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Remote Work

Back in the office

I’ve been back in the office for a few weeks now. Only about 10% of our company can work in the office and even then only about that percentage are keen to return (at present).

I find myself enjoying work again and regaining the ability to mentally separate work from home has been energizing me for when I am at work. Also having people around motivates and recharges me at work.

I read an interesting article written by Justin Qin, a year 8 high school student, who reflects on returning to school after many weeks of home-based learning:

“Lockdown and home schooling had been a lonely environment for me — even with two energetic brothers for company, and Instagram on repeat.

And after days at a time like this my friends and I chatted constantly when we saw each other, flushing out the loneliness of isolation and reviving the joy of face-to-face chat even though we had to maintain that all-important distance.

Being in the classroom, and the ease of talking to my teacher and other students, makes school a place where I can actually learn and be engaged.

My school day was spent stuck at a desk at home, with tiny breaks and no time to chat to friends as we transitioned between lessons. I often felt as if I had not stood up for hours at a time.

The result was that learning from home was seriously affecting my physical and mental health.

Mentally, I wrestled with finding the meaning of my life when so much of it was spent alone at a desk.

Physically, I ate significantly less food than normal.

With these struggles I cannot see a strong future for online classes replacing school.”

Justin Qin on returning to Year 8 at School #

When I look at my LinkedIn feed it’s full of articles, comments and observations that many people can’t see themselves returning to the office in the near, or far, future.

I put this down to one of two possible things:

  1. People are still in the “honeymoon” period of full time working from home; and/or
  2. People are confusing working from home with having flexible working conditions

“The first six months were a dreamlike period, where everything you’d ever hated about office life – underlings, overlords, sharing bathrooms with people who you’re thankful aren’t your family – morphed into amusing memories.”

“It’s all fun and games at first, a novelty, the home work thing, and being close to your own fridge is great, but the slow evaporation of the mental distance between your home life and your work one is an insidious one.”

Stephen Corby : You might love working from home now, but give it a year

As I’ve stated previously, I personally don’t find myself healthy, happy or productive working from where I live. I prefer to separate work and home, and to have people I’m working with around in real life.

But I’ve also said we need more flexibility in the way we work, working from home doesn’t have to be the only way we can have flexible working conditions.

I’ve also seen a somewhat disturbing trend to encourage everyone to act like they’re working remotely even if they’re in the office:

“If everyone sits at their desk on an individual video call screen, the playing field is equal. Everyone’s faces are easily distinguishable, it’s easy to know whose turn it is to talk, and it simply puts everyone’s input on equal footing.”

6 Rules To Live By When You Work In An Office But Have Remote Team Members

I’ve tried doing that and the audio feedback from having someone sitting near you talking on the call and also near you is terrible, it’s loud and distracting for other’s in an open plan office, and it feels weird to pretend we’re not in the office when we are.

Conclusion

I still think it’s too early to declare that ever working from an office again is not going to happen. As I have previously stated – it’s been good to show employers that employees can still be productive when given workplace flexibility – however I think there will be recognition that working 100% in physical isolation from colleagues isn’t necessarily a good thing.

“A world in which people who want to can do a bit of both, working home alone some of the week and sharing an office with other humans the rest of the time, might just be the perfect balance, for those lucky enough to swing it”

Stephen Corby : You might love working from home now, but give it a year

4 replies on “Back in the office”

This is a solid perspective. Thank you for sharing it.

In 2018 I found myself unemployed. I wrote about it on my personal blog and that’s when I learned that a bunch of Automatticians lurk there as readers. One of them pointed me to a couple openings that might fit. I applied and was in the interview process when I got an offer for a traditional work-in-the-office role at a software company where I live. I was kind of relieved because I wasn’t sure I would adapt well to the full-remote world.

Now I’m doing full remote with my company and … it ain’t bad. I kind of like it, actually. It’s wonderful to be able to go for a bike ride at lunch, and pop a roast in the oven at 4 pm so that when everyone’s home at 5:30 dinner is ready! And I don’t miss my commute. I do miss the in-office culture and going to lunch with the engineers. There are tradeoffs with everything.

But I think you’re right that I (and most of us) haven’t been doing this long enough yet to *really* know whether this works for us. My company’s office is closed at least through Sept. and probably through Jan. — what happens when it’s the dead of winter and I’m stuck here at this desk with no good way to get out? Will I like it as much then? I bet not.

Thanks for another perspective Jim.

I did find the freedom during the first period of time at Automattic liberating, but there wasn’t an office around, and we had things like regular meetups. But it got to me in the end – hence my reason to go “back” to an office job.

I find it amusing how “officies” try to internalize and reflect on their adjustment to remote-only work. It seems like the main problem is home/work separation.

My story is very different. My first work was remote-only with literally no one from my country in that company. There were millions of voice calls, but almost none video calls. Even interviews were voice-only (which I find actually less stressful for both sides). Thus, all my work habits were formed in that environment and adjusting to occasional office work afterwards was a bit problematic. For example, I often find office-oriented teams less organized, relying too much on tacit knowledge, and (worst of all) requiring immediate responses.

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