The Return to In Person Work

Author, Meadow Funkenhauser, Cleanfarms Business Assistant

Meadow is a third year University of Waterloo Environment and Business student who is spending a co-op term with Cleanfarms.

For the past two years many of us have grown accustomed to doing things from home. We have gotten used to all the Zoom calls, Teams meetings and sometimes never even meeting coworkers or classmates in person. The COVID-19 pandemic has made many areas of life difficult, but for those of us who have had the privilege of being able to work from home, it has provided more flexibility.

As a university student, online learning has allowed me to maintain part-time jobs and be able to complete schoolwork more on my own schedule. This level of flexibility was one of the reasons I chose a fully remote co-op opportunity for my first work term. Working from home had many perks. I could see in meetings that I wasn’t the only one taking advantage of the relaxed dress codes and increased independent work. That said, it was an odd sensation to never meet my coworkers, and to work from areas typically considered unprofessional including living rooms and bedrooms.

When I came to Cleanfarms in late August, I wondered why they chose a hybrid work model rather than the full remote experience. It felt more structured but, to be honest, I questioned the need for those ‘in person days’ in the office. However after experiencing their office culture I came to understand why it was important for the hybrid model to be in place.

My new colleagues at Cleanfarms are a close knit, hardworking and welcoming group. On my first day, I joined in on a team lunch with everyone, even the executive director. I never experienced this in my last co-op term. I was able to catch a glimpse of how they interacted, weaved between personal and work conversations, and had close interpersonal relationships. Without the space to meet and connect, Cleanfarms might lose the ‘family feel’, and could find it difficult to work effectively as a team.

Why is this so important? I’ve quickly learned that teamwork is so important in the agricultural sector. I’m impressed by the number of different parties that come together to ensure that containers, totes/drums and bags are moved to end markets and recirculated in the economy.

In smaller organizations like this one, offices allow employees to work alongside one another, come to each other directly rather than scheduling meetings, as well as providing important physical spaces for team building through bonding while making coffees, or eating lunches together in the boardroom.

Though it is uncertain whether offices will ever transition back to a fully in-person format, it is evident that there were key personal connections many of us lost out on making as a result of the work from home format. For this reason, the hybrid work model is a refreshing change in a time of uncertainty and I look forward to connecting with more of my colleagues in person in the future.

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