Returning to the Office
Career Development,  Lifestyle,  Thoughts

Returning to the Office is My Nightmare

Why I’m Dreading Returning to the Office

I was on a call today and the subject of returning to the office came up. In my day to day work life, I manage a small team of great people and have to sit on various calls that one could call useless. In this case, these other managers were asking how they can go about “asking” people to return to the office now that vaccines are being rolled out.

I knew this conversation was coming because my company and many others have been itching to get people back in their warm used seats for some reason. I mean I sorta get it, after all I’ve been a professional seat filler for a dozen years now and I’ve made quite a career of it. We were always a work in the office type place and any attempts at steering the conversion towards allowing people to work at home were quickly shut down.

Then March 2020 happened and we were soon allowed to work at home for what I assumed would be an extended period of time.

However, after a brief period at home, my company basically told us to be back in the office right in the midst of the pandemic last year saying they’d make it a safe environment for us. That included adding some Clorox wipes to the kitchen area and re-arranging our seats so we’d be further away from each other. I felt so safe, thanks!

I told my team to do whatever they felt safe doing.

It just felt wrong to ask people to rush back into the office when our job was perfectly doable at home. Luckily most everyone seemed to share that thought process.

People weren’t too happy about having to be in the office for no reason during a pandemic and because of overall dissatisfaction around the move, the company somewhat stepped back from making it a forced return and gave us all an option to work at home until a future time.

It wasn’t a surprise that most people chose to work at home. Some kept going into the office but many, myself included, got the hell out of dodge and have been working at home for months.

Surprisingly, the company didn’t fall apart and if anything, our department is more productive than it has ever been.

Personally, I thought this work at home thing was awesome and it became even better when we bought a home and I set up my own home office complete with a long ass desk that allows me to change from sitting to standing with a push of a button. The future is here!

Even people who were somewhat against working at home at first on my team began to soften. After all, it’s 2021 and you can do a lot of crap with this magical thing known as the internet. My team was operating on all cylinders and we started to talk about how great this all was.

And yet, the whispers around returning to the office from upper management were never far off. And now as vaccinations roll out, they have become louder as people start thinking about this return to normal. That’s despite the fact that variants are still rolling around.

I listened to these people in this meeting and all I could ask myself was why. Why are you so eager to force everyone back to the office. I get that this direction is coming from the top down and you’re just following directions but WHYYYYYYYY. It just makes me channel my inner Michael and scream NO GOD NO.

Normal is good, no one will deny that. The last year has been somewhat of a drag even for an introvert like me. I know it’s been A LOT worse for many others and I also know that I’m speaking from such a position of privilege because so many were forced to go to work without as much as a word from their employers. It’s almost as if corporations suck but that’s a discussion for another time.

In this case, I want things to get back to normal. I want to go out and have a nice brunch with friends. I want to see my family on a regular basis without worrying that I’d pass something on to my aging parents. I want to be able to go to a store without having to lather myself in antibacterial liquid because I came within five feet of a man who coughed. I want to do anything without having to worry that I might be carrying something that could kill someone without me knowing(and at the very least me working at home lowers the chance of that happening when I have to go out for essential things). Traveling would be nice too and other things as well.

It’s been clear that we need certain things in our lives to be content and happy during this trying time.

However, other things have become clear to me too. The idea that we need to be in an office to be productive and driven and grow is just so asinine. I know that because I experienced it myself. I know because I manage a group of people who are happier with their work environment now than ever. And, surprise, they do a better job than they’ve done before because of that.

I can’t speak for why that is for them but I can speak for myself when I say I’m happier with my job now than I ever was even though the gig itself is your typical corporate bullshit.

The difference now is that I can avoid a good chunk of that corporate bullshit because I’m at home when most of it happens.

I am no longer spending 30-45 minutes each day in the big ol’ time sink we call traffic. Nor am I spending a good part of my day under somehow too dim but also too bright office lights that spew a color temperature that I would choose if I had to paint depression. Luckily, I don’t have to make that painting because this stock photo shows what I mean.

