The people you work with

The connections we make when we don't realize we're making them. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

A couple of Saturdays ago, I drove to Brooklyn for a memorial gathering in honor of a colleague named Stephanie Meyers, who had passed away in April at the (obviously) much-too-early age of 37.

I knew Stephanie from my work at Inc.com; she was the head of digital strategy for Mansueto Ventures, which is the company that owns both Inc. and Fast Company.

At least in part thanks to the pandemic, however, I don’t think we’d actually talked in more than a year. We did “see each other on email” sometimes; I had a laugh recently when I found a thread in which we had joked about the shared experience of having fairly common names.

(People sometimes confused Stephanie with Stephenie Meyer, the author of the Twilight book series. This led to some interesting exchanges on social media.)

The truth is that I was a bit surprised by how much Stephanie’s death affected me, even months later. She was a wonderful person, but I only knew her through work. Now, having had a little more time to reflect, I think my grief might have to do with two things:

  • Authentic sadness that someone like Stephanie could be gone so suddenly when it seemed she had her whole life in front of her.

  • A sort of general mourning for all of my relationships that have suffered or even been lost over the last year—including the more casual work ones that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.

Bear with me on this. I'm reminded of something Martin Freeman's character said on the original British version of the TV show The Office:

"The people you work with are people you were just thrown together with. I mean, you don't know them. It wasn't your choice. And yet you spend more time with them than you do your friends or your family..."

The genius of that show was that besides being hilarious, it also acknowledged that all of those casual work relationships really do add up to something.

Even if it’s happenstance that brings us together, they’re real relationships. Now, thanks to Covid-19, a lot of us have been missing out on them, at least in their typical form.

There’s a pair of studies I’ve quoted here from time to time: one from Gallup and—improbably—one from the bowling alley company Bowlero.

Both of them conclude that one of the most important predictors of whether employees are happy and productive on the job is whether they have good friends at work.

I don’t think they’re only talking about “best friends” that you’d invite to major family functions or life events; I think it also has to do with the simple question:

Do you like the people you work with?

If I have any big philosophical point to make, it’s just that the more we move toward remote work and flexibility, the less I suppose we’ll get to know our work colleagues. We’ll gain a lot from the change, but we’ll lose something as well.

And while I’m a proponent of remote work—I think that at least in my industry, the pros outweigh the cons—that isn’t to say there’s no benefit to being in person: perhaps closer collaboration, perhaps easier communication, perhaps something else.

Perhaps it’s the simple fact that you meet some really good people that you might not otherwise meet.

(If you’d like to read more about Stephanie, two other colleagues have written about her in greater depth: her boss and friend, Allison Fass, for example, and writer Maria Aspan, who ultimately became her best friend and traveled the world with her.)

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7 other things worth your time

  • A record-breaking heatwave is pushing electric grids to their limits in Texas and other nearby states. Now some residents say their smart thermostats have been controlled remotely to conserve energy. Turns out, they may have enrolled unwittingly in a program called “Smart Savers Texas” that entered residents in a sweepstakes in exchange for letting EnergyHub control their thermostats during periods of high energy demand. (Gizmodo)

  • A baby who was born five months prematurely and given a zero percent chance of life has survived to his first birthday, setting a world record in the process, according to Guinness. (CNN)

  • Ten people were killed, including nine children, in a multi-vehicle collision Saturday in Alabama; it was the result of hydroplaning caused by Tropical Depression Claudette, according to authorities. The storm is expected to gain strength as it moves north. (USA Today)

  • American Airlines says it’s cutting about 1% of its flights as demand for travel outpaces the sheer number of people that AA can get back on the job. (Yahoo News)

  • German police are looking for help after a pair of 17th-century paintings were discovered at a highway rest stop. Police said a 64-year-old man found the oil paintings in central Germany last month. One is a self-portrait by Pietro Bellotti (1625-1700) showing the Italian artist smiling and dates to 1665. The other is a portrait of a boy by the Dutch artist Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627-1678), date unknown. (The Guardian)

  • The summit in Geneva is over, but I only just found this: kind of an interesting comparison between President Biden’s armored vehicle and President Putin’s. (Daily Mail)

  • Do your part, eat some cookies. The Girl Scouts say they’re holding onto roughly 15 million too many boxes of cookies, representing $60 million in sales. Main culprit: the pandemic. “This is unfortunate, but given this is a girl-driven program and the majority of cookies are sold in person, it was to be expected,” said a spokeswoman. (The Independent)

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Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Pixabay; The Chicago Tribune / Family of Stephanie Meyers. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.