Getting Acquainted With Our New Workplace Columnist

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Some writers aim to develop one area of expertise over the course of their careers. Anna Holmes has done the opposite, following her curiosity wherever it leads: politics, relationships, sex, women and gender issues, race, culture and children’s books.

“Let’s put it this way: I don’t have a beat,” Ms. Holmes said.

With a new assignment, though, she may be close to getting one.

Ms. Holmes is the incoming writer of Work Friend, a column published by the Sunday Business section of The New York Times. Twice a month, she’ll dole out advice on money, careers and work-life balance. (Ms. Holmes’s first edition will be published this weekend.) It is a formula she’s used to, having explored workplace culture in Sad Desk Salad, a column for Bloomberg Businessweek.

Ms. Holmes takes the reins from Roxane Gay, who has steered the column since May 2020, advising readers through conundrums such as whether to express political views in the office, what to do when colleagues exercise during video calls and how to react to overly ambitious, go-getting co-workers.

Readers may recognize Ms. Holmes’s byline. She is a former contributor to Bookends, a column from The Times Book Review, as well as to other sections, including Opinion. In 2007, she founded Jezebel, the popular feminist online magazine.

In an interview, Ms. Holmes spoke about the evolving workplace, the process of choosing which letters to address and more. This interview has been edited and condensed.

You’ve covered a wide spectrum of topics. What’s unique about the workplace that makes you want to commit to it?

I like thinking about interpersonal problems. I don’t purport to know how to navigate them all the time, but teasing out the ideas brought up in the letters that readers write — that’s an education for me, too. It’s not like I immediately know how I want to respond. I have to think about what I feel, but also about how the letter writer might react to what I have to say, and how the audience might, too.

The workplace is changing, and we collectively are changing with it. The most obvious example is, of course, how Covid-19 ushered in the era of remote work. How does that affect how we relate to our co-workers? Or how we think about our jobs? Or how we schedule our days? Some of it can be unnerving to think about. For example, will A.I. take our jobs? Technology and creativity can be complementary to the work we do, but it could also affect us negatively. How do we work through that?

How do you think your experience — at different levels within media — will inform how you advise readers?

Well, I’ve worked as a low-level employee, a high-level one — a manager, the boss, etc. — and in a fair number of mediums, too: digital publishing, video documentaries and print. So I have to trust my own voice and opinion.

At the end of the day, being authentic is the only thing that I can do. If I overanalyze my answers, then I’m going to get paralyzed. I’m looking forward to creating a relationship with readers that is tethered to a column, as opposed to my articles here and there.

What topics are you hoping to cover? How do you choose which letters to respond to?

When I’m looking through submissions, I try to take the questions that I have something to say about. Often, I’m pleasantly surprised at how erudite and thorough the letters are, and how open and trusting their writers are. I go through them and mark which ones feel most intriguing or challenging. I’m not picking them because they adhere to a certain idea of how I think I should talk about work.

Then, I’ll send my favorites over to my editor, Sharon O’Neal, and we have a back-and-forth, and some of those will make it into the paper. Maybe after I’ve had more time to familiarize myself and see what trends appear, it’s possible that I’ll lean toward certain ones in the future.

What are some of the topics that readers can expect in your first few columns?

One early letter is about a co-worker who giggles too much. Another is about being thrown under the bus by your manager to the higher-ups, which kind of happened to me once. There’s another about a co-worker who fasts during the workday, and the letter writer is worried it affects their mood in the workplace.

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