Returning to the Office

Is it a surprise that I’m more productive? After all, by avoiding an hour+ of traffic each day, I can log on earlier and get more done even if we log out at the exact same time as we would if we were in the office. It’s not even the extra hour, it’s what that extra hour does to my mental state. I’m certainly happier logging in each morning when my commute is a ten second walk from my kitchen to my office.

There’s less time wasted on other crap too. Hey, any water cooler talk can just happen over instant message and is much more efficient.

It’s not even the commute or the time wasting that gets me, I’m just happier because I can work at my own pace in a place where I’m a lot more comfortable. I think a lot of people are starting to feel the same way.

There’s so many other things, even if small, that make it a worthwhile change for so many.

I’m no longer stuck with a boring lunch I made in the morning because nothing else is available. I can now walk into my kitchen around lunchtime and make a healthy lunch that can reflect what my tummy funds yummy at that very moment. It’s such a joy to have that option. Access to your own fridge and kitchen during a work day is an much under appreciated thing.

Instead of depressing office light and a wall of cubicles, I get to enjoy the wonderful light that beams in from my large office windows. On warm days, I can take a quick stroll around the neighborhood or walk my aging dog without having to worry that she’ll pee during the day.

And most importantly, I can use my own bathroom and avoid that feeling you get when you walk into a stall and somehow see hair and urine on the toilet seat(seriously how are people so gross).

I’ve also had some health problems recently and managing and scheduling doctor visits is so much easier when I don’t have to walk ten minutes to get to my parking garage just to get going. Doing anything during the work day becomes so much easier when you can take a quick break and get some groceries during a time where the store is not over run.

It’s also so much better for people with hidden disabilities. Working at home when you have pain issues or stomach issues and being able to take a break or even work in bed on a bad day is such a blessing.

And there’s another thing. Working at home is cheaper for both ME and the company. They save money on real estate and other crap while I save money on gas, parking fees, car wear and tear and other random things. Sure, you could make the case that I’m paying more by being at home but I very much doubt it’s anywhere close to what I save. After all, I already have internet and I heat and cool the home for my pets so maybe the extra cost is just some added electricity from running my laptop at home instead of at work. I’m sure that’s nowhere close to what I save on the other things.

Sure, companies like Apple who just spent $5 on a massive campus probably want to use it and not have it become the world’s largest Spirit Halloween pop up in October but that’s not my problem!

On the cost side, it’s a win, win for everyone and yet no one at my company seems to see it that way.

They want everyone back in as fast as possible even though I haven’t heard one good reason that sways me and makes me feel comfortable in telling my team that we have to come back to the office soon.

I’ve heard random corporate bullshit like we do our best work in the office(do we really though because recent results prove otherwise), we can be more collaborative in the office(everything we do is via email anyway so that’s bs) or the face to face human interaction cannot be replaced(ever hear of Zoom).

And yes I know I don’t speak for everyone, some people do enjoy that stuff so sure give them the option of going back to the office!

My direct boss’ response is basically that X(his boss) likes having people in the office. I’ve also heard another upper level manager who’s more of a micro manager tell me that he doesn’t like having a lot of people because he doesn’t know what they’re doing over there.

After all, his employees, could, gasp, be taking a break and watching a tv show from the comfort of their own couch during their lunch. How could we allow that? They should be at their desk and working all the damn time!

My job is one where we have a busy season where we work ridiculous hours and a slower season where one can go into the office and maybe do two hours of work. If my team wants to play video games during one of those slow days after all their work is done, they should damn well have the right to do so because they work their ass off most of the year.

It’s as if these managers don’t understand the benefit that comes with a happy employee. That’s the key question here.

Does working at home make your work force happier? If so then that’s what each employer should be striving to do because a happy employee is a productive employee.

It’s possible that certain companies lose out on productivity but recent studies show that most employees are more productive at home. This study from Stanford showed a 13% boost in home performance when compared to an office setting. It’s not surprise that these studies show these results because I know from personal experience what working at home can help me achieve.

