Staying Engaged in an At-home Work Environment

Jessica Mesa | Mar. 10 2022

I have committed nearly half of my life to my career in advertising. 
That’s over fifteen years at eight different agencies across two states and one island. With that, I’ve discovered one common theme. My level of engagement, excitement and thrill was triggered by working in-person. 
Why? Over those fifteen-plus years, life-long friendships were built. I consider these friendships as gifts in different phases of my career. People who have helped celebrate my children’s birthdays became my go-to mentors, gave me hugs on hard days, sent me flowers to help grieve a loss, coached me through personal development…all started in an office. With people.
In the fall of 2021, I made a career leap and joined The Many. We are a hybrid agency that supports the well-being of our staff by permanently allowing people to work from anywhere, with the option of going to an office in Pacific Palisades. 
In pre-pandemic years, I yearned for that kind of flexible work option. My day-to-day consisted of a three-hour combined commute, arriving home at 7pm on most days. As a parent, extra-curricular sports were out of the question. Making it home for a 5pm practice was wishful thinking. 
Fast forward to 2022, we are now living in the era of having the “best of both worlds”. We can work from anywhere in the world, in The Many’s case, with the option of going into an office. But given the distance, I choose to work remotely 99% of the time. This allows me the freedom to be a present and engaged parent, wife and human. 
However, this comes at a cost.
The remote-first choice strips away the ability to build and cultivate in-person life-long friendships at work. We lose the office banter, post-weekend story shares, or after meeting life catch-ups. These moments simply cannot be replaced by virtual meetings.  
But that doesn’t mean we need to lose that connection completely. Instead, we can a) re-think how we foster and cultivate our relationships in and out of the workplace and b) come up with a solution to fill the void.
A Harvard Business Review article revealed that lonely employees cost U.S. companies up to $406 billion a year and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the lack of social connections increases the odds of death by at least 50%
Research shared in that same article validated that lonely employees have a higher risk of turnover, lower productivity, more missed days at work, and lower quality of work. 
I consider myself an extrovert. An outgoing human who thrives and feeds off of human connection, seeking to maximize social engagement. When an extrovert is fulfilled, we will bring 1000% to anything we do. 
Since I have chosen the remote-first path, I have felt the humdrum rhythm of the day-to-day. To infuse much-needed human connection, I made brave commitments recently. Said yes to a girl’s trip to Valle de Guadalupe in Mexico, created new friendships and opened doors to future social gatherings.

As an inspiration for others, here are ways some members of the The Many and how they are fulfilling their need for human connection.

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Alex Boothe, Senior Social Strategist

I’m a self-proclaimed social butterfly who thrives on human energy to ‘refuel’ my own personal bank. So once I was able, I jumped at the opportunity to join various rec sports leagues (no matter the sport)—an outdoor soccer league with friends and their friends for weekly games, pick-up basketball on Sunday afternoons with music blasting, and competitive basketball games on Thursday nights which conclude with a few celebration or commiseration drinks afterward.

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Ifetayo Jabari-Kitwala, Growth Coordinator

Murphy (my 10-month-old Lab mix) got me moving again. When I decided to get a dog in late July (because let’s be real, I was at my wit's end of isolation and lack of living connection), I must have gotten the most active one of the bunch because he always wants to play and go outside. His walks are beneficial for both of us and give me a small, but daily dose of human interaction and fresh air.

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Jin Laqui, Project Manager

When gyms started to reopen during the pandemic, it was the perfect time for me to pick up my love for rock climbing again. There’s a huge sense of community at these gyms and everyone is there to support each other, which keeps me returning to this sport. When someone gets to the top of a more difficult route, you can hear claps from random bystanders on the mats. This community that I stumbled upon out of pure curiosity has given me the confidence and strength to always try something new and a constant reminder to keep reaching for success if you fail the first time.

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Lauren Gluck, Director of Growth

In order to fulfill what became a glaring need for human connection in my life, I needed to develop coping mechanisms to help me find finding joy in being alone, but they’ve also given me a better understanding of what I need in my life to feel fulfilled. This includes living close to friends so that, at any time, we can go for a walk, grab a coffee, or meet up at someone's house if the outside world seems like a bit too much that day, going on walks and hikes while listening to books on tape or podcasts - you don’t always need to be alone with your thoughts, and finding exercises and hobbies that break up the work day from the non-work day, from cooking to stretching to journaling to (let’s be honest) looking at TikTok.

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Mars Milisic, Creative Director

As an extrovert, I need an activity that allows my soul to say “hello!!!” to strangers. Luckily I’ve recently inherited my mom's bike. And biking so happens to be a perfect activity if you’re a social butterfly. I ride my bike all around town, anywhere and everywhere possible—coffee shops, the grocery store, karaoke bar, or simply up a new street just because. What’s nice about bike riding is the interactions you get with walkers and other fellow riders. So yes, I’m that girl, with the bell going “ding ding ding” just so I can say, “Hey what’s up hello!” I crave connection and pedaling across town allows me to connect with my community.

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Wow, how lucky to have such motivating co-workers — a reminder that while we aren’t in person, we connect on so many different levels. 
As more companies follow the remote-first approach, employees will continue to yearn for ways to satisfy their human connection fix. We will need to tap into creative ways to create and cultivate relationships outside of our workplace. Stepping out of our comfort zones, tapping into new experiences and simply celebrating this new, beautiful way of life.
This may be the very beginning of reshaping American work culture, and we’re here for it! 

Jessica Mesa is an Associate Director of Project Management