did the pandemic really show we can be just as effective working from home?

In the past few months, I’ve been hearing a lot of people say something that goes like this: “The pandemic completely smashed the idea that we couldn’t be just as effective working from home.” Usually the implication is that therefore employers who want to bring employees back to the office must be controlling or out of touch.

In some cases that’s true.

But in a lot of others … it’s not.

Things to consider:

You might have been just as effective working from home, or even more so. But other people might have found it harder to reach you, have ad hoc conversations with you, understand all your communications/reports, etc. You might think, “Well, I don’t want you reaching me on the fly; not getting interrupted all the time is part of what has made me more effective.” But it’s not necessarily a net positive for your team as a whole. (Maybe it is! But maybe it’s not.)

“Things have gone really well this past year” sometimes means “we adjusted priorities and expectations when the pandemic started and things have gone really well for that context.” Lots of teams had to push back or eliminate projects and make compromises on quality or metrics when their offices went remote overnight … but at some point expectations will return to normal levels and some of those may require being on-site even if the past year’s adjusted expectations did not.

In some cases, you working from home might mean someone else has to pick up more stuff in the office. Even if that work seems relatively small (mailing something out, opening and scanning your mail, or so forth), doing that for multiple people adds up.

New hires might be struggling to form relationships, learn the culture, and pick up on how you do things.

Junior staff might be missing out on a ton of mentoring. There is a lot of learning by osmosis that goes on when you’re junior (and later too, for that matter) — things like learning how to handle a difficult client or interview a source by overhearing your coworkers doing their own jobs. That loss is not a negligible one. In some cases it might be outweighed by other gains, but we shouldn’t pretend it doesn’t exist.

None of this is to argue against remote work. I love remote work! But the conversation about it needs to be more nuanced than it sometimes has been.

{ 635 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    A preemptive request since this topic has been contentious in the past: Please no comments assuming that no one could possibly have any legitimate reasons for finding it easier to do their jobs when their colleagues are in the office. (Also, in general, don’t be rude toward people who have different opinions on this topic than you do! People have different preferences and that’s okay.)

  2. Cranky lady*

    “ New hires might be struggling to form relationships, learn the culture, and pick up on how you do things.” We fail to account for the amount of learning that takes place over an informal lunch or just via something you overheard while getting coffee. For example, who are the VIPs that don’t necessarily have the important titles? I’ve definitely seen this info missing for staff that started in 2020 and beyond.

    1. Snow globe*

      Yep or just being able to ask a quick question out loud as you are working on something. Even with IM or email, I think people are less likely to reach out with a question on something they think is minor, whereas when you are sitting right next to someone it’s no big deal to just ask.

      1. Nicotena*

        Such a double-edged sword, as *not* being available to be asked a quick question but all the new people *has* enabled me to focus on deeper work. It’s a question for the universe whether an intern being able to find the copier is more important than me being able to finish a report.

        1. Combinatorialist*

          I think this is a question of short term vs long term gains. In the short term, the increased productivity of the experienced staff is probably better. But in the long term, work will suffer if the junior staff take way longer to figure stuff like that out.

          1. BenAdminGeek*

            Agree. We were seeing these even before COVID as we have a larger percentage of senior folks working virtually. Some long-term senior people were complaining about how much less work the newer/lower-level folks were doing than they used to back in the 90’s/00’s. I pointed out that back then, we all had to work in the office- if there was OT going on, everyone was at their desks. With the rise of laptops and virtual work in our industry, a lot of that “I’m new, can I ask you this weird question” stuff moved to IM or just didn’t get asked.

            I was surprised at how many people chalked it up to something other than opportunity to learn and grow. On the plus side, upper management definitely heard and agreed with my thoughts, so hopefully we’ll start seeing some changes.

            1. Yvette*

              “… a lot of that “I’m new, can I ask you this weird question” stuff moved to IM or just didn’t get asked.” So much this. You learn very early who you can safely ask for answers to the “stupid questions”. The person who will be helpful, who won’t treat you like an idiot, or worse, help you but then ridicule you behind your back, “Can you believe Rachel didn’t know how to work the copier?!!!”

              1. TheAG*

                Super important because if you’re approaching a topic like this, being able to gauge body language is very helpful in these types of situations.

          2. sdfasdfasdf*

            And also, culture has to change. People have to become better at communications in different ways – for example, using IM in a focused way (for askers) and being willing to be repsonive to real requests for help of feedback (for more experienced staff).

            It can’t be “great, now I never have to be available except in a scheduled meeting since we’re all from home.”

            More social communications – such as on MS Teams or Slack – must fill these gaps. And also some quick calls.

            My org is adapting OK I think – lots of quick asks and calls and pretty good resistance to long drawn out Zoom meetings.

            Plus, much more real collaboration and communication across offices.

            1. pbnj*

              Agree, we need to learn how to adapt. Perhaps we need to lay out expectations, such as part of our jobs will be responding to questions just as we’d do in the office. Or may Jon and Sansa will be a new hire’s “stupid questions” people to ask questions throughout the day and setup some sort of casual mentorship where they check in frequently and they can help someone onboard.

              And in the before times, we’d often IM a quick question or messaged to ask if I had a few minutes for something before heading over to ask.

              1. Xenia*

                Having started a new job back in lockdown January, we were assigned several different ‘mentors’ that we could reach out to specifically for the purposes of stupid question asking. Having a designated person was a really great addition because it removed the whole “who do I ask without making a pest of myself” part

                1. Mentorless*

                  Started March of 2021, first day of lockdown, I was assigned mentors too, then once I was trained and cut loose on my own those mentors became harder to reach since they had to do they’re normal load too, then but December I pretty much didn’t have a mentor in my job and was all alone, it sucked because I had just learned new process and die to the cycle nature of work new things would be added in January

        2. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

          But being available to answer questions like how to use the copier can often create a more welcoming, positive culture. So the question is really, is my ability to avoid interruptions worth losing a culture that promotes engagement and retention of staff, thereby reducing turnover (which is costly both in money and institutional knowledge)?

          1. baseballfan*

            This is sort of the point I made in my comment below also. These “interruptions” are overall beneficial to the team because the conversations help people, notably new people who need to feel welcomed and engaged with the team and supported by their managers.

          2. Nicotena*

            I would definitely argue that there should be opportunities for new people to engage with seniors on substantive work, like the example others give of joining them (in person) on conference calls to get that valuable insight – I have also benefited from having more senior people mute a call and explain to me what is happening. I don’t personally think having new people interrupt someone doing important work to ask a basic question about the bathroom code is a good use of anyone’s networking dollar, particularly if it annoys the senior person and makes the newbie feel bad for interrupting. There should be a middle ground where someone is available to mentor them, but it’s not necessarily just the nearest cube neighbor who’s in the middle of something.

            1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

              Whose idea of “important work” is this? Some people think everything they do is much more important than anyone else’s. Being kind and helpful to a new colleague is also important work.

              1. Amaranth*

                I think a lot of this also underlines where onboarding might be lacking in some companies. If someone is working in the office, they need to know where to go for supplies, printing, IT help, etc. without having to track down the information or contact someone who is WFH. Yes, experienced employees should be open to helping, but if WFH is increasing, especially, maybe make better ‘cheat sheets’.

              2. Pickled Limes*

                I think this is a really, really good point.

                There are several posts on this site where Alison makes the point that being a good coworker is also an essential function of being good at your job. Usually it’s in reference to the “brilliant jerk” type of person who thinks that being good at their work excuses them from having to be kind to other people, but I think it applies in this situation too.

                Your job is not just to complete the reports. It’s also to be a good coworker. And sometimes being good at being a coworker means putting the other parts of your job down for five minutes to help your cubicle neighbor.

            2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

              “I have also benefited from having more senior people mute a call and explain to me what is happening.”

              Our general counsel used exactly this example as to why he really would prefer to have his junior attorneys on site.

          3. alienor*

            It’s not even the interruptions for me, it’s the constant maddening cacophony of 200 people working in an open office. We sit in pods of four with two people back to back in each half, and I can hear every time one of the other three people in my pod is asked a question, takes a call, or stops to chat with a neighbor. I can deal with being interrupted a handful of times a day, but not with being on a call and hearing everything my boss says twice, first slightly muffled from where they sit 10 feet behind me, and then on a two-second delay in my earbuds. Even an old-school cubicle with high walls would be an improvement.

            1. nonethefewer*

              This forever. I am learning things in this thread about some benefits of working from the office, and I can see the points and agree with them, but Good Lord am I so glad to not have people playing ping-pong right behind me.

              (I desperately wish I were exaggerating.)

              I wonder how much going-back pushback would be reduced if the suits would stop doing open-plan offices.