And yes there are cons to working at home that may apply to some. There is no separation between work and home which some people can find difficult. This can be true if their homes are not set up in a way that’s conducive to working at home(poor internet, no good office space, etc.). Some might also have a lot of interruptions due to children or pets or the crippling waves of anxiety that hit you when you remember that you’ll soon have to go back to the office and actually talk to people.

On top of that, people can find it harder to shut down and actually work more at home. You might also have to give up space for a home office.

On the social side, it can be lonely for those who enjoy and love the office environment and relationships CAN(but don’t have to) be harder to form. From a manager’s standpoint, not everyone is self-discipled enough to make it work but that’s why it’s my job to make sure things get done no matter where the person works.

I personally experienced some of these during the early phase but as I got accustomed to it all, I found them to be less problematic. I can disconnect from work just as easily as I could when working in the office and my productivity is not impacted by any interruptions. In fact, I feel the opposite as the interruptions are more purposeful, which makes me more productive because the breaks actually recharge me. It’s hard to do that in an office setting. However, I do understand that I am one of many and experiences may vary. It also certainly helps to be an introvert when it comes to the social aspects of the job.

I think sometimes, managers want people in the office simply because it’s easier for THEM to get stuff done and to keep an eye out on their team. Also, from my experience, many managers, who at least in my industry are older, don’t realize that the tide is changing and that most young people prefer talking via IM or email than face to face or on the phone.

Right now, I log on at home and talk to people via teams or video call. If I went to the office, I’d log on in a less comfortable place and talk to people via teams or video call. Sure, there’s a meeting here and there in person but even those were becoming rarer and rarer before this switch as our workforce got younger.

That’s why tech corporations who tend to trend younger are more likely to jump on the work at home bandwagon that companies helmed by older leaders like mine.

I understand that some people still want to work in the office and maybe even return to the office ASAP.

However, I think that percentage is much lower than it was in the past. I have multiple people that expressed worry about all of the above cons when we moved to a work from home environment. None of them are excited about going back to the office at all. 100% of my team wants to stay at home and yet my company is telling me and others like me that we have to start going back.

And, yes, the reality is that many jobs may require you to be in a physical environment to do your work.

However, many don’t and I don’t understand the need to force everyone to go along with this return to the office bullshit.

If people want to go back to the office then it’d be nice to have that option but if most don’t then maybe it’s a sign that the company needs a smaller footprint and a change in thinking.

I know I’m just one person screaming into the void but I hope that others who enjoy this type of work environment speak up because it’s the only way companies will change their ways.

The best way to make your voice heard is to vote with the choices you make with your career. I know that once this all settles down and I am forced back to the office, I’ll be looking for a job that allows me the flexibility to work at home. I think this is becoming more common these days and that’s a good sign for those of us who love it.

This last year made it clear to me and many others that working at home rocks and returning to the office is a dumb idea. If my company doesn’t understand that then maybe I’ll find another one that does. I’d actually be willing to take a pay cut to make that happen, that’s how much I value this perk.

I don’t want to speak for others but based on conversation with co-workers and friends, I’m beginning to thing most people feel that way.

However, whenever I bring this up to my bosses and try to convince them it’s the right path forward, they think I’m crazy and that it’d all fall apart if we worked at home beyond this short period of almost one year where we did better work than we ever have before.

Right now I feel like I’m in a weird episode of Lost. My employer is telling me that we were not supposed to leave and that we have to go back. WELL SCREW YOU JACK, I DON’T WANT TO GO BACK. The island sucks and you can’t make me. Is that reference too old? Well if you work at home, you can probably watch some Lost during your lunch break and get it. Gotta enjoy it while it lasts!

Return to the Office

8 Comments

  • Alan

    Extroverts need the social interaction, like spending time drinking coffee with their buddies in the cafeteria. Some people want to escape from their kids. Going back to the office will depend on how the schools handle kids going to school.

    Personally I love working from home. Instead of spending the time getting ready for work and commuting, my wife and I can go jogging. I like preparing my own food and watching CNBC Half Time at noon.

