“Go West, young man, go West!” attributed to Horace Greeley, Editor, New York Tribune, in an 1865 editorial
Never minding the sexist nature of the advice (which should of course have been “Go West, young person, go West”), it was offered the year the Civil War ended, and Horace was advising what he thought best for both the individual and the country. As one recipient of the advice allegedly said, “[This} is very frank advice, but it is medicine easier given than taken. It is a wide country, but I do not know just where to go.”
If Greeley were here today, his advice in today’s Covid sunset environment might be “Return to the office, young professional, go back!” And we agree. Some firms are returning to their physical offices or announcing a date certain when they plan to do so, while other companies are making the return a personal choice. To wit, come back “if you feel comfortable” doing so. Here’s advocating that, as a young professional seeking to differentiate yourself in the workplace, even if made optional you return to the office as soon as it is permitted.
Why? Because the relationships that are formed and nurtured from face-to-face interaction are key to your development as a productive contributor. This personal contact is doubly important for new hires and for new grads who are working their first “real job,” and likely need to learn not only the culture of the particular organization they have landed with, but the basics of being a professional as well. Personal contact allows for the development of relationships that provide you with colleagues to contact when you need help, and to help you learn your company’s unwritten rules. It’s hard to build these relationships when working from an apartment or Starbucks; Zoom meetings and introductions are hardly an adequate substitute for personal contact. By returning to the office – especially when doing so is optional – you will demonstrate your commitment to your company and to your career, your determination to make a meaningful contribution, sooner, and begin to build the relationships that will be important to your success.
Like all advice, however well-intentioned and accurate for the most part, there are always exceptions. If you are truly not comfortable working from a physical office — and as I type this in London with a new Covid variant slowly making its way throughout the city, believe me, I get it — then don’t. Likely your employer will be understanding of that, as even the most rigid bosses and employers have accepted the reality of remote working of the last year-plus. But when you do feel “comfortable enough” returning to the office, we urge you to do so. And hey — your organization might not open its office(s) up at any point this year, or even next. That’s cool, too! Wherever you are working, do your best work and you’ll likely be just fine.
Next, when you return to the office, stay away from talking politics. That might seem like a random comment from us, but in the news now is the debate about whether CEOs should speak out on issues of the day, and whether politics should be freely discussed at the office. Here’s thinking not, at least on the latter matter. The office should be a safe space where one can do one’s work without being subjected to the political views of others, particularly that of leadership. We see nothing to be gained from you airing your political views, much less proselytizing for your view or causes. We are a divided nation politically, and regardless of view you will likely alienate someone, and to what end? There are other outlets for political discourse (which is important — don’t get us wrong!) But the workplace, at least for newer, younger employees, should be a political no-fly zone.
Historical note: it is not clear that Horace Greeley ever said any such thing. Per Wikipedia, Grinnell College historian Joseph Frazier Wall contends that Greeley denied providing that advice, and a blogger who examined the paper says he found no such quote. Nonetheless, the quote is so widely known that it is speculated to have influenced the westward migration, and thus our history as a nation.