Does anyone else remember offices? You know, those places you spent upwards of an hour commuting to in standstill traffic or overcrowded expensive public transportation? Shoulder to shoulder, bumper to bumper. Those places where sick coworkers would come into the office and kindly spread their sickness?
Despite the pandemic destroying livelihoods, causing widespread mental health issues and changing the way we live, some good has come of the pandemic.
The death of the office.
The first casualty of the pandemic wasn’t the supply chain. It was the office. As COVID-19 spread, countries began to lock themselves down. People were encouraged to stay home, to only move for essential purposes. As a result, many companies shut their offices down and let their employees work from home.
I know some of my friends struggled to work from home. Not because they didn’t trust themselves, but because the childcare/schooling situation became complicated. Many schools and places shut down for a while, burdening parents who had to figure things out. Disproportionately, women were left to deal with this problem.
I also know people who struggle to work outside of a traditional office environment. That’s fine. Not everyone wants to work from home, but overwhelmingly it seems a large majority of workers do. This is why companies need to understand one thing: remote work and flexible hours are no longer perks. They’re expected.
If you’re not giving your employees a choice, they’ll most likely be part of that Great Resignation movement I am sure you’ve heard about.
Despite the challenges of kids, I love being at home. I was already working from home three days per week and 2 in the office (hybrid work). I never missed packages when they were delivered, we didn’t have to fear our HelloFresh boxes being stolen (a problem in the area we are currently in), and I got to see my kids growing up, play with them on lunch breaks.
My eldest son is in school now, so I don’t see him during the weekdays. My daughter, who is two and a half and growing up fast, goes to kindergarten two days per week to prepare her for school. Those two days also help regain some of the time she lost as a toddler getting to socialise on playdates and other things you don’t realise are pretty crucial to the development of a child.
But, I am so grateful I got to be at home with them for a bit, even if, at times, my wife and I were counting down the hours to bedtime (and the number of hairs we had left on our heads).
I no longer waste as much money
One of my worse habits formed from working in an office was buying coffee every day. A regular cup of coffee will set up back on average AUD 5 these days. I was sometimes getting two coffees a day. You do the math per month. Even one cup per day over a month is $100 per month in coffee.
And then there were the lunches. Despite taking lunch and being social with others, I would eat out at least once a week. A burger will easily set you back AUD 20. Throw in a drink, maybe $25. That’s another easy $100 per month to bond and be social with your teammates.
You could argue that I didn’t need to buy coffee and that I didn’t need to buy lunch. But, I am sure you have seen that one person in the company who never partakes in team lunches or the quick out of office coffee trip. They get silently judged or viewed as a sort of outsider in the company (even if it’s never spoken about).
When the pandemic hit, my wife and I decided to buy a coffee machine and start buying coffee beans. We make our fresh coffee each morning, and we’ve saved probably thousands now, not spending $5 a day on coffee. My wife and I still sometimes go out for lunch together, but it’s not once a week.
I no longer have to be “always on”
I am an extrovert, but even I find constant interaction exhausting and distracting.
Some days in the office, whether mental health-related or just tired, you don’t want to have conversations about what you did on the weekend.
“What did I do? thanks for asking, Bob. I sat down with a bag of Doritos and binged Stranger Things with my wife. I thought I ate the whole bag, but then I got up and I found two that had rolled under the sheets, so that was a nice surprise.”
Sometimes you want to do your job and then go home. We all have these days. But, if you start ignoring your teammates or being short, you won’t last long. I’m also polite, so I would never outright tell someone I don’t want to speak to them, even if I have a bad day/week.
Another reason I don’t miss the office. Sometimes a coworker can suffer from unable-to-read-the-room-itis where they can’t take the hint you’re just not with it today. Which is fine; offices aren’t known for privacy and boundaries.
And then there’s the pressure of always having work open on your screen. I don’t know about you, but I am constantly procrastinating. I consider myself a highly functioning procrastinator. I tend to get things done before they’re due. I love watching a YouTube video or even a conversation with a coworker over Slack.
I worked somewhere once where I would come in early in the morning, and the first thing I would do was check the news. I am talking, maybe 7:50 am. My salaried start time wasn’t until 8:30 am, so I would read the news, check Hacker News and so on. The guy who was my manager pulled me into the meeting room one day and said, “I notice you’re always looking at non work things every morning, can you not do that? I want you to open up your task list and see what you’re going to be working on when you first get in.”
I get why he said it. It’s what he did when he came in. He wasn’t browsing news sites or clicking Hacker News links. But it bothered me. He could only see his way of working, and technically, I didn’t even need to be there at that time.
