The Memo: Missing the office

Work from home.

To modern workers everywhere,

I miss the office. As a single person living in a small Brooklyn apartment, it’s been easy to get lost in my work and not know how to set boundaries. It only hit me that I was missing structure when I decided to stay for a bit at my parents’ home in the New Jersey suburbs, and got reacquainted with chores. Having obligations and accountability outside of work made it easier to see the boundaries between my professional life and my personal life. And remote work makes it possible to switch between these modes throughout the day.

A group of psychologists at Claremont Graduate University have coined a term for this kind of fluidity: nano-transitions, or those moments during the workday when you briefly step away from the screen to do something for a child, a partner, or yourself.

Breaks throughout the workday, such as scrolling through social media while on the clock, are not new. But in pre-pandemic times, those kinds of pauses might have been frowned upon or available only to a privileged set of workers. Now they’ve become much more prevalent. As my Quartz at Work colleague Lila MacLellan recently reported, the Claremont researchers found that workers who take breaks have more agency over their work life. But the breaks need to be intentional and according to the employee’s own needs and schedule to work that way; being forced to take a break for a workplace social gathering on Zoom could feel more like an interruption.

Not everyone is able to find the line gracefully: younger or lower-ranking workers may feel like they don’t have much agency, and harried parents may feel like many of their breaks from work are not in their control. Perhaps that’s one reason why so many people miss the office, even if they prefer to ultimately spend less time there than they used to. The office is going to change—there will be more hybrid scenarios, more flexibility, more days at home—but offices are not going away completely. For many of us, the deliberate structure helps clarify when it’s time to work and when it’s time to step away.—Michelle Cheng

+ How have you found your boundaries between your work and personal life changing during the pandemic?

Five things we learned this week

Uber drivers are not self-employed contractors. Not in the UK, at least.

Some companies are mandating Covid-19 vaccines. They see it as part of their responsibility to create a safe work environment.

Taking women more seriously could add 10% to Africa’s GDP by 2025. Shifting more decision making in business, finance, and global health to women might help the region recover more quickly from the pandemic.

How not to run a meeting, according to Clubhouse. Step 1: Set no agenda.

New York is planning a six-month festival to revive its performing arts scene. It’s a large-scale experiment in how to jumpstart a sector that employs hundreds of thousands and contributes billions of dollars to the state’s economy each year.

It’s a fact!

Nearly 60% of office space in India is occupied by IT companies, according to data from commercial real estate firm JLL—and as Quartz India’s Ananya Bhattacharya reports, they’re helping to keep the country’s office-leasing industry afloat.

Employees walk in front of a pyramid-shaped building at the Infosys campus in the Electronic City area of Bangalore
Still occupied.
Image: Reuters/Vivek Prakash

An upcoming workshop

It’s nearly impossible these days to avoid experiencing strong emotions. Instead of trying to push your feelings away, learn to manage them so they don’t trip you up at work. On Thursday, March 4, Melody Wilding, an executive coach and licensed social worker specializing in highly sensitive people, will share practical advice on how to stop overthinking and how to channel your emotions for professional success. The live workshop is free and begins at 11am US eastern time. Register here.

30-second case study

Last April, the organizers of Burning Man—the anything-goes music festival that typically draws 80,000 attendees for a week of communal living in the Nevada desert—canceled its in-person revelry because of the pandemic. Instead, the September festival was hosted virtually, in a week of events spread across eight digital platforms, including a nascent video chat service called Topia.

Topia allowed people to build virtual versions of their festival campsites. Instead of dragging power tools, plywood, and rebar into the desert, they dragged illustrations of tents, concert stages, and port-a-potties onto a digital canvass. Each user, represented by a simple avatar, could walk around, explore a vast map of other user-generated campsites, and chat with the virtual attendees they met there.

That’s exactly the kind of virtual connection many companies are looking to foster as offices remain closed amid Covid-19. Now eight months old, Topia bills itself as a more sociable alternative to Zoom, and is one of many startups racing to create more realistic social experiences online. Businesses, nonprofits, schools, or any other type of organization can pay Topia $5 per month to create a world where an unlimited number of people can mingle anytime.

The takeaway: On video calls, it’s hard to replicate the causal interactions and mingling at the office. Startups like Topia are looking to solve for that. If successful, it could make an array of virtual experiences available to new audiences—Topia users created 1,700 worlds in December, including one built to host a wedding.

At a recent panel on the so-called “surreal estate” market, Topia CFO John Zdanowski, who from 2006 to 2009 was the CFO of Second Life, said Topia could someday take up Second Life’s mantle as a virtual-world destination. It’s a long way from that, but Zdanowski noted that Topia has a number of advantages over its predecessor: It doesn’t require you to download anything, you don’t have to create an elaborate fictional character to participate, and it came about in a moment when people are much more comfortable with the idea of hanging out in a virtual space.

Please share this link with your HR department

It’s almost last call to nominate your firm for Quartz’s Best Companies for Remote Workers! Register your company today to be considered for our inaugural ranking—it’s free, it takes just a few minutes, and it could land you on our list, the first global ranking of its kind. Whether you’re fully remote or distributed with a remote component, we would love to consider your submission. The complete list will be published later this year on Quartz at Work. Sign up by March 16.

Quartz field guide interlude

TikTok easily could have been relegated to Gen Z teens who embraced the dance fads and quirky memes that quickly dominated the platform. Instead, three short years after its debut in America, the Chinese-owned app is now considered by many to be a major player in music, with the power to reinvent the path to stardom and upset the long-held power imbalance between artists and executives. But beneath the beats, TikTok has a complex financial structure and formula for popularity that artists and industry insiders struggle to navigate—and that’s just how the app likes it.

+ Read more about how TikTok stars are reinventing the path to fame and how TikTokers get record deals, plus get a playlist showcasing TikTok’s effect on music, in this week’s field guide to how TikTok is changing music.

Words of wisdom

“We have a global supply chain model that has benefited brands and retailers over decades, and that has left workers with poverty wages that left them in an especially vulnerable position when the pandemic hit”—Penelope Kyritsis, director of strategic research for the labor watchdog Worker Rights Consortium

Penelope spoke with Quartz’s Marc Bain for his story about who is responsible for the world’s garment workers. Read the piece here.


How can companies promote more disability inclusion at the workplace? According to the World Bank, an estimated 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability. Last week, Quartz executive editor Heather Landy spoke with disability advocate Caroline Casey of The Valuable 500 and Hector Minto, Microsoft’s senior technology evangelist for accessibility, about the state of disability inclusion in today’s workplace. Quartz members can access the video playback and a detailed recap here.

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You got The Memo!

Our best wishes for a productive and creative day. Please send any workplace news, virtual worlds, and streaming ballet performances to Get the most out of Quartz by downloading our app and becoming a member. This week’s edition of The Memo was produced by Michelle Cheng, Heather Landy, and Nicolás Rivero.