        3. JRR*

          I agree. But, if remote work makes things easier for the veterans and harder for the greenhorns, is that really the setup an organization should prefer?

          If anything, it makes for sense to favor the transfer of knowledge from the old guard to the new, even at the expense of overall productivity. Productive seniors eventually leave, and there needs to be a ready supply of fully onboarded juniors to replace me them.

          1. BubbleTea*

            We addressed this, at least in part, by establishing much more frequent team meetings than we had had in person, introducing a new meeting for the llama trainers specifically (the main meeting included the llama groomers, stablehands and vet techs as well), and setting up a social channel and a Questions channel on Teams. It hasn’t completely resolved the issue but it helped a lot. It took us over a year to do though, and it was hiring half a dozen new staff that prompted it.

            1. Krabby*

              We did it by creating ‘new hire buddies’ who had daily check-ins with the newbies to ask questions, and were their go-to person for training and queries. The people tagged to be buddies were usually also on their way to leadership roles, so it was a good testing ground for them.

              That said, there were still a ton of gaps. The newbies had someone to answer questions, but they frequently didn’t get many chances to meet anyone else, so the buddy ended up getting a little overwhelmed. We’re working on that issue now, haha.

          2. LizM*

            Yes, this is what I thought reading this.

            As an individual contributor, my priority was my own performance and productivity. As a manager, I have to look at the team’s performance and productivity, and there are situations where reducing one person’s productivity by 5% benefits enough people that it actually increases the team’s productivity overall, especially when you look long term.

            I’m currently dealing with the fallout of a long-time employee who optimized his own work at the expense of his team mates. Now that he’s left, they’re really struggling to make the transition.

            1. Database Developer Dude*

              Yes, but if that person’s productivity goes down by 5%, who gets held responsible for that at review time?? Often it’s the individual, regardless of constraints imposed upon them.

        4. MK*

          I would argue that it’s not particularly important that you finish the report a few seconds earlier. Or even an hour/a day earlier.

          1. Jackalope*

            So I’m 100% on board with helping people (new or otherwise), and bring available as much as possible. I try to tell new people explicitly that I’m happy to help them with questions and I’ve also asked my boss to let them know that I’m glad to help. But at some point in time you do have to finish the report. If you get interrupted then it’s not just 10 seconds to answer the question, it’s the 10-15 min to get your head back in the game. That’s not a big deal if it’s occasional, but if it’s all the time then it’s hard to get the report done at all to standard. I have some workloads that require an extended period of uninterrupted time to make sure all details are perfect, since if not it can majorly fail. And I have clients that are dependent on us for what we provide them. If I give someone my word that I’ll process their stuff that day, then it’s not okay to let it slide. Again, that’s not to say I’m against people asking me questions, just that sometimes it can’t be brushed off as an “Oh, just deal with it!” type of thing.

          2. Fierce Jindo*

            I know you said “even a day,” but the fact your first interpretation of the cost of interruption is that it only takes a few seconds tells me that you don’t work in a job that takes intense focus.

        5. BabyElephantWalk*

          That seems like an unfair example. What about all the quick questions that assistants, peers and supervisors need to ask. Sometimes multiple independent contributors need to touch base that they are on the same page as to how a project is going. Sometimes an assistant might need a quick answer that takes literally 30 seconds, but they can’t move forward on a major deadline until they have it (or they can, but end up having to redo the work which is the same thing.)

      2. Brett*

        Because of the nature of online communication, it’s more difficult to ask a question of your nearby co-workers out of earshot of your boss.
        Either you create big private chat rooms (which have huge drawbacks for managers) or you have to use a more formal channel that includes your manager. Both are not very good options compared to just being able to ask out loud from your co-workers within earshot.

        1. Happy*

          I see the ease with which we can have private conversations as a benefit of remote work.

          It sounds like your company needs to do more to facilitate communication between employees.

        2. Brett*

          I’m realizing from the responses that I’m taking this in the concept of being in a government regulated industry, where carrying out these kinds of conversations via email or group text or other private virtual channels ranges from problematic to disallowed.

          1. Krabby*

            I work for a company that creates software that archives communication. I get exactly what you’re saying. I trust my boss not to look into my chat logs with my coworkers, but I know she COULD, so it really changes how we communicate.

            1. TheAG*

              Yes. Anything online can literally be accessed in seconds where I work. Anything that’s confidential, I would not even communicate by phone (and I’ve been onsite the entire pandemic), I would be calling that person into my office and having a verbal communication with them. But any of our communication can be easily accessed, and called into court should that be necessary. We always assume zero confidentially outside of closed door physical conversations.

          2. Sandman*

            Yes. Very different situation when anything you type becomes part of the public record and could be FOIAed.

      3. RunShaker*

        I’m social person & one that trains new hires when we were in the office. After we went to WFH, I did the training via Zoom meetings & then continued to do quick check ins, some scheduled, others not. I continued to introduce info that would have been easier to pick up in the office. Just little details & nuances to make it easier to do task(s). It took time but the end result worked out great.

      4. Mikasa*

        This has been huge for me, starting a new role mid-pandemic. So many little things that I’ve either taken longer to work out for myself or kind of winged it and hoped for the best. The people I work with are lovely, and have all told me I can ask whatever I need, but some things do just feel harder to navigate virtually than if someone was sat nearby.

      5. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yes. I worked with three others in a “silent office” where we all focussed on our work and didn’t talk (till lunchtime and happy hour after work). I’d wait for my colleague to come back from the loo or from getting herself a cup of tea and then ask her about a problem – I knew she had broken her train of thought right then so I wasn’t interrupting. Whereas the PMs in head office would just ping me any time and it could be distracting.

    2. AY*

      As a young attorney, you learn a ton just by sitting in an older attorney’s office during a phone call. They’ll often mute the call and tell you what’s really going on with opposing counsel/the court. I feel for the young attorneys who have been siloed off from those experiences since early last year.

      1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

        In a lot of fields there is a LOT of important background/perspective/information that is communicated verbally but never in writing or in a formal meeting space like Zoom.

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          In my previous job, my desk was in one of the busiest areas of the office. I didn’t get a whole lot of training, but I learned so much of the stuff I needed to know just by overhearing people. You don’t get that working at home!

          1. Middle School Teacher*

            This is one of the best comments I’ve seen here and it raises a point I think a lot of people don’t acknowledge. Observation and listening are so so important.

      2. Anne Elliot*

        I worked in the office throughout, but having 90% of the staff working from home for the past year really made me value — and miss! — the instances of just walking down the hall and poking your head into someone else’s office to get their thoughts on a particular issue. Very good discussions can happen with people just standing in the doorway, and even if some of those discussions are colleagues just shooting the shit, they are valuable. In my office, I think our younger attorneys may not necessarily recognize the cumulative importance of those encounters, so they tend not to value them when that the job can be done just as effectively from home.

      3. LizM*

        This, absolutely. There is a lot that gets communicated verbally right before or after (or even during, while muted) a call. Given that some interpretations of records laws include IMs, texts, and zoom chat logs as records that need to be maintained (at least in public agencies), newer employees sitting in on calls can miss a lot of context if there’s no effective way to communicate verbally.

    3. WorkNowPaintLater*

      Changed employers last fall. The ‘pick up how you do things’ has been a definite problem, and will continue to be until 1) everyone is back at least some of the time and 2) the workload returns to normal. I feel like I’m still asking a whole lot of “how do I…?” questions later than I normally do when changing jobs.

      1. Distracted Librarian*

        Same. I relocated and started a new position in October, and I definitely feel like I’ve learned less than I would have if we were in the office more. I’m a huge proponent of flexible and hybrid schedules, but we need to figure out a way to bridge some of these gaps if we move forward with hybrid/remote work as a long-term option (and I hope we do).

        1. Xenia*

          I think this is one of the reasons that historically hybrid/work from home was offered as a benefit for longer term employees rather than right off the bat for new hires. Having even that first six months of office integration can make a lot of difference

      2. Smithy*

        Same. In my sector, not being able to silently/anonymously join calls has been a real deficit. I’ve been in my sector for 10 years, and this onboarding has had a lot of effort to be comprehensive – but so many pieces have just been clunkier.

      3. ThatGirl*

        Yeah, I do feel like some of my on-boarding was a little slower than usual due to not being able to bug people in person. But on the flip side, everyone has been very patient with me :)

    4. Junior Assistant Peon*

      People are willing to cut 21-year-olds some slack when they make social mistakes as they figure out the culture of professional office workplaces. Now that remote work has become common, we’re going to see people well into their 30s making the same missteps when they get their first in-person office job.

      1. Tinker*

        Something interesting I think here — there’s a point of pervasiveness where what is currently being called a “misstep” for which people conditionally “cut slack” becomes a “new culture” that people just operate in. Granted this can mean a lot of things, but if it means less emphasis on teaching the new crabs in the bucket how to not climb and instead grab at ascending legs, I’m all for that part at least.

