them, and they might consider whether they would thrive in a more collaborative job.

      2. Xantar*

        I think it’s more than just total social interaction, though. I work mostly in the office (by choice, I could be 100% remote if I wanted). When someone is also in the office with me, then I can pop over to knock on their door and ask something. Oftentimes, we will also end by talking about the Orioles game or the weather or some other kind of small talk. Just yesterday, I was talking with my boss and we wondered about something. I said, “I bet Jane would know” and we both walked over to Jane’s office and asked her because she also happened to be in the office that day.

        I’m not saying that kind of interaction is impossible when working remotely, but the barrier is much higher. We did not evolve to interact with each other through screens and meeting invitations. Saying that we have to be more deliberate about creating a connected culture is inherently saying that it requires more sustained effort.

        I am fully in support of remote work options, but I don’t think it does us any good to pretend that there are no tradeoffs and the social functions can work just as well when we are all remote.

        1. All Het Up About It*

          I am fully in support of remote work options, but I don’t think it does us any good to pretend that there are no tradeoffs and the social functions can work just as well when we are all remote.

          Hear, hear!!
          Say it again for those in the back! Or working remotely and not in office today. ;)

        2. hello*

          I dunno. Maybe it’s because my company is small, in tech, and has international teams, among other factors, but we’re used to just calling each other whenever we need anything, often even if both people are in the same office. (And yes, we do spend time on these calls just chatting, it’s not all work. In fact, I probably spend significantly more time chatting on calls than when we discuss things in-person.) Company leadership has never had to encourage socialising or anything, it kind of just naturally turns out that way. I am obviously aware that it’s not the same for every company, every team, etc. but I don’t think we can or should categorically say that remote work is worse for socialisation than in-office work.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Tech is an industry that has had these social norms for a long time. It’s much less ingrained in a lot of other places.

    3. Chirpy*

      I had a hybrid college class way back in the early 2000s that managed this well. Half the class was in the same room as the professor, the other half was in another city. Now, I’m sure it helped that all the remote people were still in a room together, but the professor was really great at engaging everyone and we all felt like a cohesive group working together. We ended up doing a field trip to meet the other people because we all wanted to hang out in person.

      I had a similar class setup with a professor that wasn’t as good at engaging people, where most of the students in my room were only there to get out of high school by taking an “easy” college class, and it was terrible.

    4. rollyex*

      “I have found that only interacting with coworkers when we need something from each other very much changes the dynamic.”

      In my org we almost always do chit-chat to open small meetings. How’s it going. How’s the weather. How was your trip. I’m late because my kid threw up. Almost always. Some may find this invasive, but we don’t force people to do it. We model it.

      This is very important. Even with people we are meeting for the first time we try: “Oh, this my first time seeing you in person! Great to finally happen. Hope your first few month with [org] are going great.”

      This stuff is important.

      1. Slovenly Braid Cultist*


        I find myself building time into meetings to chat. I feel guilty about it sometimes, like, a meeting is somehow more “on the clock” than standing in the breakroom waiting for the microwave, but there are some projects where the relationship building is essential to success and it’s worth it to add some time to the day to warm up, catch up, and ready ourselves to problem-solve.

        Additionally I find that when I am in the office, I try to be more social there too. I have some mixed feelings about this because it’s so visible- I don’t want the perception that I am goofing off when I am physically there much less often- but for my mental health and my ability to work with coworkers it feels worthwhile.

        There are people who are so much harder to work with via email, I need to remind myself that they are actual humans whose company I enjoy and whose talents are quite valuable, and not just black holes of unanswered messages and/or unreasonable last-minute demands.

        1. Teapot Wrangler*

          I completely agree – something about joining a call makes it seem like you must get straight to business!

    5. Baunilha*


      I’ve been WFH for two years now, and have a great relationship with my peers, some I haven’t even met in person yet. I agree with Alison that the meetings are not being well-run: some of my meetings (not all, but the most important ones) require cameras on, and my manager gently calls out people who are not engaging when they should. Participation is also part of our performance review, and there are some team building events.
      Although that doesn’t solve the problem of camaraderie, it definitely opens the door to more social interactions and, more importantly, doesn’t leave you feeling like you’re talking to a wall.

    6. LW - Social-ish Caterpillar*

      LW here – you’ve hit the nail on the head with the “only interacting with coworkers when we need something” thing – that’s exactly what I feel from most of the members of my team. They only post in our team work chat when they have a work problem they need workshopped. Some of them contribute with suggestions when others have work problems, but some don’t at all, so literally the only time I know these people in my immediate team are alive is when they need help.

    7. lilsheba*

      We are all fully remote and it works out fine. We consult each other when we need help, but we don’t need cameras on or constant interaction to work well. I concentrate better when there are no people around to be loud and obnoxious. No downsides at all.

  4. H.Regalis*

    “It’s worth noting that people on the less social end of that spectrum tend to be over-represented in internet commenting sections.”

    Boy, are they ever! Good lord.

        1. Chirpy*

          I feel like introverts still have a need to be heard/ discuss, but find it easier to do online, where extroverts aren’t going to get in their face.

          Easier to take a moment and just not reply immediately (to collect thoughts, format an answer, etc) online, than it is in person.

        2. Hrodvitnir*

          Are we trying to pretend that identifying (and often over-identifying) as an introvert isn’t the dominant narrative recently? If I never have to see someone excuse misanthropy as introversion again it’ll be too soon.

          1. Monkey Princess*

            Right? I’m so sick of this narrative. It’s fine to have a small social battery, but I’m totally over this eggshell walking and cosseting that self-identified Internet Introverts insist that everyone do constantly.

          2. H.Regalis*

            Hrodvitnir and Monkey Princess: Same. It (clearly) drives me up a wall.

            I guess the thing that winds me up the most is I have a number of friends whose mental health has taken a dive over the last few years, but they’re some of the people who are all, “Quarantine was great for me! I could live like that all the time because I hate people lololololol.”

            But it hasn’t been great for them. They’ve changed for the worse, they’re more depressed, more anxious, and one has started spouting off Nazi ideology. I spent a month tag-teaming doing suicide watch for one friend who has since been like, “I love being home all the time alone!” like he didn’t tell me that he was considering hanging himself after being completely isolated in his house for six months. My two agoraphobic friends are spiraling to the point where it seriously interferes with the quality of their lives. Then I go online and there’ll be some idiot spouting off about how it’s actually a microaggression for people to say good morning to them. I am beyond tired of this.

            1. Monkey Princess*

              THANK YOU.

              People are terrible gauges of their own own mental health, and realizing that (based on a lifetime now of meeting internet-friends IRL and getting to see how they actually are) was life-changing to my own concept of my own mental health.

              For everyone online who constantly crows about how happy they are never to leave the house, the number of people I know in real life who claim the same, and I see them as happy functional people in the real world is 0.

      1. em*

        It’s really interesting to me that even on this comment section there are people saying “here’s a social idea that works for me and my team” and getting responses that go “no it doesn’t”. Like, what?!

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Or “but that wouldn’t work for everyone!” ….correct, not the point, takes all kinds, etc.

    1. goducks*

      Since 2020 there seems to be a greater number of commenters here who see their coworkers primarily as obstacles and annoyances. I think that not having those casual friendly interactions drives that. While people certainly were irritated by coworkers pre-Covid, I think that not having to interact with them makes it easier to forget that they are human beings.

      1. Eliot Waugh*

        Yeah, I’m an introvert as well but these comment sections sometimes display a really problematic harshness towards people who DO enjoy socializing with coworkers. It is, frankly, not normal to find every human interaction with coworkers to be a horrible imposition, but the tone can absolutely read that way at times.

        1. Frickityfrack*

          I think way too many people confuse social anxiety and/or being a misanthrope with introversion. I’m an introvert, but my job is highly social, both with external customers and other employees, and I’m great at it. I enjoy interacting with people, it just wears me out, so I’m ready to go home and do something solo by the end of the day. Of course there are days I just don’t have the bandwidth and would love to hide in an office and speak to no one, but it’s not like I hate everyone for asking how I am.

          1. H.Regalis*

            “I think way too many people confuse social anxiety and/or being a misanthrope with introversion.”

            Agreed. It feels like “I hate people” has become synonymous with introversion, but introversion and extroversion where originally about whether or not you found social interactions to be draining or energizing.

            1. The Original K.*

              Totally agree. I’m an introvert but I love people. I also enjoy my own company and recharge by being alone – I need, literally need, alone time. But I’m great at small talk and I don’t hate people at all! That’s not what introversion means.

              1. allathian*

                I’m the same way. I’m a chatty introvert and can talk the ears off of the most social extroverts I know. But I need a nap afterwards.

          2. ADidgeridooForYou*

            Agreed. I’m an introvert with social anxiety and get burnt out somewhat quickly, so I thought 100% WFH would be good for me, but just like this LW, I found that I really needed that social interaction that colleagues can provide. I think people’s increased time online has also made introverts and extroverts into this black and white “us vs. them” thing, when in reality it’s simply a spectrum that describes how people are socially energized. Like you said, introvert doesn’t often equate to misanthrope/loner and extrovert doesn’t often equate to obnoxious/loud.

          3. English Rose*

            Yes completely agree. Also, people often confuse introversion with shyness. For example I love public speaking and I’m really good at it. And the social interaction with delegates is often rewarding and engaging. But I know I have to schedule significant down time afterwards.

            1. Burger Bob*

              I see this all the time. People talking about “introversion” but what they are describing is social anxiety. Not the same thing. Some of us have both, but definitely not everybody. My husband is quite introverted, and he has absolutely zero social anxiety. It’s really quite astonishing to behold sometimes.

              1. allathian*

                Yes, this. I don’t particularly enjoy being the center of attention and I won’t volunteer to do presentations to large groups of strangers any time soon, but I don’t have any issues contributing to meetings, including our departmental town halls with 100+ people.

                I was a shy kid and teen, but I got over my fear of talking to strangers when I joined the drama club in high school and started my first job as a cashier at a corner store. When I put on my work uniform, I started playing the role of a friendly and approachable customer service person. Slowly but surely the confidence I gained at work also started influencing my personal life, and when I went to college I had no issues getting to know new people.

          4. Red-Crowned Kinglet*

            Yes!!! I found that out in college when a classmate pointed out that a character I wrote (based on myself, because I was 19 or so) seemed to be socially anxious but also introverted, but I was conflating the two things in a way she didn’t understand, and it kind of blew my mind. I’ve since discovered that I’m not NEARLY as introverted as I thought I was … I just had an at-the-time-undiagnosed anxiety disorder.

          5. Ellis Bell*

            As an introvert, I really enjoy getting my social need met by small interactions at work. Someone saying thank you if I make the tea, saying “oh that’s a good cuppa” if someone else made it, mentioning that the weather is crazy, and my garden is still blooming, hearing a load of gossip from the colleague I give a lift to on the way home. Introverts do still need social interactions; it’s not like we crave solitary confinement! It’s a lot easier to get the itch scratched this way, in small pieces, than to attend a social event and do a lot of talking and talking that you’ll have to recover from afterwards.

            1. Anax*

              That’s interesting, because that’s actually the opposite of my experience! Those little work interactions totally wear me out. I’d much rather have a social event with lots of talking that I have to recover from afterward.

              All-day event full of socializing? Sign me up, I’ll be worn out afterward, but emotionally energized and feeling great! I’ll just sleep for sixteen hours when I get home.

              Half a dozen little ‘good morning’ or ‘how’s the weather’ interactions? I’m dead for the day, and frustrated by it.

              I think that’s because I AM an introvert, but I’m also autistic, and that’s what’s taking center stage here – I struggle with task-switching, especially if I don’t have time to prepare, and those little ad hoc social interactions knock me completely out of my groove. I’d rather have most of my socialization happen all at once, so I don’t have to switch back and forth.

        2. Me...Just Me*

          Exactly. I’m an introvert but I’ve never felt it a huge imposition to just say “good morning” to, well, anyone. I think that people are definitely either 1. completely lacking in social skill 2. vastly more snarky online than in real life 3. or not doing as well professionally as they think they are because people really cannot stand how unapproachable and prickly they are (or a combination of these).

          1. Oh Snap!*

            oh my goodness yes! I think that’s true of fully remote (or want to stay fully remote when the company says you have to come back) employees in general.

            to the vast majority of people, social interaction with people at work helps them do their job better.

        3. CommanderBanana*

          I think a lot of it stems from worries that remote work will get yanked because of extroverted coworkers complaining about being remote? Not saying that that is justified.

          I do think that it’s incumbent upon you, the individual (not you, Eliot, but the vague you of all of us) to be self-aware enough to understand that about ourselves and to try to find workplaces, inasmuch as we can, that fit our needs (with the caveat that that is often really hard, and workplaces change), rather than browbeating our coworkers for their preferences.

          1. JB*

            To be fully honest, to me, it’s because extroverts seem extremely whiny about their preference no longer being the norm.

            I spent most of my career in highly social offices. No, it was not a major imposition to me to learn to be more social than I prefer. I absolutely learned the skills to comfortably navigate chatty coworkers and foster good working relationships with them, even though my preference is always for a cordial and quiet coworker.

            But now the shoe is on the other foot and…there are extroverts (like the LW) acting like it’s unreasonable to ask them to adapt to a social situation that isn’t their preference. Talking about what their coworkers ‘owe’ them in terms of social interaction.

            It’s ridiculous, and yes, I do think you’ll see it bring out a lot of antipathy, because when you talk this way it sounds spoiled. Like workplace norms have lined up with your personal preferences for so long that you’ve internalized the idea that you have the right to have your exact social needs met at work.

            For twenty plus years for me it’s been “well, you can’t ask people to talk to you less; these are just the expectations of the workplace, and it’s not such a huge deal to adapt.” But when the shoe is on the other foot…”how do I MAKE my coworkers chit-chat with me?”

      2. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

        I think it’s this and also since not wanting to share personal information with coworkers is validated a lot, some might have adopted that as the “correct” workplace behavior.

        It’s ok to tell your coworkers you went somewhere fun for the weekend if you want. We aren’t robots.

        1. goducks*

          It seems like some people can’t grasp that you don’t need to share ALL the information. That you can be “private” and still answer a question about your weekend. It’s ok to answer the question with “Oh, took care of some stuff and relaxed. You know how it goes. The weather was so nice on Sunday!”. You do not need to tell them anything more personal that that, if you don’t want to!
          Being private means not telling all your business. Being private doesn’t mean pretending you cease to exist outside of working hours.

          1. Antilles*

            This is definitely something I’ve seen in the comments. There’s a very vocal minority out there who seems to think even a question like how was your weekend is an incredibly intrusive request requiring full honesty and tons of detail. When of course the reality is that even the person asking doesn’t even *want* some deep emotional breakdown of your weekend, just some short chit-chat about seeing the Taylor Swift movie or watching the football game or doing yardwork.

            1. UKDancer*

              Yes. I’ve seen Allison describe this as “hello, I’m a person – show me you’re a person too.”

              You don’t usually want to know the details of someone’s life. You just want some form of relationship building interaction to begin to establish some form of rapport. It doesn’t even need to be detailed. English people have a long history of using the weather and the public transport / traffic to fulfil this conversational need.

      3. kiki*

        Yeah, I’ve also noticed a lot more people being aggravated when coworkers do normal coworker things, like ask them questions or request help. For most people, are job isn’t just to be an ouptut machine. Answering questions, helping coworkers, and all that stuff is part actually supposed to be part of the job.

      4. LW - Social-ish Caterpillar*

        LW here – I think that vibe is what caused me to write in. While I totally get people wanting to be private and have a strong work-life distinction, when I read the LW in the original letter I linked to in my letter say they didn’t want to talk about their life outside work at ALL, I guess I felt a little…whatever the less intense version of triggered is. I think I felt a little overwhelmed reading that, and reading some comments here in the last few years, and reflecting on my coworkers’ behaviour. I guess I just disagree that “I don’t want to talk about my life outside of work at all” is a reasonable stance – I think anyone who has coworkers should expect to have to occasionally make small talk at the very least! Reading the comments on this post has been really interesting and has made me feel less alone.

        1. Teapot Wrangler*

          It certainly seems to me that the “My garden is looking nice” “Wow, did you see that thunder storm” level of interaction should be the bare minimum.

          I do struggle to be on camera – I feel like all I am concentrating on is what my face is doing, do I look engaged etc. and I don’t take in the content of the meeting but you need some chit chat to feel like your colleagues are real humans…

          I try to organise coffee with people, speak in meetings etc, to try to build the loose ties I think I need but it is difficult when no one else wants to engage!

    2. An.Introvert*

      If that is remarkable to you, imagine how it feels to be an introvert living in a world where people on the extroverted side of the spectrum are over-represented everywhere else.

      1. Chirpy*

        Yeah…I think a lot of introverts would speak up more elsewhere if the extroverts could make a little more space to do it more comfortably.

        1. Starbuck*

          Are you sure they’re not? I’m an introvert, in that I do find socializing to be energy-draining rather than giving, but I don’t find it hard to speak up in group settings or attend meetings and give input, and I do it often. Like others have said, introvert isn’t a synonym for shy or socially anxious.

          1. Chirpy*

            I find it depends on the location/ people involved, as sometimes, yes, I can be involved in meetings etc just fine, and other times the particular extroverts involved make it much, much more difficult and draining to get a word in edgewise.

        1. Funeral Bell*

          Call us oppressed is definitely extreme. On the other hand constant social interaction is wearying and maybe some people could think about that.

        2. An.Introvert*

          Never said they were, or anything close to resembling that. Why do you feel the need to characterize my comment that way?

          I just find it funny that people react so vehemently against the slightest pushback, that maybe WFH is good for some people, maybe the niceties and social lubricants that keep the majority of people happy are a real effort for some in the minority, and that those people might want to hold on to their current status quo that favors them, for once.

          And you see it all throughout these comments – eye rolls, mockery, dismissal. “Good grief.” “Good lord.” Etc.

          That isn’t a reasonable response.

      2. ADidgeridooForYou*

        Someone said this above, but introvert doesn’t necessarily equal shy or withdrawn. Ideally introvert and extrovert are words to describe how someone gets or loses energy in social situations. My dad is incredibly outgoing and friendly, but he considers himself an introvert. I think a lot of people mix up the definitions of the terminology and it leads to this “us vs. them” mentality.

        1. On the introvert/extrovert edge*

          This. On those introvert/extrovert tests, I’m like 49/51 or something . I’m not shy or withdrawn at all, but I’m also not a social butterfly, nor do I like being the center of attention in large groups. I prefer my extroversion is smaller groups, and sometimes I just don’t want to be around people at all. It doesn’t have to do with being shy or not.

          1. Double A*

            I identify more as an extrovert but I’ve always been exactly 50/50 on any tests.

            I’d like to identify more as an extrovert because introverts complaining annoys me so much. It also makes planning anything social so much more stresseful because I feel like I’m trampling on someone if I invite them out and people have become increasingly okay with cancelling at the last minute. Having no one show up at your social event is the worst feeling and there are introverts here who will try to make you feel bad for even trying to organize something social, like, “That’s what you get for imposing your views on others!” Rather than appreciation for the effort and sympathy that it sucks when people bail after you put in all the effort.

      3. Hrodvitnir*

        Are they. Do you think the world is made up of introverts and sales people? Most people experience being drained by the emotional labour of living as a human in society, it’s just variable how easily.

        The scale of how much socialisation you need vs how much downtime you need to function optimally is only one facet of being a human and people really need to chill about making it their whole personality.

        Introversion =/= anxiety =/= shyness =/= misanthropy.

        Hell, as someone living with capital-F Fatigue that is massively drained by social interaction right now, your energy for people can be quite separate from your social needs!

    3. lilsheba*

      And THAT might be because we were never represented at all in office, and never catered to in any way. And now we finally can be represented.

  5. Amber Rose*

    I disagree a little bit that they aren’t being rude or chilly. At least in a North American cultural context, to ask people questions and run up against a brick wall of silence is considered pretty rude.

    That said, that’s a deeper issue than you can fix, and ultimately the best answer here is to come up with some questions aimed at sussing out culture and social interaction at the interviews you’ll be attending.

    1. And the Skeletons Are… Part of It*

      Yeah it may be an issue with the types of questions being asked, or people not realizing they should still chime in if the answer is “I’m not sure”. That’s the manager’s to encourage/explain.

      But if people are responding and participating, feeling like it’s unfriendly for people to have their cameras off is a “you” problem. Making people get camera-ready and make a “paying attention” face for a while meeting is unreasonable and inhibits actual listening. People can still be friendly through the sound of their voice or their messages in the chat.

      For larger/occasional meetings, starting with an icebreaker question that people can answer in the chat might go a long way.

        1. And the Skeletons Are… Part of It*

          Also, I don’t get the “I haven’t seen their face in years” complaint, unless coworkers have no picture in Teams or whatever. I’d assume you’re looking at a photo of them smiling (or, often, of their pet, if the workplace allows this) as their “dot” during meetings. As long as their voice is still friendly and helpful, the picture should be sufficient.

          1. Deanna Troi*

            Because nodding when someone is talking, eye contact, warm smiles, and laughing when someone makes a small joke are all things that bond people together and build relationships. It is surprising to me how many people are in denial about how important this is to building a supportive, collaborative team at work.

          2. Monkey Princess*

            You think that… talking to a photo of their pet meets the social requirements of having a conversation?


            I’m sorry, I really can’t tell if this is a sarcastic comment.

      1. LW - Social-ish Caterpillar*

        LW here – to be clear, people are not participating or responding, which is my problem. In a team of 10-15, “How was everyone’s weekend?” will be met with silence, until myself or 2-3 other coworkers eventually answer the question. The same silence happens when it’s a work question – nobody usually speaks up unless they really don’t understand something, and even then some people still seem reluctant to speak up at all. (Someone actually said something recently and I realised I didn’t recognise her voice as I hadn’t heard it in 3 years.) This was partially an issue pre-pandemic – we were always an online team as we work across multiple offices across the country, and when we were in the office, occasionally in our role-specific chat (that I started myself to try and build camaraderie as we all worked in different states), others would confess that they didn’t understand things or didn’t agree with things, but refused to actually speak up when we were in meetings with our managers, so it was left up to a couple of us to relay the team’s queries or concerns. However, pre-pandemic, we were all still going into our respective offices, there were a few of us plus a manager in each office, and though our meetings were all online, all cameras were on and regular social chitchat happened at the start and end of meetings. But shortly into the pandemic, the makeup of our team changed, we no longer had office-specific managers but one manager for the whole team, and the brick wall went up.

    2. ferrina*

      Professional interviewer/moderator here, with education background. It is so normal to ask a question to a large group (5+) and get silence as a response. No one wants to be the first in front of everyone, and even the talkers can feel like they don’t want to participate because they want to give other people a chance. Large group dynamics are different than small group.

      The trick is to tell people how you expect them to engage, and set it up so there’s a really low investment engagement. “I’m going to go through the participant list in alphabetic order, and I’d like each of you to say what your main project is this week.”

      It’s also easier when you already have a comraderie with people outside of the large group dynamic. I’ll sometimes put a friendly colleague on the spot, but I’ll give them an easy out. Sometimes I’ll talk to them in advance- “Hey, I’d love for you to share that story about how you handled the TPS reports with the large group. Does that sound good?” For folks I know really well, I may even call on them in the moment. If I do that, I usually do it in the context of asking them to speak as an expert- “Greg, I’m going to put you on the spot here. You have a project where you manage a lot of different client personalities, and you do a great job keeping them focused. Can you talk about what your strategy is? Any tips for us?”

      1. Turquoisecow*

        I don’t have a problem speaking up in a class or meeting if I have something to contribute, but I have a (perhaps irrational) fear of being seen as too talky, or dominating a conversation like that. If I’m the only person participating, that feels extra awkward to me.

        that said, sometimes a single person speaking up will kind of break the wall and signal to others that it’s okay, or remind them of something they want to share.

        1. Sloanicota*

          Yeah, my problem is I’m usually the one who’s willing to speak up (not because I’m so extroverted, but because I find the awkward silence absolutely excruciating on behalf of the speaker) and then I worry that I’m the Jerk because I’m talking too much – particularly when I’m not very important to the meeting so I really “shouldn’t” be taking up this much space.

          1. LW - Social-ish Caterpillar*

            LW here – this, 100%. I’m one of the 2-3 people who contribute regularly, not because I necessarily desperately need my team to know I watched X game on the weekend or tried Y new restaurant, but because a) the people pleaser in me can’t stand to let someone’s question go unanswered, and b) be the change you want to see in the world, etc. (Same with the camera – my manager has told me the wall of black boxes bothers him too, and actively mentions in meetings that it’s good to see some of our faces, etc. Thus the people pleaser in me tries to keep my camera on in at least, say, 70% of meetings for this reason, even though I really don’t like having it on when everyone else’s is off.) But then, as you say, I worry that because I’m one of the only people talking, and nobody else feels the need to talk, they must think of me as being someone who just won’t shut up. I feel so self-conscious when our manager tries to make small talk at the end of meetings and I contribute, because the silence from everyone else just radiates “can she shut up so this meeting can end, please?”

            1. LongtimeRemoteWorker*

              LW – I’m late in the comments here, but a couple of thoughts for you:

              1. Do you have 1:1s with the people on your team (not just your manager)? Many people who don’t want to engage in front of a whole group are willing to be more open in a one-on-one meeting. I’d look to set up at least two or three a week, whether that means you meet with different team members once a month, every two weeks, etc. Sometimes you’ll talk about work, sometimes you may talk about the weather… maybe you could ask one of the people you’re most comfortable with if they actually find it annoying when you speak up in group meetings, or if they appreciate you being willing to do that.

              2. One other way to deal with the wall of black boxes is to share screens – engage with the work. If you’re meeting and have an agenda – put the agenda on screen. Have someone take notes live. If you’re talking about a project, pull up work from the project. Just add visual interest, and the black boxes get smaller.

              3. If your manager doesn’t want to force participation, have him thinking about asking for leadership. Since you want to feel more engaged in the larger purpose, not just siloed into your own piece of the pie, maybe each week, someone else can be asked to lead a portion of the team meeting and share what they are working on. It might change some perspectives on why engagement in meetings is important, and most people understand that sharing their work is expected part of their job – not a “forced participation” thing.

              4. I’d also look into ‘body-doubling’ for you. It’s a concept that many people with ADHD use to help them stay focused on work, because it gives them an accountability partner, but I think it would help you with being comfortable with silent companionship.

      2. And the Skeletons Are… Part of It*

        These are great points. People don’t want to talk over other people, or be annoying by chiming in when they have nothing crucial to add. The moderator needs to forge a path for that to happen.

      3. Relentlessly Socratic*

        Thank you, yes–meeting facilitation skills are really useful in online meetings (I’d argue they’re just as important in person so that outgoing Sally doesn’t talk over quiet Jim.

        Note: I am outgoing Sally. I will ALWAYS engage in meetings (and, for the record, I’m wicked introverted). I try to be good to quiet Jim, I really do…..

    3. Lucy*

      I always feel bad in situations like (I think) the LW is describing. If I’m in a meeting and someone asks if anyone has questions, and I don’t have any, I’m not going to say anything because I don’t want to talk over anyone who does. I’ve started waiting a couple seconds just in case and then saying something like “nothing off the top of my head, but I’ll let you know!” just so there’s not a wall of silence.

      1. Deanna Troi*

        Thank you, Lucy. When I’m leading a remote meeting, this type of interaction is what I’m looking for if there are no questions. it matters that you responded at all and that I know at least one person isn’t just watching Desperate Housewives.

  6. FrogFriend*

    Jumping in (to what I guess from the letter and response will be a minority?) to say I don’t feel the need beyond pleasantries to chat with my co-workers and don’t want to expect it from them. I get that from my real life friends. I’m working remotely, and I have found the productivity has skyrocketed. What I ‘owe’ my co-workers is my best work. I owe myself the ability to be at a job that doesn’t make me unhappy.

    All that to say that you owe yourself that, too, LW, and I hope you find it. It’s okay remote work is not for you.