    For me, working from home has resulted in longer work days and more meetings. The meetings have crept into lunch time, before 9am, and after 5pm. When we go back to the office, that will have to end.

    It is also much easier to do options trading at home since my personal PC is right next to my work laptop, and I can watch stock trends.

  • Mr. Robot

    I can understand where you are coming from. I do however feel there is merit in personal conversations at the cooler, during lunch or sometimes when working together on something. This real interaction cannot be replaced by Zoom or Teams.

    That being said I do believe that a happy employee delivers far better results than a miserable one. I think no one can argue with the results.

    I’ve been working from home for months but I do still miss the office interactions. I think my ideal situation would be 3 days at home and 2 at the office. My employer is now holding a wellbeing at work questionnaire that will determine how the office is going to change from a place to work from 5 days a week to a meeting and collaboration space.

    I think as with everything, balance is the most important part. I do recognize old leadership is about command and control and new leadership is about trust and wellbeing. I hope your leadership doesn’t miss the boat or they might be going to miss out on you and your coworkers.

    I hope it works out for you!

  • Steveark

    I think it is going to be very individualistic. It certainly appears to work well for you. Most of my career I was in a job that absolutely called for me to be physically present or someone I designated for emergency response and crisis management. But industrial chemical complexes are much different than normal corporate offices.

  • Q-FI

    Your world is my world. There have been many tragedies from the pandemic, but working from home has been one of the best things that ever happened to me.

    I laid out a plan in Feb 2020 to my boss during my annual review to work two days a month from home. He rejected it (he’s an old school micromanager but only 40 sadly – just one of those control freaks). Then the pandemic hits and I’ve been working from home since.

    Like your company we have had the most profitable and productive year since the great recession. No argument exists that this work from home thing doesn’t work. The results speak for themselves. My department always gets terrible employee engagement reviews – 6 months into the pandemic my department has the highest ever employee engagement rankings because we’re working from home. Someone even asked the question on our review call, “do you think our engagement is so high because people are happier working from home?” Duh! But the EVP just brushed it off and said no, it’s because of the company making changes and other bullshit.

    It’s all the little things like you mention, no fucking terrible white walls and bleached office lighting to suck your soul away, I can avoid shitty people, I can walk outside at my leisure, I can actually manage my time without a control freak breathing down my neck.

    It’s going to be a sad day when office life returns. I hope my company can at least do some sort of hybrid model, but we’ll see what the future holds.

    Great post and best of luck trying to hold on to the work from home perk.

    P.S. I’d consider a pay cut as well to keep it, it’s been that valuable to me.

  • LadyFIRE

    Just want to say I wholeheartedly agree with you. I don’t look forward to having to go back to the office at all. At home I have a more ergonomic setup (I can’t adjust my table or even my screen at work at all. yes, really…) and save time and money on the commute.

    I also find that I’m a lot more productive at home. There is no noise around me, so I can focus a lot better when doing deep work (we have an open plan office with people often taking calls at their desks as we have limited meeting rooms). I also don’t get dragged into ad-hoc meetings that most of the time don’t even really at value, so my flow is uninterrupted and I need to context-switch less. Plus, I collaborate with colleagues from different teams in different countries, so I don’t really have a tangible benefit from being in the office at all.

    I understand that different people will have different preferences, and I can imagine working from home can be more difficult if you have small children or no dedicated work area (I also had to set mine up from scratch). At a previous job with more employees, I also had friends in different departments and it was nice to grab the occasional coffee and chat during a break. So I’m not saying I never want to go to the office ever again, but my preference is definitely working from home. If it’s up to me, I’m happy working from home 80 – 100% of the time.

    I’m hoping the company will keep arrangements somewhat flexible and at least allow some work-from-home in the future. Fingers crossed! Maybe something good will come out of this whole pandemic situation.

  • AMM

    “If my team wants to play video games during one of those slow days after all their work is done, they should damn well have the right to do so because they work their ass off most of the year.”

    This sentence on its own makes me see you as the sort of manager I want to work under.

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