Holly and Lyle Aker had to really work to keep their workplace romance alive.

They started dating in 2001 at a Chicago cocktail lounge that had a policy against dating. Lyle was a regional manager and Holly was a server. When it became clear they were serious about each other, Holly took another job so the romance could blossom. More than 20 years later, they’re finally working together again, as the married owners of the Portland restaurant Broken Arrow. They do not have an edict against co-worker romance. In fact, they have a married couple working for them.

“I think in general you need to trust adults to be adults,” said Lyle Aker, 48. “Every relationship, whether people work together or not, is complicated.”

Attitudes and policies about office romance have changed over the years, from the days when it was winked at by corporate bosses to the #MeToo era when sexual harassment cases have called into question the dynamics of workplace relationships. Co-worker courting seems here to stay.

With Valentine’s Day approaching, several recent surveys show that the number of people involved in workplace relationships rose during the first two years of the pandemic and that nearly a quarter of remote workers found romance with a remote colleague during that time.

But can it be an office romance if there’s no office? Can Cupid’s arrow travel over Zoom?


“There are a lot of other things that drive romantic attraction. It’s not all about face-to-face interaction. It’s about sharing similar education and background, similar interests and working together to overcome obstacles,” said Amy Baker, a professor who teaches organizational psychology at the University of New Haven. “There’s a lot of evidence people can fall in love without meeting in person.”

The Society for Human Resource Management’s annual worker surveys show that the estimated number of people who said they were currently in or had been in workplace romances jumped from 27% before the pandemic in 2020 to 33% in 2022, before leveling off again to 27% this year.

A survey done in February by ResumeBuilder.com of 1,250 workers across the country found that 23% of remote workers – people who have worked remotely at least six months during the past three years – started a romance with a remote colleague. That survey found men were more likely to say they started a work relationship than women, 41% to 25%. But the survey also found that home-office romance is still about love, at least for 67% of the respondents, who said they indeed fell in love with their remote partner.

Because employers sent workers home during the pandemic and let many continue to work remotely, the number of people working primarily from home tripled between 2019 and 2021. The remote workforce grew from 9 million people, or 5.7%, to more than 27 million, or 17.9%, according to U.S. Census data released in September.

The data, compiled as part of the census bureau’s American Community Survey, shows that Maine’s increase in remote workers was just about as large, jumping from 42,015 people in 2019 to 117,192 in 2021. That means the percentage of Maine workers working from home leapt from 6.3% to 17.7%.

Mandy Reynolds and Sean Ireland became a couple while working to open their co-working center, Union + Co., in Bath. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Working remotely actually makes it easier for some people to start a romance with a co-worker, said Art Markman, a psychology professor at the University of Texas who studies workplace dynamics. People who don’t like the idea of flirting at work or displaying their personal lives on the job may be more open to starting a relationship remotely.


The notion that people with common backgrounds and goals can fall in love is easy to illustrate with couples who run businesses together, like Holly and Lyle Aker. After they first met at a Chicago restaurant, and Holly quit, Lyle went on to be a partner in several restaurants where there was a ban on involvement by spouses or romantic partners. Once again, there was a roadblock to them working together.

So when they had the chance to open Broken Arrow in Portland in 2020, and work together again after so long, they were elated.

“This is the first time it’s been just the two of us, running a restaurant, so we’ve come full circle and it’s really been a dream of ours,” said Holly Aker, 43.

Mandy Reynolds and Sean Ireland became a couple because of working together, remotely and in person. They were part of a group of five who partnered to start a coworking and office space business in Bath called Union + Co, about four years ago. They all had day jobs then, and they worked remotely to set up the new business. Over time the other three partners dropped out, leaving Reynolds, 33, and Ireland, 50. The two worked hard and closely to overcome the various obstacles to opening a business and keeping it afloat during the pandemic, and fell in love.

“It was a slow process. We started by trying to keep it professional, then we didn’t,” Ireland said. “It’s really the best way to get into a relationship, because by the time we did (start dating) we knew a lot about each other.”

The Society for Human Resource Management, which has more than 320,000 human resource and management members across the country, has been surveying workers for at least 20 years to get a handle on issues employers have to deal with. This year’s was a survey of 632 workers around the country and was conducted in January. The 2013 survey showed that 24% of employees had been or were currently in an office romance, which means the numbers are climbing, at least nationally.


This year’s survey by SHRM also found that 79% of those who are in or have been in a workplace romance dated their peers, while 10% dated subordinates and 18% dated superiors. Eighty-seven percent said that work-related issues were not to blame for the breakup of their office romance, while 18% of people who have been in an office romance said it had a negative impact on their career.


Office romance is still a touchy subject for many businesses, who fear harassment complaints and lawsuits could result from relationships gone bad, said Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of SHRM. That’s evidenced by the fact that about a dozen Maine companies were asked to talk about office romance for this story – and none agreed to do so.

Even if nearly a quarter of remote workers have been in a remote romance, or 27% of all workers have, according to surveys, that means there are still a lot of workers who probably don’t think dating a colleague is a good idea.

Hannah Pierce, 39, a self-employed architect who lives in West Bath, says she was in a workplace romance once, and that was enough. She was working at an engineering firm in Boston around 2010 when she started dating an engineer at the firm. There was a policy against inter-office romance, so they couldn’t let anyone find out.

When the couple broke up, they still had to work together. It was an uncomfortable situation Pierce does not want to repeat.


“I decided I just wouldn’t do that again. It just didn’t go well,” said Pierce, who is currently in a relationship, but not one that began with work. “I have been at offices where it was common for people to date, and there were some train wrecks. ”

Lucia Almeida, 25, of Standish has only known remote work since graduating from Wheaton College in Massachusetts and starting her current job in 2020. She works from home for a health care system, and her job involves calling medical offices and facilities to ensure patients’ access to care and services. Almeida says most of the people she deals with in her department are older and more settled in relationships, but she generally doesn’t think the idea of having a workplace romance is a good one anyway.

Even though she deals with her colleagues mostly through online meetings, she doesn’t like the idea of working with someone after a breakup.

“We meet every day (online) so I’d still be dealing with the person, and I think that would be weird,” Almeida said. “I just don’t think I’d want to do it.”

Despite such caution, there’s evidence the pandemic and remote working have combined to make people more eager for romance, wherever they can find it. So remote relationships may remain an attractive option for many.

“The most important thing is that even if you’re meeting colleagues only online, they probably have similar interests, education, backgrounds and goals, and that’s what’s needed most to sustain longer relationships,” said Markman, the University of Texas professor. “During the pandemic, people’s social networks got smaller. There are a lot of lonely people out there right now. “

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