    1. Kimmy Schmidt*

      I think this is a bit of a false dichotomy. There are plenty of remote and hybrid offices that do have a culture of engagement, warmth, and reasonable professional friendliness while still allowing people to do their best work.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Yes, I will say that when I started my current job, it was still peak covid and fully remote, and was a lot friendlier/warmer as a remote job than my previous one – even though I missed some of the in-person interacting I did get to know my coworkers pretty well before I met them in person.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          My workplace has always had some fully remote workers. We definitely try to be social, and people are allowed to be as social as their comfort level.

          I am an introvert who can be exhausted after a day of f2f interactions, but I still like to see my friends. (We are currently hybrid, which is great for me.)

          1. ThatGirl*

            We also have fully remote workers (and offices spread across 4 cities) so there’s always some degree of Online, but people chit-chat a bit across Teams and before meetings start.

      2. FrogFriend*

        We might be on the same page- I consider warmth and reasonable professional friendliness to be part of the ‘pleasantries’ I referred to and I totally agree that is needed for anyone. A culture of engagement is a bit harder to parse for me on what that means in real life, but we might be thinking of the same things.

      3. Loux*

        Definitely. I’ve been on remote teams that were very social and remote teams that were not. It really depends on the nature of the work and the people involved. I like working remotely but the more asocial teams are not a good fit for me. I end up feeling disconnected.

        For the record, I also have real-life friends, a volunteer gig, etc. But I also still like to feel a connection to my coworkers!

        1. Sloanicota*

          Yeah, the hard thing for me is when you have workers whose main (but not sole!) job is something with individual contributors – say, data analysts – and my job is comms. They probably feel most productive avoiding me and others, focusing on their individual contribution. But my job of translating what we do to external stakeholders is very difficult when that’s the overall culture, and in theory, we are supposed to be working together, even when they – clearly – don’t think what I do is valuable or important.

          1. Starbuck*

            Totally, I think this difference in role types explains a lot of the opinion gap here. Individual work vs collaborative are very different positions, especially when you’re doing them remotely.

      4. Justin*

        My office does a lot of engagement because we’re national so even if weren’t remote we’d be on zoom a lot of the time anyway. But it has to be really intentional or it just won’t happen.

      5. LW - Social-ish Caterpillar*

        Thank you – as the LW, I really enjoy remote/hybrid work. I have fatigue issues, so being able to sleep later is significant for me. I am a sloth, so being in my PJs whenever I want is also amazing. Pre-pandemic, the office was often too busy for my liking and I felt like I was often interrupted with questions or requests from others that made it hard to get as much work done. I like structuring my days in a way that makes the most sense to me and the strong sense of autonomy that comes with not being visible to others, if that makes sense. I don’t really feel like I should have to look for a job with no WFH flexibility – which I actively do not want – just because I feel like adults shouldn’t ignore each other at work even when they’re remote?

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Completely agree. My productivity skyrocketed as soon as I started working from home, especially because I have ADHD and the fewer interruptions, the better. When people started putting requests in email or chat, I was able to respond on my terms when I had a break.

      Ironically, that communication method reduced my workplace frustrations by a lot. I was more amenable to helping after that.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Your observation about productivity really emphasizes for me that this is all so, so dependent on what type of role you have, and what type of organization. I absolutely could not do my job if I just responded to things coming in via email and Teams – I am so much more effective when I’m talking to people across teams regularly, because I’m a manager with a team of ~10 and our work is very responsive to what is going on in other departments, with our Board of Directors, and what’s going on outside our agency. So many brief conversations that happen when I’m up to refill my water bottle, on the way out of a meeting on a different topic, or when someone stops by the candy dish in my office have real value for how I do my job and guide my team’s work. The distractions of being in the office are a part of my job, practically! Having warm professional relationships is critical, and “I barely know who even works here anymore” would be really damaging for how effective I am in my job, not just hard on morale.

        This was much, much less true when I was in an analyst role where I was completing recurring tasks, writing code, and responding to issues as they came in. The working relationships there were helpful – always good to have someone to help you troubleshoot a technical issue – but much less critical, and productivity is more likely to benefit from fewer distractions.

        1. violin squeaks*

          100. I direct a complex research project (oversight of both the people and the data). The most important part of my job is interacting with team members and external stakeholders to identify patterns and predict obstacles before they arise. I can certainly sit at home and wait for people to tell me about problems, but I’d only end up working about 4 hours a week and I would be miserable.

        2. Kip*

          “This meeting could have been an email” is often true.

          But, sometimes, a long email chain involving multiple people going back and forth over a week or more, could have been a 10 minute conversation.

          1. Random Academic Cog*

            I was thinking this exact same thing as I was marking up a document with the 4th round of changes/comments/responses. So much easier to just have a short meeting to go through it together!

            1. Quill*

              If the process is iterative (we changed x and need to re-review it) then it usually works faster in a meeting. If it’s confirmation or informational, an email.

          2. Guacamole Bob*


            But also, I sometimes get a “heads up, new work likely coming your team’s way by tomorrow morning, will have a quick turnaround, will let you know when I have the details” in person (or sometimes via chat) that someone wouldn’t have bothered to put in an email. And people I have stronger relationships with are much more likely to let me know that sort of thing than people with the “does that person even still work here?” relationship that OP describes.

        3. Turquoisecow*

          And sometimes you have people who for whatever reasons don’t communicate well in writing. I’ve definitely had the experience of going back and forth in email with a colleague and not getting what I want, then walking over to their desk, explaining it in person, and getting what I needed immediately. It was frustrating because I prefer written communication and also would prefer not to walk halfway across the building to talk to them, but it was definitely the efficient way to get stuff done. I shudder to think how those interactions would have gone had we been remote at the time.

    3. Double A*

      My current remote job is the most social and connected I’ve ever felt to coworkers. The options aren’t “Siloed alone at home” or “In person.”

      1. An Extravagant Man*

        I would love to hear more about what your workplace does to make that happen, if you’re up for sharing!

        1. ferrina*

          I’ve worked in social remote environments too. A few things that help:
          -Standing coffee chats. This can be 1:1 or with a small group (no more than 5).
          -Smaller meetings. Larger meetings generally mean less active conversation. Groups of 2-4 get more idle chatter than 5+
          -Using the Teams chat function during the meeting for random thoughts. We had one guy start posting bad puns and “dad jokes” in the chat, and now several folks have joined in. During large presentations and meetings, there’s a whole side conversation going on. Weirdly, it’s not distracting- it helps people feel more engaged (cuz let’s face it, we aren’t listening avid to every word in the presentation)
          -Being happy with casual pleasantries. Trying to get a relationship from someone that doesn’t want one is rude. If someone is passingly pleasant, that’s a win.
          -Ask for a brainstorm or a consultation. “Hey, I want to pick your brain about X.” It’s a work-focused meeting, but it gives you a chance to know more about the person’s thought process and approach, and it shows that you value their expertise and ideas.
          -Sharing a bit about yourself. This is an approach known as the Theory of Reciprocity. If you share a little bit about yourself, folks will be more willing to open up about themself. Earlier this week I interrupted a meeting because my cat had chosen that moment to knock something off my deck. I was talking work then suddenly said “Cat! No, don’t do that!” I apologized and turned off my camera, explaining what my cat had done (I turned my camera back on to hold up the offending cat, so she could be named and shamed. Except that she felt no shame in what she had done, because she’s a cat). That led to a brief but lively convo about the antics of cat while I quickly cleaned up, then we jumped back to the meeting. But it was definitely a funny interlude and changed up the tone of the meeting slightly.

          1. An Extravagant Man*

            Thank you for this response. My workplace is doing most of this already (and we’re really small, only 15 of us, lots of us worked together pre-pandemic), but I can feel us slipping into the silos and I’d really like to prevent that, especially as we hire new people! We do meet monthly in person, which helps, but I feel like even that has gotten…less familiar? Maybe it’s just me since I’m a team of one. I love working from home, but I’m worried that my very extroverted CEO is going to eventually tire of the lack of connection.
            I think the coffee hour idea is the one that would have the most effect. We tried that mid- peak- pandemic and it worked for a bit then fizzled, but I wonder if we could bring it back. Or start encouraging people to be more active on Slack (without pressuring them to share anything they don’t want to share, of course).

          2. Trina*

            The side chat conversation during meetings sounds very much like Twitch streams! There’s probably more overlap between “successful livestreamer” and ” good remote presenter” than a lot of folks realize.

        2. Turquoisecow*

          My husband’s job is remote and his coworkers are spread out around the country so his job is definitely experienced at handling this and he feels much more connected to them than I do with my colleagues, since my company has struggled to make remote work possible.

          He makes a concerted effort to get to know the people he works with via zoom meetings. I don’t mean interrogating them or devoting half a meeting to personal chats, I mean just taking a minute to ask how the weekend was and if anything interesting is going on. He shares how his day is going, talks openly about stuff in his personal life so that others feel comfortable sharing as well. And they have several chats in Slack or Teams (they use both) dedicated to just random whatever. There’s one that’s just for sharing whatever you want, there’s one for pets, one for kids, one for food, and probably a bunch of others he doesn’t participate in because he’s not interested (I’d bet there’s a sports one as well but he has no interest in sports.) People share what their cats are doing, what home improvement projects they’re working on, an interesting meal they cooked or ate recently, and there’s a lot of chitchat with no expectation that any of it be work related. As a result, he feels connected to a lot of his coworkers despite having never met them in person.

          My company I rarely have casual conversations like that except occasionally before a meeting. Otherwise emails are all work related. I don’t feel as connected to my coworkers at all. But as a part time person I don’t want to start casual conversations in a chat where no one else is discussing non-work things – I feel like the manager or someone with more seniority needs to do that.

        3. Sloanicota*

          I’m not the OP but I’d agree with this and I’d say:

          A) all small meetings are Cameras On, very few exceptions.
          B) we do put effort into organizing some in person social activities, even if it’s only a few times a year
          C) it’s very normal for some “chat” to occur at the beginning/end of meetings, and very occasionally over slack on the ‘random’ thread – also, there’s a culture of someone responding to every comment with some kind of reaction emoji.
          D) supervisors have weekly one-on-ones with their direct reports, either individually or in a team, and some of that is chat.

          We are small and regional, which is why some of this is possible for us that wouldn’t work in a larger / more geographically spread out organization.

      2. AD*

        I think this is the key, and a perspective I share as well. The binary that *some* people seem to want to slot remote/hybrid work into — as in, remote work ultimately breeds nothing but chilly, impersonal interactions and in-office work is better for the work culture and for everyone’s sense of belonging and mental health — is just not true across the board and I wish it would stop.

        I also do want to point out that OP is misrepresenting a bit what the other letter she linked to was trying to say. That letter writer expressly wrote in about a series of meetings they were in and “I’m a very private person and don’t want to talk about my life outside of work, *especially not for the express purpose of facilitating meetings*.” That emphasis is mine.

        OP today characterized this letter as “I empathize with the writer of the original letter to a degree – I don’t see work as a means to have my social needs met.” That is not what the previous letter writer was trying to say.

        1. rollyex*

          ” is just not true across the board and I wish it would stop.”

          This. I had great working relationships with people I’ve never or almost never met in person. One guy in another country I worked closely with for a year and now much more rarely. But when we do connect on Zoom or whatever it’s “How have you been!” We don’t jump right into production/work.

          This is important in online communication, and is actually easier on a call than in chat if you don’t know someone well.

          It’s really really important for manager to model this soft social behavior.

      3. so very tired*

        Same, in my case my team is in spread out among the Eastern seaboard and Pacific Northwest, and I’m the only Midwesterner. We do have an office in a Midwestern city, but I don’t actually work with anyone there. So me going to the office often results in me never actually talking to anyone in person. Sometimes I’ll run into fellow ERG committee members and say what’s up to them but that’s it.

        I chat w/my team members on Slack a lot more, from hundreds of miles away.

        1. gyratory_circus*

          This is my situation. I’m hours from my nearest team member, and others are literally on the other side of the world. My last 4 bosses I never met in person. I haven’t been in the same physical location as anyone I actually work with in 10+ years, and having to go into an office where not only was I by myself, but I couldn’t really talk on the phone because of noise and/or not wanting to be overheard. It was absolutely miserable and made me feel way more alone than I do at home, where if I want to take 10 minutes to chat with someone on Teams or on the phone I have the privacy to do it.

      4. J*

        This is so true for me and I think it’s part of why I’m a successful remote employee. I’m the only employee in my city. My boss is fully remote and also physically isolated. I met her once well after a year of working together because we were both attending the same concert in the same city. Our teams we support are in person mostly, but nowhere near us. But we’re so connected to everyone, we work hard to be connected to each other, it’s fantastic. I feel like I have as close of bonds to the people I supported at my last in person job, but also the kind of balance I need to recover as an introvert after those conversations since I’m in the comfort of my home.

        I’ve done the kind of job where no one ever talks or goes on screen in a Zoom call and those aren’t any less exhausting to me than a call where I’m on camera and chiming in where applicable. The former is frustrating, it makes me question why I’m doing the work, if anyone else cares about anything, while the latter makes me see my colleagues as people. I’m a work to live person who just wants to do my time but I don’t want to be miserable in the process. I don’t need personal details but I need to see my colleagues as people with lives and balance and I want them to see the same in me. Most don’t even know I’m married, who or what lives with me, but they do know I’ve probably read a book on whatever topic of the day there is and that I’d never ever yell at them for making a mistake or being behind on a project. A black box wouldn’t be able to offer that comfort.

    4. Dinwar*

      “What I ‘owe’ my co-workers is my best work.”

      What IS your work, though?

      If you’re purely in a production role, this may be fine. As long as your product is high-quality, no one cares how friendly you are.

      However, if you’re in a role that involves people–especially getting people to agree to something (task managers, project managers, safety officers, that sort of thing) this attitude means you’re not providing your best work. Such an attitude will necessarily alienate people, which will drive them away and make your job much, much harder.

      Unfortunately for people with a worker-bee mentality, the jobs that involve interacting with people tend to be higher paid. If you want to move up the corporate ladder you need to know how to talk to people. If you don’t, that’s fine–an experienced person in a production role is worth their weight in gold! But you just need to recognize that you’re making that choice, and be happy with that choice. Neither is right or wrong as such, just right or wrong for you.

      1. goducks*

        Yes! For most people your job performance isn’t just the widgets produced, it’s the widgets produce AND the ways that you ensure that widgets are being produced at high levels, which means relationships and teams solving problems and finding paths for improvements.

      2. FrogFriend*

        Be careful making assumptions. My role involves people to a high degree, and I’ve received numerous accolades from both my boss and from peers that mention how much they like interacting with me. Almost none of them know my husband’s name, or what he does, or what’s going on in my personal life beyond the surface level things. And yet! I’m still not being perceived as an unsmiling drone who sucks the fun out of the (virtual) room.

        And you definitively don’t know how much I get paid, or where I am on the ladder (apparently higher than you think lol!).

        1. Dinwar*

          Taking you at your word, it appears that we are saying the same thing with different words. You quite obviously are engaging more with your coworkers than your original post seemed to imply–in my experience at least people who use such hostile language when discussing interactions with their coworkers are the sort who consider coworkers a burden and any interaction beyond strict work limits to be unconscionable.

          There’s also a cultural aspect at play. Different people like to interact in different ways. If I refused to discuss my family with my boss (who also knows my wife, and who’s kid went to the same martial arts studio as my kids do, and…), it would be an open insult. On the other hand, if I discussed my kids with the drillers I work with it would be considered a waste of time. Part of tact is tailoring your message to your audience, and it sounds like you’ve struck the correct balance for the place where you work.

          Further, your original post very much had the tone of “People work this way, if you don’t like it suck it up you’re the one who’s wrong.” Whether you intend it or not, responding to “My coworkers refuse to interact with me, how do I handle this?” with “The only thing I owe my coworkers is high-quality work” is absolutely going to come off as that. Quite obviously this is not what you intended–quite obviously you are warm and friendly to your coworkers, in a manner appropriate to the context–but I think it’s useful to the LW to point that out.

    5. mb*

      I get that people don’t NEED to have friendly chats with coworkers – but engaging in friendly chats – sometimes – creates a rapport with coworkers. That rapport can create a lot of advantages – they’re more willing to help you, you could potentially get referred to more opportunities, they could end up being your boss one day and now you have a good working relationship. Even with external partners – ie I have created a great rapport with my warranty contact at my main supplier – I get so much leeway from her that other people don’t get. She’ll fill out forms for me, give me more time to send returns, etc. Without that rapport, that’s not happening. Perhaps just picking up the phone and having a conversation could mitigate some of the effects of remote work. Instead of just emailing every request, call them and have a quick chat. That could create more of a relationship.

    6. Stuckinacrazyjob*

      Yes, I certainly value being able to go to doctors visits over bothering my coworkers with my terrible small talk. ( suffering through a conference right now. I’m so glad I’ll never be a manager)

    7. Ellis Bell*

      So what you’re saying is that we do at least need to engage in pleasantries? Because the OP isn’t getting any.

      1. FrogFriend*

        I think the OP wants more than pleasantries (though I agree she isn’t getting any, which would make anyone unhappy!). I think she wants social interaction that will be hard to find in a remote only job.

        1. LW - Social-ish Caterpillar*

          Nah, I’m happy with just pleasantries, really! Or I guess it depends how far you think pleasantries extend. I don’t need to know the names of my coworkers’ spouses (though that level of sociability would also be nice.) I guess I just want to be at “know they actually have, or do not have, a spouse” level? I mean, really, I just want to be able to occasionally say something like, “I watched Masterchef last night, did anyone else catch it?” and have….any….response. I would describe that as pleasantry level? Others might not agree.

          1. Hlao-roo*

            I agree with you. It’s great when “Are you following the World Cup?” is answered with “yeah, I’m rooting for Argentina, they played a great game last night!” and then leads to a 2-3 min conversation. But it’s also satisfying for “Are you following the World Cup?” to be met with “no, not this year. Are you rooting for a specific team?” or even “nah, sports aren’t really my thing.”
            A polite response, even a short one that signals “I don’t want to continue talking,” is a pleasantry that at least signals “I acknowledge that you have spoken to me.”

          2. Lemon Zinger*

            Do you work for a conservative company, or know if management leans conservative? If so, that could be why people don’t share about their partners. I’ve had coworkers not mention their partners because management was homophobic and/or judgmental about unmarried couples who lived together.

            1. so very tired*

              This, 100%. Before I came out I would never talk about all the gay events and other queer-focused activities I’d attend to anyone at work. Now, I have a boss who’s supportive so I can mention I went to Pride Fest and it’s not even a thing.

  7. londonedit*

    I agree about the meetings. Where I work, it’s fine to have your camera off if you’re not actively participating in the meeting, but it’s expected that if someone’s speaking they’ll have their camera on. So in an acquisition meeting, for example, the person presenting the book idea will be on camera for their bit, and once they’ve presented the person running the meeting will ask anyone else who needs to comment on the proposal – marketing, sales, design etc – to switch their cameras on while the overall discussion takes place. That way, you see people a few times a week and you don’t feel like you’re shouting into the void.

    We also set up various Teams channels during the initial lockdown which are still going – I have one with people I know across various editorial teams, and it’s a place to ask work questions but it’s also a place to have a general chat, and occasionally we have a video ‘tea break’ where we all join a call for an informal catch-up. We’re generally in the office two days a week now but you don’t always see everyone and it’s still nice to do those online catch-ups to stay in contact. It sounds like your colleagues aren’t really up for something like that, but maybe suggest it and see what the response is? If they really don’t want to engage then I agree with Alison, maybe this isn’t the right place for you anymore and you should think about looking for a working environment that better suits you.

    1. Ama*

      Yeah that’s the part I don’t get — I’m fully remote and I appear on camera all the time and have social chats with my coworkers as part of our scheduled meetings. Maybe it’s just that a lot of my internal meetings have always been one on one or smaller groups (I will admit in our all staff meeting most of the remote staff turn their cameras off unless we’re actively talking). But I don’t really feel like I know that much less about my coworkers’ lives than I did when I was in office — maybe it’s been a little harder to pick up details about my newer coworkers but not entirely. I’ve had really good one on one meetings with some of our new finance team employees this week and feel like I understand the way they work a little better, and a little more about who they are.

  8. Busy Middle Manager*

    I think it’s the time we are in, not WFH or you. A big part of this must be the cost of living crisis. It’s starting to hit even the upper middle class in my area. No one’s eating out, no one’s hosting events because prices for everything have skyrocketed, people are postponing life decisions and stressed about that. Because of this and inflation you can’t escape since it’s even on generic food now, and the job market now freezing up while housing remains very expensive, I don’t think it’s a happy time where people are putting effort into reaching out, trying new activities, or offering to go out for drinks or meals or whatever. I notice a lot of people in a mild state of stress due to this and so are socially isolating or escaping through TV or games more than ever.

    1. Samwise*

      Doesn’t explain people leaving their cameras off and never speaking up in meetings, though. Those cost $0

      1. Busy Middle Manager*

        you are right in that it doesn’t explain those specific items. But definitely is a part of people not being social anymore. I’m living through this right now, when peoples’ situations aren’t going well, many sort of hibernate, and this includes many formerly social people I used to know

        1. Lana Kane*

          I hear you. It’s the dreaded slippery slope – not a direct line, but I see the correlation. Times are hard = I stay in more = My mood starts to slump = I start caring less about whether I look presentable during the work day = Cameras off = A wall of turned off cameras can subconsciously inhibit conversation. (I equate this to conference calls – I was definitely not as active in a meeting if it was a conference call).

        2. Maisonneuve*

          I agree. I’m hopefully switching to a full-time office job soon. I’ll miss some of the benefits of WFH, but I’m doing it partly because I’m worried the comfort of WFH has become chronic hibernation. And that’s not the life I want. I’m not looking to the office to fill all my social needs. But I do think it’ll help me stop thinking of 7 pm as too late to do anything (from going out with friends to doing a load of laundry) because I’ll be literally out in the world more.

      2. KToo*

        Depends on the type of meeting, though? I’m on a team of about 20 people and while we have weekly meetings they are usually informational and not really content that requires speaking up. If no one has questions, and if the content isn’t specific to something I can speak to or was covered by what someone else said there’s no reason to speak up otherwise. (But we do have have a great manager – our team is scattered around 3 countries and multiple locations in each so he makes a point sometimes of asking questions or throwing out conversational gambits to get different people talking when there’s time.)

        As for cameras? I never turn mine on because my laptop is over on a shelf and docked so I can use my big monitor/keyboard/mouse and I have limited desk space. To open the camera means having to rearrange my desk space and lighting.

      3. chocolate lover*

        They do have an emotional cost in some cases, though. I know I’m much more tired out sitting on a video call than I am from an in person meeting. I care about my colleagues and like engaging with them, but I’m also likely to want to end a video meeting as quickly as possible.

        Why did everything have to go to camera after COVID anyway? People have been using phones and conference calls for years.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          This is a good point. I work entirely remotely. I have coworker A who isn’t able to turn on their camera and coworker B who doesn’t have a camera (and refuses to take the one offered by work). At the beginning it bothered me, but I’ve been reframing talking with those coworkers as phone calls and it’s been helpful. Or I chat with them in text.

          The main consequence of this is that when we do meet up in person (every year or so), I re-introduce myself to coworker B and he finds that hilarious.

      4. 3DogNight*

        Replying to Samwise (LOVE your username!) The speaking up costs nothing, that’s true.
        I do take issue with the idea that being on camera costs nothing. For women and female presenting people, there is a disproportionate expectation that they are “camera-ready”, whereas men can put on a suit jacket and be done. Doing anything with my hair usually involves time and product. In addition, makeup, dear God, that’s expensive. There’s the stuff that puts it on, the stuff that takes it off, the stuff itself, and the time.
        I’m for doing that, when it’s customer facing. But if my company is paying me less because I’m not commuting, and therefore don’t have those expenses, then I’m not getting on camera for an internal meeting.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          ^^ So true. I would love to give my face a break from makeup on my WFH days, but I don’t, because 1. my un-made-up face is apparently different enough from my made-up face that my coworkers assume I have the flu when I don’t have makeup on (I chose to take this as a compliment to my makeup skills and not a referendum on my natural face, but it still sucks) and 2. It reads an unprofessional or unkempt, even though that is total BS.

          If I have an unexpected Zoom call on a WFH day that I didn’t put makeup on, I throw on a visible lip color and put on reading glasses so the glare from the screen hides my under-eye circles.

        2. so very tired*

          Hard agree on the expectation to be “camera ready” for fem-presenting people. I’m trans and people still perceive me as fem, which I hate but I can’t really help it at this point in my life. So I’m held to expectations that aren’t fair for any gender, and I’d still be mad about it if I hadn’t transitioned away from my assigned gender at birth.

          Overall I am very disappointed in the overarching attitude of the comments today: neurotypical, heteronormative, sexist, etc. :(

          1. Butterfly Counter*

            There might be some power-dynamic with this issue as well.

            I am currently in a Zoom meeting for my virtual office hours with my students. I literally just got out of the shower and my hair is still wet (busier than anticipated morning). I literally don’t give two whits what my students think about my un-made-up face. But, as expected, I also have zero students coming to my Zoom office hours.

            I make more of an effort in person. But these students don’t have any power over my work assignments or promotions. So they can just deal with my real face if they have questions I can help them with.

      5. Ellis Bell*

        I had a discussion with a friend this week, who I reached out to because of worry; she’s putting zero effort into her relationships, and when I started talking to her, the same is true of her work relationships too. She’s too overwhelmed to try and pour her usual warmth outwards. What is she overwhelmed with? No money, no dates, worry about her relationship, overcrowding at home because of extended family moving in, which is also down to money. She was pathetically grateful to me for reaching out and giving her a vent opportunity, but when I asked why she didn’t just call me, she said “I didn’t think to”.

      6. CamerasAreNotFree*

        camera cost bandwidth. they cost time if you have to dress up if you wouldn’t otherwise and if it means you have to keep a pristine working area that has to always be spotless. they add no tangible benefit to a conversation. just no.

  9. Snarkus Aurelius*

    You should read Bowling Alone. The book came out 20 years before the pandemic, but it predicted your question.

    I’m going to be one of Those People, but I only speak for myself.

    By nature of existing in this world, I have to “be on” a lot. From my husband to the kid to my in-laws to the doctor’s office to the school to my dying parents to youth soccer to the parent groups and especially to work where I’m a director in a high-level role, I need to save my socialization energy and parse it out where it’s needed most. Although I’m in the minority, I don’t think a lot of my critics realize how much certain people have to “be on” in public *and* private. It’s draining. At the end of my day, I just want to watch Simpsons reruns and binge watch crime shows.

    I get what you want and need, but I’m not the person to give it to you. For that, I feel bad, but I wish you could see all the social energy obligations everyone has to deal with.

    At the very least, I’d like empathy for that.

    1. H.Regalis*

      I remember that book! I think about it sometimes in light of things like D&D 5e becoming incredibly mainstream (which I think is awesome).

    2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      This is an interesting comment and it hits the nail on the head as to why, as I get older, I feel increasingly more introverted (or, really, ambiverted, as I was always a pretty high-E extrovert and probably still am more E than I!). There are more and more days where my social battery is at close to zero the more responsibility I take on at work.

      1. Jay (no, the other one)*

        I’m an upper-case Extrovert now in my early 60s and I am finally coming to really understand the experience of being “peopled out.” To be clear, I always accepted that this was true for my introverted friends and family and I tried very hard not to pressure them to be different – much of my social life is independent from my husband for that reason. So I knew it was a real thing, but hadn’t ever felt that way myself. Now I do. I’ve always had to be “on” all the time – I was a doctor in full-time practice for 30 years – so it’s not that. I think for me it is the utter emotional exhaustion based on the state of the world and the current level of political polarization in the US. This forces me to do a subconscious calculation with almost every interaction to figure out if I’m safe emotionally and sometimes physically (I’m Jewish, so this is particularly intense right now).

        So after a lifetime of feeling energized by interactions with people, I now feel drained by some of them. I’m sure some of this is a change in me but that’s not all of it.

        1. saskia*

          I think this is true of many people and may be a widespread effect of the internet/social media that society is just starting to reckon with.

