What it’s like working with people you have only met through a screen

Joining the working world in 2020 was terrifying enough even before you had to make small talk via Zoom

Socialising through a screen is just not the same as a quick chat in the office kitchen

Part of the joy in starting a new job is being spoiled with ‘welcome drinks’ and taking 15-minute coffee breaks that last for hours because you were getting to know your new colleagues, people you will now be spending all your time with.

According to figures by the ONS, employees in Britain aged 16 and over were about as likely to have daily contact with their work colleagues as they were their own children (yikes), and over four in 10 were more likely to have daily contact with their bosses than with their mothers or friends.

So, if you’re spending so much time with these people, you may as well get to know them and, if you’re lucky, become their friend.

I have become quite close to people I haven’t physically met


But for people like Matt and Ben, both 23 and six months into their first office job in London, meeting colleagues and finding a ‘work bestie’ is a luxury they have not had and are not likely to have for quite some time.

“You speak to your work colleagues more than anyone else, even your own family,” Matt said, “and that hasn’t changed, you just do it in a slightly different way. So, I have become quite close to people I haven’t physically met.”

One thing this has shown me is I do rely on people’s body language


Both Matt and Ben said their company tried their hardest to force ‘social’ Zoom quizzes, virtual coffee mornings, and even escape rooms on their employees to help spark some friendships amongst the new starters.

“It’s been a weird one. It’s not been bad necessarily, and I’ve still been able to connect and chat with people,” Ben said, “But one thing this has shown me is I do rely on people’s body language.

Gone are the days when we’d spend half an hour chatting sh*t with our work mates (Photo by Leon)

“Now, it’s just a bit hollow,” Ben said.

Bleak, but true.

I have no idea of the proportions of anyone I work with, and it’s weird!


Matt also said that, as nice as these efforts are, it feels like he’s in an episode of Black Mirror where everything takes place on a screen.

“You don’t want to use the same platform for your downtime as you do for your work time,” he said, “also, there’s rarely anything to talk about anymore apart from the walks you’ve been on that week.”

He admitted that one of the strangest things about this situation is not knowing what his colleagues look like from the shoulders down. He said he found himself guessing how tall they were, based on how they were sat on Zoom.

“It’s not something you would normally pick up on,” he laughed, “but I have no idea of the proportions of anyone I work with, and it’s weird!”

All the relationships are very professional and missing this ‘personable’ element


For Ben, the days have just started to roll into one.

“You don’t make the memories, which sounds a bit soppy because you’re not at a job to make memories, but all the relationships are very professional and missing this ‘personable’ element,” he said, “I’m missing the extra caveats that come with working in an office.”

Who knew we would be longing for queues for the kettle and small talk at the water cooler?

Another aspect of the new worker relationship the pair find strange is how all their colleagues know what the inside of their houses looks like, or at least a specific wall in their house, and they are very vocal when it changes.

Matt said he moved his computer about five inches to the left and was met with a flood of messages commenting on the change. Ben also said one of his colleagues was having his house renovated, and, thanks to Zoom, he has had the pleasure of having a front seat in seeing it change.

It’s the little things.

I’ll go straight to the kettle and talk b*llocks for an hour


Although the pair have been able to make at least some connections with their colleagues, they are longing for the days back in the office when they will be able to sack off work at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon and go for a ‘quiet’ drink with their workmates that will inevitably end with them eating a kebab in the back of an Uber at 5am the following day. 

Is 10am on a Monday too early for a pint with your office pals? Asking for ourselves (Photo by Elevate)

When asked what the first thing they will do when they finally meet their colleagues in the flesh, they both said, without hesitation, “pub.”

But they were reminded that it will probably be early on a Monday morning and that would be totally unprofessional.

“I’ll go straight to the kettle and talk b*llocks for an hour, and then at half 10 realise I haven’t done any work yet,” Ben said.

Matt said he would settle the speculations once and for all and measure how tall his colleagues were.

(Photo by Kelly Sikkema)

The hard work facts

According to a poll in 2018, the average person will:

  • spend 3,507 days at work
  • including 204 days of overtime in their life

During that time, the typical employee will:

  • have six office romances
  • brew 7,967 rounds of tea or coffee for their colleagues