Meeting visiting colleagues in person

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been over four years of working 100 percent remotely. The pandemic started here in New York in March 2020. I accepted my first 100 percent remote job in late August 2020, starting the last week of September that year. So for over four years, my face-to-face interaction with colleagues has been rare, mostly confined to “seeing” each other via Zoom rectangles on my external computer monitor. I adapted to it pretty quickly since I didn’t really have a choice back then, but to think that now it’s not my “new normal” but rather my “everyday normal” is a bit odd to admit out loud. It’s been over four years of not going into an office regularly, not doing work travel via plane regularly, and not having everyday, casual catch ups and small talk in person with work people.

So when my colleague who is based in Paris, France, told me that he would be here in New York for his wife’s work retreat this week and asked if I’d be free to meet, of course, I said yes. I blocked my calendar for this morning, hopped on the train like a wannabe daily New York City commuter, and took the subway downtown to meet him at Bourke Street Bakery, near where he’d have his next scheduled catch-up. I needed a place that a) had good coffee and b) decently okay-for-Manhattan seating so that I wouldn’t have to worry about fighting anyone for. a table. Bourke Street delivered on both.

I wasn’t sure what we would talk about or how we would get along, but I figured I could use the in-person socialization time since I get so little of it nowadays. We’d only been on two Zoom calls previously, almost completely just about work with very little small talk. We’d had a few Slack communications, and that was really it. But we actually got along pretty well, especially once we started talking about travel, different places in the world, and life in New York vs. Paris. He’s originally from the south of France in a small town near Cannes. His background before tech was quite eclectic and interesting (especially to me, ha): he used to live in Beijing working for a wine business in the mid 2000’s, left after 1.5 years, then came to New York to work in the restaurant industry; then he went back to Paris, worked in the restaurant industry again, and then somehow got suggested for a software sales job and never looked back. To this day, he still has many friends, mostly French, who work in the restaurant industry both here and in Paris, and thus has great connections to get the most sought-after restaurant reservations (he generously offered to show me and my family around next time I’m in Paris, and to get me hooked up with the best restaurant bookings). He gave me some tips for French restaurants in New York and also told me about some of the restaurants he had lined up for him and his wife to go to during their short stay here this time around. It was an hour that was enjoyable and well spent.

After we finished our coffee catch up, he walked me to the train station and we bid each other adieu. And on the short train ride home, I thought about how much I really miss these casual, non-work-related colleague catch-ups. I was really glad I didn’t make up some lame excuse and not meet him; laziness doesn’t have any benefits. Being alone in front of my computer most of the day can really suck. At least I can multi-task with things at home, which is a huge plus when you’ve got a little one in your life. But the social aspect of work is probably what I miss the most about pre-pandemic in-office life (the free printing and office supplies were also a huge bonus, too!). These types of daily social interaction used to be a part of my everyday routine, whether it was random conversation in the office kitchen or hallway, or during a coffee/tea break close to the office. The Zoom fatigue is real. It’s much harder to “connect” with people on a screen than it is face-to-face. Plus, I can’t really blame colleagues who don’t want to do “fun” catch-ups that frequently over Zoom. We would all rather it be in person, and who wants yet another Zoom meeting?!

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