      2. Snarkus Aurelius*

        And that’s why I was a social butterfly, happy hour queen for 15 years before I had a kid!

        I almost lost my temper last week when my kid started coming home with homework and reading assignments that required my *active* participation. I do not want to use the two hour window between me getting home and getting him to bed for that!!!

        And that’s what I tell my mom when she asks why my husband and I never host dinner parties. Also I have no idea who’d we’d invite if we did have one!

      3. Chauncy Gardener*

        It resonates with me too. As I age, I have less energy overall, and if it’s been particularly intense at work, I have way less energy to spend on social interactions. So I’m actually trying to shift the balance, so that I work less and socialize more.
        With the current world situation being so intense and polarized right now, I’m just trying not to make any assumptions about what anyone else might be going through or feeling right now. I personally feel pretty fraught.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      See, I think to the extent that this affects work, though, we are the people to give that, at least a bit. I think it’s just easier for people to hide from it because nobody can pop by their offices. And that’s from someone whose coworkers will sometimes not have reason to speak to each other for days on end (although we are not remote). The degree of sociability at work is not zero because it still involves multiple people interacting.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Yes, it does involve multiple people interacting for productivity’s sake. But you don’t know what people are going through in their lives. The list I gave originally is a mere fraction of my required personal interactions. I didn’t even get into the mental labor required for each demand.

        I don’t think it’s right or fair to expect people to give more than they can, especially when we outsiders don’t know what that limit is.

        1. LW - Social-ish Caterpillar*

          I guess to me (I’m the LW) I’m curious about this idea of giving more than they can. Given that I feel like my expectations are fairly low – lower than they’d be for if I were in the office with these people – I’m wondering: isn’t it fair to expect people to give SOMETHING when they work with other people? Because that’s literally all my expectations are: something! If I worked in the office with my team, yes, I’d probably expect to be able to build a pleasant work relationship with someone where we could build off the pleasantries we’d exchanged last time, etc. (I.e, “Did you end up going to see the Barbie movie like you’d planned? How was it?”) and those expectations *already* seem low. But what I expect from my remote team is even lower. I don’t care deeply that I don’t know their kids names. I just want to occasionally have “How was everyone’s weekend?” or “Did anyone follow *recent pop culture or sporting event*?” met with a short, friendly response – 5 minutes of chitchat as a group at the end of a weekly meeting. 5 minutes, out of a 40 hour week. If that’s really expecting more than someone can give, I would really question if that someone has enough to give to a workplace.

          1. Snarkus Aurelius*

            It’s *because* I keep my social interactions minimal in my life that I have plenty to give at work. Work isn’t a problem at all.

            Sure, I can give five minutes of one word answers in a week as long as you understand that I’m doing a zillion different other things while I’m waiting for the work to start. And if you ask me about my weekend, it was usually crappy but I’m not sharing that in a work meeting.

    4. Orange_Erin*

      I can relate. I’m definitely an introvert (probably more on the extreme end) however I understand the importance of “being on” for various roles I fulfill throughout my life. One of the things I found that was beneficial for me switching to WFH a few days is that on those days I’m free to “turn off” for a bit and still get my work done. If I’m coming off a hectic week of socializing – whether it be at work, for work (conferences, outside meetings), or in my personal life – having a day where I don’t have to smile and make small talk with people I pass in the hallway is a lifesaver.
      I still see the benefits of socializing with my co-workers, but I need a day “off” so to speak.

    5. Ann*

      I really feel this! And at the same time, I feel like it takes more out of me to not see my coworkers. Following up on little things becomes harder. If they didn’t get back to me all week, I never know if they just forgot or they’re in the middle of a massive personal crisis and not even working. Slightly sensitive conversations that used to be handled in five minutes by popping into someone’s office become a Big Thing if they have to be scheduled and handled by phone or email. I’m actually more drained and accomplishing less…

    6. Mellow Gold*

      Replying to the part about “At the very least, I’d like empathy for that,” because I actually felt frustrated at my old job (which was very similar to OP’s), BECAUSE I felt like I was extending empathy and not getting the same back. I very rarely pushed for cameras to be on (even in 1-on1-s or small workgroup meetings), but when I did, it was often met with scoffing. On my side (as someone who is neurodivergent), everyone being off camera took away any chance for me to gauge team members reactions and appropriately calibrate written feedback when I received it later. I mean, I’m not joking to say that I don’t know what one of my supervisors looked like (even from a Teams profile picture), and I would not know her if I ran straight into her on the street.

      Granted there was also some workplace frustration with older staff talking out of both sides of their mouths about how close everyone on the team was…

  10. Insert Pun Here*

    It’s funny, I have roughly the same preferences that I think the LW has (most colleagues onsite at least some of the time), largely for the same reasons. The last job I interviewed for, I asked about their remote work policy and the interviewer rushed to assure me—at length—that they allow fully remote work for almost all positions, etc etc, no mention of whether or not I could even choose to work onsite part or all of the time. It was a real “this job is probably not for me” moment, and I think the same is true for the LW.

    1. Dell*

      This! I feel stuck in a real bind, because I absolutely want flexibility and a max of two days a week in-office, but I’ve been VERY reluctant to apply to fully remote positions because I have had such a similar experience to the LW. Some fully remote teams would probably be able to fulfill the team-building desires I have, but my current team sure isn’t. And that’s WITH me going to the office once a week — absolutely no one else on my team does, so I just end up hoping I will see someone I know from a different team around the office.

      1. Bobina*

        I’d recommend if you can finding companies that were fully remote *before* the pandemic. I joined one, and because they’ve always been this way, it means they actually had to think about creating a decent company culture for a fully remote workforce. In my case, its probably one of the more sociable company cultures I’ve experienced and all without having to drag myself to an office!

    2. LW - Social-ish Caterpillar*

      As the LW, this is interesting to read! While I think I probably would do better if I were consistently onsite, I certainly wouldn’t prefer it! If, tomorrow, my manager said we were all expected back in the office full time, I would feel really overwhelmed and annoyed as opposed to relieved, and would want to push back. I like my alone time. I like my privacy and being fully autonomous. I just…like to feel like I know my coworkers. If I had to think about my ideal situation, it would be going into the office a few times a month, building relationships with my coworkers during that time, and then being remote the rest of the time, but having those relationships built up so that I felt like I knew who I was working with and was a part of a team. I hope this makes sense.

      1. allathian*

        It makes perfect sense, and I’m very happy to report that this is pretty much my situation.

        Currently we’re expected to go to the office 4 days a month. On some teams, they have decided that the whole team goes to the office on a particular day. My team’s distributed across 7 different regional offices, so that doesn’t work for us. We have offsites with the whole team twice a year. The rest of the time, we go to the office when it makes sense from a work perspective. That said, some employees in other departments haven’t been seen at the office since March 2020, so I’ve heard rumors that some days at the office may become mandatory in the future.

        Granted, I’ve been working for my current employer for 16 years, and until 2014 I didn’t even have a laptop, so there was no way to WFH. Between 2014 and March 2020 I worked most days at the office, and maybe once a month or so remotely. We had a WFH mandate between March 2020 and September 2021, when people were allowed to return to the office if they wanted or it was easier to do a particular task at the office. Granted, we have a few employees who’ve been working at the office all the time, mostly the registry office and a few others. They instituted the recommendation of 4 office days per month in October 2022.

        Our team expanded during the pandemic, and there’s been some turnover with employees quitting or retiring. Even though my employer invested a lot of time in our virtual onboarding, and even during the lockdowns more than 95% of our interns said they’d recommend us to other students in their field, long-term employees who were hired during the lockdowns said that they’ve only truly felt a part of our team when it’s become possible to meet face to face again.

  11. WriterMe*

    It’s OK that remote work isn’t for you, and I understand why that can be hard to say aloud in some spaces (both virtual and IRL). I love my hybrid schedule because I have the best of both worlds: time to socialize and time to recharge (and not be on for 8+ hours a day). I hope you find what you need.

    1. Samwise*

      But you can work remotely and still have a reasonable amount of social connection. I don’t mean it has to be best buddies or TMI level, but OP is describing almost never seeing anyone else at work (in person or on camera), people staying completely silent during meetings, no willingness from colleagues to connect in even the most minimal ways on text or slack…

      Working remotely does not automatically = working in a ghost town

      1. Loux*

        Yup, it really depends on the work and the people involved.

        I’ve been on remote teams like the LW’s and more social remote teams. It is 100% possible to have a social culture and good connections when in a remote environment; you just have to work for it.

        1. Quill*

          Yeah, at the job I had in 2019 and 2020 there was a lot of existing structure that made remote (at least, remote from your immediate team) feasible. We had people on multiple contintents, it wouldn’t have worked otherwise.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        Yeah, I’ve been 100% remote for years and I still chat with coworkers several times a day, mostly chat or audio-only. We ask about weekend activities, what projects are coming up, new developments in our field, funny anecdotes, etc.

        If coworkers don’t want to turn on their cameras or prefer to talk in Slack, that seems reasonable to me. Refusing to respond to social pleasantries or staying silent in meetings where they should be participating are bigger issues that really should be addressed on a management/team level.

      3. LW - Social-ish Caterpillar*

        Thanks, this is spot on – I’ve said this already in the comments, but as the LW I just want to clarify that I don’t really want to ever go back to full time in the office. I wouldn’t hate it, at least not once I got used to it again, but it’s definitely not my preference. I like remote work, for the most part, and really like a hybrid model where I have the option to go in occasionally too if I want (which I usually don’t). I just…also like the occasional chat, and feeling like I’m a part of a team. This comment thread is really interesting, because I’m surprised how many people think those things are mutually exclusive with remote working.

    2. TCO*

      I haaated being fully remote during covid. My line of work is inherently collaborative with people both inside and outside of my organization–it’s one of the qualities that makes it a good fit for me. And I’m an extrovert–not just that I enjoy at least light socializing at work, but that I actually do my best work when interacting and developing ideas with others. Zoom just wasn’t a totally sufficient replacement for that, especially with partners outside of my workplace and with new folks I wanted to meet/know.

      I love my now-hybrid work schedule. I can’t see myself ever wanting a fully remote job ever again. I think over time we’ll see a sorting of people moving themselves into in-person, hybrid, and remote workplaces based on individual preferences.

      Many of my coworkers like our hybrid schedule, too. We decided together that it’s what (most of) us wanted and now we hire new folks with that expectation, so we’ve cultivated a group of people who are generally happy with this setup.

      My husband, also really extroverted, started a new all-remote job about 18 months ago and feels very friendly with and connected to his coworkers. Remote doesn’t have to mean antisocial, but it does take some effort to build the kinds of socializing that used to happen differently when people worked in an office together.

      If my job were still fully remote, I’d probably quit. It just wouldn’t be right for me and it wouldn’t bring out my best work. OP, it’s fine to consider whether that’s true for you, too. Your job is essentially very different than it was a few years ago and maybe those changes just aren’t a good fit for you.

  12. Freedom Hammer*

    Feeling connection at work is an important factor in preventing burnout. It’s a shame that the people running meetings aren’t better at creating engagement remotely. I can’t criticize them for this bc societally, we’ve only had a few years to understand this way of working. That doesn’t make it any less bad for you, though.
    To me, your options look like:
    Put up with it and find other ways to maintain your spirits
    Be the person who creates engagement, maybe not all the time but enough times to get the engagement level that maintains your spirits more than it drains your energy (a tough balance)

    1. ferrina*

      Yes! This is exactly what I was thinking. A lot of companies that were forced to go remote haven’t figured out what remote engagement looks like.

      All of LW’s examples were about group of 10-15 people. Plenty of people might feel shy among a group like that. Then once a group dynamic is set (i.e., not talking), it’s hard to change that. I’ve made a career of changing group dynamics, and it’s hard!

      LW should try doing smaller groups. Can you grab virtual coffee with someone? “Hey, I’d love to pick your brain. Do you mind if I set up a time to chat?” A lot of people feel more comfortable with cameras on if it’s in a smaller group. Even if they don’t, that’s okay. It’s like being on the phone- you don’t need to see them to connect. Be genuine. Appreciate their expertise. If you end up using their advice, send them a follow-up email thanking them and letting them know how you used their advice.
      If a small group of people have a similar role, set up a monthly time to chat about commonly faced challenges/information sharing session. I set up one of these when I started remotely at a new company. It turns out everyone in the role felt isolated, and no one wanted to make the first move! Now we have monthly coffee chats- it’s become part “I don’t know what to do about X!” and part “hey, I have info you might need.” It’s work focused….usually. The last one went into a discussion about kids, because all the attendees that day happened to have kids.
      Once you start creating those warmer dynamics, it’s easier to build on them. And when new people come in to the group, it will be easier to keep the dynamics going.

  13. Capt. Liam Shaw*

    Thank You LW for this and AAM.

    LW you are completely normal and I would feel the same way. Only thing I quibble about is the 4th paragraph. It sounds like the meetings are chilly if the manager can’t get people to engage at all.

    But yes LW you are normal.

  14. sofar*

    In-person interactions make you see your coworkers as humans rather than a bother. If the only interactions you have with someone is them Slacking you (while you’re already in a meeting at the moment), asking you to do something for them, they’re just an annoying mosquito that makes that “tap tap tap” Slack noise at you. Pre-covid, people would ask me for help all the time, but in-person, they wouldn’t bother me while I was in a meeting (because they could literally see me in the conference room) and would drop by my desk at a good time. And a human saying, “I’m totally lost here, can I pick your brain?” is just WAY more relatable. “Hey, sure, I’m about to go refill my coffee, follow me and let’s talk it through!”

    And, yes, I know this is two-sided and I’m probably annoying folks electronically, too!

    But it’s a problem without a solution, as everyone also hates “forced” Zoom happy hours and such. So you don’t get that seeing-your-coworkers-as-human interactions in a natural way.

    1. UKDancer*

      Yes. I find it’s a lot easier to solve problems when you’re in the same place and can see each other as people, not just a picture on a screen. I was in an office other than my usual one on Monday and bumped into one colleague who asked me to look at a spreadsheet with him. It was the sort of thing I’d probably put off if he’d emailed it to me but because we were both there, we could sit down and talk it through and it took 10 minutes to fix the issue with the data and catch up on his news and look at the picture of his new puppy.

    2. Busy Middle Manager*

      So true! And is it just me, or does it feel like you’re doing way more work with not much impact. I feel like the way you describe because every day is an emergency, and I’m exhausted from it. Why is everything changing so much? I’m swimming fast and staying in place. This is making it extra stressful when I get those pings, I keep hoping other people can figure out stuff on their own. Some struggle, but it’s also uncanny, how much has been changing

      1. Ann*

        Not just you. It takes so long to follow up with many people! You never know if they just forgot about your request, or are really busy, or something personal happened and they’re not even working. So you feel like you’re intruding when you follow up. And on top of that, more effort to follow up means less bandwidth for actually getting things done.
        On top of that, at least in my industry, there are more regulations than ever and it takes a lot more manpower just to get the same things accomplished. We’re getting squeezed between major problems hiring and retaining staff, and more make-work for the staff we do have. Even people who used to see their career as a huge part of their identity are burning out.

    3. Dallas Houston*

      “In-person interactions make you see your coworkers as humans rather than a bother”.

      The people I worked with in-office before Covid are my go-to people when I need help with something, or conversely, when I know that they need help in some way or need information about something I’m working on. I don’t know much about the people hired since we all started WFH. It’s not that I don’t like the new people, I just don’t know them – and I’m unlikely to get to know them in our current setup. I’m not going to “bother” them with a “quick question”. I’m not going to “quick run something by them”. I don’t have my ear to the ground about things that impact their world. I do wonder how people just starting out are ever going to establish their own “tribe” when they never engage with their co-workers in person.

    4. mlem*

      Is it common to not realize people are human if they’re not within physical touching distance? That hasn’t been my experience.

      1. goducks*

        Have you spent any time on social media? It seems clear that many people forget that they’re engaging with actual human beings. The things people will say to people online… they’d never say things like that to a person’s face!

      2. Critical Rolls*

        That’s disingenuous. Of course reasonable people understand their coworkers are human. But knowing they’re human and knowing them *as* humans are two different things for typical psyches.

      3. Pita Chips*

        Nor mine. I have friends all over the world thanks to the internet and have for more than two decades. I am as close or closer to them than I am with most of my coworkers.

      4. Dinwar*

        There’s definitely a difference in people interact with one another online vs in person. As I said elsewhere, linguists have long known that written language is different from oral language in any culture (creates some real problems with regard to dating literature, as written language tends to be very conservative and retain ancient traits for longer than oral language). Text-based communications also lack the nonverbal cues that humans evolved to read.

        Then there’s the fact that written communications can be monitored. That has a necessarily chilling effect on speech, as is evidenced by the advice in other posts to treat all electronic communication as if it’s being monitored by a hostile manager. Typical human interaction includes a lot of things that aren’t intended to be taken literally (see G. K. Chesterton, the literature on counter-signaling, and idioms). or which can mean different things depending on context. As such, electronic communications are going to be more formal and stilted than face-to-face communications.

        There’s also different expectations. Slack, Teams, and the like have created the expectation that whatever the blinking light says is important is the most important thing, along with the expectation that we’re all instantly available to anyone who wants us. Requests that would have been one email in the past (or which the person would have figured out on their own) are now 57 Teams pings. This may increase collaboration in some respects, but I’ve read multiple articles arguing that it decreases productivity, increases burnout, and generally creates miserable workers. If you’re in an office that’s face-to-face this can be countered by more positive interactions. The bank account of the relationship remains positive. But if your only significant interaction is yet another request, that balance quickly goes into the negative.

        So I think there’s something fairly significant here.

  15. Kes*

    I agree it’s important to have some level of connection with coworkers as people, not just as coworkers. I’ve worked on a variety of teams with varying levels of engagement and social interaction. Personally I prefer being off camera most of the time but I do like to have just a little bit of chat, often at the beginning of our regular meetings – can just be ‘how was your weekend’, a joke here and there, a comment – something to feel we’re actually in a conversation. The worst I’ve seen is a team that just went down the list alphabetically to give updates and it was very efficient but a bit cold – it just felt like how robots would give their update and there was no interaction or back and forth.

    One thing I have found helpful on teams that are quieter/less engaged by nature is to have a specific team social meeting, not too long or too often, maybe every month or two, and have people on camera specifically so the regular meetings can stay as is according to their preference. Pets is often a good starter for this – have people show off their pets (or something else if they don’t have one). Depending on the team you can also play a game if they’re interested – Gartic Phone, GeoGuessr, Codenames, Jackbox, etc are all good options. But I typically see how things are going and whether we can keep conversation flowing or need an activity.

    1. MakeItOptional*

      hard pass. chit chat at the start if meetings before you get started red like normal people.

    2. LW - Social-ish Caterpillar*

      LW here – I tried to instigate a monthly Friday afternoon social meeting with my team shortly into covid to try and maintain the little connection we’d had going on pre-covid, and it happened twice, and it was really clear that nobody was interested, and barely anyone participated. I wasn’t interested in forcing it, so I dropped it. That Christmas, actually, thinking about it, our manager’s manager, who is a lovely, bubbly person, ran a “Christmas party” meeting that had games, and it was really fun, and people participated – but it came from her so I think that’s why! I really appreciate this comment because it caused me to reflect, and remember that Christmas party. I have the sort of relationship with my manager’s manager where I can reach out to her and discuss this dynamic and ask if we could try a similar thing this Christmas. Thank you!

  16. Certaintroublemaker*

    Does your office use a Teams or Slack type tool for IMs? Can you ask your boss to add a Watercooler channel? That would be a place to put “Anyone watching the World Cup?” And I think you could try reaching out to work friend individually and ask, “So what is Kid planning to do for Halloween?”

    1. Holly.*

      Oh yes, good idea! (And depending on your office politics, might be easier to just set it up yourself.)
      I set up a Teams chat at the start of the plague for our dept, and specifically advertised it as for the chat we were missing while waiting for the kettle to boil (UK).

      We got a nice mix of recipes/sports/favorite slipper types/informal work queries.

      It’s the informal work queries I think that’s most important, being able to ask ‘who’s good to talk to about green llamas? I’m writing a report on them’, isn’t the sort of thing people are comfortable raising in a formal meeting, but it’s that informal chat that helps build knowledge and relationships. :-)

    2. UnicornUnicorn*

      My company has a social Slack channel that was really active prior to the pandemic when we were all in the office (we were very quiet in the office but very boisterous on Slack) but now is nearly dead. I try to post things I find interesting that would spark conversations and people just ignore it. Which is fine, I don’t mind talking to myself, but it is a really interesting situation.

    3. The Rafters*

      We have a brief chat every day on teams. Starts out with who is doing what from where for the day, then goes into whatever national holiday it is (today is National Killer Chucky Doll Day and National Merri Music Day). Then it devolves into silliness. I don’t see some of my coworkers often, but their comments are often hilarious so even if I don’t know them, I know they are funny. It takes up only about 10 minutes, but sets the tone for the day.

    4. sb51*

      +1 — also, some of us enjoy different forms of light social connections better than others. I almost never went to big in-person work mixers pre-pandemic because my audio processing can’t deal with a loud room with multiple conversations, but I’m also more of an extrovert than an introvert! I actually go to more of them now, not fewer, as my team has enough Covid-cautious people that we tend to do the mixers outdoors and standing further apart, which is a setup where I can actually hear.

      And, in general, I like connecting with people! But it doesn’t have to be in person or on video – a memespam chat is connection, for me, and works just as well remotely as in-person — stuff like that. I know some other commenters here have said that it doesn’t work as well for them, but for me it’s just the same or better – all of the social with none of the “sorry, could you repeat that” headache.

    5. Ann*

      Very interesting, thank you for this idea! Our management has tried to fix the lack of office interaction, but it looks like it might be past fixing. Maybe this is the next best thing.

  17. NonProfitAdvocate*

    We have several channels in our work Slack to connect about things unrelated to work (my colleagues who read this column will recognize this immediately)

    1. Question of the Day: someone posts a question about once every two weeks, something random like “what’s something useless you have memorized”
    2. Cute Kids: pictures of our kids being cute! This is especially useful for those of us who don’t post pictures of our kids on social media
    3. Petsand Baked Goods: pictures of our pets, plants or delicious homemade baked goods (this channel was started before any of us had kids)
    4. Plants: a whole channel to showcase our beautiful, thriving plants at home
    5. Recommend me things: people can ask for recommendations like fun activities, places to shop, good food recipes etc.
    6. Music: pretty self-explanatory
    7. UFOs Ghosts and Yetis: to share articles about spooky sightings, Big Foot Sightings or ya know, the government basically confirming UFOs are real

    We don’t have a ton of time to socialize in virtual meetings, so these channels are great ways to engage on non-work related topics at the exact level we’re all comfortable with. Some people post a lot, others just read and add fun emojis. It really helps build a sense of comradery

    1. Lana Kane*

      These are great ideas for topics for our Water Cooler channel! Ours isn’t a ghost town but it’s not hopping, either.

    2. Dinwar*

      Here’s the problem though: According to many commenters on a previous post, you have to be VERY careful because anything that can be taken the wrong way can ruin your career.

      Less sarcastically: Slack/Teams are not a replacement for actual conversation. They function differently–there’s actually a thing in linguistics where written words and spoken words are different, with written words being more stilted and formal. And the belief that someone could be watching your texts will necessarily have a chilling effect on what you feel you can say. The combination means that while a Slack channel is better than nothing, it’s not a replacement for face-to-face communications.

  18. Sometimes maybe*

    I think what remote work looked like at the beginning of the pandemic and what it looks like now are very different in terms of communication. When my office went remote back in early 2020, we were still interacting the same as when we were all in the office. I could infer the tone of someone’s email because I had a previous in-person relationship. It was easy to followup on personal conversations from recently. But now with turnover and continuous WFH I cannot engage as easily remotely. I have switched to working two days from home and the rest of the time in the office simply because having a relationship with my coworkers actually makes my job so much easier, even though I could be exclusively remote if I chose.

  19. Anax*

    Honestly, I think my old workplace did a great job at this. We had regular (2-3x/week) meetings with my immediate team, about 6 people, and every two weeks with the full 15 in our department. The managers made a point of asking everyone a low-stakes question in each meeting, and being asked about our weekend or doing a silly madlibs together… actually did build that sense of camaraderie you’re talking about. It felt dorky a lot of the time, but it was nice.

    Even over text, that can work well – not ‘how is everyone,’ but ‘so, Livia, what are you working on this week? anything you’re looking forward to this weekend? how about you, Cressida?’, specifically toward each individual.

    (It’s useful from a work perspective too, to know basically what folks are doing and how stressed/busy they are.)

    Is that something you can suggest to your management?

    1. Lily Rowan*

      At one point years ago, I was on a very introverted/shy team where if the boss tried a general “how’s everyone’s week going ” or whatever, one or two people might respond. It was generally a collegial group, but people were very awkward sitting around a conference table. So the boss started going around the table with a predictable question so everyone said something at the start of the meeting, and it really helped.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Anyway, that’s about in-person dynamics, but I think the same thing can happen online, so I agree with you that specific questions to individuals is the move.

      2. Anax*

        That was exactly what we were experiencing at the start of pandemic lockdowns, too. Honestly, it made me feel a lot closer to my coworkers than I had while working in the office – I’m pretty introverted too, so I don’t normally have a lot of ad-hoc conversations in the office.

    2. MsSolo (UK)*

      Yes, ours was similar. Because we were geographically dispersed pre-pandemic anyway, we already had a lot of behaviours in place that made sure the team was social with each other (in a work appropriate way).

      The things that made it work:
      – a cameras on culture that wasn’t actively enforced. So it was default to join a meeting with your camera on, but no one would ask you if yours was off.
      – space at the beginning of each meeting for small talk as people joined
      – a unit group chat that was mainly work focused, but always included good morning and good byes, small talk, and a lot of asking each other for help and checking in on how people were managing at crunch times
      – a larger team chat to discuss recent announcements and introduce new people
      – a regional chat, which was mostly introducing new people and asking people for tradesmen recommendations, and arranging nights out.
      – managers trained in chairing online meetings, including being clear about the purposes, inviting the right people, managing the time well, and inviting engagement from everyone involved (because if their thoughts aren’t relevant, why are they in the meeting? If most people aren’t contributing, should the whole meeting have been an email?). If expectations around engagement are set and maintained in all meetings, it shouldn’t come across as calling people out but inviting them in.

      (I will say there’s a difference between a meeting and, say, a training session, or a series of updated with a Q&A, both of which also make sense to have online, but have different expectations around engagement, and need a different approach from the chair)

      1. Critical Rolls*

        Are you reading this 2 or 3 meetings only dedicated to social stuff? Because otherwise your comment shows a profound lack of understanding that some industries require meetings and collaboration to do the work.

        1. Anax*

          Yeah, we were IT-adjacent. Morning standups are a pretty normal part of the industry. I find them exhausting sometimes too, but it’s a thing.

  20. Cat Lady in the Mountains*

    I am an extrovert who manages a 9-person all-remote team. Even as someone who thrives on interaction, my day-to-day is so meeting heavy that by the time I get to “forced fun” social stuff, my social battery is empty. Literally I can’t even process small talk by around 3:30 pm each day. At the same time, folks on my team who have less collaborative roles have a real need for social interaction, so I’ve had to figure out how to make that work.

    Here’s how I’ve gotten past the “brick wall effect” – I removed myself from the social spaces. I figured out that as the director, I wasn’t well-positioned to create the kind of social environment where people would actually chat and have fun and get to know each other. That kind of thing would have been fine in an office, but for some reason the way power dynamics play out on Zoom, my attempts to generate social interaction fell completely flat.

    So I approached one of the more extraverted folks on my team and delegated “create social space” to her. She initiated a weekly team email, without me on the string, with some kind of fun activity or game (like “vote for your favorite candy” or whatever). She made it opt-in so the extreme introverts wouldn’t be obligated to participate, but everyone ended up wanting to join.

    Over time, that has evolved into several other folks taking more initiative to create different types of social spaces. It’s created much healthier remote relationships, people feel included because everyone has opportunities to organize stuff they enjoy, and my lack-of-presence has radically reduced the awkwardness or folks feeling pressure to overshare.

