Five years ago, I took a remote position, with a startup that had 30 or so employees scattered all across the world. I was thrilled at the time—it meant I got to ditch my two-and-a-half-hour round-trip commute, spend more time with my infant daughter, and even had the flexibility to be a digital nomad (after a year on the job, my family and I moved to Lisbon). 

Sounds great, right?

Actually, no. I look back on that time of my life as a profoundly isolated period.

I’m an introvert by nature. I don’t like feeling obligated to chat with people. I need time to myself to recharge my batteries. But humans are social beings by nature, and I’m no exception.

Slack and Zoom were, to me, insufficient substitutes for face-to-face interaction. With no real ability to make casual conversation, either in the office or over lunch or drinks, I never felt like anyone really got to know me—nor me them. There was something very performative about the experience, where everyone always had to be on their best behavior and could never let their guard down. As a result, it was an unfertile environment for building trust.

So when the pandemic got serious and we were ordered to work from home, I did so with some trepidation, flashbacks of my remote job swarming my head. And to be honest, the first couple of weeks were a difficult transition period. I felt depressed and yes, isolated. My infant daughter is now in kindergarten and managing her on top of work is challenging.

But as the cloud lifted and I began adapting to our new normal, something interesting happened—I actually began finding the positives in the situation. Without the constraints of commuting, there’s more flexibility. Instead of putting time and thought and effort into my appearance, I can wake up and get straight to work. And most importantly, I came to the realization that while the way I work with my colleagues has changed significantly, my relationships with them haven’t. The trust we’ve built up over late nights, last-minute help, and countless hours together in conference rooms is still intact.

Moreover, there are even a few ways our work process has improved. For example, my creative partner has set daily touch-base meetings on our calendar, so we’re more deliberate about checking in with each other and strategically prioritizing work. Another meeting over Zoom was the very definition of a working meeting: During our brainstorm, one colleague filled out a spreadsheet with our ideas that normally would have gone onto a whiteboard and then been put into Excel. Removing a step from the process increased efficiency and saved time.

What we’re doing now—working remotely—is different from holding a remote job. No matter how long we continue to do our jobs from home, we still have that foundation of working together in person that’s built bonds and camaraderie. Someday, we will return to the office. And I look forward to that day. But I no longer view it as vital to my mental health. I have a well of trust to draw on to sustain me.

But as the cloud lifted and I began adapting to our new normal, something interesting happened—I actually began finding the positives in the situation… I came to the realization that while the way I work with my colleagues has changed significantly, my relationships with them haven’t.”

About the Author

Erin Engstrom

Senior Storyteller

Erin traded journalism for marketing some time ago and hasn’t looked back, enjoying the challenge of melding strategy and creative to solve clients’ business needs. She thinks about the Dorothy Parker quote “I hate writing, I love having written” almost daily, because sometimes it is about the destination.