    5. Archaeopteryx*

      It’s definitely true that when you’re new, the first few months you learn as much from overhearing your coworkers talk as you do talking directly to them. Who is humble? gossipy? cynical? unreasonable? untrustworthy? sarcastic but really kind at heart? etc.

      1. Bostonian*

        I have seen this play out. For example, newer hire who has only been in remote meetings thinks so-and-so is a difficult person, but it’s because that person gives off a totally different vibe in person.

        1. Junior Assistant Peon*

          I had a coworker who I always wanted to smack when all of our interactions were via email. We ended up getting along very well when we finally met in person.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            Of course it can go the other direction, too: the person you can’t stand in person, but who is just fine in email.

        2. Ugh, so not looking forward to going back...*

          There’s also the colleague that was difficult to deal before in person and is just as difficult to deal with virtually or via email during the last year. It’s a little absurd when it takes them almost 3 days to respond to an email request that’s somewhat important for staffing coverage for the next two weeks and when they are too obtuse to check our shared Outlook calendar failing to see that one person is one vacation during that time.

          They weren’t great at communicating or sharing out information prior to the pandemic and it’s only gotten worse since then. Sadly, I’m not sure training or some type of professional development classes offered by our employer would help much because they are completely oblivious to this aspect of themselves. They also don’t get common social cues and come across as rude and condescending. Instead, they would project and blame others, including myself, for things that happen because of their inability to change their habits.

          1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

            Drat, you mean there’s more than one of them out there?? We’re doomed…

      2. Shan*

        Absolutely! I work with someone who initially presents as very nice, and to be honest, she always has been with me. But seeing her interact with other people, and watching her face when someone’s back was turned, showed me what her real personality is like very quickly. She’s an absolute snake, and you always need to be on guard around her. That’s something you would never pick up over a Teams meeting, and it’s also not something anyone is likely to tell new hires outright.

      3. Ducky Worshiper*

        I struggle with this so much myself. My text tone often comes across pretty harsh and have had people think I’m angry or belligerent to the point that I regularly have friends review non-sensitive communication to make sure I’m not accidentally conveying a tone I don’t want to convey. In person or on the phone, however, my actual tone is much easier to get across.

    6. MusicWithRocksIn*

      I started a new job one month before we all went into quarantine – I still can’t match names to faces for 75% of the company. I was having all kinds of phone conferences with people and couldn’t match voices to names which was a huge hinderance. It does tend to take me a while to really remember names of people – but it’s so weird to me that I’ve passed my 1 year anniversary here and still know so few people. Even coming back to the office no one wants to hang around or eat in the kitchen area, and that lack of socializing as really affected learning about everyone here.

      1. Emma Dilemma*

        I’ve found remote work better for this as people’s names are on the screen in Teams calls

        1. MusicWithRocksIn*

          We’ve got a culture of not turning our cameras on, so while there is a list of names I know are in the meeting – usually just disembodied voices chiming in and I’m not sure who is who.

          1. allathian*

            We have profile pictures for that. We usually have our cameras on while talking, but if it’s a presentation or we’re sharing the screen otherwise, only the presenter is on camera to reduce load on the VPN. It’s odd to see the occasional new hire speak up in a town hall meeting when they haven’t added their profile pic yet.

          2. pleaset cheap rolls*

            “We’ve got a culture of not turning our cameras on,”

            Your organization should require headshots for when cameras are off. And frankly, in smaller meetings the culture should be cameras on at least for a while (with supporting acceptance that backgrounds, etc may not be perfect).

            If bandwidth or tech is an issue, it should be dealt with. A culture of not seeing faces in general is not good. Yes, cameras need not be on all the time, but sometimes is important.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          My office asks for people to turn off cameras to avoid overloading the network.

          1. Coffee every morning*

            We had to go to work from home at the beginning of the pandemic and most of our staff had desktops without cameras. Our contract was already ending, so our company wasn’t interested in purchasing webcams for everyone. The people who had laptops already don’t turn on their cameras because the rest of the staff couldn’t either. Plus, we handle PHI and people who were still in office might have had it visible on their desk. It definitely means that I have very little idea what some of our new hires look like.

    7. Lady Ann*

      We have been struggling to retain new staff and I think this is a big part of why. We were trying very hard to train and support new hires but with so much of our staff being remote they were missing out on peer support that managers just couldn’t supply.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        I’ve seen this too. We’ve had much better retention with on-premises new workers than remote.

      2. Quinalla*

        Yes, this can be a legitimate struggle. We’ve really ramped up reaching out to people one-on-one more as you have to plan it when everyone is remote and making sure each new employee has one go-to peer in addition to their actual manager and that a back up go-to is assigned if their usual is out of the office. Now that things are starting to open up, new employees are being asked to come into the office if at all possible for at least hybrid to help them out with that, but it still take extra effort for sure to get them onboarded!

    8. Generic Name*

      A new entry-level hire just started, and he asked about the office’s COVID policy. At this point, lots of folks are still working from home, but a small contingent (including me) has been coming in to the office regularly. The new hire was relieved to hear that people were coming in and he wouldn’t be forced to start a new job remotely and try to learn the ropes independently.

    9. EmmaX*

      I have to agree with this. As a more established person in the office, I admit that I struggle to remember even the names of the new hires. A couple virtual meetings don’t replace passing someone in the hallway, being in the coffee room together, chatting about joint files. I tend to rely on the people who I knew pre-remote work and forget about the newer hires/transfers.

      My outlook email still having the names of the previous person in the role doesn’t help…

    10. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      This is so true. I know several young people who are in year one or two of their worklife and the loneliness and lack of mentoring is crushing them. It’s easy to work at home if you know Jane is the experts on local regulations and that you need to do action A before step B to make everything work. If you’re new? No one is there to help you.

      The social aspect is also a big deal. Face it: for people ages 22-25, work colleagues are often the core of your friend group. Not just because you want to vent about your boss, but because work colleagues often have a lot in common with each other. There are people who have been working for 14 months at jobs that have literally never met a work colleague except on Zoom. They are desperate for human contact.

      That doesn’t mean hybrid situations won’t work. Even these young people enjoy days where they don’t have to wear long pants. But five days a week from home? That’s hurting a generation of new workers.

      1. Bee*

        People in my industry have been pushing to let assistants be fully remote for several years now, and I get it – we’re all in NYC, and the assistant-level pay is honestly not enough to live on here. But once you’re past the assistant level, this job takes a huge amount of nuance, and it’s ten times harder to learn the more advanced parts of the job if you never see anyone handle something similar before you have to take it on yourself. There are absolutely situations where a great mentor can train someone remotely, but not every boss is a great mentor! And frankly, seeing how people other than your direct supervisor handle things is just as essential. You need to see the hard-ass version and the soft-touch version and the out-of-the-box version to figure out what might work best for you – or for that particular situation. (We definitely do need to pay everyone more, though, an extra $10k in salary for my first five years would’ve changed my life.)

      2. Anne Elliot*

        As a supervising attorney, I will also say that I think the younger lawyers who report to me were far more hesitant to email or call me or text me with a “one-off” or “maybe easy” question, when, in the office both before and after the the pandemic, they are far more willing to stick their head in my office and say “Hey, where could I find this?” or “Do you know the citation for that”? That’s a GOOD thing, IMO, as I do know quite a lot about our area of practice (she said modestly), and I don’t expect or want them to have to start from scratch on everything. I am a resource and they are more likely to consult me as such, when the request can be a “by the way” instead of an “I need help.”

        1. AJR*

          As a young attorney on the other side of the equation you are exactly right. There are so many non-urgent but necessary questions I had stored up during the pandemic time because the only way to get our GC’s ear was to arrange an invasive Zoom call with her. Now that I’m in person I pretty regularly ask for about 5-10 minutes of her time each week. My questions are not life-threatening or emergent, but they do need answering by her. When she answers them I am able to explain her preferences cogently to my own unit/orbit in our organization.

          Plus now I’ve been in a position to go to lunch with her, which really helped explain a lot of her preferences and helped me see where she is coming from on particular issues. And I learned about her as a person, where she grew up and went to school and our mutual acquaintances, etc. which is fun. :) A huge huge huge relief and help to be in person, the isolation of WFH made me miserable

        2. Fierce Jindo*

          As a professor, my reaction to this is… you need drop-in office hours, maybe.

          Although, where I work, we’ve had that for students but not for each other, and it is really hard on junior faculty not having any casual interactions that didn’t require elaborate setup.

      3. Phoenix Wright*

        “The social aspect is also a big deal. Face it: for people ages 22-25, work colleagues are often the core of your friend group.”