In response to what he said to me, I started arriving at work later. I would sometimes get in at nine instead because that’s what some other people did. You can probably guess I didn’t stay there for too long after that conversation.
Working from home allows me to work more flexible hours. Sometimes I start at 7 am because I can and finish earlier. My wife and I sometimes go out for lunch together when both kids are at school. Best of all, the conversations can be on my terms.
I am less distracted
Despite just telling you I procrastinate like there is no tomorrow sometimes, I am focused when I am working on something. I sometimes get so focused. I can go for hours without breaks or eating. Some days I skip lunch, and it isn’t until it gets to 4 or 5 in the afternoon and I begin to finish up that I realise I am starving.
I thrive in chaos. I grew up in a large family of five sisters (I am the only boy), so I know what chaos is. But, sometimes, you want to be left alone. There can not only be distractions (a coffee machine is a good example), but even if you have headphones on, some people still feel it’s okay to tap you on the shoulder to ask for something.
I also have self-diagnosed Misophonia. When I hear people chewing loudly (chips especially), I clench my teeth and sometimes fists. It seems silly to get angry over the sound of chewing, but it genuinely makes me feel tense and like I need to get away from the situation. I never get violent or physical, but the feeling of anger that envelopes me is not pleasant. I haven’t experienced this feeling in a long time since working full-time remote.
I get sick way less
Getting sick less could be attributed to masks, but I get sick way less than when I was in an office. Everywhere I have worked, there is always someone who thinks they’re the hero coming into the office with inflamed sinuses and chesty cough that makes them sound like they’re auditioning for Seal: the musical.
Fortunately, I do have my own experience to compare to. Working remotely before the pandemic normalised, I got sick less being in the office two days a week. Keep in mind that I have kids, so the threat of sickness is always looming; hence, I think masks have contributed to people getting sick less.
I never understood what people who were coming into the office sick pre-pandemic thought they were achieving. Were they hoping in their performance review, their manager would say, “I’ve noticed even when you are sick, you still show up and work hard. We appreciate that, so here’s a trophy, a $10k bonus and a week of paid leave you can take any time, no questions asked”?
We can only hope this frowned upon behaviour never sees a return. However, there will always be someone who feels pressured (for whatever reason) to be in the office, even as they spread their nasty viral droplets around the office.
I have more time
When you’re 70 years old, and you’re retired, you’re not going to be saying, “I really regret not going into the office more” or, “I really wish I commuted more” — I used to enjoy catching the train sometimes if I was lucky enough to get a seat. Being able to listen to a podcast or read a book was great. But when you’re spending an hour on a train one way, the lost time over a year is enormous.
Want to listen to a podcast or read a book? You can still use that time you would have commuted to unwind, except you can do it on the couch in your own home.
I calculated when I was going into the office for one of my previous jobs. I was losing a minimum of 40 hours per month in commute time. And, realistically, it was more than that if the traffic was terrible or the bus didn’t show up, a medical emergency at a train platform/train, or a bad storm causing damage/flooding to the roads and train tracks.
In total, going into the office full time is costing you around 500 hours per year in commute time (if it takes you one hour to go one way to the office).
If I didn’t make it obvious enough, I don’t miss the office at all. And really, what purpose do they serve? What can you do in an office that you can’t do at home or in a cafe? You can try citing cultural reasons for wanting to keep an office, but you can have good company culture without having people in a physical place.
Companies trying their hardest to force people back into the office are waving red flags by fighting the inevitable. As always, companies that refuse to embrace the future of work are doing so because it means giving up control. If you can’t trust your employees enough to let them work remotely, either fire them and hire people you do trust or take the leap and see what happens.
Ironically, many of the companies fighting remote work during the pandemic (like almost every company that could) allowed their employees to work from home full time anyway. If your company survived the pandemic by letting your employees work from home, isn’t that proof enough? If your company saw its revenue increase letting employees work remotely, isn’t that further proof?
Can anyone point me to a list of companies that went out of business because they switched to a remote workforce during the pandemic? Because I haven’t heard of any companies going out of business by offering it.
And think about it some more. Weren’t you already working remotely anyway? If you own a pair of noise-cancelling headphones or work with others that do, and your company uses Slack or Microsoft Teams, people were already socially distancing and in their tiny bubbles in the office anyway.
When I worked in an office full-time, I would say about 80% of work-related conversations would occur over Slack, email, or inside a ticket in Jira or Trello. Why does it matter if I do it in the office or at the home? It’s the same either way.