Briefings Magazine

Cutting Apart, Coming Together

The pandemic separated us from doing our jobs with our colleagues at the office, loosening our social ties. 

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By: Jonathan Dahl, Chief Content Officer

Having spent the early part of my career in Texas, I’ve been to my share of rodeos. Yet until a friend mentioned it, I wasn’t aware of a competition, common at rodeos, known as “cutting”—and certainly I wouldn’t have dreamt of the connection it might have to the drama currently playing out at offices across the country.

In cutting, a rider and horse work together to demonstrate their ability to handle cattle. They direct a steer or heifer away from a small herd in the arena, then do their best to block the separated animal from returning to the herd. Watch an example on Youtube, and you’ll see that it’s no easy feat. Dekeing, jerking left and right, the steer is absolutely determined to get back to the pack. And the pack wants it to rejoin just as badly. “Don’t you see?” said the friend. “Cattle are herd creatures.”

 So, in a way, are we humans. Even if we may not have seen it this way at the time, the outbreak of the pandemic not only separated us from doing our jobs with our colleagues at the office, but from enjoying the social benefits of being with them. Sure, we were working but we also shared meals, we gossiped, we brainstormed together. The lockdowns separated us from good friends. Flash forward a few years: some workers have returned to the office. But the offices still are nowhere near full. In big cities, only about 50 percent were occupied at last count. Half the pack is away.

 Of course, a lot of people will never give up the flexibility of remote work, no matter how strong their bonds with their colleagues. Workers have childcare or family-care issues. They have long, taxing commutes to the office. But those returning say quietly that something very important is missing. They came back to the office to work, but also for company. Not a company, but rather the company of the colleagues they used to laugh with. You have to ask yourself: how often do you hear laughter in office hallways these days?

 Firms are trying to do something about this. They’ve asked most people to come in midweek, and as a result, offices are fuller then. But those who come in on a Monday or Friday find the office a lonely place. Friends at work tell me they can hear people tapping on their keyboards from a few desks away. It’s that quiet. 

 The world, everyone knew, would never be the same after the brutalities of the pandemic. This change is one of those realities. But on the plus side, I do hear that when there is a quorum in the office, people cherish the collegiality. They don’t take business lunches or office parties for granted anymore. Some enjoy the specialness it all brings—being part of the herd.


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