        You know, before your post I had never really thought about this. Personally I had several groups of friends outside of work, so this may be the reason why I didn’t pay much attention to it, but now I see I was underestimating how important those work friendships were at the time. Happy hours/after offices every other week, BBQs at a coworker’s home, work parties where people got crazy drunk and memorable stories were born. All of those bonding activities are something that new workers who are fully remote may not get to experience.

        1. HiHello*

          I think the friend group part is especially important when people move for their job. I moved for work few times, each time cross state lines. For those who start from the beginning in a new city, it is very hard to make friends outside work environment. Most of the friends I have where I live I met at work. I have college friends but only one of them lives in the same state as me.

        2. AJR*

          As a young attorney on the other side of the equation you are exactly right. There are so many non-urgent but necessary questions I had stored up during the pandemic time because the only way to get our GC’s ear was to arrange an invasive Zoom call with her. Now that I’m in person I pretty regularly ask for about 5-10 minutes of her time each week. My questions are not life-threatening or emergent, but they do need answering by her. When she answers them I am able to explain her preferences cogently to my own unit/orbit in our organization.

          Plus now I’ve been in a position to go to lunch with her, which really helped explain a lot of her preferences and helped me see where she is coming from on particular issues. And I learned about her as a person, where she grew up and went to school and our mutual acquaintances, etc. which is fun. :) A huge huge huge relief and help to be in person, the isolation of WFH made me miserable

      4. Uranus Wars*

        We also had a VP start a month before the pandemic and while they are in the office, they are also really struggling getting to know the org and culture while 90% of our workforce is at home. They love what they are doing and have made great relationships, but 18 months in have revealed that they still feel very “new”.

      5. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        It’s not just the young workers. Where I worked (I’ve been retired nearly a decade), people of all ages made close friends, and those relationships have continued for years after people left for various reasons. And even people who were decades apart in age still stay in touch.

    11. Sharon*

      This is true. But my company and many others are increasingly global, which means the people I work with are not necessarily in my office even if I go there. Even pre-pandemic, being able to work and develop relationships without seeing someone in person was increasingly becoming a valuable skill. I’ve reported to people in other cities several times.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        That’s true in my case too, but in my case, we still used to have a physical office at each location, people would occasionally travel between locations and come to work and attend meetings at other offices for a few days at a time. All of it helped get to know each other. But to your last sentence, I haven’t had a direct boss that lived and worked in the same state as I do since, oh, 2014. It’s weird at first, but one gets used to it.

      2. pleaset cheap rolls*

        ” Even pre-pandemic, being able to work and develop relationships without seeing someone in person was increasingly becoming a valuable skill. ”

        THIS THIS THIS.

        1. Jenny D*

          Seconded!

          And it’s really not a new thing. Back in the late 80’s/early 90’s I worked at the Swedish branch of a German company. If I hadn’t been able to develop a good relationship with the people at the head office, my work would have been so much harder! And that one included language barriers as well – my German was of the school variety, and their Swedish was nonexistent, so much of the talk happened in English. And German office culture was, at least then, quite different from Swedish, so there were some misunderstandings that needed to be cleared up on that score as well.

          We managed, even though we didn’t have video meetings, or any form of online communication other than email. Today it’s so much easier that it’s slightly strange to me to hear people talk about how impossible it is to build relationships at a distance.

      3. Jesse*

        Very much agree. I think this is just a really temporary learning period before we start to figure out how to be in a global workforce more effectively.

    12. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Also, office politics. Whenever I was a new hire in an office where I knew no one, it was difficult enough to figure out who to trust, who to be wary of, who not to take seriously, who is reliable and will have your back and get things done together as a team, etc, when everyone was together in the same office. I could not begin to imagine how to navigate this kind of relationship, and obtain this kind of knowledge, in a remote setting.

      My employer has gone full remote and I have thrived, but I think I tend to overlook it that 1) our team had always been a distributed one to begin with, with offices across the US, an offshore team, and several people that had always been remote due to living in a location where we had never had a physical office – all of which made the transition easier; and 2) I’d been working at my current place for seven years, and had been part of a mass exodus/hiring effort where a lot of us came here from my previous workplace, where I’d also been close to seven years. In summary, that I’ve known a lot of my coworkers forever and already had the dynamics figured out by the time we went remote. I have no idea how our new hires are figuring all of that out.

    13. Sarah*

      My job is fully remote and has been since I was hired. My entire team is spread across the US. Since the beginning of March, I’ve been mentoring a graduate student who is new to the field who will be joining our team full-time as soon as they graduate. They’re fantastic and picking things up quickly. But the key here is keeping other lines of communication open since they can’t just drop by my desk. We text a lot. We have regular 1-on-1 meetings, plus additional meetings when they’re learning a new aspect of the work. They know they can “drop by my desk” by texting at any point when they need something.

      It’s also important that I’ve been on every project they’ve been assigned to so far so that I can watch their work and provide support as needed.

      It is possible to bring someone new on in a fully remote way and do it very successfully. But keeping on top of the communication is vital. In a regular office setting, we can afford to let it be somewhat informal. In a remote situation, the mentor has to be much more involved in making sure the mentee gets what they need.

    14. De Minimis*

      It’s been really tough on me as a new hire who started last spring. I think it can be made to work if everyone is dedicated to communication, development, and following up, but if that isn’t the case, it can be a disaster and that’s how it’s been for me. I have some previous experience working for this employer at another location, and that’s the only way I’ve managed to have any level of success at all, but I’m really struggling. I think if I had a boss who was accessible to actually show me things in person rather than from sharing a screen, I’d be doing much better.

      1. sofar*

        I started a job in a new department (same large company) a couple months ago, and the onboarding process has been a nightmare. I get invited to meetings by people I don’t know, nobody puts their title in emails/Slack bios and everyone acts surprised when I ask if we could do a quick roundtable at meetings so I know what everyone does. I get the impression onboarding was really informal here to begin with, but now it’s just nonexistent.

        And I feel you on the training … having to swap screen shots and bug people to jump on video to help me gets old, and everyone hates it. We’ll get through it (hopefully). Good luck.

    15. Jack*

      I started a new job in 2020 and moved industries due to jobs simply going away in the area I worked previously. It’s been really difficult to pick up on some of the nuances of doing my job that I’ve picked up since we’ve gone to hybrid work at the office.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        My office saw this as well – those of us that had been around for a while were fine. But the newer employees were really struggling to pick up some of the finer points of the job. Also, some of the older employees were struggling because they were in less than ideal set-ups at home as well. I think it’s about nuance – and willing to understand that what works for one person won’t necessarily work for the other.

    16. Coffee au Lait.*

      I call this “indirect mentoring.” I know I’ve gained a ton of experience just by watching my coworker handle a difficult situation. When I’m working with students I try to stop and explain difficult situations highlighting the different ways I defused the issue.

    17. NerdyKris*

      I’m in IT and would normally meet any new hires on their first day. I also regularly joke when I forget who people are that I’m required to know 300+ people, while the maximum social group human beings can handle is 120. Usually I just assume everyone knows who I am.

      You can probably guess where this is going. On multiple occasions during our big hiring push a few months ago I would go to a new hire’s desk for an issue and just start talking without introducing myself, assuming we’d already met. It was very awkward, but at least they know who I am now.

    18. rachel in nyc*

      I have a friend who ran into this issue. She started a new position shortly before the pandemic and just never seemed to quite get settled into it.

      One of the issues seemed to be that a lot of the training was normally thru passing people in the hallway or someone stopping by your desk. Having a young child at home didn’t help, nor did having to provide her own equipment.

      But training is hard.

    19. Mollymauk Tealeaf*

      I started a job at a company that is well known for their culture. I was really worried about this aspect of changing jobs during the pandemic. One thing my team did was just set up some quick 30 minute intros and check ins not related to specific tasks/ trainings has been great in terms of learning the team and it’s culture for me.

    20. Lacey*

      Yeah. While I’m loving that we’re all remote now, I know that I picked up a ton just by being to chat with my immediate coworkers about how things work or what was happening on a specific project.

    21. Orange Cat Lover*

      I fully agree. My very small office was in a rare situation in which when the pandemic struck everyone in there has been doing their jobs for over 25 years and we were not going to hire anyone new, plus our work is 95% doable remotely. For this specific situation there is little reason for us to return to in-person work 5 days a week. However, when I started this job in the mid-90s I was incredibly lucky to have a senior person in the office next door who was incredibly kind and helpful and answered so many of my questions with care. Without her I might have failed miserably in my first 6 months of work. There is little question in my mind that if I’d had to call her or schedule an appointment to talk, I probably would have done so FAR less often. It was so much less intimidating to pop over and see if she was busy. This is the kind of thing that often gets lost when senior workers are fully remote.