    OP – I think it’s the manager’s responsibility to find a way to address your concerns, but your manager might not be the right person to lead the creation of a social space. Could you, or someone else on your team, figure out who else is interested in this kind of thing and organize it yourselves?

  21. Richard Hershberger*

    My analysis based on the past few years is that there are some jobs that work just fine fully remote, some jobs that can only be done in person, and a vast middle range where some parts require being in person and others do not. The other side is that there are some people who thrive on remote work, some who absolutely need to be in person, and again a middle ground who work best in a hybrid system.

    The problem is that the jobs and the workers are not well aligned. Pre-Covid we were gradually working our way there, but only partially, with many jobs that really could be done remotely were in person through institutional inertia. Then Covid hit and any job that could be done remotely was. In the Before Times it was unremarkable to find someone who needed the office environment holding a job that could be done remotely, because in practice it wasn’t.

    The way this will work itself out eventually is that the jobs that are just fine done remotely will be. Requiring workers to come into the office just because will put the employer at a recruiting disadvantage. Workers who need the office environment will not be attracted to these jobs.
    This is inevitable due to the economics. How the middle ground jobs play out is the interesting question, as “hybrid” can mean lots of things.

    As for the LW, it appears that they are in a job that can be done entirely remotely. Nothing in the letter suggests otherwise. This may be a bad fit. Though, as Alison points out, it may be a function of this particular team. It could be that the LW is fine with remote socializing, but isn’t getting even that here.

    1. nnn*

      Yes, this exactly!

      Since COVID protections were removed, all too many organizations have been like “Some work needs to be done in-person. Some people thrive on working in-person. Therefore, everyone has to be in the office two days a week!”

      They’re missing an opportunity to create a win-win situation by matching workers who thrive on regular or occasional in-person work with the work that needs to be done in-person.

  22. Cassi*

    As someone who grew up with MSN messenger and AIM I feel like I’ve trained my whole life to be a remote worker. I’m often more comfortable in text and gif communications than I am IRL.

    As for wanting camera-on time, you could always just schedule something with colleagues and mention you’re a face-to-face person and would love to chat with cameras on. When introducing myself to my new team or in certain chats I turn my cameras on. But I usually look a mess and am grateful for a mostly-cameras-off culture.

    Our team has monthly zoom meetings with fun activities included in the agenda. You could offer to facilitate something like that if you want more socialization in your meetings.

    1. Green great dragon*

      Yes, if you can find a few icebreakers that require participation from all, that can change the culture a bit. We have a ‘what I’m doing at the weekend’ slot at our monthly catch-ups where everyone just puts a line in the chat (NB this could go horribly wrong so know your audience, but it works for us because ‘absolutely nothing and I can’t wait’ is a common and very acceptable answer).

    2. Anax*

      Same here! Text-based communication is SO much easier.

      It’s always a little jarring when people talk about feeling no emotional connection to people they only know through email/Slack, because chats are where I’ve met a lot of my closest friends!

      I think we’re in the minority, but it’s definitely a funny thing.

      1. Chirpy*

        Yeah, I used to chat with a group of people online, that I have almost no chance of meeting in person (we were all over the world) and I still think about some of them years later. Some of them were great friends, and I don’t even know their real names.

      2. Spearmint*

        I used to feel this way, as another person who socialized more online than IRL growing up, but frankly my experience was those online friendships were less meaningful and real in hindsight than they seemed at the time. I’ve had multiple people online who I thought were friends disappear, let me down, suddenly bully me (or be complicit in bullying), or simply not view me as a friend the way I viewed them as friends.

        I’ve rarely had such experiences with IRL friends and acquaintances. And as I worked on social anxiety, social skills, and self-esteem in therapy over the years, I’ve realized IRL interactions are much more rich and meaningful than I had thought.

        I feel like online communication breeds a false sense of closeness, but it’s usually not the same as real connections. I know that’s not universal, but I think it’s true for most, even many people who *think* it isn’t true for them. Sharing memes does something for me, but a 10 minute video call of non-work talk will do so much more for me than sharing memes.

        (On a side note, I also think this is why most people hate online dating apps and try to arrange IRL dates very quickly after connecting with someone).

        1. allathian*

          I’ve certainly lost touch with a few people I thought were my online friends, but there’s only one case where a former online friend turned against me. We were members of a fandom forum and she hated an actor/character I had a crush on, and she apparently thought that she could decide my crushes for me. I told her she was mistaken in no uncertain terms, and then she blocked me on that site. It was weird.

          That said, I think that online friendships and acquaintanceships are great complement to in-person friendships. I’m old enough that I only went online as a young adult (college student, early 90s), but I had a lot of international penpals as a teen.

    3. bamcheeks*

      As someone who spent most of 2002-2012 on Livejournal, I’m just furious that we CRACKED the format for build-community-online, and there are no business systems that use it. IM systems are great for one-to-one conversations, but crap for team-building! Bring back nesting comments!

    4. Mim*

      I have given constant, detailed feedback to my employer about communication styles and modes, and how some of us have actually strengthened work relationships (on a professional and social level) after remote or hybrid work started.

      While I certainly understand that this is not universal, and that some people feel more comfortable with spoken/face-to-face communication, I also strongly believe that many workplace cultures are set by leadership who go to where they are because they were better at face-to-face communication. And at least where I work, I believe a lot of them are lacking in their written communication skills. Not that they’re illiterate or anything, but just it’s either not their strong suit or something they never had to work on as much because that’s not what they needed for success before 2020.

      I don’t necessarily think face to face or written communication are superior. But I do think that because the path to business success for so long has been that face to face schmooze and charm stuff, that’s what’s become more valued in most places. And when there are higher ups who don’t seem to be able to accept or adapt to remote or hybrid situations, I think it’s often because they don’t understand that it’s not the form of communication that is inferior, but that they are going to have to work on skills they thought they were good at already, so they can be effective in a different medium. And that *includes* figuring out how to foster positive workplace environments, even when that workplace is an idea instead of a pinpoint on a map.

      Now that I’m back to hybrid, the co-workers who I will casually chat with face to face are the ones who I most connected to via written communication. This includes a few people who I didn’t connect with at all before Covid, even if our work intersected. Like, people who probably thought I was a boring pill in 2019 are people I regularly laugh and share with in writing and in person in 2023.

      Maybe we are weird? IDEK. But I think there are a lot of managers out there who could be doing a whole lot better when it comes to fostering a warm and open working environment in remote and hybrid situations. And perhaps there are a lot of people who aren’t suited to being managers in those environments, as well as some other people who might be well suited to it but weren’t considered management material when everyone was working in-person.

      Another, somewhat disjointed tangential thought: Thinking about my most frustrating communication experiences at work, they are often with managers who think they are better at communicating than they actually are, and who probably benefit from the ephemeral nature of the spoken word vs. the written word. I also think that the people who they gravitate to are the folks who are more like them. A lot of the rest of us are starting to put two and two together after the past few years.

    5. Just a different redhead*

      Yeah, I find it easier to communicate through chat though I’m not someone who stays silent in meetings… I was told fairly early in my career that I was the most “virtually engaged” person my manager at the time had ever encountered.

      I think although I kind of gravitate towards a reasonable remote presence for work purposes, part of why the rest of the teams I work with are ok is at least some of us had training about making sure everyone is engaging in meetings (i.e. all voices are heard) and although I found the Be Here Now thing a bit cheesy it’s still got merit to it. If you’re paying attention in a meeting and don’t have anything at all to say about it, it might be … not a useful meeting… or something else could be wrong with the situation.

      I was also being allowed to be fully remote for a bit before Covid for other reasons, and those reasons make me unwilling to ever go hybrid/in-office again (at least assuming hybrid means regularly recurring in-office presence), but occasional social virtual meetings or occasional in-person meetings that are understood to be one-off gatherings happen, and are and would be ok so long as they didn’t involve something incredibly stressful, like international travel or some super loud activity where smoking people couldn’t be escaped or something.

    6. J*

      Maybe this is why I do so well remotely. Between MSN/AIM/Livejournal/various message boards and being long distance from friends and even my partner for a time, I just don’t think of location as a barrier for being able to connect and enjoy someone. I was a satellite employee for 6 years before being remote and have appreciated distance sometimes. Being on camera for meetings was a bit of a jump for me but I’m from a calling card era, not a Facetime generation. I also adapt but do love when someone says “let’s do cameras off Fridays” or something.

  23. Thistle Pie*

    I would argue that the word “owe” in this context could be replaced with “social obligation” and that I’m of the opinion that we, as humans, have a social obligation to make interacting with each other pleasant and to engage with each other. I recognize that might look different for everyone, but straight up not answer questions and ignoring your colleagues is unfathomable to me. Maybe it’s just because I work in local government and I see civic engagement, trust, and respect eroding before my very eyes, but this post makes me so sad for where we stand as a society. Reports of people feeling loneliness and isolation is increasing, and many folks don’t have family or friends or partners nearby to engage with outside of work. I don’t think we need to be best buddies with our co-workers, but I know that a quick chit chat before a webinar starts or sharing a donut with a coworker has brought me simple joy in dark times.

    1. Helewise*

      I was reading the beginning of this comment and (internally) pumping my fist, thinking YES – and I also work in local government, and am seeing the same things. Humans are social beings who require interaction; societies require relationship to remain cohesive. There’s a theory out there that we need both weak and strong ties to function well and seeing the degradation of weaker ties in the workplace really concerns me. Part of that is because of the counterintuitive value of being around people who we wouldn’t normally be friends with – work is one of the only places where we interact with people who we don’t have much in common with.

    2. rollyex*

      All this.

      Not everyone can do it. Some people might need camera off all the time. Some some of the time. That’s OK. But as a group and as colleagues we have some social obligation to be present and social.

    3. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      ’m of the opinion that we, as humans, have a social obligation to make interacting with each other pleasant and to engage with each other.

      I agree with the sentiment AND I think it’s being framed as one-sided. I think we agree that the interactions should be pleasant for *all* parties involved.

      Currently, the situation (using OP’s case as an example) is not working well for anyone:

      *OP and their manager feel isolated and cut-off when they try to engage about non-work topics and get silence back.
      *Speculation warning: The non-responsive coworkers are also dealing with what may feel like invasive questions they don’t want to answer.

      The solution is *not* “the coworkers have a social obligation to answer questions they don’t want to answer.” Instead, it’s flagging for the group, “Hey, I’m feeling disconnected and feel like we only interact in a transactional way. Can we brainstorm how we can continue to develop our relationships?”

      Some ideas might be:
      *Committing to discussing work, but talking about it in a warmer/informal way. For example, my peers and I have a standing monthly meeting. We’re counterparts on different teams that have minimal overlap, but since we’re in the same dept, we troubleshoot navigating the bureacracy, share unwritten rules/knowledge, etc.)
      *As others suggested above, setup a occassional virtual coffee chat. Again, can stick to work topics, but informally.
      *Setup brainstorming sessions, so you’re collaborating rather than exchanging.

    4. JM60*

      I have to disagree a bit. You should be be pleasant in your work-related engagements, but as a general rule, I don’t think there’s a “social obligation” to socialize with others. I think the only obligation here is being reasonably pleasant in how you (dis)engage with unwanted socialization with colleagues (e.g., giving brief, high-level answers and moving on to work-related tasks rather than completely ignoring a colleague who asks you about your weekend).

      IMO, the problems in the letter are (1) many even engaging for work-related reasons, and (2) there isn’t a mix of people like the OP on his team. I’m guessing that the OP would feel much differently if half the people on their team never socialized with colleagues, but the other half were like them.

  24. Green great dragon*

    There’s a difference between someone not answering a question directed communally to 10-15 people, and someone not answering a direct question. LW says they still work with their ex-work-friend, but they don’t seem to have tried asking them questions directly, given the comment about not knowing about their life. I’m not suggesting a grilling, just ‘did you enjoy the warm weather at the weekend’ type questions, or as LW suggests themselves asking how their kid’s enjoying school. They may get more traction that way than trying to engage a whole team at once.

    I know it’s not the same as face to face, but as an officially old person I’ve had the sort of friendly how’s-your-kid relationships via both phone and text-only with people I’d never seen a picture of.

  25. Jiminy Cricket*

    I think we actually do owe our colleagues, and most of our fellow human beings, a degree of sociability. A little chitchat about the weather or a picture of a cat can go a long way toward building connection, without, I hope, making most people feel vulnerable or overtaxed.

    This is what we call in our house “being good company,” and it’s something we expected of our kids when they were growing up and modeled for them: Show up at the table, participate in the conversation, or at least nod along, don’t sulk or visibly tune out. I think the same expectation applies for adults at work.

    I am a pretty extreme introvert and I manage a team in a company that has always been virtual. It’s a lot of work to bring those niceties to work every day, but it is my job.

    So, I guess I don’t have any advice for you, LW, but I feel for you. You’re doing the work that your team members aren’t.

    1. Thistle Pie*

      I commented something similar above and I think you phrased it really well, I like the idea of an obligation to be “good company”. It sounds like LW’s manager doesn’t want to require interaction, but I would argue that as a manager, their responsibility is to create a comfortable work atmosphere and a sense of comradery. There’s a difference between a frank conversation with people about the expectation to participate in meetings and forcing the entire team to meet up for an escape room or something.

      1. goducks*

        I agree. I feel that we “owe” our employer/coworkers participation in our work. In the case of meetings that means being a good audience. Listening, asking/answering questions, being present. We are paid to attend these meetings, and they’re happening for a reason (somebody with some authority deems them important enough to pay for everyone’s time to be there).

      2. Jiminy Cricket*

        I actually saw your comment after I posted mine and thought, “Oh, that’s what I was trying to say!”

        “Comfortable” and “comradery” are good expectations. It’s possible to be friendly without ever exposing anything really personal (ask me how I know) — and definitely without mandatory fun.

        And, FWIW, I’ve worked in in-person environments that felt at least as chilly and closed-off as the LW writer describes.

    2. Tally miss*

      I disagree that we owe our coworkers anything other than professional quality work. Paying for my work does not entitle you to anything about ny personal life.

      That said, it seems like a lot of people struggling to make connections due to work from home have traditionally worked in person with their colleagues. I’ve been working with people across the US, Canada, and India for decades and have very friendly relationships with tons of people I’ve never met in person (which again, is by my choice, not because I owe them anything).

      I think OP just needs to adjust and make those connections that are possible and just realize that no one owes personal relationships to them.

      1. Jiminy Cricket*

        I really don’t think you need to share anything about your personal life to meet the standard I’m talking about. “How was your weekend?” “Sunny! Wish we had some rain, though. Do you think you will get an early winter where you are?” “Anybody have anything to share?” “I just wanted to say how much I appreciated Orlando’s work on our project last week.” “How are the kids?” “Growing up so fast!”

        What LW is describing is a wall of silence.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          Yes, this. I am an introvert and neurodivergent and find the pleasantries exhausting, but I still think they are an important part of having positive relationships with my coworkers and so I engage in them. It’s really something I’ve had to practice but I find it makes people much happier and easier to work with.

      2. Shuthmili*

        Every time someone writes a letter about wanting more socialization at work, a commenter comes in to complain about how they’re using coworkers as a substitute for friends. From my reading, though, LW isn’t looking for friendSHIPS, they’re looking for friendLINESS, and that’s something very reasonable to expect! It’s not entitlement to other people’s time/private lives/relationships to want a workplace where people are generally friendly rather than one where they ignore you untill they need you to spit out whatever work they currently require.

        1. JM60*

          I think you can have friendliness without any socialization. I think part of the problem in the OPs case is that many are radio silent even for work-related discussions in meetings.

          I also think that part of the problem for the OP is that there aren’t more coworkers on his team that are like them. If half of their teammates never wanted to socialize at work, but the other half were like the OP, I don’t think the lack of socialization from the former half would be a major problem.

      3. And the Skeletons Are… Part of It*

        This is what small talk is for. Peasant common-denominator conversations about impersonal, relatable topics.

        A brief anecdote about getting stuck in a snow bank the last time it snowed this hard. A brief comment of excitement for your team winning last night. A pleasantry about your dog being needy.

        1. LW - Social-ish Caterpillar*

          I can confirm, as the LW – this is the type of thing I’m after. I totally get that someone people don’t have it in them to give more than this, or just don’t want to, and that’s cool! Sometimes I’m one of those people myself.

      4. Thistle Pie*

        I would say that in many fields, being professional includes being friendly. Being friendly has nothing to do with your personal life and it’s perplexing to me that so many people conflate the two. In many jobs, “work” includes participating in meetings, making small talks with clients or higher-ups, having a short conversation with a customer or person in a waiting room. None of that requires you to divulge anything about your personal life.

        1. LW - Social-ish Caterpillar*

          I think you’ve hit the nail on the head about why I decided to write in. The original letter I was responding to seemed to conflate being asked to share something nice that’s happening in their life, with being asked to share something private at work. But there’s so much we can share about our personal lives that isn’t actually personal! If I tell you I tried a new takeaway place last night and it was really good, that tells you exactly nothing about me as a person.

    3. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      I was just soapboxing about this the other day. I don’t long to live in a Sense and Sensibility world and play the harp for my guests, but there’s something to be said for actively intending to be good company! Listen, contribute, show up, be pleasant. Being kind of an anxious hermit, in my most social / dinner party years it used to be a homework assignment for myself to find a few conversation topics to keep in my back pocket, just in case.

      These past few years have been some of my worst and I’m tired. Very tired. My friends as well. So I don’t always hit that same mark anymore and I don’t socialize much tbh, but it’s still on my mind and I do my best.

      1. Jiminy Cricket*

        That’s just it. It is work. It’s not easy or relaxing or energizing for me, but I see the results in smoother relationships and a more connected team, so I do it.

        And yes, so tired.

  26. Ole Pammy's Getting What She Wants*

    during the height of the panini, my boss came up with the idea that we all be camera on once a week, for our weekly all-team all-project check in, with absolutely zero expectation for camera outside of that. it helped a lot, because I and I suspect most of my coworkers feel the same way you do! I appreciated knowing the expectation in advance. this feels like a store-brand band-aid solution to your bigger problem of engagement OP, but hopefully someone finds it useful.

    1. TX_TRUCKER*

      My sister’s company does this. They also encourage (but dont require) folks to join the meeting 10 minutes before the official start time in order to have random chit chat.

    2. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      I would hesitate to enforce any camera-on time, but in my experience (over 10+ years of video meetings with remote teams) even a small amount of face time like this is quite effective. While there are people who become less productive / less attentive with video on, most are more present and engaged (even if it annoys them). When cameras are off, it’s easier to feel alienated and disengaged.

      It’s very much tied to morale in my organization and the cause/effect runs both ways. I can tell people are unhappy and stressed when they stay mostly off camera, but when a majority are on video we tend to have much stronger participation and connection — and that connection is happening because they are joining in, and they are joining in because they connected. And the less people go on video, the less people go on video. It’s a circle which can be virtuous or vicious.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. A lot of camera anxiety can also be mitigated if you remove any expectations of people actually looking at the camera, especially in internal meetings with their own team. That lets people be engaged in a sligtly more relaxed way.

  27. Taura*

    I’d just like to ask – is your office even ABLE to have everyone’s cameras on, the whole meeting, every meeting? Mine tried to enforce cameras on for every meeting, but they dropped it pretty quick once it became obvious that the company wasn’t allowing enough bandwidth for a) screenshare AND more than 1 camera or b) more than 3 cameras total.

    1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      Yes, we routinely have dozens of videos on plus screenshare, and I’ve seen way more than that.

    2. CamerasSuckEveryonesBandwidth*

      I’ve been working hybrid or fully remote since the 90s and every company before my current company had hard cameras always off for everyone rules (once cameras were a thing) because even a few other people having camera on is enough to screw up connectivity for some other people. Turning on cameras is selfish.

      1. allathian*

        I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s certainly difficult if the company isn’t willing to pay for enough bandwidth on the VPN.

        When my employer went fully remote at the start of the pandemic, we had some connection issues. Granted, at the time we were using Skype rather than Teams, and that made any bandwidth issues far worse. Things improved a lot once we switched to Teams in March 2021. Cameras on at 20+ meetings are generally not an issue, although we only keep cameras on during the intro at the start. When someone’s sharing the screen, we can elect to either keep cameras on or off, and we switch them on when we have something to say. One of my teammates has a hearing disability (he uses hearing aids) and says that it really helps him when he can lip read.

  28. Kristin*

    Agreed that this is a management/team culture thing. I was onboarded into a fully remote team in the middle of the pandemic and in retrospect, I’m really impressed with how well it went. Even before return-to-office began I felt like I knew my teammates and got responses from them.

    My manager didn’t require cameras on, though he did encourage it, but we did have weekly meetings where everyone had to speak briefly on what they were working on that week, and we were encouraged to speak up with suggestions and offers to help. That way everyone had to speak at least somewhat and we had opportunities to find connections between each others’ work. He also really successfully modelled using work chats not just to communicate information but to chat socially and encourage team cohesion.

    I hope your manager can turn this around, it sounds like your team is struggling!

  29. Dressagerose*

    I think you have to be more deliberate about these interactions. I started scheduling virtual hallway chat during the pandemic. It was a way to keep up with people. We are going in some now but I still do it to make sure I am connecting. It seems less spontaneous than running into people but some people like it because they have it on their calendar and don’t lose time randomly.

  30. JoeyJoeJoe*

    This is all very relatable. Our work is hybrid but we there is a quite social atmosphere and lots of non-work chat, but with reasonable boundaries. It’s hard to explain, but these conversations and feeling a part of team is essential to the work. We are very team based so the dynamic between people is critical – cross pollination of ideas and all that stuff. And the office is at least 3/4 introverts (self-described). I think this really is a fit thing – we have an internship program and had to explain to some candidates that our workplace might not be a good fit if you want to be entirely left alone and not engage in any chit chat. And that’s okay! There are jobs where that would work, but this ain’t it. I hope the letter writer finds a place that is a better fit!

    1. Nebula*

      My workplace is similar – my team, at least. It’s not like we want to be best friends and we don’t socialise outside work, but we all come into the office together for one or two days a week, and it makes such a difference to all our interactions. I was never big into work socialising, but coming into a hybrid set up after over two years of fully remote work made me realise how much I missed that casual socialising. Having the chance to have that downtime together makes us more productive overall, I think.

  31. not bitter, just sour*

    Honestly, what you’re describing sounds like an absolute dream to me. No inane small talk, no having to stress out about if I’m smiling enough or did I get the name of Joe’s baby wrong?? No having to answer “it was quiet” when asked about my weekend when really it was shit.

    Sounds like this job no longer fits you and that’s ok. It happens! You deserve to work somewhere where the work culture fits you so you can thrive.

    But let people be quiet and keep their cameras off for Dog’s sake.

    1. so very tired*

      This x 100000

      For disabled people, neurodivergent people, BIPOC, and many other marginalized groups, remote work has been a huge boon. I’ve heard many BIPOC people speak on their experiences of drastically reduced microagressions at work because they don’t have to interact with “well-meaning” colleagues who can’t stop saying dumb things. I’m neurodivergent and the ability to work completely remote has improved my productivity and my mental health astronomically.

      Everyone is different. I understand that some people need the social interaction and that’s valid. But others do not, and it’s not realistic to expect everyone to be on board with it.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        ^^ This! This is huge. I was a target of sexual harassment and anti-Semitism as my last org and it was SO NICE to not have to deal with that BS while we were remote.

        1. so very tired*

          I can speak to my improved mental health being a trans person allowed to WFH – my Slack background says in huge letters MY PRONOUNS ARE THEY/THEM, my Slack screenname has my pronouns, basically anywhere I can put friendly reminders to please respect my gender identity, it’s there. Visual aids help!

    2. Snoozing not schmoozing*

      That “inane small talk” might be the only positive interaction some people have in their lives, and it might be the only thing keeping them from sinking into a very dark place. I was one of those almost-desperate people many years ago, and if I’d been snubbed by coworkers, I’m not sure I could have coped.

      1. constant_craving*

        I’m sorry you were in that place, but being someone’s only mental health lifeline is too big an ask to put on coworkers.

      2. Ccbac*

        the possibility of having to make “inane” small talk daily with my coworkers in person filled me dread daily and had a super negative effect of my mental health…. things aren’t black and white. not wanting to engage in water-cooler chats about the world cup/weekend plans isn’t a “snub”.

        to be clear, I was pleasant but having to smile and say “oh wow the weather yes, wild that it snowed in New England, in February, who would have thought” when I was just trying to make my way to the bathroom/the copy room drained every single bit of my social battery and I lost all my friends. remote work (which involves a lot of relationship building and email pleasantries!) and being able to focus solely on work means that I have the energy to navigate post work social stuff with family and friends.

        again, I was pleasant when forced into a social conversations I’m person in the office but I was never the person who initiated. (personally, I also felt like my weekend/social activities weren’t “work acceptable” or professional enough…. for some ppl casual social talk inherently involves outing some aspects of their identity that may not be acceptable in their current workplace)

      3. not bitter, just sour*

        I don’t say this lightly but: therapy, my dude. Everyone needs human contact but forcing your coworkers to be your social lifeline isn’t healthy for you. Also I think you need to recalibrate how you view interactions with your coworkers. Someone putting their head down and getting to work isn’t a snub.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          Oh, gosh, yes. My (horrible) last boss at my (horrible) last org claimed I was deliberately snubbing her by not saying hello to her each morning on my way in because I didn’t walk past her office.

          I didn’t walk past her office on my way in because going the other way took me by the ladies’ room en route to my office, which I always desperately needed after the train ride in. But she interpreted that as me deliberately avoiding her = I hated her (I mean, literally, she took this seriously enough that she MENTIONED IT IN MY PERFORMANCE REVIEW).

          1. not bitter, just sour*

            That’s absurd! I’m glad you’re at a better job now.

            I will say good morning to people as I walk in, but I don’t get offended if they don’t answer me because usually they either A) didn’t hear me or B) are focused on their work. I don’t often say good morning to my boss because her office is on the other side of the building. Blessedly, she hasn’t viewed this as a snub :)

        2. And the Skeletons Are… Part of It*

          Yes, when you’re reading people’s every little action as a commentary on you, that’s a red flag. Especially people who aren’t your intimate friends or family. People’s actions are largely about them, including needing to focus.

    3. Critical Rolls*

      Relationships are part of working with other people. Relationships are valuable to work. Basic, friendly human relationships are not an overreach or an imposition. Mutual understanding based on between colleagues makes work more tolerable and more efficient. This benefits the antisocial folks, too, because someone who knows you as a person will be much more likely to be understanding of your preferred work/communication style rather than simply experiencing you trying to escape any conversation as… however it comes across with no tone or context. The better my social connection with a colleague, the less time I have to spend on niceties around the actual work.

      None of this is to say no one can ever be quiet or leave their camera off. But denying the value of basic social connections in the workplace is willful blindness, and treating others’ desire to make those connections as unreasonable is refusing to extend the understanding to others that you want for yourself.

  32. Telephone Sanitizer, Third Class*

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I watch a lot of content about bad bosses and stupid in-office mandates, but the people making that content usually have this attitude that any socializing at all is evil and horrible.

    I don’t want to do team-building games or potlucks, but I do enjoy some amount of small talk or discussion, and happy hours, and while I’m mostly happy to be at home doing my work with only my cat for company, I also feel energized by some small interactions. Bonding with a coworker over liking the same food, making a great joke about some recent event, the little things.

    So while I’ll argue all day for WFH, I also see the benefits of meeting people face to face and working on something in the same room so you can ask questions or overhear relevant conversations.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      I think there is a rhetorical element to comments. If the topic is team-building games and potlucks or any sort of mandated artificial socializing, or if the person commenting is thinking of those things, it is easy to come across as anti-socializing of any sort without really meaning that.

  33. N*

    This was so nice to read. I feel the same way and it has been so lonely these past few years, like anyone who hints that they prefer to interact with their coworkers in-person must be doing something wrong.

