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Starting a job remotely means never meeting your co-workers face to face

April 2021
Boston Globe

For many people hired remotely over the past year, the workplace has largely been restricted to the two-dimensional confines of their computer screens. They may be performing their jobs just fine, but they haven’t been able to benefit from the in-office osmosis that comes with being in a shared space. They haven’t observed their bosses’ body language or picked up tricks that aren’t in the handbook or learned the best lunch spots.

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John Kelly had been planning to take the summer off after quitting his job last April. But when his travel plans vanished, he decided to go back to work instead, and in May he became the chief technology officer at the Waltham health care technology company PatientKeeper. His boss, chief executive Philip Meer, had also just started, a week before shutting down the office in mid-March.

The two didn’t meet in person until nearly two months into Kelly’s tenure, and it was reassuring for both of them. “He is a person, he’s not this virtual being,” Kelly said of Meer.

“Meeting John for the first time . . . and knowing how tall he was,” Meer said, laughing, “the trust built quicker.”

Both Meer and Kelly have set aside time to check in one on one with employees, who can start voluntarily returning to the office two days a week in September.

“The first job of any leader, certainly in roles like CTO or CEO, is to establish trust. That’s been the biggest mountain to climb,” Meer said. “Trust is established partly through physical contact: You shake somebody’s hand, you look them in the eye, you get a feel for how they process information. Ideally you take them to lunch, you take them to dinner . . . I didn’t have that luxury.”

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