    22. learnedthehardway*

      As someone who has worked from home for over 10 yrs now, I can attest to this. You really have to anticipate that things won’t work as you expect. I’m dealing with this right now with a new client who have a process they didn’t realize was unique – had to set up a meeting with one of the project coordinators to make sure that I was aware of their process quirks, because nobody thought to tell me about them. To them, it’s the way it’s done. To anyone else, it’s out of left field.

      1. learnedthehardway*

        That said – there are ways to make this work, but a newbie in their career might not know to ask the questions…

    23. Anax*

      I will say that as an autistic person, remote work has been GREAT for this for me.

      Everyone finally writes these things down in IM, rather than relying on facial expressions! I can have friendly chats over text while I work, rather than people popping by my cube and expecting eye contact and spoken language! I never have to wait for a coworker to get back to their desk or out of a closed-door meeting, I can just IM and wait for them to get back to me, because no one expects me to just walk by!

      It’s really evened out the playing field, which is a huge relief for me personally; I’m always anxious because I miss so much context and culture in person, and building relationships is hard when it wears me out so much more than your average joe. (How do people go for lunch with people, chat the whole time, and NOT end up too exhausted to speak coherently for the rest of the day?!)

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        as an introvert rather than autistic person, I can say “I really don’t know, but I chose a line of work where I rarely have to speak”

    24. F.M.*

      This has been a huge problem for grad students who started their program in 2020, in my direct experience and as reported by friends in other departments. Being a grad student is a weird hybrid work/student situation to start with, but a huge amount of learning how being a grad student, and academia ,and one’s field all work, is just… hanging around other grad students. Or asking your profs casually about something after a class, or when you run into them in the hallway. Or finding out from office staff when using the printer room that requires you walk through there.

      Other ‘senior’ grad students and I have been trying very hard to offer online assistance, or zoom casual chats, to make up for some of this. But we can tell even from the outside that we’re not passing on institutional knowledge nearly as well as we’d like, and probably not even to a halfway adequate level. It’s not great!

    25. Anon for this*

      This is quite true. I am one of the important VIPs. So important, in fact, that while the executive level staff who also attended every new hire orientation have continued to be brought in to meet all the new hires, I was packed off home and told not to come in because we can’t afford having me get sick. Everyone used to know who to reach out to if they were having problems I’m in charge of handling. We’ve had such massive turnover in the last year, it’s starting to cause problems because people don’t know me, and don’t remember they’re supposed to reach out to me because “this person exists and you should go to them if you have these problems” doesn’t leave the same impression as “hi! I’m name! I help with this this this and this, so don’t forget to reach out to me if you have any questions” combined with whimsical jokes to make it stick in their brains.

    26. Caboose*

      And even just the face time you can get with the higher ups! I’m junior/mid-level, and I spent my lunch yesterday hanging out in the CTOs office, because we both play the same video game and he was watching a live stream of a big event that’s going on currently. That wouldn’t have happened remotely; he flagged me down because he saw me walking back to my desk with my lunch and invited me to hang out for a bit!

    27. RubberDuck*

      I work in consulting and this has been a huge struggle – the new hires who have joined remotely have all been much much slower to learn core skills that most people pick up through practice and iterations. It is much much harder to get get quick feedback on a deliverable or to learn how to structure problems and come up with insights without actually seeing it happen in person, and the quality of work has suffered because of it. So much of the work at my job is learned not just by seeing final outputs but also by seeing and learning the process behind it, and we haven’t figured out a way to share that without literally just being on a Zoom all day (which is terrible, do NOT recommend).

      And as someone who used to love welcoming new people, it’s been really difficult to keep track of new hires and stop by to say hello, ask if they need quick help, etc. while we try to keep the social connections up through optional events, it’s just harder to notice if someone might need a quick hand. I’ve definitely noticed a gulf in productivity between people who were around for six month pre-COVID and those who joined anew..

    1. Butterfly Counter*

      I agree! I’m a university lecturer and, while 100% online teaching and learning is doable, that doesn’t mean everyone always wants to do it, both students and faculty.

      Before the pandemic, there was a huge push in my department to have professors be able to teach effectively both online and in person to meet the diversity of needs from our students. We had faculty who completely balked at the idea of having to actually face the students they were happily failing with their confusing and antiquated pedagogy based when the school first allowed online classes back in the early 2000s. We had other faculty who would downright refuse to learn technology beyond word processing and email. Neither fit the needs of modern students.

      There were definite benefits to being 100% online this past year, beyond even spreading the pandemic. But even though I was able to maintain my duties, I feel like I suffered in a million little ways, along with a lot of my students. In academia at least, it appears that there has to be a balance between online and traditional ways of teaching.

      Making the move online saved so many people’s livelihoods and really benefitted a lot of people, but we can’t just discount the things a lot of people lost be being so remote from each other.

      1. Captain Raymond Holt*

        Agreed! I adjunct part-time and teach my class as a hybrid: 1 hour synchronous, face-to-face, 2 hours asynchronous lectures, activities, etc. Great work-life balance for them and me – I have a full-time job on top two sections per semester.
        My students like the asynchronous lectures. I teach public speaking and one of my lectures is going through the process of me creating and giving a speech. I talk about my thought process, research, preparation, etc and then give the speech. Students like to go back and review those lectures to see how the whole thing comes together as they’re giving their speeches instead of remembering what we talked about in class once.
        I think it’s a great combination of face-to-face/synchronous and asynchronous lecture.

      2. Prof*

        Also teaching college and I can assure you that 100% online is a disaster for some fields of study. Like anything medical…you want to be treated by a physical therapist who had to learn online instead of in person (so missed human anatomy, classes on diagnostic tests that involve body manipulation)?

        We’re going to be playing catch up for years.

        1. Prof*

          Thank you!

          I remain surprised by how convinced people are that remote is so doable. It’s…just an unmitigated disaster in a quite a few fields. Online college courses have their purpose, but having taught online in several formats before and during the pandemic (and now etc), I am convinced it is always better pedagogically to be in person. I’m going to have nightmares about teaching labs online for the rest of my life and our students will be behind on lab skills for years to come.

          There’s just no substitute for in person on certain things.

          1. Caboose*

            And even coursework that doesn’t require physical objects doesn’t work the same way online! In a classroom, you can organically lean over to someone next to you to ask a question without disrupting the entire class (volume and class size dependent, obviously). You can’t do that online.

    2. Xenia*

      Omg yes. I was placed in a position where I got to see how several businesses were handling the pandemic from a top down perspective, and in at least two of them, while they were still paying employees fully/doing some business/sticking to social distancing etc, it was clear from what I was looking that they were operating on emergency resources that were not going to last into 2022.

      I think we’ve all seen things that will work better—for instance, I think my workplace will be open to a lot more hybrid work and schedule flexibility—but there’s a big difference between “hey this works well” and “at least we’re keeping the lights on”

  3. Bee Eye Ill*

    At my job, we had call center reps who had problems working from home because their kids were also at home and they didn’t have dedicated workspace. We actually had some customers complain they heard kids yelling in the background. Not everyone has a home office, you know?

    1. middle name danger*

      Having a dedicated space is very important. My sister’s company created permanent work from home positions, but the requirements included a dedicated space with a door that shuts (and a wall painted a certain solid color behind you – they’re on video with clients that need to see them clearly). During the pandemic they could put something solid-colored up behind them and it was okay.

      1. Clint*

        I can understand needing a room, my work requires one since I may be dealing with information that other people are not allowed to see.

        However if you want me to paint a wall in my house – the company will need to pay for the painting and a residual fee for keeping it or they can piss off.

        1. Your Local Password Resetter*

          Then they would just tell you that you can’t be remote, because you don’t have the proper setup at home.

        2. Rayray*

          I agree. That’s totally overkill. Doesn’t sound like the kind of company I’d like if that kind of detail matters.

          1. middle name danger*

            There’s a very good reason it’s required, trust me. Can’t really say more without giving away too much about the work itself. It’s not an unreasonable ask in this very specific circumstance, though.

    2. Emmie*

      That’s true, but this might be solved for others now that life has opened up. We asked a lot of people this year. Parents had no daycare. Kids were remote learning. More than one adult could be working from home. That created a lot of noise. Once school and daycares are opened / staffed, some may be able to reclaim space in the home for work or have quieter office environments.

    3. Cassidy*

      >We actually had some customers complain they heard kids yelling in the background.

      A raging pandemic and all it entails, with most people doing the best they can in all contexts under the circumstances, and this is the woe-is-me for some customers.

      Astounding.

        1. Cassidy*

          They’re kids, and people are doing the best they can. It might be “fair feedback,” but it’s without grace. It’s not hard to do better than to complain.