    1. Rena*

      I’m with you. My office barely talked to each other before the pandemic, and then we all went remote. My boss implemented a weekly team meeting which really helped for a while, then dialed it back to bi-weekly, then monthly, and now there isn’t another one scheduled. I tried to spin up a group chat and got no response. After 6 years of this, I’m desperate for some coworker interaction, and it was the primary driver behind looking for a new job.

      I’m very happy to be starting a new position in a few weeks, and I deliberately asked about their social culture now that everyone is remote. According to my new boss, the team has multiple short team meetings every week and a group chat that is “sometimes a bit too chatty for me, but they’re happy” and oh my god, I want it so badly.

  34. ticktick*

    I find that for remote meetings, it is far easier to connect with people when the cameras are on – because even if there is some lag, you can gauge from their expressions and body language whether they are following what’s being said, or whether more exposition or discussion is required. That’s not to say that the occasional camera-off time isn’t warranted, but if you’re working regularly in a team, I think it’s a valid workplace issue to ask for cameras on in general so that you get that sense of engagement even if people aren’t talking. It also makes it easier to have a bit of small chat by starting with “Hey, nice to see you!”

    1. so very tired*

      I’m trans and I go through pretty intense periods of gender dysphoria and body dysmorphia where I can’t even have people at work looking at me on camera. It tanks my mental health. I’m ok with my camera on in small meetings with people who respect my gender identity but I work in an enormous company and the idea of hundreds or thousands of people looking at me is terrifying.

      1. ticktick*

        Oh, I can totally understand that! When I was typing my comment, I was thinking of meetings of no more than about 10-15 people who are supposed to be working together closely on a project. Having hundreds or thousands of people staring at me is also terrifying to me, and I don’t have any sort of dysphoria or dysmorphia! And thinking more about it, it’s really less about having cameras on or off than appropriately giving feedback respecting the individual’s engagement…and that may be different depending on the sort of meeting they’re in, and (as you mentioned) each person’s mental health state at the time.

        1. so very tired*

          That’s really all I’m asking for – understanding the individuals you’re working with and what their needs are and finding ways to make it work so that everyone gets what they need. A lot of these comments read (to me, anyway) as “neurotypicals/abled-body/extroverts only, everyone else get rekt” and that’s really disappointing.

        2. allathian*

          For me the limit is ~25 people. If the group’s any larger than that, I don’t see the point in having all cameras on.

          In our town halls of 100+ people, only the presenters and the MC have their cameras on all the time. If someone has a comment or wants to ask a question, they raise their hand, and when given the turn to speak, unmute themselves and switch on their camera. Those who are uncomfortable doing that can comment or ask their questions in the chat instead. The MC keeps an eye on the chat and asks the questions of the presenter at the end of the presentation. This gives even the most socially anxious employees an opportunity to contribute to the discussion without having to speak up. Some of my coworkers who’d never dream of standing up and asking a question at a Q&A in a town hall meeting in person are among the most active contributors in our virtual town hall meetings because they can use the chat function for that.

          I intensely dislike using cameras to police people’s engagement, though. Doing so is ableist, because a large number of employees can either actually focus on the meeting or appear to focus on the meeting, but not both at the same time. I’m very glad that our town halls are virtual, because I can sit and play puzzle games on my phone and listen. I lose focus very easily if I just attempt to listen, and our town halls are rarely riveting enough to hold my attention on their own. But I attend, I pay attention, and I contribute to the discussion when the opportunity arises. Obviously in a 100+ person town hall, there’s no expectation of everyone contributing to the discussion, or the meeting would last for hours.

          1. ticktick*

            It wasn’t my intention to express that cameras should be used to police engagement – I probably expressed myself badly there. What I meant was that, for the type of meetings that I’m typically in, where I’m explaining something or negotiating with people, I’ve found it to be a useful tool for myself, personally, to be able to see some people’s expressions and change the course of what I’m saying accordingly – either asking if people need clarification, or allowing someone who’s visibly impatient to take the floor, or so on. It’s often led to a more productive discussion and coming away with everyone on the same page than the camera-off meetings, where people haven’t spoken up, and I’ll get follow-up emails that indicate that some attendees didn’t grasp something that I might have been able to correct on the fly if I’d seen them. I recognize that’s a visual bias on my part, though.

    2. CamerasOff*

      major bandwidth drain – every camera that’s on sucks bandwidth from everyone.

      major time drain – all of a sudden people have to dress up, keep their work space spotless, etc

      maybe a major ick factor – why do the older men insist all the younger women always have their cameras on?

      1. allathian*

        At my employer, there’s no expectation for people to dress up, our dress code is casual even at the office (I wear jeans, sneakers and long-sleeve T-shirts to the office, at home I wear T-shirts and sweatpants). Pretty much everyone uses a virtual background, our VPN has enough bandwidth to support that. In my org at least, the request to keep cameras on applies to everyone regardless of age, gender, or perceived attractiveness.

      2. ticktick*

        Honestly, neither of your last two points applies to what I do, since I’m a sole proprietor who wears what I want and I always just have a blurred background, with more or less just my head on camera…and I’m definitely not an older man – my comments were intended to address how valuable I find visual feedback of people’s expressions regarding what I’m saying, which has nothing to do with attractiveness. As for bandwidth, I think that’s a cost of doing business, like any other business expense.

  35. Alex*

    I currently work from home at a new job and it’s honestly the most sociable I’ve ever been with a job, even more than some of my previous in-person jobs! My team is relatively tight-knit, about five people, and we have huddles every morning to go over things that we’re working on. The team lead makes a clear effort to consistently ask how people are doing and keep up with all our lives, and encourages discussion. We usually spend at least half an hour just chatting every morning! It starts the day off really strong and makes everyone extremely comfortable with working together or helping each other out. Facilitation from your team lead is very important, and the more people in a video call the more difficult it is to hold a conversation.

    I will say that the boss of the overall company does require everyone to have cameras on during most meetings, though. It’s not super enforced, as sometimes it’s assumed someone’s internet is acting up or it’s going to be brief, or if its a big enough meeting it won’t be noticed with most people having their cameras on. If someone seems to have their camera off consistently they usually ask if something is wrong, though. At the same time if you aren’t client-facing people are chill about dress code and such.

    It’s also a personality aspect though, I will say. A friend of mine actively resented being even the most gently encouraged to talk casually to their coworkers at their remote job but was always super sociable at in-person jobs.

  36. Lysandra*

    I think part of the issue here is that, at least in US culture, things tend to operate in extremes.

    There is a real feeling that if anyone expresses any issue with remote work, the solution will end up being to end it. I think when people speak up about not feeling a sense of camaraderie or teamwork, those folks who enjoy working from home know that somewhere out there is a manager who will clap their hands together and go, “I can solve this. Everyone back in the office five days a week!” And all the benefits of working from home, of which there are many, will be lost.

    My own workplace has largely returned to in-person, by mandate, and… I don’t feel an increased sense of togetherness. My own team never lost that; remote or not, we work well together. But in general I don’t feel at ease here. I am still concerned about catching COVID, and it’s tiring to feel exposed all day every day. I wear a mask by my own choice, which isn’t terrible, but isn’t the most comfortable either, but it is better than getting sick. And even those around me who aren’t as concerned don’t seem to have returned to the pre-pandemic feeling. Priorities have changed. People have been changed by what we experienced, and are continuing to experience.

    I think we are in a time of building something new, but in the building phase it is hard to navigate because we knew what we had before, and it seems like it should be easy to go back to it, but the pieces just don’t fit quite the same way anymore. That doesn’t mean people should be rude or not show some kindness and social grace to their coworkers, but more that people are working out the boundaries and learning what works, and that is messy.

  37. Ground Control*

    “They don’t turn their cameras on during meetings and stay silent towards the end of the meeting when our manager asks us questions about our weekends and tries to get us to chat. In a team of 10-15 or so, only a few people actually speak up during this time.”

    Could part of the problem be that people don’t want to prolong meetings if this is happening with larger groups at the end of a meeting? If I was in a meeting with 10-15 people and we were asked about our weekends at the end, I wouldn’t answer because I’d be antsy to get off the call and back to work, and if all 10-15 people started talking about their weekend that would take a lot of extra time. And even in smaller scheduled meetings, if coworkers start chatting too much about non-work stuff I often get annoyed if I’m really busy because that’s not the purpose of the meeting. But I actually do like my coworkers and I really am interested in their lives outside of work! I just prefer these conversations take place in private chats or team- or company-wide channels like Slack that everyone contributes to when they have time.

    1. Ground Control*

      I always have my camera on during meetings because part of my role is outreach within my company and I want to be as approachable as possible. I’ve decorated the wall that shows up behind me in video calls in a professional manner that still shows a lot of my personality and my cats join my video calls fairly often, which leads to a lot of fun side discussions during team meetings. And I occasionally mention my hobbies in larger groups, and sometimes people will follow up about that if they have the same hobby or see something related they think I’ll like. I’m not great at making small talk and building connections, but I try to make it as inviting as possible for people to reach out to me!

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      This. Ten people, much less fifteen, is too many for social chit chat on Zoom. In person it would be broken up into several simultaneous conversations, until the leader got things started. With Zoom only one person can talk at a time, and there is that awkward stepping on one another followed by a negotiation over who will talk. A church committee I am on barely manages chit chat with five or six people in the meeting, and these are people whom I have known socially for twenty years.

    3. Yes And*

      I came here to say this. But also, I have found that social chitchat can be okay in remote meetings even as large as 10-15 people — but it takes place at the beginning of the meeting, not the end, for all the reasons Ground Control said. If social chitchat time took place at the beginning of the meeting, as people are logging on, it might engender more participation naturally and get OP more of the work environment they crave.

  38. Double A*

    I think something that’s been missed in the remote work discussion is that it’s important to build the culture of a remote organization and you need to be more deliberate about it.

    I work remotely for an organization that as always been remote, and team building is woven into what we do. There are norms about when cameras are on (basically in our small team meetings or any meetings of about 10 people or less). We also have an in person retreat yearly that’s really important for setting the tone for the year, and it’s mostly time to connect about broad goals and build camaraderie. People are expected to be responsive in chat. Supervisors meet more often with supervisees. And because we all have good relationships, we’re totally understanding if someone is like, “I’m camera off today because I’m feeling under the weather” or what not.

    I think the LW’s manager is underestimating what they can expect of participation. Set meeting norms around cameras. It’s totally reasonable to require them on for some meetings or parts of meetings and I think that would go a long way.

    I also have to say when you never speak on camera or respond in meetings I assume you’re not really paying attention (I know lots of people are! But there’s no way to know). As a manger, I’d find that a problem.

    1. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yes, I think you’re right. I think that we tend to lean into the flexibility of remote work and the benefits to people’s schedules, etc. I think we are missing the actual nuance and challenges of remote work and particularly, those of building a healthy community.

  39. Annie M*

    Maybe they are not really at the meeting. Just logged on and tuned out. Could be working another job, not really care, doing chores or childcare.
    I wouldn’t take it personally.

  40. Janice*

    I’m very similar to LW in my preferences for a work environment and in workplace socialization. I’m pretty introverted, but I like to know my co-workers, and feel some anxiety just cold-calling people that I’ve never met or don’t know at all. I work a hybrid schedule, but for the past year or so have been on a project that is entirely remote.
    Things that have been helpful are a “stand-up” style morning meeting, where each person speaks and gives their updates, and people chat about the things they are working on, rather than just the manager speaking, and regular and liberal use of chat. Seriously, lots and lots of chat, calls and meetings, scheduled and unscheduled, formal and otherwise. Remote work shouldn’t follow the same structures as in-office. It’s common for me to spend much of the day now in “meetings”, which are really just extended work-scrimmages, but I certainly didn’t do that in the before-times.

    1. Emmy*

      Totally agree, and I say this as a person with bipolar and anxiety. It would be easier for me to never have to engage in social interaction, but it would not be a reasonable expectation. It’s not an imposition to be kind to the people you work with…it’s not unreasonable to talk to them for a moment even when you don’t need them to do something.
      To me it feels very dehumanizing to treat people as cogs in the machine who are only to be interacted with to produce a result. It is difficult and draining sometimes to be pleasant and friendly to the people around me. That doesn’t mean those relationships aren’t necessary and important, or that I should expect no one to ever speak to me unless they need a task completed.

  41. trust me I'm a PhD*

    FWIW, in my sector (higher ed) most Zoom meetings are back to being cameras on by default. Not that people can’t and don’t have their cameras off –– I had mine off most of the meeting I was in yesterday –– but it’s rare; and it’s not something any particular manager is enforcing or requiring. So I do think it’s maybe not a great sign that most of OP’s colleagues are camera off in meetings and also don’t participate well on top of that –– it’s … indicative of a bad culture would be too strong, but certainly not indicative of well-run meetings or necessarily an engaged work group.

  42. Another neurodivergent introvert*

    Another introvert here who loves working from home and who doesn’t depend on work for her social life—there is such a big difference between the culture of different remote teams.

    In 2020, when my job when fully remote due to the pandemic, I was on a team where I had very little social interaction with others. I’d go weeks only talking to my boss; all my other interactions happened over email. It got really lonely over time, and I ended up feeling really disconnected from the organization.

    Now, I’m at a new job. I work mostly from home, by choice. (Our office setup is terrible for my focus.) But I feel so much more connected. I go into the office maybe once a week, and my coworkers are mostly local so we sometimes meet up for drinks on Friday afternoons. I have a couple of friends at work who I chat with on teams and eat lunch with on in-office. There’s usually a few minutes of small talk at the beginning of meetings, virtual or in-person.

    My work friends and colleagues aren’t my closest people, but I realized over the course of the pandemic just how much these loose ties matter. It’s nice to have pleasant low-stakes relationships and to see the people you work with as human beings. OP, you’re not weird for wanting that!

    1. Telephone Sanitizer, Third Class*

      That setup sounds perfect! Mostly-WFH *and* some low-stakes in-person chitchat over lunch/drinks. And occasional office days to be able to ask questions and judge the energy/vibes of a project and such (like someone up-thread said, sometimes a meeting could have been an email, but sometimes a confusing, prolonged email chain could be a ten-minute conversation)

  43. Kaywinnet Lee Frye*

    We incorporated a practice at my old job called “Community Meeting,” which meant that we started every meeting by everyone going around the room answering these three questions:
    1. How are you feeling?
    2. What is your goal for this meeting/ this day?
    3. Who can support you towards that goal/ how?
    We were in a trauma-focused nonprofit, so the more feelings-focused aspect made sense, but I imagine you can tailor the questions to your particular workplace culture. It felt hokey at first, but everyone got used to it pretty quickly, and it helped us hear from folks who were generally less apt to speak. Maybe something like that would help combat the brick wall?

  44. beanie*

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot as a manager of a remote team. When people turn their video off and stay on mute, it’s super obvious who is engaged and who isn’t. If people are in a meeting, there’s theoretically a reason they should be there. We’re paying people to be present during a meeting. If people are multitasking, on their phone, or otherwise checked out, why am I paying them? You could argue that people can be off camera and on mute and still be engaged, but I’d be surprised if that was common.

    I didn’t love in person meetings, but at least people showed others the courtesy of paying attention. Or if they didn’t it was socially frowned upon.

    1. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      Cameras on creates an awareness of being watched that adds fatigue and distraction and is usually counterproductive as a requirement. There are meetings where it’s useful, but you should require it very judiciously and warn people in advance.

      That said, you can ask people at the top of the meeting to help you out by using reaction features or sharing reactions in the chat. If you’re collaborating, make it explicit at the top what your goal is and that you expect people to come off mute to react, ask questions, and share ideas if that’s what you need. I personally like to keep the chat popping. Reacting and commenting in that unobtrusive way keeps me engaged in a way in person meetings never can. And I love that I can put all my focus on being engaged rather than just looking engaged.

      And if people are not engaging in the meeting, ask them why. They’re responsible for paying attention, but we’re responsible for only bringing people to meetings where their contribution is valuable and for running it as engagingly as the material allows. Maybe they’re just watching Real Housewives; but it seems more likely to me that we’re not making the meeting worth their while and they’re working on something they see as more valuable.

      1. Just Here for the Llama Grooming*

        Amen, amen, AMEN!! PLEASE louder for the folks in the back.

        Meetings need to be worth peoples’ time. Some kinds of work – think cyclical efforts where half the month is making sure all the llamas on the schedule for that month get groomed, the third week of the month is llama bathing and new product tryouts, and the fourth week of the month is invoicing and scheduling next month’s llamas — don’t need tons of meetings. The job I just retired from was highly cyclical and for at least two weeks every month we were all doing exactly the same thing every day, but my boss and grandboss insisted on daily meetings because that’s the way it’s done in this subset of the work world. The meetings only occasionally — think once a week at best — resulted in useful transfer of ideas. Small team, not uncommon for people to blatantly multitask because we all had plenty, if not often too much, to do. I’m as social as the next person and enjoy contact and camaraderie but wow, those meetings drove me nuts.

    2. Kit Kendrick*

      People can also be sitting in a meeting room and completely checked out. I can’t tell you how many “town hall” meetings I’ve gamely attended (live! in person!), smiled through, and made sure to come up with a pertinent question at the end, but was really just staring at illegible slides and being told things I already knew (or worse, corporate spin I knew full well was nothing but noise) mentally tallying all of the work accruing at my desk while I was doing my Happy Compliant Worker performance.

      If the meeting is just a presentation and most of the participants are there to be an audience, then the problem isn’t whether the video is on or off, it’s whether you’re disseminating information in the right way for your employees. There’s a reason “This meeting could have been an email.” was a meme even before 2020. If the meeting is to get interaction among the participants, try a structure that allows participation. Use a whiteboard website that lets people place post-it notes of key points, or use a polling function that shows on the screen. Give your people something to engage with.

    3. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      You’re using very neurotypical definitions of what is “obviously” paying attention. ND attention often does not look like NT attention. The whole aspect of having to perform attention to the detriment of actual attention is something I do not miss personally. I’ve been in plenty of meetings with cameras off where people are engaged (which you can tell from the chat, reactions and comments).

      1. so very tired*

        I’m neurodivergent and I’ve told my boss if he asks me to have my camera on during meetings with him I’m going to pet my soft plushy, or I may not look directly at him the whole time, etc. I simply cannot “pay attention” in the neurotypical way. If I force myself to do that my brain goes immediately to static. Doing something with my hands and getting breaks from eye contact help me relax and I can pay attention and retain things much better.

        This is not well understood in most workplaces and it sucks.

        1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

          I’ve noticed that if I’m not performing attention I’ll end up turning my ears instead of my eyes towards the person.

    4. constant_craving*

      If people can be disengaged in a meeting and the meeting still runs fine/ it’s not an obvious performance ssue, I wonder if they needed to be in the meeting to begin with.

    5. beanie*

      These are all great points, thanks for giving me a different perspective. I’ll keep thinking about ways to structure meetings (and invite the right people) to get what we need out of it without arbitrarily defining what “being engaged” means. Appreciate you all!

      1. fine tipped pen aficionado*

        It would be awesome if workplaces created guidance for this kind of thing instead of making us all reinvent the wheel for ourselves. Alas! Good luck with your meetings!!

  45. KHB*

    I heard in a youtube video (so I don’t know how much there is to back it up) that humans have evolved to rely on other people’s facial expressions and body language to help calibrate our sense of whether to feel safe or in danger. If true, that explains a lot about why the remote work environment can feel so disconcerting, if you’re spending your whole day without seeing any other people, even via webcam. I feel like that too, and my solution is to double down on my efforts to go to places with people around – any people – outside of work.

    But I also kind of sympathize with people who feel annoyed by efforts to inject social conversations into work-related meetings. For me, I’m at work because I have work to do, and I go to meetings because they’re a necessary evil for disseminating information about the work that needs to be done. Spending more than a minute or two on idle chitchat feels like a big waste of my time.

    Weirdly, though, having designated meetings just for idle chitchat feel a lot better to me. Before we started having regular in-office days post-pandemic, we’d have weekly “virtual water cooler chats,” where randomly assigned groups of 4-5 people would get together on Teams and just talk about whatever for 20 minutes or so. You could opt out if you were too busy or weren’t feeling it that week, but most people opted in most of the time, and it worked well enough for keeping up the sense of camaraderie. If there’s anyone at all on your team who would be up for doing something like that, maybe it would help?

    1. Ann*

      Yes, this! I find myself putting off sensitive conversations until the person I need to speak with drops by the office… and sometimes they never do, and I end up putting the matter off for weeks longer than I should, being anxious about it the whole time, and then still making a mess of it.

  46. fine tipped pen aficionado*

    I used to think I was very private at work, but it turns out I just never liked my coworkers. If I’m in a healthy working environment where everyone is helping to carry the load, we’re all committed to shared values and purpose, and my coworkers are safe people to be fully myself with (read: they aren’t homophobes, fundamentalists, and/or always complaining about young people), then I’m quite happy to participate in social stuff and engage in chit chat.

    It doesn’t sound at all like LW’s coworkers hate them or anything like that. I’m just drawing attention to how if something about the work is dysfunctional, that can make workplace relationships dysfunctional. That doesn’t sound like a big factor in LW’s particular situation, but it’s a factor that can go unnoticed.

    1. Jane*

      This is a great point; prior to my current career path, I spent way too much time in work environments where I felt uncomfortable with fully being myself around my coworkers because we just didn’t vibe for various reasons. I wouldn’t call myself an extrovert, but now that I’ve found my niche and actually enjoy the people I work with, it’s much easier for me to be “on” during the workday.

    2. RM*

      Oof, yeah. In my current workplace you have to be “real friends” with coworkers, have similar tastes and lifestyle, and socialize outside of work or you’re nobody. The all or nothing factor feels really dysfunctional and makes me want to withdraw even from the basic pleasantries.

  47. KellifromCanada*

    Alison (or commenters), is there anything you can recommend that OP’s manager can do better? You mentioned that the meetings we’re well run. I’d love some ideas.

    1. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      In my experience some keys are:
      Only hold a meeting to share information likely to generate a lot of questions (ie we’re restructuring, we’re implementing a new process) or to do brainstorming/idea generation types of collaboration.
      Only invite people who really need to be there. Make it clear in the invite why they need to be there and what you expect them to contribute and/or do with the information you give them.
      Provide an agenda.
      Make it clear what kind of engagement you’re looking for in the invite and remind them at the top of the meeting.
      Try very hard to avoid fiddling with/complaining about the technology you’re using for long periods. Things happen, but for the most part a little preparation can avoid it.
      Don’t default to 1 hour; keep it as short as you can without rushing.
      If the time is tight and you need to get started right at the meeting start time, let people know in advance. Most people assume a short grace period to ease into the meeting.
      Make sure your staff know how to use whatever virtual/hybrid meeting technology you’re using. Not just how to use it, but how you expect them to use it.
      If your team is not participating in your meetings, ask them why. They may have valid reasons and feedback you can use to have better meetings (ie you mandated a low priority meeting while I’m under an urgent deadline) or it’s a performance issue you need to address like anything else.

      1. nnn*

        Make it clear what kind of engagement you’re looking for in the invite and remind them at the top of the meeting.

        Yes! I’ve had so many meetings where I thought it would be passively receiving information but it turned out they wanted on-camera interaction. Or, conversely, I put on makeup and rearranged my desk to have a camera angle, and it turned out they were disabling remote participants’ cameras and mics for bandwidth purposes.

        If you calibrate expectations in advance, people will be empowered to meet those expectations.

    2. HA2*

      I think one is switching to a cameras-on default. My company made that switch at some point – the company was largely remote (a lot of people joined in 2020-2021) and when I joined lots of peoples had their cameras off in meetings, but at some point we got the directive that we should switch to cameras-on. Not 100%, it’s still ok to turn it off if you’re eating at your desk or something, but it switched from being like 20% cameras on to like 80% cameras on and I think it helps.

      Another is probably finding some specific time for chitchat. It probably needs to be in small groups – you can’t have a meeting of like 20 people and expect everyone to participate in a conversation – but in meetings that are 6 people or less, normalize starting the meeting with a bit of chat time. Build that in and communicate to the team that that’s fine.

      1. NoToCameras*

        hard pass. there is no good reason to have cameras on and a ton if good reasons to have them off (bandwidth, extra time to prep person or space, people feeling unselfconscious on camera, etc)

  48. bamcheeks*

    LW, the “work friend” that you mention– have you tried reaching out to her and asking if she wants to have a “social call” coffee sometime? I think one of the big things about working remote is that you have to be much more deliberate about interactions, and that can feel really awkward and like the bar has to be much higher, but sometimes it only takes one person being the brave on and saying, “Hey, it’s ages since we’ve had a proper chat! Since we don’t meet in the office any more, do you fancy scheduling a coffee & chat call sometime? I would love to hear how you are and what you’ve been up to!”

    This probably feels WAY more formal than you’re used to, when you just used to sit opposite each other 8 hours a day and these thing happened quite naturally– but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible! And doing something like that one-to-one is much easier than proposing an all-team “social hour” or something. Worth a try?

  49. Jelly*

    Speaking from the introvert/crave a permanent WFH side, I’d still want some interaction with my colleagues, e.g. onsite meetings. At least for me, there’s something about the bonding that occurs when I’m in-person that WFH just can’t accomplish, and that bonding is important to me; just adds a 3-D effect that goes a long way to having warm relationships with my co-workers.

  50. saskia*

    Your manager should require cameras on and state the reasons why. But since they won’t, it sounds like this issue will continue indefinitely. I’m sorry, and it’s sad that your previous in-person relationships aren’t translating to virtual.

    I had the same frustrating, demoralizing experience as you — feeling like I was talking to brick walls. I didn’t want to require cameras on during the early pandemic because it felt like just one more thing to ask of people during a crazy time. But my perspective changed because it began to feel like the team had left their humanity at the door when entering meetings with me. I’m not the most socially confident person, so being the only one on camera, trying and failing to make a single minute of small talk before the meat of the meeting was nerve-wracking, and it absolutely created a divide between me and the team. It only changed once I told them, hey, it’s quiet AF in these meetings and we need to actually see each other because we’re not collaborating well, so from now on, our meetings are always camera-on unless you have a good reason to leave it off (technical issues, sickness, etc.)

    It’s made me stop feeling like a comedian bombing at a club, and I think it’s made them feel more connected as a team. The meetings flow muuuch better (I also said people should just speak up — obviously still using common courtesy — but to stop putting up their little digital hand and waiting for me to call on them like a teacher unless it’s necessary — i.e., too many people are talking at once) and people talk WAY more. It’s never going to be the same as in-person, but it’s a big improvement.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      Your manager should require cameras on and state the reasons why.

      I’m curious why you think the manager should require it?

      1. TurnOffCameras*

        another one? there are a ton of good reasons to have cameras off and no good reason to have them on beyond you like it. Someone else’s bandwidth shouldn’t have to suffer because other people decided they just had to have their cameras on. Pre-pandemic every company I’ve ever worked for had a standard all cameras off policy.

  51. Jane*

    LW, you are absolutely not alone in feeling the way you do. I am a turbo-introvert extraordinaire, always have been, but the pivot to WFH has been really hard on me in terms of feeling some kind of connection with my coworkers. I don’t need to be besties with everyone; I just like having a reasonable level of workplace camaraderie!

  52. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    I am a social introvert and zoom meetings annoy me when they divert too long into the personal – I have other things on my schedule! But my team has a very active slack channel that we started when we were all remote and have kept up and it has replaced a lot of the “water cooler” time. We do all the chit chat there as well as some work talk.

    Even on days when most of us are in the office now, a good deal of the social chat happens on slack which a) keeps the people who are remote part of the convo and b) allows people who are trying to focus on work to keep focusing and catch up on the chat later. It also allows us to keep our chatter from annoying/involving surrounding teams. I do care what is happening with teammates ex, but we don’t really want gossipy Jane from the next office overhearing.

  53. Colette*

    The one thing I miss from working in the office is the socializing. Having said that, one of the teams I joined in 2020 did a good job of making it happen remotely.

    They were an agile software development team and had daily standups to check in about work. They implemented optional “office hours” where the experienced devs were dialled in and anyone else could join to talk through problems.
    And on Fridays, they had an optional social hour, dedicated to conversation and online games.

