Irene Galea is a business reporter with The Globe and Mail.
For most of my career, my office has been my childhood bedroom.
Don’t get me wrong: there are positives. Comfortable clothes, quiet room, no commute. I find it easier to get into a “flow state” – and I’m not worried about bothering colleagues with all my reporter phone interviews. I can seek out my portly tabby every few hours to deliver head scratches, and when I hit a writing wall, I can check if there’s anything new in the fridge. Usually, there isn’t – but it’s the mystery that keeps me coming back.
I started as a summer staff reporter at The Globe in June, 2021. I acknowledge the necessity of remote work right now and recognize the efforts of the company and my colleagues to welcome me and make it a great experience – it really has been.
But I think it’s no surprise to say that working remotely, especially in a new job, just isn’t the same as being in the newsroom.
I’ve only met my colleagues in person a handful of times, and it’s harder to step up and volunteer to help when something needs to get done, because I can’t see what’s happening over at the next desk. While I know there’s lots of support all around, sometimes it can feel lonely, facing challenges and celebrating accomplishments in a room by myself.
In the last month, I’ve reported on the trends of return to work. It’s no surprise that it’s a popular topic: as of the beginning of 2021, more than a third of Canadian employees aged 15 to 69 worked from home, compared with 4 per cent in 2016, according to Statistics Canada.
I should note here that remote work is a privilege. Many jobs can’t be done from home, and those jobs also tend to be lower-paying and more insecure. I also had the option to move back home – I’m in my early 20s, and this grants me the opportunity to save up (let the record show that I do pay my parents rent – looking at you, Rob Carrick!).
But as companies start to bring their teams back to the office, surveys show that young people are, like me, eager to get back to the office. Unlike our older colleagues, we haven’t yet built the relationships we need to progress in our careers, we often live in cramped or shared apartments, and fewer of us have family responsibilities to keep us at home.
If I had my “perfect world,” this is what back-to-office would look like.
- A flexible work structure. Young people want flexibility just as much as anyone else. One tech company I spoke to for a recent story said that just one quarter of its staff – the majority of whom are in their 20s and 30s – wanted to work in-person full time. From what I’ve seen, this is the story across the board. Ideally, in my current job, I see returning to the office two or three days a week and staying home on days I know I will need intense focus – like when I have to condense 5,000 words of research into a 1,500-word feature. Yikes.
- A “spot” in the office. While some companies are experimenting with cubicle-free, collaboration-only offices (known in the industry as hotelling), I would still like a space to call my own, if only for certain days a week. Moreover, I want my colleagues to have their own desks, so I know where to find them for a quick question or brainstorm session.
- Continued emphasis on mentorship. As many other companies do, The Globe and Mail sets up new employees with more experienced staff to help them bridge the gap. Just having someone you know you can call if things go sideways makes all the difference. I feel this is particularly important for women in business reporting, a segment of the media industry that has typically been dominated by men. Even informal mentors who are open to chatting or giving advice will make coming to the office feel more worthwhile.
- Equality training for remote managers. Managers should not discount the talent and potential of people who choose to work from home more – it shouldn’t be out of sight, out of mind. So, it’s important that managers are trained on evaluating employees fairly for promotion. This is particularly true for working moms. The pandemic has amplified the bias against this group. Indeed, research shows that women are much more likely to drop to part-time or leave their jobs entirely to take care of kids.
- All-hands meetings. I thrive on walking up to strangers and introducing myself. I want to hear about what other people in the company are doing, too, and believe that taking initiative in this small way can be instrumental to career success. COVID-19 safety precautions must be followed, of course, but when possible, it would be great to have multi-department meetings where Globe employees can showcase their ideas and projects, teach others a new skill or talk about a relevant trend or topic.
- Bi-monthly in-person social events. We know that young people have suffered mentally from feeling isolated, so, yes, I want to meet people outside of work and talk about non-work things, too. I don’t care if it’s a patio or a backyard or a park – anything will do!
What else we’re thinking about:
In hard times, I give myself projects. So earlier this summer, I set myself a challenge.
A few months ago, I found this list of publisher Bantam’s classic novels printed on the last few pages of an old library book. Austen, Dickens and Brontë titles appeared in numbers. Works by George Eliot, Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle joined the list – all names I knew well. But there were many titles listed I had never read (though in some cases, seen the movie): Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Homer’s Odyssey. Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days.
Although I was a voracious reader as a child and teen, academic reading and assignments zapped my energy and time for pleasure reading during university. Last year, when I took up books again after graduation, I found my tastes had changed: I craved more complex characters and deeper introspection. Social media had shortened my attention span, and I was determined to make reading part of my routine again.
So, the challenge I set for myself this summer: work my way down Bantam’s list. So far, I’ve found myself absorbed by A Room With a View by E.M Forster, The Awakening by Kate Chopin, and The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, among others. I’m discovering that these books are filled with experiences that, while written decades or centuries ago, still resonate today – stories of longing and loss, of fears about technology and society and illness.
If you see me walking down the street, nose buried in Treasure Island, don’t worry – I’m using my peripherals.
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