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My last paying gig was covering the state Legislature for its 2021 session, which was conducted entirely over Zoom to protect lawmakers and staff from the Covid-19 virus. It didn’t go well.
The Roundhouse was closed to the public, and lawmakers were allowed to stay home and phone it in, via Zoom. My favorite moment was when an older legislator from a rural part of the state attempted to participate in a committee meeting from his car in the McDonalds parking lot because it was the only place he could find an Internet connection. He couldn’t figure out how to turn the camera around, so we all got to look at his dashboard as he attempted to make his points.
Lawmakers weren’t the only ones swapping face-to-face meetings and interactions at the office for Zoom meetings from home. That made sense then, when every personal interaction carried a dangerous risk.
But it sent a horrible message, that we don’t need actual, personal exchanges. Technology can take care of that for us.
The pandemic ended, and we have all come out in droves to attend concerts and movies. As I write this, “Barbie” has grossed $502.6 million in the United States and $1.1 billion globally, breaking box office records.
But we have been far more reluctant when it comes to going back to the office.
Before the pandemic, about 5 percent of paid employees worked from home. At the height of the pandemic that was closer to 50 percent, according to a Stanford University study. Now, about 12 percent remain at home, while 30 percent work a hybrid schedule.
Earlier this month, even Zoom called its workers back to the office. To be clear, they are still allowing a hybrid format where employees work from home some days, but are required to come to the office on other days.
That probably makes sense for many jobs. Some tasks don’t require coming to the office. But any endeavor that seeks to build an environment of teamwork and collaboration requires personal interactions that can’t be replicated by technology.
To be fair, I was never the ideal customer for Zoom. I have struggled with technology ever since Tandy introduced the TRS-80 word processor during my days as a sports writer. But, even for those more technologically adept than I am, Zoom meetings are still a far less effective means of interaction than turning to the person sitting at the desk next to you.
The pandemic showed we can muddle along in isolation and still manage to function. But now that it’s over, we need to get back to work and we need to do it together. Even if that means wearing pants again.
Walter Rubel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.