    Once the world opened up a bit, they occasionally got together for lunch or an activity.

    It worked really well.

  54. The Person from the Resume*

    I don’t have a solution. When I first started on virtual teams, my first team was social in the first few minutes of a meeting. That didn’t really carry over to other teams.

    Now I’m having a similar, new problem. I am doing my own job and acting in the role one step up. I suddenly feel more isolated. IDK I did not think I talked to my old boss that, that much. And it wasn’t social. But with me doing both roles, I’m much busier but am feeling much more on my own. There is some support higher up. He’s not reaching out and I’m not reaching out without a specific purpose, though.

    I don’t have a solution and I’m not sure of my own problem, if it is a problem, but the LW has my sympathy.

    1. Ann*

      Just commiserating. Same situation. I feel like the solution might be to be more intentional about having regular check-ins, but if no one else does them and they didn’t use to be part of company culture, asking for them almost comes across as saying “there’s a problem.”

  55. Media Monkey*

    i’m constantly amazed in comment sections about the seemingly prevailing viewpoint that offices are hellscapes and your coworkers are timewasters to be avoided at all costs. I love being able to work from home more (and i have a long and expensive commute so there’s a significant saving in both time and cost for me) but i would hate to WFH all the time. i feel like if you don’t want to interact with anyone, work completely becomes a transaction you do for money (which i get!) rather something you can find any enjoyment in. maybe it’s related to the type of work i do, but i can’t imagine not making small talk at a bare minimum. i’ve also noted significant lower understanding amongst junior colleagues/ new starters who are not being exposed to general office conversations and norms.

  56. JMA*

    As an employee sitting in a shared office space decorated like an elementary school classroom while 50+ year old employees walk around trick or treating, OP’s work culture sounds idyllic. If the OP needs more meaningless office culture they should seek out a company where that’s encouraged. Don’t ruin your coworker’s experience because you miss chatting in the elevator.

    1. Cake or Death*

      “Don’t ruin your coworker’s experience because you miss chatting in the elevator.”

      Well, that was totally rude.

        1. Snoozing not schmoozing*

          Perhaps it’s not rudeness, just a smug feeling of being superior to those annoying mere humans who dare to co-inhabit the space you’re in.

          1. JMA*

            I’d be less prone to criticism if I didn’t have a mini crock pot of buffalo chicken dip burning right behind my chair as I type.

            1. Jiminy Cricket*

              You just made me laugh. And the office you’re in right now would drive me to quit the whole human race and raise sheep on a remote island. But there is a whole lot of room between adult trick-or-treaters (!) and never seeing your coworkers or hearing their voices, which is what the LW describes.

              1. JMA*

                Fair. Although just to add a cherry on top of my day, a peer who sits next to me just clipped all of his fingernails at his desk. It might be time to start day-drinking.

      1. JMA*

        For perspective, as I sit here eating lunch in my office, coworkers on the other side of the cube are talking about how we should have a team building event like Squid Games, but instead of being killed, they’re fired. My team went through a mass layoff exactly 1 year ago this week that I survived, but 25 of my colleagues were all let go. Office culture is garbage.

    2. Xantar*

      With respect, you are taking your own highly specific office situation and extrapolating from that to draw conclusions about all office interactions and all office culture. That is simply not going to hold water.

  57. Pizza Rat*

    The company I worked from 2020-2022 did a lot of different things to keep people engaged when we were 100% remote.

    My team ran a voluntary “Lunch and Not Learn” once a month where we could get on camera to just chat. We also had various chatrooms for things like recipes, sports talk, and book club,. There was even one called Department Silly where people would post memes.

    For the department staff meetings, everyone took a turn putting the presentation together and included something at the end like a short trivia contest. Larger staff meetings would usually include something similar, but would put us into breakout rooms so we got to interact with other people in the company. Nobody gave anyone a hard time for dropping out of these.

    My director also made a point of pinging us all eveery so often to ensure we were doing okay at home.

    I think a lot of people make the mistake of trying to make remote work as much like in-office work as they can instead of embracing the differences.

    I’m in a new job now that’s hybrid and most of my meetings are on Teams anyway. Partly because finding a conference room has always been a challenge here, and partly because Covid is still a thing and many people don’t want to in closed rooms.

  58. C.*

    This isn’t directly in response to the LW, but it did get me thinking about introversion/extroversion in the office. I think of myself as the “friendly introvert.” I know others think I’m pleasant—funny, even!—and that I can certainly be social when the time comes. However, I’m not big on happy hours or after work activities; I’m just not. After the workday, I’m genuinely drained and I want to go home to recharge, be with my family, pet my cat, read my book, etc. It can be hard to be an introvert in an office like mine that seems to reward more extroverted personalities, but I know I’m not alone and I think I’ve found my people to help me navigate the social maze of the day.

    1. Pita Chips*

      I think office life in general is more likely to reward outgoing personalities and extroverts. I’m happy to be reasonably friendly with co-workers. I tend to keep some low-key conversation topics in the back of head like, “I’m good thanks, my ball team won last night.” That lets me look friendly and approachable without committing too many personal resources, and I can usually keep the conversation short.

      By lunchtime, though, I am pretty much peopled out and I have to have my recharge time. I’m not being anti-social by taking lunch by myself in the break room with a book, I need that time to give me enough energy to deal with people the rest of the day. It’s become less fun by then.

      I also feel job interviews are more likely to reward the outgoing and while I can do that for a short period of time, it’s exhausting after a while.

  59. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    I think those conversations are still out there. I have peers I’ve connected with as LW describes and I didn’t know before the pandemic.

    1. Loux*

      During the pandemic I joined a team of people spread through different offices across the country. Our employer also seriously upgraded our meeting infrastructure. Some coworkers who had been on the team before the pandemic said that before, they didn’t really know the people in the other cities; after the pandemic, they started being more intentional about meetings and creating space to socialize, and it really turbocharged the team’s closeness. Some of my favourite coworkers live hours away from me! There are a lot of people on the team who are even now friends outside of work. We also have those who prefer to keep their personal lives and professional lives more separate, but even they don’t mind chatting here and there. It works for us.

      I also have a full life outside of work, but I do like the work social aspect too. It actually has really helped me with learning team processes and finding out knowledge ahead of time, figuring out how to work with certain people, etc. Maybe not the case in all fields, but in mine, creating that rapport is certainly quite useful professionally.

  60. Kit Kendrick*

    There are other ways to replace social interaction than camera-on meetings. There’s a reason news anchors spend hours on hair and makeup and have lighting teams — most of us don’t look flawless on camera and staring at your own face can be stressful. There are other ways to connect, though. Don’t dismiss the power of text, especially with younger workers.

    We have a workplace chat system and as soon as the quarantine started I began posting a “Good Morning! Happy [DayOfWeek]” image to the channels with people I work with directly. It was really to make sure I stayed grounded in time (it’s easy for days to run together when working remotely and I was forcing myself to always know what day it was), but I got a lot of positive feedback from people who appreciated even that little social gesture. There’s now an unofficial competition for who gets in the first morning image or to match the theme from the first image.

    I found as many people in various parts of the company who play Wordle and set up a Games channel. I don’t happen to care at all about sports, but I encouraged the creation of a sports fandom channel and created reaction icons for everyone’s favorite teams. I have friends at other companies who have pet photo channels. Depending on your meeting software you can encourage people to use the “celebrate”, “applause”, “agree” or other buttons to allow people to show engagement without having to be actually on camera.

    My company has gone hybrid and is actively involving remote workers in the Halloween costume contest by inviting them to send in photos or a quick video and they’re eligible for the same prizes as everyone else.

  61. Rodstar*

    I would be so much more inclined to be sociable with my on site colleagues if I wasn’t stuck in an open space with them. I don’t work with the QA team behind me, but their uninterupted calls (which are part of their work, I know !) are driving me up the wall when I need to focus. I have 5 colleagues on my desk to which I talk to but don’t work with and I hear them less than the other persons in the open space ! I actually am working and am way more sociable with my colleagues with which I work with, who are … in the other side of the country -_-‘
    As it stands, I can’t wait to have my weekly WFH day and juste be able to talk when I want to and not have constant noise in my ears while I’m trying to debug. (Yes I have noise cancelling headphones, but I still can hear what’s going around me)

  62. hellohello*

    It’s interesting (and I admit, a bit frustrating) to see some of the responses here that say “maybe remote work just isn’t for you.”

    I’ve been remote only since well before the pandemic, and I’ve never had as little connection with my colleagues as the LW is describing here. The idea that in person = a lot of socializing and remote = complete isolation is just not true, in my experience. It’s different, and remote lends itself towards less socialization overall, but I’d argue that unless you have a rare job that truly doesn’t benefit from cross-colleague or cross-team collaboration, it’s a sign of a poorly run office if none of your remote workers are speaking to each other or building friendly relationships.

    You don’t have to be BFFs or cross any personal boundaries to have a cordial and friendly relationship with your colleagues, and I think it does the idea of remote work a disservice to pretend it’s only for people who are happy working in an isolated silo.

    1. TCO*

      I wrote more above, but I don’t think that everyone here is suggesting that all remote jobs are an isolated silo. Lots of people are sharing about how their remote workplaces are still more social and friendly than the OP’s.

      But I also think we need to acknowledge that all-remote work simply isn’t the same as being in person. Some people may find the distinctions minor or inconsequential. For my personality and how my job is designed to be done, they’re actually pretty significant. That’s okay for OP to consider.

      1. hellohello*

        They’re not the same, but what OP is looking for really doesn’t seem like something that requires in person work. She wants, say, to occasionally speak to most of her colleagues, instead of having 75% of the people on a meeting remain silent the entire time… That’s not something that requires being in an office or even something that requires even the most introverted of person to go out of their comfort zone for more than a few minutes a day.

        I say this all as an introvert who hopes to never work in a physical office again, and is significantly more productive working from home. It just seems incorrect, and potentially harmful to the idea of remote work as a widespread option, to say “if you want to ever speak to more than a very small percentage of your coworkers, you have to have an in-person job.”

  63. KToo*

    I’ll be that person who says that due to the nature of the company I work for and my role, there are people I’ve worked closely with for 20+ years that I’ve never met or seen in person because we’re in different locations, countries, etc… My building used to be so big that people could work there for years and never run across someone in the same building. Even now, after tons of restructures, only a small portion of my team is in my same location, but they’re not the people I work closest with so even if we were in the office full time I still wouldn’t be speaking with them except for meetings. I don’t miss the forced interactions just because ‘we’re a team!!!’.

    For the OP – if you love your company, are there any committees or groups you can join where you can meet with likeminded co-workers? Does you company have any volunteer opportunities that you can be a part of? Are there any Slack channels/Teams groups etc… where people can get together to discuss the things that interest them, or would your company be open to having them? Or supporting a ‘virtual Friday happy hour’ type thing. There are many ways to get people to join voluntarily if the company wants to help build and maintian a culture that includes people.

  64. CatLady*

    I’m a strong supporter of WFH and no cameras required in every single meeting. I also agree that co-worker connections are very important and that cameras should be required for 2 meetings:
    * 1×1 with the boss
    * Regular staff meetings (provided they are no more than 1xweek)
    I also strongly support cameras for any other kind of 1×1 meeting.

    In general though I think its important to find your peeps – the people that you naturally gel with and in this brave new world, you might find them in an entirely different time zone. I find my peeps by just seeing who “clicks” when we have conversations. Who naturally chats with me about a topic maybe, or whose perspectives I find intriguing. Then maybe we’ll have a regular session or vent to each other in a chat channel. You can make these connections online – its just a different way of doing things and something you have to develop if it doesn’t come naturally to you.

  65. StarTrek Nutcase*

    I have a slight regret that I retired pre-pandemic and before the big WFH movement. I am exactly the type of person who would have loved it. I acknowledge there are lots of reasons to prefer WFH, but will only address mine here.

    While Alison has a point that voices here aren’t necessarily representative, I do think there are huge numbers of workers like me who spent our careers “faking” it to fit the normal, acceptable worker model. We might highly value our work, but ultimately simply want to produce a great product and get paid with minimal extraneous socializing. We were social because we’re not too naive to realize we had to play the game. I’m not talking about working collaboratively, sure that’s a given. I am talking about water cooler/break room chatting, after work drinks, work celebrations of holidays or bdays, calls/emails/meetings lengthened by chitchat, etc.

    IMO WFH has simply revealed how slanted the preferred worker model was. I can’t claim to know percentages (doubt there’s a legit way to calculate anyway) but there is definitely a big desire for WFH/remote work for many reasons just as there are for in-office preference – just as there is a variation in industries for which WFH isn’t possible.

  66. Justin*

    I wish we heard more from this nuanced view, people who enjoy this aspect of work but fully understand why people prefer WFH. The “you must RTO” people suck, but “I can’t understand why anyone would ever want to be in an office people” are not understanding why some of us sometimes do.

    This is basically where I am too, and we’re allowed to be fully remote, but I just… I gotta get out of the house so I go in twice a week, mostly to sit at my desk alone, but sometimes people come in and it’s nice. I do text and receive texts from my colleagues and sometimes see the ones in my city socially so it’s okay, but on the bi-montly occasions we have work trips I am SO EXCITED.

    1. Justin*

      I forgot to add: My solution is to set up calls with the ones I am closest to and keep our relationships that way. And if there are truly zero people who want to do that, yeah, it might be the wrong group for your needs unfortunately.

      1. Colette*

        Yeah, I think the OP might have some luck with setting up short meetings/online lunches with friendly coworkers to catch up.

  67. Rachel*

    One thing that my boss does that really helps with our global, 100% remote team:

    We have a weekly team huddle where cameras are on, and where we go around and give one high and one low from the week. These can be as personal or work related as you want (so you could say, my kid has been sick and that’s a low, or just say I’m having trouble connecting with a stakeholder and that’s a low). Every week, we make a point of saying – only share to your comfort level.

    It sounds small but it has truly contributed to team cohesion to know that everyone will be sharing SOMETHING, on camera, once a week. And it’s always the same question, so nobody ever gets blindsided. Plus, it can actually contribute to team problem-solving depending on what the high or low is.

  68. Beatrix*

    Just adding my voice to the “this is not an inherent consequence of remote work” crowd. I work 100% remotely, and I’ve never had this problem. It’s definitely an office culture thing; I work in an office where we’re expected to be friendly, and it sounds like OP’s office is currently not that. I think my only recommendation is to focus on the individual relationships. If you have even just one person that you can chat with for a minute before the meeting kicks off, I think that will really change how you feel about the office dynamics.

    For people saying that OP is expecting too much from their colleagues, I think this is off-base. It’s very normal to have basic, “how was your weekend” relationships with your coworkers. I think it would be very strange to work with someone for years without knowing a single thing about them.

  69. chocolate lover*

    I feel so much of this, I could write pages in response. Except now I’m caught up in my emotion because I’ve been so frustrated at feeling like an anomaly the past couple of years with my preferences for working in the office (NOT forcing other people to come in though it is nice to see people when they’re there.) And I’m a noticeable introvert, so it’s been surprising to anyone who knows me. They thought I’d love the remote/hybrid/virtual changes. Nope. I still struggling to make connections with people I’ve never met in person and have only zoomed with. It feels so artificial to me.

  70. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

    If half of the LW’s co-workers are disengaged black boxes, that means the other half aren’t. And yet she feels alienated from her whole office instead of just the half who are ghosting. So, what is that about? She no longer cares about the co-workers who do engage and do speak up. Maybe she needs an onsite job. And while the stuff that she complains about is certainly a danger of remote work, it’s not a given. My entire team onboarded during the pandemic except for the one who onboarded at work two weeks before everyone was sent home. And yet we have a reasonably decent sense of cohesion and did before we started back to work on-site one day a week. That’s about work culture, not Zoom. Zoom is a factor but only a factor.

  71. the-honey-eater*

    I’m one of those WFH-ers who doesn’t really come into the office anymore and I’m sorry, but…I just have nothing left to give these days. Me working from home is literally the only thing keeping my household going these days, between shuttling kids between school/daycare/activities, getting dinner on the table every night, and keeping the house in some kind of order. I do miss the closer coworker relationships from the Before Times, but I’m hanging on by my fingertips lately and no help is coming. Hopefully I can come back to the office some day, maybe in like a decade, when these kids can drive themselves to their activities that start at 4:30.

    1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      I go in one day a week and it’s weirdly exhausting. I actually like seeing people those days, but often I am just spent when I get home.

  72. Darkling*

    I work as part of a global, multi-national team. We are scattered to the four corners of the globe, so even when we all go into our respective offices, we are not physically co-located so we’re all still connecting via video chat. When I go into the office I see other people but they are not my co-workers in the true sense of the word. I am happy with this arrangement and rarely go into the office, but I can see that it would make the LW unhappy. I don’t work in a space where more than a “how was your weekend” politeness ritual is necessary, and I love it. We focus on work. LW, I agree with Alison this may no longer be the optimal job for you if you need to have your social battery plugged in to feel most engaged.

  73. CommanderBanana*

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have a cameras-on policy for meetings. It also makes meetings run a little more smoothly when you can see facial cues.

    1. SansaJacklyn*

      Do people change expression when on camera? I am obsessed with how I look and refuse to make any expressions – not on purpose, I just hate it. I’d rather be talking and pretending people are listening than see that people are obviously typing emails or doing other things with the video!

      1. HA2*

        I do! I’m pretty expressive. Even when I’m not talking, in meetings where I’m paying attention like half the time someone is like “ooh HA2 has something to say about that” when I have a strong reaction to something someone is saying

      2. CommanderBanana*

        Yes, and it’s easier to tell when someone is done talking versus just pausing. It is really fatiguing to look at the image of yourself, though – I read a few articles saying there’s a real neurological reason behind that but can’t remember what it was – and you can mitigate that by turning off your self view (just don’t forget you’re not off camera!) so you don’t see your own video feed. I feel less Zoom fatigue when I can’t see my own video feed.

  74. constant_craving*

    I wonder if LW’s emphasis on strictly non-personal stuff is playing a role here. I think there’s a distinction between lightly personal talk that demonstrates some interest in the person and stuff that is clearly meaningless small talk. It seems like LW might be attempting a mix of both but maybe leaning more towards the latter and it seems like that sort of stuff might be even less likely to make people inclined to engage.

  75. aubrey*

    I’m an extreme introvert who will never work in office again and hates being on camera and I would also find this off-putting. My team chats all the time in slack, even though we almost never have cameras on in meetings, and that works great for us. We don’t talk in too much detail about personal stuff, but there is a camaraderie for sure. But we’ve had a few people who never post in slack or speak in meetings, and there is a definite difference. Nobody felt like they knew them, and they have not lasted at the company.

  76. blandishment*

    I interpreted OP’s framing of interpersonal relationships between colleagues as owed in the Scanlon what-we-owe-to-each-other way, not as something one is miffed about not getting, but rather about our individual responsibilities to one another. All of that is to say: more theoretical than credit and debit.

    1. hellohello*

      That’s a great point, and I think a distinction that often gets missed in this conversation. Given the way work tends to encroach on every element of our lives, it’s really understandable that people push back against “owing” things to the office beyond the specific tasks you are being paid to do, but there is a risk of “I don’t owe you my life just because you pay me a salary” turning into “I don’t owe work the basic tenants of getting along within a society.”

  77. PotsPansTeapots*

    Just here to add another voice of sympathy. I work entirely from home and while I like about 85% of it, I really miss the low-stakes socialization I’d get at my old office jobs. I use social media as my substitute now, which comes with its own risks!

    I don’t know the answer for you, LW, but there are plenty of us who feel similarly.

  78. so very tired*

    I hope my comment comes across as a tactful and thoughtful look at the opposite side of this, the people who are just fine doing the work, keeping cameras off, and not seeking social interaction at work:

    We’re just as frustrated when we’re told to have cameras on and given no real explanation (“for the culture” doesn’t cut it for me, because 99% of the time it’s some exec I’ve never heard of reading from a powerpoint for 2 hours straight), or when we’re on deadline trying to create the eighth draft of something that isn’t wrong for reasons that aren’t clear beyond more execs I’ve never heard of slap-fighting over version control, or if we’re dealing with things that aren’t treated with the proper level of sensitivity or understanding in a capitalist society like chronic illness, disability, etc. If just showing up and doing the work is enough, it’s enough for us. Keeping cameras off and staying on mute during meetings where we’re not expected to contribute is a form of managing burnout.

    Different things contribute to burnout for us; you’ve identified burnout from not getting your needs met socially – that’s totally valid. But why are our needs and our desire to avoid burnout less important?

    There is no one system that works for everyone. I think it’s best to have the office space and face time for those who need it, and allow remote work and keeping cameras off for those who need it, and when there’s friction that leads to policy changes at least try to make it make sense. It’s even more frustrating when we’re not given a real reason for being asked to do something that makes our skin crawl.

    1. SansaJacklyn*

      True and having cameras on means I can’t stand up and down, move around and doodle, all of which ensure I can concentrate. I also am extremely self conscious. My body image is the worst when I have to be seen.

      But, I realize the opposite as well. I think its good to have choices and also find the environment best for you. There are places I just wont work in because they don’t work for me.

      1. so very tired*

        100% on the body image point; I mentioned that in another comment here. I’m trans and I have body dysmorphia and gender dysphoria so having a camera on me is a nightmare. I’m better with it in small settings with people who respect my gender identity but in large groups, no way.

    2. saskia*

      There’s a big difference between being camera-on in a giant meeting where executives are expounding on business BS and being camera-on in a team meeting of people you regularly work with.

      1. so very tired*

        Yes, I’ve explained that I understand this and I do keep my camera on with team members I can trust in other comments here.

  79. Crew2013*

    This is very interesting, as I’m the opposite. I wasn’t OVERLY social prior to WFH, but I really felt like I would be lonely at home, that I loved to have people stop in for help all day in my office and that I would miss that connection with people. I freely shared and would listen to other people’s problems and personal stories.

    Cue 4 years later and I realize how well I can manage from home, how much I do NOT miss people from the office. And in fact, I think coming home highlighted that none of those people were actually my friends. Without seeing anyone face to face by accident, no one ever reached out to me to say hey or chat or anything.

    What I think is important though, is that it’s really important to figure out the environment you prefer, and then find that environment. Also, for managers and employers to meet people where they are and provide many options.

  80. Sara without an H*

    Hi, LW — First, thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful post. You are definitely not alone! Like you, I’m an introvert, but I find that, while too much time with people drains my social battery, if I spend too little with them, it doesn’t “charge.”

    I agree with Alison that this job has evolved to the point where it’s just not a good fit for you anymore. Obviously, it’s not the kind of situation where you have to bail out fast, so take your time and decide what kind of job would be a better fit for you. Apparently, a lot of companies are open to hybrid work arrangements, and something like that sounds as though it might work for you. Take your time, but do start a job search. Alison has lots of good advice in the archives.

    Thanks for posting and please send us an update.

  81. Circe*

    OP, I empathize so strongly with this that I was like, “did I finally hit send on that letter to AAM that I’ve been drafting for two years?”

    I have no advice, just commiseration. I don’t think it’s off-base to want to feel a sense of connection to people you spend 40+ hours a week with, and you’re not a social vampire to feel like something’s missing when you don’t get it. I think we’re due for a shakeup of how we all relate to work, and workplaces, in the next several years, and I hope we find some middle ground for those us is that want it.

  82. Naomi*

    I’m a millennial with lots of friends and colleagues who work remote. What I see is a lot of people who don’t care about their jobs, their company, or their colleagues. They feel no sense of purpose or connection to their work. They will leave at the drop of a hat, because its nothing but a paycheck and benefits. I have a step-sister who graduated in 2020, and was hired as a remote employee, has worked remote now for 3 years and disliked it (her whole professional life). She has never met her manager or 95% of her colleagues face to face. She’s looking for a new job now, one where she can be in person. My BIL and SIL both work from home, both love the flexibility and lack of commute, and both have switched jobs at least 3 times in the last five years. My BIL is actively looking for a new job now.

    Personally, I don’t think remote employees (on average) are as productive or engaged as in person employees. There are lots of exceptions, I’m sure. There are probably people whose personality or attention make them great at remote work. And I’m sure there are some industries or job descriptions that lend themselves to remote work. But I am terrible at working remotely. And based on what I see around me, I think most people are, if not terrible, not as good at their jobs and not as happy with their employer as they would be in person.

    I’m an executive at a small construction company. And as an executive team we just made the decision to officially be an “in person” employer. We have the capability for our team to work remotely, but no one gets regular work from home hours. If you have a sick kid, if you have to be at home for a delivery, if you had surgery and are on bed rest, if you don’t have childcare over spring break, you are welcome to work from home for a couple hours or even a couple weeks. But every position we have is an “in office” position. We don’t do remote. And I think our employees are happier, more connected to each other and to the company, and overall better at their jobs.

    I am very very interested to see statistics and data over the next several years around WFH, specifically job satisfaction averages, length of employment averages, and productivity averages. I would not be surprised to find out that some of the inflation we are experiencing now is actually do to overall lack of productivity in administrative areas, people getting paid the same as they ever have but being less responsive and getting less done and companies overall losing ground due to constantly having to train and onboard a new hire when someone leaves the position, again, after 18 months on the job.

    1. The Person from the Resume*

      Before this job, I was in the office for 15 years. I started my current job in the office but on a virtual team (that was the only option). I honestly can’t imagine trying to start a job or my first job as WFH. I at least got some help from the people in the office.

      I do hope companies set up mentors and shadowing for new hires, and provide them to reach out to someone (their supervisor???) any time they need help in the beginning. Like I know a supervisor might be too busy to drop everything and answer a question, when you’re brand new and working from home you need someone you are encouraged to reach out to at any time because you don’t have a long list of things or people to try first.

    2. hellohello*

      I think you’re ignoring a lot of other reasons why people, especially millennials and younger, would feel extremely disconnected from their jobs. In my experience it’s much less remote work, and much more the multiple recessions, failure for wages to keep up with inflation, astoundingly difficult to afford and access health care, soaring housing costs, and lack of job stability that has led to people looking at jobs as just a paycheck. After the fourth round of layoffs at my second job out of college, I lost all ability or desire to treat that as more than a paycheck, and I’d been in-person there the entire time. And while I do care deeply about the mission-drive work I do now, I doubt I’ll ever trust or invest fully in a company again because I’ve learned the hard way that, unless you own the company yourself, they’re not going to prioritize your wellbeing and their success isn’t going to translate into your success beyond maybe not getting fired this year.

    3. Gimmeabreakthere*

      You think this inflation… when companies are making record, documented profits… is due to some employees working at home and not being productive as opposed to many executives who realized they can charge whatever they want and no one will stop them?

      That to me puts your entire comment in doubt.

    4. Dinwar*

      You’re in construction and can’t work remotely? I find that…interesting, to say the least. All the construction folks I’ve known–including multiple CEOs–have had to spend a lot of time working out of field trailers on and jobsites due to the nature of the job (you just can’t fit much yellow iron in a cubicle, and Safety gets REALLY cranky if you try!).

      I work in a construction-adjacent field (environmental remediation), and we have a long history of remote work and collaboration between remote groups. Some people I’ve worked with for years–over a decade in some cases–I couldn’t pick out of a police lineup because I’ve never seen them. We talk over the phone or via emails, and I’m a good enough set of eyes and ears that they don’t need to waste money to come to my jobsite. Design specs have always been reviewed remotely, since only so many people can fit around a table. As for the PMs, we wanted them as far away as possible anyway; they always stirred up trouble and anyway it was our job to manage the site, not theirs. In other words: All the pieces were in place to switch to remote work long before the pandemic, just due to the nature of the work.

  83. ampersand*

    LW, I appreciate you bringing up this topic! I’ve been 100 percent remote since 2020 and have concluded that while I love the idea of remote work in theory, the lack of camaraderie? in-person interaction? is really wearing on me. Yet I also don’t want a commute again, so I continue to deal with work feeling kind of isolating—for the reasons you mentioned. Meanwhile my husband thrives with remote work. His team is good about interacting, having their cameras on, reasonable amounts of team-building, and they all seem to get along well. So I’ve seen at least one instance where it does work well, but I think in many more companies it’s not quite ideal.

