Friday Thoughts on Going Back To the Office

EmptyOffice

We’re halfway through 2021 and it’s been going better than last year. Technology seems to be rebounding and we’re seeing companies trying to find ways to get employees to come back into the office. Of course, that is being met head on by the desire to not go back at all and continue to do the job from home that has been done over the past year. Something is going to have to give and I don’t know what that might be.

  • Working from home is comfortable for sure. And the lack of schedule means that people are unknowingly putting in hours beyond what they normally would at the office. At least in the office you can walk away from your desk at the end of the day.
  • Unlimited PTO and flexible work schedules sound great in theory. Except not tracking your PTO hours also means you don’t accrue them. You don’t get paid for time you don’t take off. And a flexible work schedule sounds great in theory but reality says that you’re not likely to get much support if you suddenly decide you want to work noon to 10pm Hawaiian time. Flexible really means “work longer than normal”.
  • The office is filled with tech that you don’t have to maintain. That means when you’re there and the Internet goes down you don’t have to spend your time trying to fix it and keep up with your workload. IT departments have a role to play just like you do. Only their role ends at the office or with confirming that your company-issued equipment is working properly. If it’s your provider or your own personal gear that’s a different story.

It may sound like I’m advocating for you to go back into the office and the nine-to-five grind all over again. That’s not quite the point though. What I’m advocating for is figuring out what’s the best way to get your job done. There are numerous stories in the news about companies asking their workers to return, hearing the refusal, and then making it a mandate to get back to their office to do some part of their job that can’t be done remotely.

Fully Tasked with Partial Credit

The refrain of “I’ve been working remotely for the last year” is a pretty common answer to the call for coming back to the office. But have you been doing 100% of your job remotely? Has every aspect of what you do been able to be completed away from your desk? And if it has, are you doing 100% of the work you were doing in January 2020? I think a lot of the remote work that we’ve seen as of late is a consequence of our jobs needing to be done away from the office but also a reduction in things that have to be done in person. We are able to do our jobs from our house because we’ve reduced or eliminated the things that have to be done face-to-face.

I can say for sure that my role, even having been remote in the past, isn’t the same as it was in early 2020. I used to be on airplanes at least twice a month. I’m finally getting back on one for the first time in over a year next week. The idea of almost foreign to me at this point. And it’s because we knew that there were things that were going to need to change at work due to our inability to do them in person. So while I can say that I can do my job entirely from my house right now it’s only because the part of my job that requires me to get on an airplane all the time hasn’t fully come back into force yet.

This rings even more true for companies that have specific in-person needs. Apple is making news because they’re still pushing to have their employees come back to Cupertino where necessary. That may sound draconian to some until you remember that there is a lot work work on hardware prototypes and development that happens in that building. Those aren’t really things you can do at home. And given how tightly Apple holds that information there’s no way they’re going to allow it to be outside their walls unless absolutely necessary. I don’t know what the right answer is for Apple or for hardware companies in general but the extremes of both sides aren’t likely to get their way entirely.

Compromised Compromises

Several of my friends have remarked that they hate the phrase “new normal” when referring to how society has changed over the past year. The idea that the things we’re doing are going to be permanent parts of our lives from here on out. Yet, for all the grousing about wearing masks or supply shortages or lockdowns when the situation benefits us we’re happy to make it permanent.

The working from home mandates we’ve seen should be examined just like those other measures that aren’t “normal”. It was an emergency measure designed to keep the doors open as long as possible until we could pull through everything going on. Now that it’s time to look at those decisions again people are chafing because this is the one thing they actually like out of the whole pandemic response.

Compromise doesn’t work like that. You don’t get to pick and choose the things you get to have your way on. Instead, you need to figure out what makes the most sense and implement the things that are best for those all around. If that means going back into the office two days a week to do things that can only be accomplished there then maybe that’s what needs to happen. Granted there are still ways to find common ground and negotiate. Maybe you can work from home every other Friday. Or you can adjust your schedule in other ways. But holding out hope that the situation will continue to benefit you as it is right now without any form of further compromise isn’t a likely scenario.


Tom’s Take

I know it sounds a lot like “doom and gloom” for those that want to continue to work from home all the time. As someone that has been doing it for a while I don’t know if I could ever go back into an office full-time. But I also know that when the time comes soon for me to get back to my “office” on an airplane that it’s going to need to happen. Because we can’t get back to the old normal without getting back to the way things were done before. There very well could be a paradigm shift on the horizon for working in offices and how our jobs can be changed to not require in-person work. But I don’t think we’re going to see that happen directly after what we’ve all experienced. That road has more twists and turns yet to come whether it’s headed back to the office or all the way home.