Americans often spend a third to more than half of their waking hours working, so work is inevitably where many of our bonds and friendships are formed. The old way of mixing business with pleasure had its problems — golf, after-work drinks and other forced “fun” activities aren’t for everyone, especially parents or those who don’t drink alcohol. But there are ways to get to know colleagues that feel more progressive — from shared meals to book clubs, to simply grabbing a coffee or going for a walk with a colleague during the workday.
I know that if I had stayed home early in my career, I would have missed out on finding the friends and mentors who played critical roles in my life. The office was also where I figured out how my industry works, the nature of power hierarchies and how to get along with all kinds of people.
Staying home might seem easier for workers who, for one reason or another, don’t feel comfortable at the office, but it can also let employers off the hook when it comes to making the office more inclusive. If the social movements of the past few years have told us anything, it’s that showing up and speaking up about what isn’t working can bring meaningful change.
Company leaders have plenty to learn, too. My advice to them is to listen to their employees, and learn from workers at all stages of their careers and lives what they need to do their best work. They also must learn to trust their employees, and to grant them more autonomy and control over how they get their work done. They would do well to remember that when the pandemic forced many people to work from home, their employees largely remained committed and productive.
Inclusivity needs to be intentional. Hybrid models should not create new hierarchies that place a premium on in-person face time, and companies must create working experiences that give people real reasons to commute. Those might include meaningful opportunities to socialize and celebrate wins, well-designed facilities and a welcoming work culture. Some companies are experimenting with ways to reshape the office experience for the hybrid era, creating new systems for meetings that don’t exclude remote workers, or even looking into installing video conferencing screens in office kitchens to allow those working from home to engage in small talk and “water cooler chats.”
I can’t remember exactly how I answered that new hire at Goldman who asked about bringing her “whole self” to work, but since then I have had to answer versions of that question many more times. Now I make this plea to you, young office workers: Bring your whole self back to the office. Don’t come back for your boss; come back for yourself. Embrace what you like, work to change what you don’t, and help create a workplace that’s truly rewarding and supportive.