      1. NerdyKris*

        Making a complaint is not the same as “woe is me”. “I can’t hear you because of the yelling in the background” is a totally reasonable thing to say, not some entitled and out of touch request.

        1. Cassidy*

          Except that isn’t how things were described. “We actually had some customers complain they heard kids yelling in the background” isn’t the same as ““I can’t hear you because of the yelling in the background.” The latter isn’t a complaint, but an observation.

          So yeah, complaining IS “entitled” and “out of touch.”

          1. Rayray*

            I agree, Cassidy. We were all adjusting a lot last year and you’d think people would be more understanding. How many people were working from kitchen tables or a card table in their bedroom? Everyone was adjusting in one way or another, anyone who was awake in 2020 should have understood that everyone was making do out of a bizarre situation.

      2. Momof1*

        I also work in a call center that had to move reps home who would otherwise never have been considered eligible, ever. And, based on some focus group data I compiled, customers were 50% annoyed about background noise and the occasional bad connection (worse early on, levelled off as everyone got used to it) and 50% customers who were relieved that the CSRs had the opportunity to keep themselves and others safe. There was a lot of concern about data privacy early on, also, and we haven’t had a single incident that I know of.

      3. Bee Eye Ill*

        Yeah some customers just love to find reasons to complain. You could take 100 calls but that one person with a problem is who calls somebody higher up and makes a stink for no good reason. It’s usually people who owe money, too.

    4. Person from the Resume*

      The solution is to require someone working from home to have private office with a door and/or require that someone working from home not be responsible for any childcare/caregiving while working.

      It made sense to waive requirements like that during the pandemic, but now that we’re returning to normal work if you can’t meet those requirements then you can’t work from home.

    5. JM60*

      People can be unreasonable when they’re customers. I’m glad I wasn’t working a job where I (directly) worked with customers during this pandemic.

      I’ve had a few times during this pandemic in which I clearly heard the child of a call center’s employee in the background, and thought little of it beyond, “There’s got to be unreasonable people out there who would complain about this.”

  4. hola my peeps*

    I love teleworking. I want to do it most of the time but I also like going into the office so there will be a hybrid going forward.
    That said, I have a lot of coworkers who have been next to impossible to reach and whose poor teleworking performance is affecting our team. I think that many deficiencies have been overlooked because we were in an emergency situation, but should those employees be allowed to telework indefinitely while others pick up their load? I think not.

    1. Snark*

      I’d love to do a hybrid, 20-40% WFH arrangement and could transition to that today. Unfortunately, my current leadership are slow-walking some contrived analysis of all the positions in the organization before they let supervisors even have the conversation.

      There’s two poles in the whole debate around this, it seems, where a lot of really vocal WFH proponents want to do that forever, and a lot of in-person proponents want to return to “normal” as soon as possible. My experience, though, is that most people who like WFH for themselves and/or for their teams *and* most people who aren’t huge fans of it (whether for themselves or for their teams) are at least open to negotiating around partial WFH. But the conversation is getting muddled and confused by those who are ride or die for 100% one way or the other.

      1. RD*

        I would rather have a hybrid/flexible arrangement, but my company is going to 100% back to normal route and now I am looking for remote jobs. I have an abnormally long commute for my region and I am at my breaking point. The pandemic work from home flex (every/other week in and out of office since May 2020) made that very clear!

      2. Greg*

        We’ve allowed some people to go hybrid and it has been fantastic. It’s hard for us to structure a complete WFH setup, but we’ve got a few people who are 60% home/40% in the office. Everyone knows to schedule meetings during those two days and it has actually helped some of the meeting creep that was happening pre-pandemic.

    2. BRR*

      I also am having trouble reaching certain coworkers. The person I work with the closest has made it particularly challenging. It’s tricky because I know there’s a certain childcare element involved so I haven’t said anything. But it’s stressfull when I can’t expect a response after 2 pm each day.

      1. BRR*

        I want to clarify that I completely understand childcare is extremely difficult in general but especially right now and I’m not judging them at all for it. Their kid is young enough to need some supervision after school but is old enough that you can respond to a quick question via IM or email over the course of 3 hours.

      2. Anne Elliot*

        Oh, I’ll judge them for it (said the older single lady). I get it that WFH is hard and there’s issues but at this point in my agency we’re wrapping up more than a year of it, and people should have their stuff sorted by now.

        1. rd*

          I don’t really understand the complaints about childcare – it’s the summer holidays, schools are no more closed this year than they are every year, so… arrange childcare like you do every year?
          Unlike last year there’s also not (or far, far, far less) of the ‘households mixing = risk’ situation.

          1. DrRat*

            Look, I don’t have kids, but I think maybe you should Google “percentage of childcare facilities closed” and be prepared for a shock. A lot of the places people used “every year” in the past are gone. Many are permanently closed; some are still ‘temporarily’ closed. A lot of summer camps are closed or overwhelmed with requests, or having to take fewer campers as they could not hire enough staff. It’s not just people not taking advantage of different child care options; many of the options are gone.

            1. Zzzzzzz*

              It varies a lot by area, I think. No shortage of camps here in Texas. Daycare is getting better but it’s always hard for little kids (like toddlers and under). But there’s plenty for primary-school kids, I think.

              1. Greg*

                State checks out.

                NYS here. It has been a mess across the board. There are very much a shortage of summer child care options compared to other years.

            2. F.M.*

              Yeah, my sister works for a company that does, among other things, summer camps. And this year the problems have involved:

              – parents desperate to get their kids enrolled, with much faster and higher sign-ups than usual, which is great, except…
              – lots of facilities they would usually be renting for the camps are closed, or severely restricted, because of various continuing safety regulations or general nervousness, and…
              – all of the employees running the camps are wildly stressed by new safety protocols and processes, on top of pandemic stress, which means…
              – fewer employees were willing to return, and existing employees keep quitting, since summer camp-running is no one’s full-time job anyway, and so…
              – managers are trying to fill in, while wildly stressed by all of the above, and less experienced in hands-on running of camps, which are all in a new format anyway because of space/sanitation requirements, and…

              …well. Anyway. It’s rough on all sides regarding childcare right now.

        2. Your Local Password Resetter*

          That does assume that they have the resources to actually sort any of this out. It’s not like they can just create new affordable childcare if the pandemic shut that all down.

    3. rachel in nyc*

      I think that was one of the reasons my sub-dept hadn’t previously been allowed WFH. The person previously in my position was WFH with young kids (at least one of which was sick), a husband who worked out of state, and she was in another time zone. It wasn’t uncommon to call her and she was unavailable or picking kids up from school/dropping them off someplace.

      The ball got dropped on things.

    4. Quinalla*

      It was funny, I had someone comment to me that I am the best at actually answering when they call. Most people don’t answer and don’t get back to them if they missed a call. I told them it is because (1) I’m very conscientious about answering teams/phone calls but also (2) that I work in a regional office so I worked remotely from at least 1 sometimes more teammates on every project, so I know how frustrating it is to not be able to reach people and make a point to be reachable.

      My husband also complained about this with a few folks he worked with that if he was in the office, he’d just go over to their desk, but he couldn’t do that and IMs/email were going unanswered and he didn’t want to call, but would finally and still take a while to get a hold of some.

    5. World's Most Common Initials*

      The struggle is real with unreachable people. I had a very detail-oriented role at my last org and sometimes people needing help would leave out a small but crucial piece of info in their requests. It’s done thing to be able to swing by their desk and ask and get my job completed. Full-time WFH means calling or emailing, waiting days to see if they respond, getting a supervisor involved if not, etc, etc. It really impacted my own ability to do quality work and meet deadlines.

  5. Tehanu*

    My entire department of 9000 people went remote and I am amazed by what we accomplished. Huge deliverables, made even more urgent because of COVID. We managed to move files remotely, and I never thought that would be possible. But it’s been hard to bring the new members of the team up to speed. I have really noticed that younger employees, and students really struggling.

  6. Erin*

    I personally have not really liked working from home. I work from my bedroom (which at least is large enough for a desk and two monitors), so I miss the change of scenery that comes from leaving my apartment and commuting to Manhattan. My former manager was already not a great manager and proved to be even worse when trying to manage remotely. I also really liked the social small talk I got in my office, and miss that!

    That being said, I do hope that this has proven how many people thrive working from home, and that more companies are open to letting them continue to do so. It’s just not for me.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Ironically, going remote showed to upper management just how poorly my dept manager was doing at managing (and making final hiring decisions as well). They couldn’t fire her (nothing she had done fell afoul of the employee handbook and she was past her probationary period), but they could refuse to promote her. And she badly, badly wanted a promotion. She quickly left for “an opportunity better in line with her several degrees (per her goodbye email – that was the extent of her email to us saying good bye)” and the whole department turned around and we stopped hemorrhaging employees.
      However, many of my coworkers were not in set-ups where they could sustainably work from home long term, so we are all back in the office. I have to admit that I like to separation of work and home (at least for me personally).

