The Coffee Break

Pros and cons. Likes and dislikes. Choices. Decisions. Consequences.

Working from home is not a new concept. Some of us have been doing this since the 1990s. Yeah, my home office has been set up for decades — complete with musical accompaniment.

At one time I had 3 phone lines coming into my house, 2 for business, plus my private line. The company paid for the additional lines, one for modem (no wi-fi back then), one for business calls. This cut down on operating expenses needed to process all the business expense reports submitted by employees every month. One day I required service on my private line and I told the repairmen that they’d hear voices on another line and not to disconnect it since I was on a conference call. They got bug-eyed. Whoa! People really do work from home. Then I mentioned that I should have had them check/replace/repair/add another phone jack out on the deck for the summer and their reaction was Whoa! She really takes working from home seriously.

The biggest plus in WFH is the commute. No worries about mass transit schedules, traffic delays, rain, snow, ice and very strong winds, gas in the car, you can travel in your slippers and if you mismatch navy and blue socks, no one but you will notice.

But there is a price to pay for the convenience. Ask anyone (think sales, long haul truckers too) whose job is 90% travel: camaraderie.

The morning stop for coffee, whether it’s the cafeteria or coffee station setup, the 10 am coffee break, the 3 o’clock sugar fix break. These are meet and greet times, when you not only see the colleagues you directly work with, but all the other people who work at your office whose paths you don’t usually cross professionally. The people who work in departments or divisions you don’t have meetings with so you get to know them socially. You join them for lunch or happy hour on Fridays, you get to know them personally and sometimes become friends — outside the office.

There was one colleague I knew who worked for our sister company housed in the building with whom I never had any business dealings who was putting together a river rafting trip one holiday weekend with friends and co-workers and invited me to join them. I never would have met him if I worked from home. Invites for a fun weekend trip are slim to none when you work remotely and no one gets to know you apart from the work you do. This is networking.

Choices. Decisions. Consequences.

While quarantine forced many to work from home, some are now choosing it as a permanent work environment. It’s not for everyone and not all jobs can be best performed offsite or remotely and not all companies may embrace permanent remote staff environment. I have witnessed firsthand a massive amount of change in residency in my town and those surrounding with the complete belief “Hey, I can work from anywhere.” And yet, they’re still driving around with out of state plates. Initially they defied ’stay at home’ directives protesting it didn’t apply to them or since they had more than one residence they were free to travel whenever and wherever they pleased.

Decisions. Consequences.

Different states have different income tax laws. And if you take a deduction for using your home as your workplace and your company resides in another state, eventually the IRS will catch up with you if your income taxes aren’t applied appropriately. Big city incomes will not necessarily transfer to ‘burbs or other states. Layoffs apply to white collar jobs as much as blue collar jobs. Then there are schools to consider. When September rolled around, my town experienced an enrollment increase of 40 students. That may not sound like a lot, but for a town this size, it was dramatic. Biggest increase ever. They weren’t all starting kindergarten. Other towns have seen the same unusual increases.

Back at the office there are parties to celebrate birthdays, weddings, service awards, promotions, successful business deals. At one company I worked at, our usual celebration scenario was cake and champagne at 4 pm. You miss out on that when you work from home and your own celebrations may go unnoticed by your colleagues. Then there was the combination zoo/party atmosphere on Friday mornings when all the sales staff came in for their meetings and brought bagels and doughnuts for the entire office, socialized with everyone, dropped/picked up paperwork. Everyone’s face was known whether they came to the office 5 days/week or once a week and you worked with them directly or not at that company.

At one business meeting at our data center (in another state), I was informed upon my arrival that someone there wanted to meet me. My fellow attendees were surprised I knew anyone there. “Ooh, my reputation preceded me.” I used to initiate a slew of check requests monthly and the person who received them wanted to put a face to the name. Not surprisingly, my expense reports were processed in a very timely manner. I also was on the phone regularly to our region and branch offices. I always got the name of each secretary/assistant/receptionist and added their names to my company contact list. Never diss them. They will remember. When I left that company I had 5 transfer offers — all unsolicited — from around the country. We even sent each other Christmas gifts through inter-office mail.

It may be a drag to commute. It can literally add hours to your work day. On the other hand, getting out of the house makes you feel connected to the world, that you have a place in the world and that you are valuable, not detached from the world.

Choices. Decisions. Consequences.

Companies may be revamping office space configurations and occupancy numbers due to COVID, but the coffee break will never be eliminated. It’s when you meet co-workers and bounce around ideas, problem solve and build relationships.

It is an invaluable part of the workday — at the office.