In a storyline that’s familiar to many who started new jobs during the pandemic, Farzana Fariha (‘21 BS) still hasn’t met everyone on her team face-to-face. Because some of her coworkers at Ford prefer to leave their cameras off altogether, she doesn’t even know what some of them look like outside of their profile pictures. In some ways, she says that might be saving her. The laid-back 22-year-old has a candid sense of humor, so having cameras off means she can appreciate an awkward moment without worrying that she’s broadcasting a spontaneous smile to everyone else. But it has been a little weird not knowing if/when it’s appropriate to bust out a joke or some side banter, which she likely wouldn’t give a second thought to under normal circumstances. “Everyone else on my team worked together before the pandemic, so the main thing is I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. My team is great, but I just feel like I don’t know them that way yet,” she says. “Like, if I start telling them about what Kanye West posted on Instagram last night, are they going to think that’s funny or are they going to be, like, why is she telling me this?”
The core part of her job, though, is going really well so far. For the past eight months, her life as a Ford software engineer has meant managing everything from back-end email servers to user interface features for some of Ford’s customer-facing apps. And she often gets to work with Ford teams across the western hemisphere, from Canada to Brazil. On that front, she says it was actually really helpful that her entire senior year at UM-Dearborn was remote, because she got to master many of the software platforms she uses all the time now — plus some of the nuances of “videoconferencing etiquette.” However, unlike some of her friends who are also in remote jobs, she’s figured out that “working from bed” does not work for her. She set up a full home office in the basement, which helps keep work and home life somewhat separate. (For the same reason, she hasn’t installed Zoom, Webex or Microsoft Teams on her phone.) Getting the rest of her household to respect her work-from-home boundaries is a work in progress. “I think it’s been really nice for my mom, because I wasn’t always home a lot during college. She’s, like, ‘Hey, now that you’re working from home, you can help me do the dishes or wake up your brother and give him a bath.’ And I have to be, like, ‘Alright, mom, I see what you’re doing.’”
Whether remote work beats the old way of doing things is a common topic of conversation among her friends who also started post-graduation jobs during the pandemic. One who relocated to Tennessee for an in-person position says it was the “best thing he’s ever done.” Another friend who’s now returned to the office and does a lot of traveling for work says she’s enjoying it, though it was initially draining to be so social again. On the other hand, her friends who are working remotely all seem to prefer it — especially the lack of a commute and a dress code that’s basically anything goes. Fariha says her take is somewhere in the middle. She’s also enjoyed life without a commute (for her, it would be 45 minutes one way), and since her day is all computer work anyway, her team really hasn’t had a hard time working remotely. But one thing that was attractive to her about Ford is that it’s a big company, with lots of UM-Dearborn alumni, and you would have had lots of chances to meet people as you “wandered the halls” or ate in the cafeteria. Making work friends remotely is something she hasn’t cracked the code on yet, though she has started participating in some of the remote events the company has been sponsoring. She took advantage of the virtual pizza making class recently, which yielded a pretty decent dinner and jokey group chat afterward.
Sometime in the not too distant future, she expects she’ll get to try out a best-of-both-worlds approach. The word on the street is that folks may start heading back to the office soon, at least for a few days a week, and Fariha says hybrid would probably be her preference. She bought a new car in anticipation of that, though she’s held back on buying new outfits.
“I guess my biggest anxiety is that first day we all go to the office,” she says. “Like, will they even recognize me? Will I recognize them? And can I crack some jokes?! It’s like you have to make a first impression all over again. But on the other hand, I think it’d be kind of a relief to have something new after a year of doing school from home and another year of working from home. You’re just always sitting in one spot. As a software engineer, you expect to sit a lot, but at the office, I hear they at least have a ping pong table and nerf gun fights to break it up. At home, I can’t throw paper airplanes to myself.”
Story by Lou Blouin