  84. Box of Kittens*

    I’ve read a few articles over the years about happiness, and what makes the “happiest” countries in the world so happy, etc. One common theme among people who report themselves to be happy overall are acquaintance-type relationships and in-person interactions with strangers. One example I’ve seen used in these types of articles are talking to your cashier at a store. It’s such a small conversation and you might talk about nothing, but over the course of days and weeks, these small interactions with strangers and acquaintances really add up to make people feel happy and connected to their wider community.

    My husband’s company went to WFH during the pandemic and never went back, and he just switched industries completely. This was for several reasons, but one of them was because he wasn’t getting those little daily interactions of being around other people. I like working from home occasionally, but very much relate to the LW in that I am much more motivated and productive when I’m working around people, especially people I like (even if I don’t know them that well). Humans thrive in society, and many of us (most of us, even) need the seemingly insignificant everyday interactions that occur outside of close friend and family relationships. And that goes even more for people who don’t have many close friends or who don’t live near family, etc.

  85. Gaia Madre*

    What a great letter. I have a related question. My small work team is full of high-productivity introverts, and in the past year I now supervise the team. They mainly prefer to keep cameras off and go to the office when no one else is there. I want to let that be, but I have a concern that one of them might be coming a little unmoored. My observations are not related at all to work performance, but I care about this individual. How can I ask how they’re doing without it coming off as overstepping? My instinct is to keep my trap shut, but I’m a supervisor now. What is my obligation, either way?

  86. Mellow Gold*

    OP is in my head–this letter beautifully expressed all the issues I had in my last job. I started at the beginning of the pandemic with a team that had worked together for years. When I interviewed, I was trying to find a fit with a group that was got along reasonably well, and pre-pandemic I think they did. But once I started, that dynamic just never surfaced, because of the “brick wall” on meetings. There were no social opportunities that people would engage with, and three years into the job I felt like I still really didn’t know anyone (I also had no evidence that anyone else on the team was even close at all anymore). It was EXHAUSTING to not have any social cues to know what my standing was within my team or on projects, and it really messed with my mental health. I struggled to really articulate to friends what my issue was, because they were all extremely pro-WFH. Look, WFH is fine, but there has to be a conscious effort to create opportunities for inclusion, because it can be demoralizing to some staff to never have meaningful opportunities to bond with coworkers.

    Ultimately, I had to get a new job… But obviously, that’s a good news Friday post for another day. :)

  87. Cruciatus*

    My Fortune 500 company just made news (well, at least locally) because in the new year they are going to only allow 52 WFH days a year (theoretically 1 per week, but no matter how you use them, once you’ve used 52, you’re done). Right now people can WFH 2 or 3 days a week (depending on your division). Part of their reasoning is that productivity was never disturbed, but relationships were suffering. Fortunately, I did not take this job wanting the WFH option but a lot of people are upset, which I understand, but I find I’m excited about maybe being able to make some better connections or even just recognize more people around campus. It’s a tough situation and I’m not sure there’s any one “right” answer.

  88. Echo*

    Yeah, this is something that varies wildly with office culture – and frankly, did before the pandemic too! There have always been offices all over the spectrum, from the most extreme “everyone who works here is genuinely and legitimately best friends outside of work” to the most extreme “we show up, sit in a cube and do our tasks, then go home”, and most are in between somewhere.

    I think you just want to find a more social office. It doesn’t have to be a question of Zoom vs. in-person. My office has a hybrid schedule where we come in one day a week, and we’ve very social both in-person and on Zoom and Slack, where we do have a strong bias toward cameras-on and having at least a little social chit-chat, on the level of the “are you following the World Cup?” example. (Btw, I do think we lost a little bit in the transition to hybrid work, especially with many of my peers no longer local and working 100% remotely. I feel like I have less insight into what everyone else is working on, and I don’t have anyone to turn to and ask for quick feedback or to brainstorm something. But I’m also a hypocrite because commuting sucks and I would love to be 100% remote.) Meanwhile, my partner works in an office with two days of required in-person work, his Zoom meetings are usually cameras-off, and he says he usually doesn’t see anyone when he’s in-person; his work is highly independent and self-driven and that works just fine.

    This is VERY much a thing you can ask about in job interviews and that most people will answer pretty honestly about their workplaces.

  89. SSmith*

    There are ways to build better engagement online. During all-remote meetings our director always started with a random question that everyone had to answer—but it was always low-threat and never too personal: what does your favorite coffee mug look like? Which direction does your office face? What movie do you love and why? Everyone always participated and it made you feel like you knew people just a little better without putting anyone on the spot.

    1. nnn*

      We’ve had some questions like that where people can respond with a gif or emoji in the chat. So there’s low-key things in common like “Hey, we both chose Schitt’s Creek gifs!” and sometimes inside jokes form over time

  90. Constable George Crabtree*

    Re: having team meetings where people speak up – my 11-person team is kind of more like 4-6 teams in one, and most of our work doesn’t cross over each other. As a way to connect and keep up, we have a weekly meeting that starts with “yay me, help me,” which is where each person goes around and shares a success and something they’re struggling with. These can be personal things too, just whatever best informs the team of what’s going on with them. We do these meetings hybrid remote/on-site, and its been a great way to kick off conversations about how we can help each other, or have side chats about something casual (like the time a few people cited their Taylor Swift tickets as their yay-me and we talked a lot about T-Swift that day). My mom just became a manager and she’s started this up for her new team to get them talking in a laid-back way that doesn’t require much from them, but is still helpfully informative and has them reflect on how they’re doing and what they need this week.

  91. Risha*

    I understand where LW is coming from, but as an extremely shy introvert with social anxiety, can’t I just work in peace? I don’t know why people who don’t want to talk much are always pressured into being social. I am friendly to my coworkers, I ask how they’re doing and I’ll tell them how my weekend went if they ask me, but why do I have to share anything personal with them (even broadly personal)? Or have my camera on so they can see me? I do my job, exceed expectations, so why can’t I just do my job? I don’t owe my coworkers social interactions, and they don’t owe it to me. I don’t want to do any ice breakers, I don’t need to talk in a meeting if I truly don’t have anything to say. And just because I don’t talk, doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention! Just about every job I’ve been at, I’ve been on the receiving end of someone who made it their personal mission to get me to talk more.

    LW, I’m not trying to be mean or snarky or anything like that. I just wish those who like to socialize would try to see it from the POV of someone who is like me. I have my husband, kids, and friends to talk to. I also have incredible stress in my personal life and just want to get thru the workday, I don’t also need the burden of fulfilling my coworkers social needs. But if it so happens that I meet someone at work who I click with as a friend, then that’s great (I met one of my good friends about 10 years ago at work). But please, just let me be introverted and just do my work. It seems like people are so determined to get quiet people to speak up (not saying that about you, LW, I’m just saying). No one tells the extroverted people to tone it down, but the introverts are always pressured to be social.

    1. Justin*

      People on the internet tell extroverts to tone it down constantly. But yes, in the actual social situations, less so.

      1. Funeral Bell*

        The comments section here is a social situation. So is Slack. So is Facebook and its Messenger App. Any situation where you interact with other humans is social. There are many ways to be social in 2023. In-person isn’t more “actual” than any of the others.

    2. CTT*

      The level of socialization you’re describing that you do engage with (asking about how they’re doing, being friendly) IS what the LW said she wants and no one is engaging in. Desiring pleasantries from people you work with isn’t the same as wanting deep personal friendships.

  92. General Organa*

    I just wanted to chime in as a fully remote worker to say that not all WFH is like this. I’m one of three telecommuters on a roughly twenty person team where the others are hybrid (but with flexible days spread across two different offices, so the team has Zoom meetings more often than not regardless), and while I found remote onboarding annoying, I feel like I get a good amount of social interaction from my team. We use chat throughout the day (not always department-wide, but individual case team chats are pretty active), I have one-on-one friendly chat relationships with folks (for example, my wedding was around the same time as another coworker’s so we would chat about planning), and while we don’t require cameras on the norm is to do so in small-group meetings and I feel like we have about the same amount of beginning-of-meeting small talk as I did when in an in-office job. So, I don’t think it’s about WFH as much as it is your specific job.

  93. ThatgirlK*

    I can commiserate with you OP. When the pandemic started, I was in position that could not be done from home. Think medical receptionist, in a clinic that had to be functional and couldn’t close. I left that job and started a new one. We are in the office T-Th and some people don’t really follow that. TBH it kind of stinks. I enjoy making friends at work and being social (in a workplace appropriate way). No one turns on cameras for meetings, no one talks to each other when/if they are in the office. Sometimes I am the only one here, because I have been told WE HAVE TO REPORT INTO THE OFFICE TUES, WED and THUR. However people pick and choose when they want to follow this. I don’t like it and takes a def toll on the culture. I would leave but the company is great otherwise, we have good benefits, pay and I am learning alot,

  94. Kyrielle*

    Half our team is working from the office (not, to be clear, an office in my area) and the other half is working from home most days or all days (depending on the individual). Our meetings are run streamlined and do not attempt to have everyone talk (because they are universally big meetings).

    But we have Teams calls with each other when going over stuff – camera off usually – and we have Slack and we chat about what’s going on and we connect. I’m actually able to connect more with the portion of the team that’s not in my area than I was pre-pandemic, and mostly as-much with the rest of the team.

    Our work-topic Slack channels have the same sorts of conversations that used to happen in hallways, offices, and meeting rooms – with the added benefit that even if you’re not around when the conversation happens you can read it / “eavesdrop” later and learn from it – and our non-work-topic Slack channels, while entirely optional, create organic personal connections. Better still, our strong introverts can opt out of them – or just hang out and Slack-react to posts, the equivalent of standing nearby and smiling while someone shows that photo of their cat.

  95. nnn*

    I’ve been pondering lately whether different people need different levels of interaction/small talk to feel that a relationship has been built or is being sustained.

    For myself, in terms of where I’m at emotionally, a relationship is always right where I left it. Nothing changes if there isn’t new input. If I haven’t had a conversation with a co-worker in months just because circumstances worked out that way, I feel like the relationship is right where we left it.

    It sounds like for other people, like OP, relationships fade in the absence of new input. And what might be happening is OP’s interlocutors are more like me, and don’t perceive any need for new input because they perceive the relationship to be right where they left it.

  96. BreadBurglar*

    I have to wonder if your coworkers are doing that silent quitting thing. where they just step away and do the bare minimum and dont see social interacting as part of that? or if the last 2 years has made them shift their priorities so they get their social battery filled elsewhere and their work is just a means to a paycheck.

    As an introvert with social anxiety I am loving wfh. But I also communicate more with some colleagues. The ones who make an effort to be social with me, I will be social back. And also start some conversations with them too. Its easier to do remotely. I am quieter in meetings and 50-50 on camera on. But one-on-one or in group chat I will totally participate.

  97. Onyx*

    Are you trying to make small talk one-on-one and being rebuffed/ignored or are you trying to make small talk in settings like the group meeting and getting no response? Working in-person, you would have bumped into people individually more, and I think it makes a big difference whether your problem is “my coworkers no longer want to chat socially with coworkers” or “I now only see my coworkers in settings where they aren’t chatty.”

    As a socially awkward introvert, the group size makes a massive difference in how much genuine small talk I’m willing to engage in. One-on-one or in a very small group (e.g., 3-4 people), then sure, I’ll gauge what I know about you/the few people present and pick what I share accordingly. Colleagues I trust and think will be interested may hear about the obscure handicraft I’ve gotten into that most people have never heard of or that I’ve been watching web shows of people playing Dungeons & Dragons. Colleagues I know less or I expect to consider those activities “weird” might hear that I went on a ghost tour or went to an event put on by a local hobby club. Colleagues I have reason to distrust would get a neutral and generic answer. The larger the group, the more likely I default to the most generic, non-indicative answer, or nothing if that seems to be acceptable. That applies in both virtual and in-person settings.

    If that’s your problem with your colleagues, then the solution might be to find new one-on-one small talk opportunities. Have you tried asking how their weekend was during/after your (one-on-one) work chat or phonecall, etc., about a specific work issue? Do you ever send them a chat message about something you think they’d find it interesting/amusing, to respond to at their convenience? I have numerous colleagues that I rarely speak to in-person or as a voice call, but we routinely chat about both work stuff or amusing things we come across.

  98. RJ*

    I’m currently not working, but I’ve primarily worked from home since the beginning of the pandemic until the beginning of September. While each company has a unique working culture, the way the pandemic and the working style changes afflicted have directly impacted everyone in different ways. Personally, I can’t and won’t go back to the way I worked in pre-pandemic times. I engage and socialize with co-workers, but I learned to set and keep boundaries in a way I had not been able to do so previously during lockdown. Many people feel the same while others have never felt lonelier in their lives. We’re all adjusting to the after-times.

  99. Me*

    I work at a company with bullying, abusive managers who are able to be sexist, ableist, ageist, etc. with no accountability. Because of my personal situation, finding a new job somewhere else has been near impossible. I’m now in the “survive and advance” mode, hoping I can hold on here until either our IPO or an early retirement offer gives me the cushion I need to transition into a more suitable encore career.

    WFH has been a blessing for me (minus the requirement that we must ALWAYS have our cameras on). I can relate to the OP’s reminiscing about friendly interactions with coworkers on-site pre-covid and I participated in those as well. I certainly care about those coworkers but they were work friends only. This is a statement more about my workplace than them- but I would almost use the analogy of being former prison inmates. When we were surviving a shared experience, we bonded. But those relationships aren’t the same as the ones in my real life outside of work. I’m still warm, friendly, and chatty one-on-one with co-workers as we are on calls or email/chat chains working on work projects, but that’s it.

    If I never set foot in a corporate office again, I will be the happiest soul you’ve ever seen.

    1. Goldenrod*

      I can relate to this. When COVID sent us all home, I was a year into a job with a massively bullying and terrible leadership. Getting sent to work from home was an incredible gift.

      It didn’t solve all the problems – people can still be awful remotely – but it sure helped.

  100. AliceInSpreadsheetland*

    As someone who’s always camera-off and rarely speaks (and loves wfh)- it’s possible that people aren’t being quiet because they hate socializing or want to be unapproachable, but just out of anxiety or discomfort with speaking in a group. And it can be hard to find a lull in conversation to speak when you can’t use face/body language to communicate (even for people who struggle with that, some can be better than none at all).

    I have really intense anxiety and even when I have questions in large-group meetings I usually can’t voice them. My job works for me because we have a lot of smaller-group meetings and as I’ve gotten to know my group I feel comfortable asking them questions, and we have weekly 1:1 manager meetings as well. Something like this could help you as well- weekly small group meetings where people feel more comfortable speaking up or chatting casually.

    I think it is a shame for people who really want the social contact but for people like me, wfh with a low-key culture is a lifesaver. The stress of having to come into an office would just burn me out completely.

  101. Head sheep counter*

    I don’t think its a coincidence that we are having a major health problem with loneliness and find ourselves living through a shift/balancing of workplaces that allow for isolation (to say nothing of a segment of the population actively pushing for as much WFH/isolation as possible). Work isn’t a substitute for friends and other social outlets, but it is where we spend the majority of our awake hours and having casual social interactions can really balance out isolation. Online interactions are not a real substitute for in person interactions. We behave differently online (sometimes positively but also sometimes negatively).

  102. MatPat*

    I work for a remote team which a manager who consciously works to build a connected culture so that we feel like a team. It really does make a difference. We are required to turn our cameras on during weekly team meetings and we also meet twice a year for in person meetings (which include dinners and fun events) which I look forward to! So, there are companies that are aware of the value of creating connected team cultures.

  103. Yeah...*

    I was happy to see LWs letter, but I am disappointed to see how mean some of the responses have been. Nuance gets lost.

    Things “everyone” did not say:

    – extroverts are better than introverts
    -introverts are better than extroverts
    -WFH home is better than the office
    -in the office is better than WFH

  104. Ken*

    How much talking was there generally in 10-15 person meetings in person? While there might be minimal water-cooler type talk before and after these meetings in person, I feel like it’s a structural error to try to turn large remote meetings into social gatherings. I’m always happy to do smaller meetings for more social connects with coworkers, but back in the before days, I feel like often the conversations that happen around these larger meetings are small breakout-style convos, rather than 15 people sitting around chatting. With zoom meetings, it’s much harder to have a few side conversations start when the meeting ends.

    Depends on your office of course.

  105. Jules the 3rd*

    I have worked remotely from my team mates for 16 years now. My team was scattered across seven countries, four continents, and multiple languages.
    1. The manager spent a few minutes at the start of the meeting chatting with team members, and made sure to rotate that, so that we all got to hear about the weather where people were, or recent / upcoming holidays.
    2. I reached out via chat to the team members I ‘clicked’ with, or worked with more often, just to chat. Only 2 – 3 times / year, only five team members over the 16 years. That’s how I invited my team mate from Mexico to dinner when he came into town, and how I know about my Canadian team mates’ partners’ mom’s health. It’s extra work, but it has helped me feel connected.

    My new team is all local, and I really should go in sometimes, but whew, traffic has gotten *bad* since the pandemic.

  106. Cranky-saurus Rex*

    I can relate to OP – I do contract work with various longer-term customers and started working remotely pre-Covid in 2019, when I started a job with about 1 week every other month in person. Obviously in 2020 we dropped even that little in-person time, but my team was still open to occasional personal chats and phone calls – though no video meetings. It was great.

    My next contract 2021-22 was mostly remote, but they encouraged cameras on for all meetings where bandwidth allowed (pretty much everything except all hands), or if you were sick/had reason to be off camera (and were very flexible about what those reasons might be). I had “work friends” with whom I’d occasionally do zoom meetings just to chat/catch up when things were slow.

    My current contract is 100% no cameras, 100% no-nonsense/no personal chat calls. I haven’t been able to connect with ANYONE as a person rather than just as a coworker. It’s miserable, and I’m actively looking to leave, despite being mid-contract (“contract” in this case meaning the agreement between my consulting firm and the customer — my specific assignment wording is VERY clear that it’s still at will). And I say this as someone who’s usually an extreme introvert who would’ve thought going in that this was going to be a great fit.

  107. Spearmint*

    I used to be one of those people who hated workplace socializing, even basic small talk. I found it to be exhausting and unpleasant because I had severe social anxiety at the time and am probably on the autism spectrum. But after I got treatment for my social anxiety and practiced my social skills–which to be clear was a long, difficult process that took many years–I found that I actually get a lot out of those acquaintance-level social interactions, especially face-to-face (or at least video calls) rather than via IM. We’re social creatures. I didn’t realize how good an important these little interactions were until I had them without social anxiety and poor social skills making them unpleasant and draining. I think it’s important for companies and managers of remote teams to facilitate and encourage these kinds of interactions, while still not being overly demanding or pushing.

    This may not apply to everyone, but I would like to gently encourage other people who just hate all kinds of small talk and interaction at work to consider if that’s an inherent, unchanging aspect of their personality, or something that could change and would benefit them if they worked on it.

    1. The Taking of Official Notice*

      I’m AuDHD. Love being around people, but it is *so* hard for me to express interest in anything that doesn’t personally interest me. It’s probably why I strive to learn a small amount of a bunch of topics.

      If we were all-remote, I guarantee I’d never reach out to you unless I found information or had a question pertaining to your job and/or interests. I *would* leave my camera on, though.

    2. RM*

      Sometimes what makes them unpleasant and draining is the knowledge that you are going to be judged or mocked for your attempts to be social or pleasant. There’s less for people to object to or find weird in text pleasantries. And you cant’ see the eye roll or hear gossip for the most part.

  108. Goldenrod*

    “But ultimately, I think this just isn’t an ideal job for you anymore. There are lots of jobs where remote teams do engage and build relationships and chat with each other; this just isn’t one of them”

    I agree very much with this comment from Alison, and also the idea that your co-workers don’t “owe” you anything.

    I can relate on some levels, though. I am finally in an office where I truly like and enjoy all of my co-workers – they are all wonderful, lovely people – and I hardly ever see or interact with most of them.

    However, the perks of WFH outweigh (for me) the perks of interacting with nice coworkers. And I don’t see this changing.

  109. Ann O'Nemity*

    I left a job because I couldn’t stand how lonely and isolated I felt after we went remote during the pandemic. It was hard because I loved the job pre-pandemic and I kept hoping things would go back to the way they were! But they didn’t. Coworkers enthusiastically embraced WFH, disengaged from social interaction, and focused on their own work instead of collaborating. One small but telling symptom – the Slack community channel that had been active when we were in the office completely dried up. Coworkers stopped talking to each other unless it was required, and they preferred it that way.

    I have a family at home and an active social life, so I wasn’t expecting this job to fulfill all my social needs. However, I am not happy when work is completely devoid of social interactions. I realized the culture at work had changed, and I was one of the few who was unhappy with the change, so it was time for me to find a new job.

    1. Notwithstanding the Foregoing*

      I had a similar experience. I worked for a company for 15+ years and in the office pre pandemic many people were chatty to varying degrees and the environment was lively. When we all went remote, that ended and never came back even after returning to the office on a hybrid schedule. Unless it was a specific work question, people did not want to engage at all. Coming into the office to “collaborate” simply meant sitting in silence unless on a zoom call and then getting glares from those sitting near you because you are talking quietly on a call.

      I’m not sure if the stress from the pandemic caused it or just the company culture shifted, but it was across teams and departments that I saw this.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        Yeah, I often wondered what caused the shift in my old company.

        I agree with you that the stress from the pandemic initially caused some of it. I remember those tough days when people were just trying to survive, figuratively and literally. Anything non-essential was cut, and social interaction was part of that.

        But what surprised me, and I still don’t have an answer for this, is that the social interactions never came back. My old coworkers seemed to prefer the new normal – heads down, cameras off, tunnel vision on assigned tasks only.

  110. UKReader*

    This is a really interesting perspective, just because my work experience has been really different. I’m a professor and even pre-pandemic, didn’t have a whole lot of ‘socialization’ with coworkers in my physical workspace (obviously had a heck of a lot of student interaction, but that’s different I think). Post pandemic, there are now these really vibrant online spaces of writing/working groups/research symposium where I find I’m doing a lot of regular ‘small talk’ socializing before/after the content stuff, and in the chat with ‘coworkers’ who just happen to be at other institutions. Sounds like a big cultural difference between my experience and that of the LW is the camera expectation – pretty much all of them have the implicit expectation that your camera is on. From a teaching perspective, I get a very different class when I ask for cameras on vs when I don’t.

    TBF I also think academia is the land of feral cats where normal human interaction can get very warped, so perhaps it’s not the best example.

  111. Peon*

    Our team is a good example of one that is working well remotely – better than in person, actually. And we do talk and connect a lot; it’s often not super “personal”, but it’s friendly. We talk about pets a lot, since they Zoom-bomb daily. Exchange recipe tips. Mention we have a contractor working and what they’re doing. I’d find it odd and isolating if we didn’t do any of that kind of chat.

    My organization as a whole has done a lot to foster that – we even spent 20 minutes of an “all hands” meeting in breakout rooms based on topics we signed up for ahead of time (gardening, photography, etc) – and I’m sure that some people just sighed, turned off their cameras and got coffee, but a lot of us enjoyed the chat with coworkers we don’t normally interact with.

  112. Remote extrovert*

    I think this is highly role/company culture dependent. You can have a highly engaged workforce that is globally dispersed and remote, it just takes effort.

    Personally moved to a fully remote role and it has taken some adjustment and effort on my part to get the level of personal engagement that I’m looking for. Here are some things I found that help:
    1)Join social channels or create social channels for topics or hobbies that interest you! I joined a pet channel where people post pics of their pets, a book club, and a cooking channel where people swap recipes/advice/photos. I found it’s a fairly good replacement for water cooler tule discussions you would have in the office and it’s helped me meet a lot of people on teams I would never interact with in my role!

    2) be the change you want to see. Speak up in your team meetings to help drive engagement. Your manager will thank you (internally) and there are likely others on your team that also want even just a little more engagement but don’t know how. I like to keep a short list of questions, wins, observations from the week that I can pull from to bring up in team meetings.

    3) offer to do stretch projects that interest you, especially if they work cross functionally with other teams you don’t often work with (if you have the bandwidth to do this). I’ve found this helps two fold, 1) you get to meet knew people and chat about interesting work that can break up the monotony of your day to day role and can sometimes break up that feeling disengagement with your overall work, and two it can be a visible move with leadership that signals you want to do more engaging work.

    4) find others on your team that are a bit more chatty. My company personally sets people up with buddy’s when they start to help them with onboarding and my buddy and I happen to have tons of similar interests in our real lives so we end up chatting a lot. About life, projects at home, work, etc. But I’ve also made great connections with other team members by just reaching out and saying something like “hey, I know we don’t chat often but I’d love to hear about how xyz is going with your work. Do you have 10 minutes to chat. I think this would be something my customer would love”. Some people take you up on it, others don’t and that’s totally okay! I never take it personally and realize all people have different wants/needs when it comes to engagement in a remote work environment.

    5) organize small group happy hours/social hours with just coworkers (no management). A small group of ladies I work with (not on my actual team) invited me to one and I kept it going. It’s a monthly or quarterly thing where we zoom with a glass of wine and just chat. It’s explicitly not work related and just to cut loose but I really enjoy that. It’s totally optional and no one feels pressured to attend.

    These are just things that have worked personally for me in navigating a new company and fully remote role as an extrovert. They likely won’t all work for everyone and some coworkers may internally roll their eyes and blow you off. Doesn’t bother me one bit and I don’t take it personally.

  113. Irish Teacher.*

    I haven’t read any of the other replies yet, but my opinion is that this is a situation where all preferences are valid. It’s fine not to want to talk to colleagues socially at all and to discuss only work. It’s fine to want fairly friendly relationships with coworkers and to socialise with them fairly regularly. It’s fine to want something in between, to want small talk but nothing too personal or to want to chat in the office but not to want to socialise or take part in office “fun.”

    I think as remote work becomes more common, people will start to take this into account when choosing jobs and those who want less interaction will be more likely to choose careers that are likely to be mostly remote and those who want more interaction will be more likely to choose careers that are largely in-person. It will be one of the things people will take into account when choosing a career path, just as we consider whether we were rather something more practical or something more academic or whether we like customer facing roles. I think that is good.

    I don’t really think we “owe” our coworkers any socialising beyond what is necessary to do the job. If the job can be done completely remotely and without any contact at all with coworkers and the person wants to do it that way and can do it efficiently that way, then I think they have every right to do that and should not be penalised for that. Equally, if somebody wants close friendships with colleagues and wants to socialise with them outside work and that doesn’t interfere with their work, then they should be free to do that.

    And I think the good thing about the greater availability of remote working is that people will be freer to choose what suits them.

    There are many people who enjoy workplace interaction. It sounds like you just have a different preference to your current colleagues. Neither is better or worse, but your workplace culture just might not be a good fit for you.

  114. Elizabeth*

    I had a WFH job from 2009 – 2016 – and this was before good video communication. As an IT person in a consulting firm, I’ve always worked with people not in my location. I guess what I’m saying is that I’ve always had a large component of my job be working with people who are not in the same office as me!
    In my current job (in office from 2017 – 2020, then WFH from 2020 until now), we’ve worked hard to keep our team engaged. We even added 2 people since 2020, so they were trained remotely and everything.
    We do have a team rule (it’s not a company rule) that when we are in our own team meetings (6 of us) it’s cameras on. In bigger meetings, if you are an active participant camera on (you can be off if you are just observing), if it’s a presentation-style meeting someone else is giving camera off (if we are presenting than camera on).
    Personally if I’m doing one-on-one meetings it will vary – sometimes I’m must tired of being on camera so I won’t, and most of my lower level users never turn on the camera anyway so it’s OK.
    Our team has a Teams chat thread where we have serious discussions but also fun / weird ones, we post funny pictures (mostly me!), Wordle/Connections results, just blow off steam, have fun conversations.
    It’s something that has to come from the manager, though – our manager (who is totally awesome) works hard at the engagement thing. We’ve also planned activities outside of work hours (like escape rooms, dinner, mini golf) so we do get that in person interaction.
    I miss some of the interaction with people outside of my team – I didn’t directly work with most of them (our team supports globally, so even in the office I was on calls all the time anyway), but would have lunch, chit chat, that sort of thing. It does make you feel more connected overall with the company and give you a bit of that “family” feeling some companies go on about.
    But I’ve no real strong desire to go back into the office full time. We’ve talked about as a team doing a hybrid something (luckily at an office closer to all of us), but have only done occasional work days in the office where we do whiteboarding sessions and things.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is that good camaraderie amongst a remote team has to be an actual goal of the team, it takes work to make it happen, but it can be done.