  7. General Organa*

    As someone who is on Team Remote Work (I’m actually applying for new roles because my current employer is giving me the run-around on it), I think this is a super important conversation to have! Remote work will be more effective, and people might become less scared of it, if we can acknowledge the downsides as well as the upsides and have nuanced conversations about how to mitigate them and build good infrastructure for it. And honestly, my hope coming out of the pandemic is that workplaces will provide more flexibility and build better/more equitable communication and project management processes across the board–both for people like me, who want to stay remote, and for those who want to return to an office setting.

    1. Just an autistic redhead*

      Definitely agree. I’m fortunate and am going to be allowed to continue remote because it’s what I want and it works for us, but part of the team was already remote to begin with, so I guess we already got used to communicate-both-ways-please.

    2. Allypopx*

      Yes! I see a lot of people get super defensive if downsides of WFH are brought up and that’s not productive. Obviously there are pros and cons to both, and different scenarios will make more sense for different offices and jobs. We’ll do a much better job figuring that out if we can acknowledge the benefits and the drawbacks and have good faith conversations about our options.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I think this really is the key, acknowledging that both in person and remote have positives and negatives. For my job and especially my department – we work better in person – we’re entry level and there’s a lot of nuance to what we do, so being in person helps with the extensive amount of training we do (and all the impromptu mentoring that goes on as well). There are however lots of other departments at my organization that are fully remote and it works great. It’s all about being flexible and honest with what the job entails.

    3. Tali*

      I agree, I think the one good thing the pandemic has done is shake up traditional assumptions about remote work (ie that it could never work for anyone and WFH=not working). But while I like working from home, it’s very different managing people and projects remotely. We need to learn how to do that well! And that will better help people working in the office/hybrid schedules as well.

    4. An Employee who likes WFH*

      I am also Team Remote Work. I always wanted to do it and did not get a chance until March of 2020 at which time my current employer allowed some of us to WFH. I live in a small apartment and my desk is set-up in a closet like area. However, I have the space configured in a way that works for me.
      I am currently looking at other / new WFH options since my current employer is going to stop WFH in a couple of months. The current mgmt thinks that we all need to come back to the office (it’s all about collaboration). I disagree with them. I have the best work/life balance having the option of WFH, I am more productive working from home and I am able to get all the information I need from co-workers on Teams.
      I understand that WFH is no ideal for everyone and I hope we all find the best job situation.

    5. Again With Feeling*

      Agreed! The conversation needs to be nuanced. I think one important element that’s often missing is that companies who want to (or are forced to) support remote work need to actually invest in making it work! A remote-friendly culture doesn’t build itself. There are too many examples of a company that grudgingly allows remote work, does nothing to supervise or support remote employees, and then declares it a failure.

      I think that’s part of what makes this conversation get so heated — those of us who like remote work, depend on its flexibility, and are doing our jobs at a high level remotely are frustrated by the conversation getting shut down with
      “Onboarding new employees was too hard” or “My coworker slacked off and got away with it, therefore remote work is no good.” It takes more effort, but you absolutely can have a thriving, successful remote workforce, if you put in the time and attention to build communication and documentation systems, management structures, and a professional culture that supports it.

      Remote work is not for every person or every company, but it has the potential to make work life better for many, many people.

  8. Littorally*

    As one of the people who stayed in the office just for mail handling, THANK YOU for mentioning that! I spend a ton of time each day printing, mailing, receiving, scanning, etc etc etc, the mail for my team. I don’t resent it — I volunteered for this, because I wanted to make sure my colleagues with higher risks, with children at home, or with family members they risked transmitting the virus to didn’t have to get tapped to do it. But it is still a burden I would not have to deal with if we were all in the office, and and I don’t think the at-home folks realize just how much time I spend on their work. If they went WFH permanently, it would mean someone else permanently tasked with handling their mail.

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I wonder if one important change is to create a position that handles all these tasks for the remote workers. Like a remote staff support position.

      I also think that many of the issues Alison raised could be addressed with a hybrid office; part of the time at work, part of the time at home.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        There used to be a position for this: administrative assistant. When I was a sales representative at the dawn of time, each region had a person at the home office who would take care of these things. Many companies eliminated that role over the years. It turns out computers and Amazon deliveries do not always cover things as simple as opening the mail (and yes, some customers still send paper checks).

        1. rachel in nyc*

          yeah, my boss does/did this. his boss has made comments about him being an expensive delivery system.

          but I think my boss felt it wasn’t fair to ask anyone else to go into the office, especially early on so he took on that task.

        2. Roscoe*

          Yes, I’m in sales. I often get people who get automated past due notices (we don’t charge a late fee) because we haven’t gotten their payment. Turns out they sent a paper check, and the person in that office who’d need to open and process it only comes in 2 days a week. If they are on vacation or something, things get really delayed.

        3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          True – I wonder if the increase in remote work brings back the administrative support positions that lots of companies moved away from. I’ve always felt a good admin was worth many times their weight in platinum.

      2. A Non E. Mouse*

        I wonder if one important change is to create a position that handles all these tasks for the remote workers. Like a remote staff support position.

        Honestly, our business has found that a lot of the “paper” type work didn’t need to happen any longer, could be replaced by a non-paper process (example: a lot of our customer were more than willing to receive invoices by email only, rather than a mailed copy), or could be workflowed electronically instead.

        We made an effort company wide to ask for email rather than paper, and ask if we could email something rather than generate paper, and have greatly reduced mail in AND out.

        It needed to happen anyway, but the pandemic made it an urgent task at the time.

        We still have to ship product and that won’t change – but a lot of paper processes that were handled manually before have been workflowed and now email.

        1. ErinWV*

          I work in academic support, and we transferred almost every process to paperless during the pandemic. Regulations relaxed for some things which legally had to be on paper. And our students, in this day and age, are mystified by the idea of having to actually print and sign something by hand anyway, so they prefer digital signatures and the like. I’ve been back in the office for about 12 months now and I can count the paper forms we’ve received in that time on one hand.

          Our school has a sustainability/environmental focus, so paperless processes are more encouraged than they might be elsewhere.

    2. Constance Lloyd*

      Yes! I’ve been hybrid the entire time specifically for mailing. We have an admin team who has handled these tasks for folks who are home full time, but my job requires a level of government clearance they don’t have and a lot of the information I handle is explicit banned from email transmission. My employer is keeping a hybrid model moving forward, which I appreciate, but there’s no doubt the quality and timeliness of our work has taken a hit the past year and a half.

    3. NY LAWYER*

      It seems like this is one of the easier WFH problems to solve but that companies would have to hire more people to support the work from home people. My law office has clerks whose jobs have always been basically copying, mailing and scanning.

      However obviously just because its easily fixable doesn’t mean companies are going to do it.

      1. Littorally*

        I mean, sure, but it’s good to remember that part of the reason my coworkers can be ~so much more productive at home~ is that tasks they would normally have to complete are now on someone else’s plate. It isn’t an inherent virtue of working from home, it’s an inherent virtue of having less work to do.

        1. rosaz*

          Absolutely. Also, if you have 10 people WFH and 10% of each of their jobs is admin-y stuff someone else is now handling… you’re probably going to need to lay off one of those 10.

    4. Similarly Situated*

      Thank you for doing this! Someone in my office took on the same role, and I don’t know how she’s stayed sane. I thank her every day (and, more importantly, do what I can to avoid generating mail). I know when she signed up she never thought she’d still be doing this 15 months later.

    5. Jackalope*

      Before the pandemic we had a hybrid buddy system that worked well. Everyone working from home would have another WFH partner and they would have non-overlapping WFH days. On their days in the office they would process mail for themselves and their WFH buddy. If both were in the office then both would do mail. Post-pandemic that could be a good system to return to (since our job can’t work fully WFH but we could manage hybrid well from what I’ve seen), and keep all the work from being on any one person.

    6. cncx*

      yes, i have also been the one coming in and doing the mail and facilities, and i am happy to do it because my job is one of those “kinda needs to be in the office” jobs and i don’t like home office. But i still want people to understand that as much as i am glad to help, it is time out of my day that takes away from the other things i can accomplish and to take that into consideration for my “real job.” There are people who *can* work from home because someone else is picking up their in-person work and this isn’t said enough. I work in IT but i’m the new mail person and i spend a good hour on a DHL snafu that wasn’t my making this week.

    7. Jean (just Jean)*

      As someone living with a medically fragile family member, *thank you for volunteering for this to protect your other colleagues and their families!*
      Also *1 to Jackalope’s description below of the “WFH buddy system” method for handling mail.

