And that means some workers just entering the labor force have never worked in an office, met any colleagues in-person or commuted farther than a few feet.
Morgan Tolles has worked for online notary service Notarize for nearly 18 months — first as an intern and eventually as an attorney — but she’s never worked in the company’s office or met her coworkers in-person.
Nevertheless, Tolles said she enjoys working from the comfort of home.
She said finishing law school remotely early on in the pandemic helped her prepare for a fully remote position.
“It helped with the transition,” said Tolles, 26.
Notarize has decided to remain remote first, which means most workers will continue working from home the majority of the time. The company closed two satellite offices during the pandemic, and its Boston headquarters will now serve as a meeting and event space when needed.
Tolles lives in Sacramento, California, and the team of 10 people she works with are spread across the US, so she starts her days around 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning and typically logs off around 4:00 or 4:30.
“I don’t have a commute, I am working from my room, so that makes me a happier employee. I don’t have to deal with traffic,” she said.
Since dropping into her boss’s or co-workers’ office isn’t an option, Tolles relies on Slack to communicate and seek guidance.
“I can Slack my supervisor or another attorney on my team and say: ‘Hey, I am struggling with this, can you help me?’ And not only can they respond when they have a minute because I am not standing in their doorway…they can see it and respond when they are free,” she said.
Learning how to virtually connect with colleagues
Asking questions can be intimidating — especially when you’re still trying to get a feel for how a company works and you want to make a good impression.
Anish Ravipati, 22, who joined fintech startup, Ramp, in August 2021 after graduating from the University of Michigan, was worried he was asking too many questions — at least at first.
“When you message someone on Slack you can see how many messages you have sent them before, so I was worried I was asking for too much,” he said. “In person, you can see when someone isn’t busy…and it’s okay to bother them then…but virtually you have no clue.”
But after discussing his concerns with colleagues, he soon got over the fear. “Everyone said, ‘no, please bother me,'” Ravipati said. “The fact that I felt comfortable talking about that, that was a big part of feeling the culture…really feeling like I could be myself and be honest with people.”
Ramp launched in February 2020 and is based in New York. Prior to the pandemic, nearly all of its employees worked in its office. Now it plans to offer a hybrid schedule.
Ravipati worked from Ohio during his first month at the company and later moved to New York. He’s been in the office a few times, but is still primarily working remotely. Ideally, he said he would like to work two days a week in the office.
He’s met a few of his colleagues in person, but said that video meetings have made it easy to connect with others on his team on a more personal level.
“In the office, it’s easier to only see one side of people…if you want to talk about their personal life you have to take initiative and do that on your own,” he said. “But virtually, I can hear my product manager’s daughter…I get to see him being a dad. It’s cool to see someone be different personas.”
‘I can schedule my day how I want’
When Leann Tran was looking for a job during her senior year at Northeastern Illinois University, she was open to any working arrangement — but she wasn’t sure if she’d like working from home full time.
“Honestly, I never thought I would be a person that would work from home, I am not a homebody person, but it allows for a lot of flexibility. I can schedule my day how I want, there is no crazy traffic or commute,” said Tran, 24.
Tran graduated last year and joined staffing firm Robert Half in December. While the company has offices across the country, employees will have flexibility in how often they come into the office.
Tran currently lives with her parents in a suburb of Chicago and bounces around from her room to the living and dining rooms, and the basement while she works. If Tran were to go into her assigned office in downtown Chicago, she figures the commute would likely be an hour to an hour-and-a-half each way.
Still, she said she’s open to all work schedules in the future.
“A job is a job. If they are looking to go full-time on site than I’d be open to that as well as remotely. It’s honestly whatever they decide, but my preference probably would be remote,” she said.
The benefits of working in person
Graduating a few months after the pandemic started in 2020 was tough for Ariana Denebeim.
“Looking for jobs … was very brutal,” she said. “There was nothing available, especially in the industries I was interested in … it was so discouraging.”
She also found remote interviews difficult.
“I really enjoy in-person interviews and seeing the office in person and the people,” Denebeim, 23, said.
She eventually found a job that August at a fully-remote tech startup. While she was happy to have the flexibility to move from California to New York City, the position wasn’t a perfect fit, and she didn’t love working from home all the time.
So, at the start of 2021, she began working for DKC Public Relations. The company’s New York and Los Angeles offices are hybrid, with Mondays and Fridays deemed work-from-home days. But those offices have been fully remote since December.
“I’ve realized how much more I like being in the office,” she said. “It’s just so hard to sit in one room in one place all day. It’s hard for me to be in my own personal space without getting distracted by little things.”
Going into the office has also helped her learn more about the company and from her peers.
“Being able to see how people interact, even if someone is having a conference in the room right next to you and you can hear these very high-level professionals and how they communicate and the ways that they think, I wouldn’t be able to get that before,” she said.
She added that she’s also found new friendships by going into the office.
“I have made friends that there is just no way I would have been close with them if it weren’t for going into the office.”