We spend so much time at work, it makes sense that we might fall for the guy who always smiles hello as your shift ends and his begins, or the woman who keeps her pens color-coordinated on her desk. Workplace romances are often “frowned-upon,” if not outright prohibited, for many valid reasons. They can create tension when the relationship ends. There’s the possibility of favoritism or other biased treatment like work delegated to others or an undeserved promotion. Partners may be too distracted by each other to do their jobs properly. Broken hearts and bruised egos can take up a lot of oxygen in the room, not only for the people involved, but for their colleagues as well, as they try to navigate the fallout. But what happens to the possibility of love and hook-ups at work now that so many of us are working from home?
I used to work at a call center for a cell phone company, and shortly after I finished training, I realized a lot of people used the job as their personal meat market. And honestly, I didn’t blame them. Most of us were there strictly to earn a paycheck and had no real passion for customer service or management. We knew nothing about cell phone technology beyond telling customers to turn their phones off and on. It was a dead-end job, and although we never saw customers, we were still required to dress in business casual, so there was a constant shower of boredom, frustration, and resentment over our workstations. To regain some power and control, people flirted. On casual Fridays, people wore their tightest jeans, their deepest V-necks, brand names with the biggest logos, and their brightest pieces of jewelry. Friday was a day for peacocking and sidelong glances.
There were a handful of Call Center Casanovas, and I, myself, had a dalliance with a guy who worked on a different team, so there was no room for any potential conflict, but many years later, I worked at a nonprofit and went out on a date with a coworker. The night didn’t go well enough for a second date, but he tried his best to keep my attention. One evening, he faked having car trouble so I could offer assistance, then cornered me to ask why I was ignoring his calls. Things were very awkward at the next all-hands staff meeting as I tried to avoid him and he sweated, hoping I wouldn’t expose what he’d done. That was the last time I ever seriously entertained dating someone at work, although I have remained open to the possibility.
Since moving to freelancing full-time and working from home most of the time, I don’t really have the opportunity to form workplace romantic connections that might extend past the office, but I’ve been wondering how the recent large shift into remote work has affected office romances. It appears that more people are dating colleagues since the pandemic has more of us working from home, and that makes a certain amount of sense. Online dating has become second nature to many of us, so it’s nothing to send a flirty emoji via Slack or Zoom private chat. (But do remember that Slack is discoverable in matters of litigation and make sure to check your privacy settings on Zoom.) It might also seem less stressful to ask a coworker out now that you don’t have to see them or risk potential rejection five days a week.
Despite my reticence at creating lasting attachments to the physical workspace, I have developed lasting friendships at work, and think it’s completely natural for other, romantic relationships to form as a result of being around each other for a significant amount of time on a regular basis. The problems arise when there is a power-imbalance, a loss of consent, and the relationship begins to affect other colleagues in negative ways like unfair workloads and nepotism.
As we continue to figure out new ways to navigate a constantly-changing work life, the ways we communicate and grow with each other will also change. Some of us will find love in a hopeless place like Zoom, but please… for all that is well and good, make sure you’ve logged out of all work communication before sending those sweet nothings