  115. Cameras on*

    my all remote org requires cameras on during meetings unless you’re eating or otherwise not up for it that day. I get all the concern about wanting them off, but in the office that was never a choice and I’d argue our culture is better for it. I genuinely know all my team, I can gauge how something’s landing by expressions, and we also just care less about perfecting our backgrounds or grooming bc we’re always on and we look like we look that day. (we also do very few big mtgs, so this is generally 2-5 ppl in the digital room).

    it’s not perfect and not for everyone, and there are times I turn off my camera bc I just *can’t* that day or that meeting, but it’s made me a better teammate and I feel like I know all the people in those little squares.

  116. Katrine Fonsmark*

    My company requires cameras on all the time and I think it’s a great idea. We get to interact more normally and not just be staring at black boxes. I mean, back when we all had to be in the office all the time we didn’t get to be in a meeting with boxes over our heads.

  117. Michelle Smith*

    “There are lots of jobs where remote teams do engage and build relationships and chat with each other; this just isn’t one of them.”

    Thank you for saying this. I’ve now worked remotely in two different organizations and never had any problems building connections with my coworkers, communicating well with them, and socializing to a degree I find comfortable. People speak up in meetings, people share a little about their lives, and people are generally approachable, friendly, and willing to help each other. Conversations come up organically as we chat in team and project meetings and in our team Slack channel, and we sometimes do little low-stakes, announced-in-advance icebreaker activities like sharing a place we’d like to travel in the future or sharing a personal or professional goal we have in the next year. I don’t know all the intimate details of my coworkers’ lives, but I do generally know who is married/partnered, how many kids they have, who has pets and what kind, and basic info about what’s happening in their lives (e.g., I know whose dog recently had surgery, whose kid just started elementary school, and who is travelling to the Pacific to see family next month).

    Because of this, I don’t think the issue is remote work literally at all, but the dynamics of the team. I don’t like forced socialization any more than you do, OP, but it really sounds like that would be the only way to change the dynamic you’re in given how you’ve already attempted to address it. And so I agree, another job with a more collaborative team might be a better environment for you. The only other thing I can think of that you might not have tried is setting up virtual coffee chats with people you want to catch up with (10-15 minutes). I’d aim for maybe one or two with a different person each month and make it known that you’re looking to catch up and stay connected. Some people are more willing to talk in a one-on-one setting than in a larger group.

  118. Orange_Erin*

    Somewhat related to this is that I am struggling with – getting anyone to come to the office. Officially we are all hybrid (2 days per week, soon to be 3). Overall, my group has been very flexible with this requirement but every once in a while I think there is a benefit from scheduling a day that the whole group is in the office together. It’s like pulling teeth. The newest employees are fine with coming in and are in the office for at least part of the day almost every day. I stick to a schedule 2 days per week unless something comes up. The more experienced folks act like toddlers with temper tantrums if you try to get them to say when they will be in. The idea is not to MAKE them come in or demand a certain schedule, just “Hey do you think you’ll be in the office at all this month? I’m trying to plan a group meeting”.
    We’ve historically been a close-knit group but we haven’t planned a group outing (like lunch or afternoon bowling) in over 4 years. I tried to push for some type of group bonding event this fall, but I think our boss would rather stay home and not stick to any work schedule.

  119. MrsThePlague*

    I recognize that WFH/remote is beloved and helpful to a lot of people. But helpfulness aside, I think we’ve sort of forgotten that the science seems to indicate that, on a collective level, online/screen interactions are less fulfilling, more physiologically stressful, and less adapted to the human need for in-person interactions. Remember zoom fatigue? Facebook depression?

    I wonder if there would be as much enthusiasm for WFH/remote work if a) public transit and commuting options were better outside of large cities b) childcare was more affordable/accessible c) healthcare wasn’t disastrous d) workers had better job security (i.e. unionized, no right-to-work business). Likely a small minority would still be in favour of it (and ideally have access to it) but I’d wager that a lot of people would be okay with or even prefer some degree of interaction.

    All that to say, I sometimes feel like the WFH/remote work option has been championed so passionately because it addresses problems that should be/have been addressed structurally. NOT that I’m blaming individuals for that – I completely understand that this is political thing outside of most people’s control, and you do what you can to get by. I guess I just mean that in the enthusiasm (desperation?) for a solution – any solution! – to very real issues, folks can sometimes overlook or downplay the very real trade-offs (increased sense of isolation, demoralization, difficulty connecting with the work, etc.), and we end up with situations like this.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      I’m kind of curious about the things you think affect enthusiasm for WFG.

      a) Public transit: No commute will win out over a commute, so even the best public transit isn’t really a motivator to return to the office.
      b) Childcare: In theory, people aren’t looking after their kids while working from home.
      c) Healthcare: Could you clarify how this relates to WFH?
      d) Job security: It could be argued that working from home hurts your job security, so I don’t think increased job security would make people more likely to come into the office.

      1. kalli*

        Sick leave and minimal hygiene literacy – you can wfh with a minor cold if your job allows, rhather than take the day and lose income; people avoiding offices not designed for social distancing or with bad ventilation etc.

      2. RM*

        Childcare – there’s additional commute to the childcare location, since most people don’t have in home childcare. Also there’s less friction leaving home to pick up kids, then picking work back up at your home office (Versus toting a laptop home and needing to set it back up at home)

      3. amoeba*

        Eh. A lot of people have zero issue with a comfortable, short-ish commute. I mean, would I do it for fun? Probably not (although I do enjoy reading a book and maybe having a coffee on the train!) Would it be a huge plus for me to not do it anymore? Absolutely not. Very different from a super annoying, stressful commute, in which case avoiding it would obviously be a very important argument for WFH.
        Also, you underestimate how important a physical separation between workplace and home can be for people. That more than makes up for a non-horrible commute for many of us.

    2. Honey Badger just don't care*

      With WFH though, I’ve got more time to socialize with my actual friend circle. Going into the office is so fatiguing and takes so much time to manage all the aspects of it, that I’d be left with little to no energy to socialize with actual friends. Now? I’m off at 5 PM still but I can be ready to go for a walk after work with my neighbor by 5:10 PM. Just let me potty the dogs real quick. I get small chores done during breaks throughout the day so I have time to engage in things like book clubs in the evening or hiking groups on the weekend because I’m not spending all my time catching up on errands and chores on weekends. Zoom fatigue happened because not only were we working from home, but we were isolating as well. That’s a bad combination.

    3. UKDancer*

      I think costs are a key thing and also workspace and remote working space.

      By this I mean the newer, more junior staff in my company want to be in the office more because they have less space and working from home is difficult. My new bright young starter shares a house in London with 3 other people so they have a rota for the kitchen table. He chooses to be in most of the time because of it.

      I think the other key factor is the cost of heating your home. In England heating bills have rocketed over the past year so we see a lot more people in my company deciding they’d rather be in more when it’s cold so they don’t need to heat their home.

    4. amoeba*

      I think there’s something in that, yeah. And would also add housing cost close to the workplace – if nobody can afford to live in the city centre where most of the jobs are, everybody will have a really long commute, even with good public transport! (And on the other hand, of course, if companies set up shop in the middle of nowhere where nobody wants, same problem.)

      I do believe it’s a huge factor because at least in my experience, WFH as a vastly preferred option is a very US thing. Here in Europe, it’s certainly on the rise as well and some people prefer it, but I’d say fully remote is still very unusual, and the majority of people and companies prefer hybrid roles that are closer to 50:50 in office/at home (so, like, a few days *per week* at the office, not once a month or so).

      And yeah, luckily, where I live, a lot of those factors are still quite alright – we have great public transport plus also bicycle infrastructure, childcare is expensive but generally accessible (also subsidized for people with lower income), we have universal (though expensive) health care, and also generally OK job security. Plus, smaller country and smaller cities, so on average shorter commutes. And indeed – I have literally never met a single person from here who’d prefer fully remote or for whom that would even be an option.

      (Probably also a factor that European housing tends to be much smaller than US, so I guess we’re more reluctant about giving up space,!)

    5. Monkey Princess*

      I think this is all very true.

      I don’t really like working from home. But I like not having a commute (it costs me $22.50 A DAY to take the train to my job, and I’m lucky because I live near a with good public transportation), and having the flexibility to take my kids to an appointment/pick them up on a half day/be at home when they’re sick or have a day off from school, is really really nice. It’s not full time childcare, but it’s the kind of childcare that’s impossible to get for school-aged children, but is still necessary when you have kids too young to stay at home.

    6. Kt*

      I am not, and will never be, looking for coworkers to fill a social spot in my life. I feel that is a unfair way to enter an interaction with people who have no choice but to respond to you with kindness

      1. Monkey Princess*

        I think you’re working off a different definition of “social.”

        It doesn’t mean BFF. It means basic social interactions. Which, yes, it turns out are actually important to mental health.

  120. not like a regular teacher*

    Just wanted to add that not all remote jobs are like this! My last job, which I started during pandemic lockdowns and left earlier this year, was fully remote the whole time (like, it was in a state I’ve never been) but it was still very social! We had big meetings once or twice where the norm (but not requirement) was to have cameras on when possible, and the people leading the meetings made an effort to promote relationship building of both through social chitchat and having meaningful team tasks to do. Despite having never met a single coworker there in person I had warm work relationships with several, and even had a little going away party on zoom when I left. I still have a friendly text relationship with one of them. All of which is to say wfh isn’t the problem for OP, the problem is this particular job’s culture.

  121. NoCamSteve*

    I keep my camera off, I don’t want it on. Many at my company who are now WFH do.

    But many of us still chit-chat some in meetings or over direct messages.

    I’ve found the people who don’t speak up in meetings tend to be the same ones who never spoke up before. We’ve always had an issue of a few people who just don’t want to do that, ever.

    However they were nice socially around the office. And I don’t hear from them much now, like the letter writer. Whether that’s a change on their part or just being who they always wanted to be and avoiding something they never wanted to do I don’t know.

  122. Relentlessly Socratic*

    I see there are a number of us who have been remote for a long time and/or worked with teams or partners in multiple locations.

    Since I was an itty bitty grad student in the 90s we’d have calls with colleagues, usually on speaker phone (no video) and a lot of times I’d be alone in a conference room talking to people alone in conference rooms all over the place.

    Maybe because I’m used to this, and also came up during the advent of chat rooms, news groups, etc., I am extremely comfortable building relationships with people that I’ve never seen and, in a lot of cases, never even heard.

    When I went fully remote in 2015, I was an anomaly in a primarily in-office org. And you know what? It worked great! >>>For me and my team<<< (because all humans differ). I do chalk some of that up to being very engaged/engaging in written form, and that my colleagues are primarily engaged in heavy "heads-down" concentration work, so while we do like each other, having someone pop in one's cube to have a chat would really derail most of us.

    Like most office workers, we started using Teams/Zoom during the pandemic, with the cameras on/off/whatever, but we all were already so used to talking on the phone or over e-mail. I'd still rather just call someone (and walk around the house) than sit and stare at them on a Teams call.

    LW–can you take other opportunities to engage? I think that I'm not unique in saying that meetings suck the energy out of my day. I am in too many meetings, and want them all to end as soon as possible. I'd really rather not spend meeting time on fluff. But if someone hits me up in chat, I'm always happy to have a little gab session (text or phone).

    As I've mentioned before here at AAM, I am deeply introverted–but my roles are the type where I usually need to be "on" so my days can be tiring (see: University professor, manager, team/project lead, client whisperer). But, I'm also a super fun person! I like people! I'm chatty! I can, on occasion and with some notice be spontaneous.

    So, don't make me turn on my camera and perform engagement in a team meeting–reach out to me! Ask me if sometime we can Zoom and chat rather than talk on the phone. LW, are there folks at your work that you could try this with? I get that there are people who don't want to–and that's fine. Find the ones who do.

  123. Honey Badger just don't care*

    OP – have you given any thought to reaching out to your colleges individually? I’m one of the less social/unsocial ones in full on meetings. I’m meeting fatigued. My calendar is literally booked back to back all day long. Being forced to listen to people talk about things like the World Cup that I have zero interest in when I have a huge backlog of work that requires concentration to complete just pisses me off and makes me even less likely to engage. But….in small groups or and 1:1? I have great relationships with some of my coworkers. I regularly talk personally to 2 of my 3 direct team members. The third is simply not a guy who likes to talk at all. I respect that. Our interactions are warm and friendly but he just doesn’t want to do more than that. I have regular long running IM conversations with other remote coworkers throughout the day. We do miss seeing each other for lunch and work out opportunities to be in the office at the same time on certain days so we can do that. I think you are putting too much weight on EVERYONE sharing with you in big meetings and not enough on reaching out to people offline and developing remote relationships with them in a more private forum. If you really are interested in them, reach out to them. Don’t expect them to be a performing monkey in a group setting so you feel you are connected.

  124. Student*

    OP – I feel the same way you do, but you said it better than I can. I’m an introvert, but I miss having some mild social interactions with my co-workers deeply. I miss eye contact. I miss non-verbal communication! I miss the social aspect of work. I miss seeing people smile (or roll their eyes) in response to jokes.

    I miss the career aspects as well. I know I miss out a ton on learning about what else is going on in my workplace besides my immediate work tasks. I know my boss thinks much less of me than my senior co-workers because I am a newer employee that is out of sight, out of mind compared to several people she’s worked with for 10+ years; she’s a very social personality and there’s just not the same chance to connect to her for me as for other people.

    1. (not really)Working From Home*

      I only just started my role in June, and the office is fairly quiet and spacious.
      But from what I’ve been told, pre-pandemic the office was lively, bustling and full of energy.
      Back then there was a ‘family-like’ camaraderie

      One of the senior workers in my team works from home out of choice, but comes into the office sporadically.
      When we had her Farewell lunch in the staffroom, she sadly lamented that there were faces she hadn’t seen (or spoken to) since the pandemic.

  125. James*

    One of the interesting things I found about the pandemic and the move to remote work was that it encouraged our management to think about how we build relationships and actually plan around that. Far too often with in -person work I found we would have team meetings that were dominated by two or three big personalities where everyone else sat in silence waiting for lunchtime, or management would think that team relationships would magically grow because people’s cubicles were on the same floor. It’s not that easy. Those legendary water-cooler conversations do not happen frequently enough to be relied upon.

    But the lesson there is that this kind of stuff has to be thought about, has to be planned for, has to be structured – otherwise you end up in the kind of situations the letter-writer describes. There’s some things individuals can do about this but really the onus is on management.

  126. Garlic Microwaver*

    I wouldn’t frame it as a blanket “byproduct of working from home.” I have been strictly WFH since the onset of the pandemic, including having started a new job almost two years ago. We are always connected on Zoom, most of the time with video on. It’s a cultural expectation. It depends on the company, its newness, whether there was a previous culture in place, etc. etc. Perhaps a wakeup for leadership to solve. But I’d argue it’s the place, not WFH in general. Companies need to adapt to new norms; seems yours has not.

    1. stratospherica*

      Equally, I’m almost entirely on-site since COVID was reclassified in my country, and since then we’ve been given a seating plan where I’m essentially isolated from the people in my department that do talk to each other and have good relationships, so I’m feeling much like OP despite being on-site.

  127. Alex*

    I don’t feel like I owe my coworkers anything more than doing my job. I struggle so much with basic communication with them about work matters that I can’t even fathom trying to have small talk with them. They’ve used up more than their share of bandwidth with me on getting day to day tasks accomplished. I’m not spending any more of it chatting them up.

    1. Dinwar*

      I feel that everyone owes each other basic civility (at least as long as the person hasn’t done egregious harm to you, and the bar is pretty high here).

      If you really can’t stomach even basic civility towards your coworkers….why are you working there? There may be some valid reasons, but seriously, it’s a toxic environment (to you if not in general) and you need to get out for your own mental health.

      1. Kt*

        Civility isn’t what OP is asking for and it doesn’t sound like in their story like any of their coworkers have been uncivil.

        Civility /politeness is fine, and I think that is what we should expect and what we ’owe’ our coworkers. That is greetings, polite work related conversation, and doing your job.

        No one owes their coworkers personal info about themselves, even if OP thinks it’s not THAT personal. You may choose to share that info if and when you want, but it’s not owed. My coworkers don’t need to know if I have kids and when they start kindergarten, they don’t need to know my favorite sports team, or favorite food.

  128. Hex*

    I don’t know if it would work for everyone and in some places it might be frowned upon, but I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of having little check-ins with my coworkers that are EXPLICITLY for catching up and non-work chitchat. It doesn’t take long – half an hour every other week or so. The meetings are on our calendars as “Hex/xxx check-in”, very generic, but we both understand they are for work gossip. As it turns out, about half the time some useful work comes out of those meetings, too!

  129. Panda (she/her)*

    This is precisely why I left my fully-remote job for one that required in-office days. I got really lonely and felt disconnected from the organization and what we were doing. I have a social life outside of work, but I am also a very social person and part of my social life IS through work. All these people ragging on in-office work really get to me, because fully remote does NOT work across the board, and saying “well you can go in if you want to” doesn’t solve the issue when I’m the only person going in. I love my new in-office job, and actually go in more than the minimum

    1. Mellow Gold*


      Expanded WFH is great for some, but sometimes this topic feels polarizing to me, because it’s not an across the board solution for everyone. I think there will be a lot of people reshuffling in the workforce solely based on this new element of work culture–and some people will move jobs to be social again!

  130. Don't Forget to Mute The Zoom*

    This comment section is, unsurprisingly, full of WFH people doing the most “yes, but..” I have seen in a while. There is little grace and even less understanding for people who do not see an office as the demogorgon’s lair that commenters make it out to be. I also wonder just how delicate we have become in not being able to be around, next to or within earshot of people who are not just like us. I don’t care what anyone here says. Human beings are not meat to be shut away in front of a computer for 8 hours a day alone. That may suit a tiny demographic, but we are becoming less tolerant, less compassionate and less social every day we shut ourselves away from society. A good office doesn’t have to be filled with people you talk to everyday about business. It is enough that they are also humans like you with varying lives. The way we demonize workplace kinship is sad.

    1. Mirror mirror*

      wow. this is the most intolerant comment on the entire board and you have the chutzpah to complain about everyone else being intolerant. wow.

    2. Lurker*

      I feel like there is also value in being around people who aren’t like us. That’s how you learn new things and learn how to deal with different situations and personalities. I understand that some people find it uncomfortable to “make small talk” etc. but if we only ever did things that were easy and comfortable how would we grow?

      1. Irish Teacher*

        I don’t think it’s about feeling uncomfortable or difficult. It’s just about people choosing what they prefer when they have a choice. And actually, we learn and grow best when we are comfortable.

        I find it interesting how this idea of doing things that aren’t easy and comfortable only ever goes one way. I would say there are more people who find work from home difficult and uncomfortable than those who find the office so, but I have yet to hear anybody suggest that those who want more socialising should just learn to work more independently because they need to “learn and grow” by pushing themselves out of their comfort zone. We accept that extroverts need to have the comfort of being around others in order to perform at their best yet we assume introverts need to be pushed out of their comfort zone in order to perform at their best.

        Introverts are not flawed extroverts. They are not introverts because they are shy or because they find socialising difficult. They simply have a different and equally valid preference. They are not less confident or more in need of growth. They are just as likely as extroverts to be confident, competent, self-assured people. They just work best in different circumstances.

        1. Lurker*

          My comment doesn’t have anything to do with whether someone is introverted or extroverted, or really even WFH or in the office. It’s applicable to pretty much anything. And it’s not just a one way experience – I think you’re either projecting or assuming. I would also disagree with your statement that people learn/grow best when comfortable. Personally, if I’m uncomfortable with something – because it’s unfamiliar, or I don’t know how to do it, it makes me want to learn more about it so that I feel more at ease with it. If I’m already comfortable with it – there’s no challenge to learn or do anything differently.

    3. Monkey Princess*

      This is an excellent comment. It’s good to be around people not like us, and there are increasingly fewer places where that actually happens.

  131. Mademoiselle Sugar Lump*

    LW, I feel for you – I feel the same way. Ironically, I was laid off of a job where most people were remote and worked at home as often as they could, and now I’m at a place where most people are in the office and are chatty in the ways you describe.
    Very best wishes on finding an office culture that’s a better fit.

  132. Productivity*

    I’d be curious to ask if the LW also saw a decrease in productivity or overall quality of work from his colleagues. Do people still reach out to him for normal work interactions? To be honest, it is hard for me to imagine people who are so dis-engaged producing stellar work. I wouldn’ be surprised if they weren’t just “disappearing” from the team meetings, but overall slacking off/doing the bare minimum and hiding behind the screen.

  133. Ice Princess*

    And people wonder why companies are calling people back to the office. I work in a field that could only minimally be done from home (essential, but not in healthcare) so we never really got into the whole thing, but I’ve certainly watched it play out. Even my husband, who was a die-hard WFH introvert has now conceded going into the office often has huge benefits. He can currently work 50% from home, but now usually stays home only one day a week.

    1. Monkey Princess*

      This is exactly my experience, too. Both me and my husband. He LOVED being able to work from home at first, insisted he was never going back. 3 years later, he’s starting to admit that it’s getting to him. I’m seeing the same with friends who have worked from home this whole time. Their personalities have changed.

      1. Dinwar*

        Just wait a few years, when people who started in the pandemic look for promotions. Who’s going to get the promotion, the person who does good work but is just a name on a screen, or the person who does equally good work but who you’ve met face-to-face? Who has the greater capacity for training, the person who you have to schedule meetings with just to talk to them, or the person who can look over your shoulder, this will only take a sec but it’ll really help you out?

        1. Lily Potter*

          A thousand times this. “The world belongs to those who show up” is taken from the world of politics and voting, but it also applies here. While “showing up” with your face on a video screen is better than “showing up” as a name with a black screen, it’s really those who show up in person that make themselves known. Unfortunately, those 25 year olds that have been 100% WFH since Covid probably don’t realize this. They’re at home, happily crunching numbers on their computer, thinking that they’re doing all that they can to move on the promotion track. Some will be in for a surprise.

  134. Teapot Wrangler*

    I don’t like having my camera on and often turn off incoming video too to protect my bandwidth but I do make a point of speaking at least! I feel like mandating camera on isn’t great but maybe make each person ‘chair’ the meeting in turn so you at least hear from them a bit? It is difficult because I’m pretty introverted but I feel like that makes these relationships more important rather than less TBH

    1. Loux*

      Plus a good compromise could be participating in the chat! It can be a little more work for the meeting organizers, but I generally do camera off and then participate via chat or even speak. I just don’t like having my camera on, but I still want to participate!! Honestly, no one has ever told me it’s a problem, and usually me doing this pulls in the interest of other folks who otherwise might just be camera off/mute/no talking the entire time, and they start chatting too.

  135. Monkey Princess*

    I totally feel OP.

    And then I come to the comments section, and it’s a million people with Autism, ADHD, social anxiety, introverted, awkward, hates small talk. And they’re all saying that WFH is the best.

    But… I have all those things, too. And I feel like those things make it even MORE important for me to go outside and interact with people. It makes it harder for me to do all those “I have an active group of friends through [something vague, nobody ever actually says]” activities that all of these people always say they do. It makes it even more important that I practice small talk, and being considerate, and getting to know people outside my personal circle.

    Yes, my social battery gets used up quicker than a neurotypical person, probably. But if I don’t exercise my social battery, then it just gets smaller and smaller and smaller. And that’s really not a healthy way to live.

    Because I’m going to use my Autism Card right now, I’m going to really strongly suggest that all of the people who are saying that these diagnoses make them happier not interacting with people from work in a social way, pretty much ever, really actually think that over. Is it really the best thing for people like us?

    I’ll also add that my husband is completely neurotypical, and hated going to work, and was originally so happy that he could work from home forever. And, 3 years on, he’s struggling. I noticed it even before he started to talk about it. He’s more stressed, he’s antsy, he’s more depressed. There are days that the only time he leaves the house are to pick up the kids from school. I swear there are entire weeks that the only people he sees in person are me and our kids. It’s really not healthy for anyone to live like this, but it’s also really hard for middle aged people (particularly men, I think) to make friends if they don’t go to work, church, or join a sports team. There’s not much else out there, socially. Going to work and interacting with people there was a social outlet for him, and now he doesn’t have that, and it’s effecting all of us.

    1. so very tired*

      Autism is a spectrum, and not everyone is the same. What works for you may not work for me. That’s the basic understanding a lot of people here seem to lack.

      1. Monkey Princess*

        Okay, but there’s actual science about how people need to interact with other people. There is exactly 0 science that ANYONE, no matter their neurological differences, is happy or content when all of their social interactions are through a screen.

        People’s understanding of themselves is absolutely horrible, when you get down to it, and it’s always a red flag when every.single.person on an internet message board has the exact same quirks that would put them as one in a billion. And I’ve been online for decades now, watching this play out.

  136. ArtK*

    My company is 95% WFH; there are a couple of offices but those are only used by folks local to them, which isn’t a lot. One of the things that they’ve done to combat this is an add-on to Slack that schedules 1:1 between random people every couple of weeks. It’s a bit artificial but you do get 30 minutes to chat with someone you might not normally talk to and it can be about anything.

  137. RebPar*

    This really resonates. What a lot of people fail to own is that a job still entails being part of a community – and that means showing up and displaying some social-emotional acuity to others. Blank screens are not a form of community. There are ways to blur your background, use a fake background – really no excuse now not to be on camera. I don’t see what the big issue is – you had to show up to work before in person with your actual face. Face to face interactions help to build community. They just do. So many people now have zero interest in contributing any effort toward building that community, even while they are on the job, getting paid for being there. I miss humans.

    1. 653-CXK*

      When I worked at ExJob, my commute was 1-1/4 – 1-1/2 hours each way by public transportation, with a minimum of 2 transfers. This was after when I began the job and the commute was a solid 1-3/4 to 2 hours each way, as the old office was out in the sticks. At CurrentJob, the commute (when I do go to the office) is about 45 minutes – 1 hour, and only requires a two bus connection.

  138. Ann*

    I so feel this. I’ve always thought of myself as an introvert, my commute is long, and I still see the lack of interaction making my life harder and making it harder for new hires and older team members to build relationships. We’ve had more problems with staff retention and some wacky team culture issues.

    On a related note, is anyone else in a big city and finding that people are not coming in because they’ve moved away? Most of my company is on a hybrid schedule, and management has tried to get people in office on the same days for more interaction. It didn’t really help, because there are several smaller offices, and so many people who lived in the city are now working from those offices. It doesn’t really matter if everyone comes in on Tuesday – we’re still in half-empty spaces.

  139. leeapeea*

    I started with my current company in January 2019. We’re around 50 people, but only 15-20 in my local office, so the rest of my company I worked with remotely even before the pandemic. I got to know a good portion of them simply through a bit of extra chatting (either chat messaging or on a non-video call) when we needed to connect 1:1 for a work related issue. Over time I’ve become just as friendly with people who work hundreds of miles away that I’ve never seen in three dimensions (and rarely on video- that’s not our culture for internal calls/meetings) as some of the folks in my local office, including some who are notorious for being “brick walls” in meetings. It’s not that different than going to someone’s desk for a question and asking about their weekend. Maybe this reframing will help?

  140. Kt*

    I think the real difference here is choice. Prior to the pandemic/WFH people who didn’t want to share the details of their personal lives didn’t know how to ‘opt out’ without coming across as rude. So, maybe they never wanted to talk to you about the World Cup but with you sitting three feet away and looking at them expectantly for an answer, felt they had no choice but to engage. Now they have choice and I don’t think it’s fair to want/expect them to continue being uncomfortable for your comfort.

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