My Net@Work Summer Internship Part 3: Farewells and Looking Forward

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It’s no secret that workplaces want employees to engage with one another. Corporate team building has shown to increase productivity and employee satisfaction. Meanwhile, even the subtext of branding a newly renovated office space as a “huddle room” opposed to a “conference room” suggests workers are encouraged to interact more personally.

But a self-stated problem arises when we connect in the context of work: we connect in the context of work. These versions of ourselves are warped by the context and our self-surveillance. To better know each other, employees must connect outside of the workplace without the help of their HR departments.

Within my internship group, we perceive areas of expertise in each other. To illustrate, I reach out to the software development intern when I stumble into code and I turn to the Systems Engineer intern to troubleshoot a rendering error. Similarly, the other interns ask me to edit and revise their writing.

However, the context of the workplace distorts their perceptions of me. The other day, the Business Analyst intern who read my previous blog post asked to see more of my writing, expecting it to be of the same nature. I disappointed her as the writing samples I was most inclined to share were poetry. That wasn’t what she was looking for.

Although our stereotypes in the workplace do somewhat correspond with who we are, they are fundamentally altered by the context. I write outside of work, however, my main project this past year was a series of nursery rhymes inspired by various museums in New York City. The collection bears little semblance with this blog aside from containing written language. In the workplace, although we may utilize skillsets related to our passions, naturally, our productions inside work are emphasized while our productions outside are somewhat reduced to trivial facts.

Perhaps a Freudian reading of the situation reveals a mechanism at play. In Civilization and Its Discontents lays an assertion that in an attempt to relate to others objectively, we tend to picture what others’ actions would mean to us if we take them ourselves; however, such perceptions are warped as we are not each other. Under this lens, the Business Analyst intern’s construction of me was actually her construction of herself had she written my post. While Freud may imply an individual can never fully know another, I think there’s value in decreasing the distortion.

Moreover, while it’s largely self-enforced, we are far from candid at work. For instance, employees partaking in a corporate team building activity may avoid debating politics or religion even if such beliefs are a fundamental part of their mental frameworks. Ironically, there are much better examples of how we censor ourselves at the workplace related to identity politics which I do not feel comfortable discussing in this post. While we may censor ourselves to some degree in all places, I think it’s safe to assume people tend to do so more at work than in their personal lives.

An important question emerges: at what point does a distorted data point become less valuable than no data point at all? Well, if you read this post and assume I write this way on my own time, that would be very misleading. I write nursery rhymes.

Despite the benefits of corporate team building, employees must additionally get to know each other outside of the workplace if they are to do so more earnestly. HR departments might be averse to this sentiment as it poses a challenge operationally untouchable to them, but this message isn’t intended for them. Rather, this message is intended for employees people.

At the end of the day, it seems the difference between a huddle room and a conference room is really just the furniture and decorations. But we are so much more than that. As my summer internship program winds down, I’m going to make an effort to get to know the other interns and Net@Work employees outside of work. They are great people and I want to lessen my own misconstructions of their lives. Perhaps then I will learn how naive it was for me to refer to them by their positions in this post.

Click here for part 2
Click here for part 1