  9. Valancy Snaith*

    Thank you for this. The learning-by-osmosis is a huge one, especially for junior staff and really, anyone new to a job. There’s a million subtle things that are part of office culture that are much easier to learn spending time in the office compared to accessing everything via the internet. And Lord in heaven, but it’s much easier to be able to stick your head in someone’s office, call their extension, or flag them down in the hallway to ask a 2-second question than it is to ping them on the computer and hope they’re sitting right in front of it. I don’t love my office, but I do love the distinction between Work Time and Home Time, too.

    1. Anony*

      Yes! This! I started a new job in the middle of the pandemic and haven’t even met all my coworkers in person yet. I’m having this exact issue of how to informally track people down when even IMing can be an imposition when you’re in the middle of a 10,000 line spreadsheet.

      1. Code Monkey, the SQL*

        My old co-worker started a new job just as we were all shutting down (his farewell lunch was the last time I ate in a restaurant until just this past June)

        I can’t imagine how tough it’s been for him to establish links with his new team and coworkers with only Zoom, Slack and email for tools.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      You have pinned one reason why my company went remote so seamlessly, and it is worth mentioning for all the people who are discussing infrastructure improvements.
      We have no phones. All our systems went VoIP a couple of years before the pandemic, so all our extensions and our voicemail went with us when we went off-site.

      1. allathian*

        My employer got rid of desk phones and switched to cellphones shortly before I started 14 years ago. All employees were issued smartphones in 2018, although some had them before that. I’ve had a work laptop since 2014, although I admit that I rarely WFH before the pandemic, usually between 1 and 3 days a month, some months I worked at the office every day.

    3. English, not American*

      It has bitten me on the butt a couple of times this past 16 months to not be surrounded by my team talking about upcoming projects and changes. Annoyingly I’ll likely never have that again as we’re moving to hot-desking as part of the transition back to the office.

    4. Elizabeth*

      Not just new people, either. I was promoted just a few weeks ago (a semi-lateral, small jump, to the other half of the group I was already in) and I can feel the difference in my knowledge compared to what I would have known 18 months ago. We were in an open office and my desk was right in front of the woman whose role I now have – it’s shocking how much I used to pick up just by hearing her conversations with people.

    5. MRV*

      I think one of the “downsides” of remote work is actually highlighting a failure of current workplaces. If the information is important, then learning by osmosis is not a good thing. Create a formal method of transferring the knowledge so everyone has access. I’ve been too many places where institutional knowledge has been lost (or will be) because it is found in a single person and not documented. The pandemic is starting to show the value of these hard to quantify tasks.

      1. NerdyKris*

        I disagree, you can have excellent documentation and still benefit from being in the same room. Very few jobs can be done 100% from documentation without any mentoring from someone who already knows the ins and outs. Having someone there to ask questions to is invaluable.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, that’s true. And there’s absolutely no way to document the sort of informal office politics stuff, such as; Mike’s great at his job, but he’s a grouch so people avoid working with him whenever possible, Xia works long hours and looks askance at anyone who leaves before 6 pm, but she has no power over you and management takes everything she says with a tablespoon of salt so feel free to ignore, Fergus is a great mentor for new hires, at least as long as you don’t ask the same question more than once, take notes when you talk to him, etc.

      2. RagingADHD*

        There are many jobs — many, many jobs –with so much nuance and complexity that no human could possibly think of every fact to document, and no human could devote the time to reading and absorbing it, and/or could not learn what they need to know from documentation. Not to mention the one-off situations that have to be handled by knack instead of policy, because nibidy could think of a policy for everything.

        I’m reminded of a wonderful scene by Alexander McCall Smith, where a bunch of nerdy academics try to learn tennis out of a book.

        It does not really work.

      3. H*

        MRV- I agree. Although I learn by doing, I think this is a big issue. People do not consider formalizing institutional knowledge and just assume their “veteran” or experienced workers will be available to train anyone. Big mistake.

    6. Clint*

      The counter to that is as a Software Developer – when someone just sticks their head in my “office” to ask a question, I usually lose ~45min of time; 15 to answer their question and another 30 trying to get back into the flow I was in. When this happens several times a day with no way to stop it I perform my job much slower (which the customer does not like). Now those questions come in via email or teams and I can answer them when it will only take 15 min.

      1. TIRED*

        Yep this would happen to me too, in engineering (not software). People underestimate the interruption to the workflow. I think many software developer jobs/companies have figured out how to do remote / process scattered team member questions well. They had it figured out a few years pre-covid, from what I can tell talking to my developer friends.

      2. SimplytheBest*

        I’ve never understood this. What is taking you a full half hour between saying you’re welcome to the person who asked you a question and restarting your own work?

        1. She's One Crazy Diamond*

          I can’t speak for them, but this is an issue for me and it’s specifically because I have ADHD.

        2. Dawbs*

          ADD.
          at least that’s MY answer.

          I’m assuming the question was asked in good faith so for a lot of people it’s a spanner in the works. Picture an assembly line, and some of it screeched to a halt. When someone asked a question, the person poisoned at one part of the line left. not only do you have to get it started, in order to DO that, you need to clean up the mess Lucy and Ethel left at their station, wind the line back to where it was left at and then work your way back up to speed again.

          (Hell when I did factory work, it would take me 15 minutes to get my productivity back up to speed any time I had to stop)

          Think back to high school English… Coleridge was allegedly forever disappointed & his poem Kubla Khan was 1/4 the length he planned and was never properly completed because of the much maligned infamous person from Porlock.

          Human work and play and concentration rhythms are tricky things

          1. LC*

            I am also ADHD and well said!

            Having ADHD makes it a hard thing for me to describe, so it’s easy for anyone who hasn’t experienced it to just write us off as lazy or whatever, so I always appreciate a good response like this.

            @SimplytheBest Continuing to assume you asked the question in good faith, I mean this with genuinely no snark.
            You know how you can’t really fathom why on earth it would take someone 30 minutes to get back to work after an interruption? What on earth could take them so long?
            In the same sense, I have absolutely no concept of how people can just hop right back into the flow after an interruption and pick up where they left off. The comic that BeenThere mentions below is a fantastic example of what it’s like in my head sometimes.
            The way your brain works is just as unfathomable to me as mine (maybe, I’m extrapolating) is to you.

            Disclaimer: Of course, this doesn’t necessarily go for everyone with ADHD, and experiencing this kind of thing in this way definitely doesn’t mean a person necessarily has ADHD. Yay neurodiversity! It’d be so boring if we all had the same brains, so it’s always interesting to me seeing how very different one person can view the same situation.

        3. BeenThere*

          Software development and other engineering fields require deep focus on complex systems, it takes time for our brains to load up all the contact for the problem we are working on and trace through the paths before we even begin what most people see as the output, e.g. working code.

          1. BeenThere*

            I tried to post a link before and I assume it’s not going to work, if you search for “This is why you shouldn’t interrupt a programmer” it should bring up a neat cartoon that describes it.

        4. WannaAlp*

          All the context information for the task you were doing has been pushed out of your head by whatever the interruption was about, and you now need to go pick it all up again. If it’s an in-depth complicated task, this can take up to 30 mins.

      3. BeenThere*

        Same, our software is so complex I only attempt to get into the flow if I have a two hour block in between meetings and there is usually only one of those a day.

        The context switch cost is high for engineers because we need to load a large amount of information before we even get started. Not sure if the link will make it through, so search for “why you should interrupt a programmer”, it’s one of my favorite graphics to explain what happens. https://heeris.id.au/2013/this-is-why-you-shouldnt-interrupt-a-programmer/

        The hybrid work situation is going to make me so happy because there is talk of making the WFH days meeting free days and I’ve already cleared with my bosses that these need to be interruption free days. Unless it’s a critical production issue the person can wait until I’m in the office to get help and I’m hoping that is what happens.

    7. and they all rolled over*

      Even collaboration by osmosis. Yesterday my team had a trial in-office day. One of my coworkers turned to me and started asking about how he might implement something. I honestly didn’t even know what he was working. But a different coworker overheard us, and chimed in with a suggestion that my first coworker says saved him HOURS of work. That almost certainly wouldn’t have happened over Teams.

    8. ecnaseener*

      Definitely. I was just trying to explain to some new-ish coworkers how best to interact with various people in our office – Jane responds better to X than to Y, that sort of thing. It took me awhile to pick up on these patterns when I was new – it’s nearly impossible to do when you never get to see the person’s face.

  10. Crivens!*

    All I know is I have indeed done better working from home and won’t accept another in-office job.

    1. Abbey Rhodes*

      And that’s a fair way to feel! I came to the same realization a few years ago and ended up resigning my job in favor of an opportunity that would allow me to be permanently remote, and I’m now much happier. But I also realize that, if I had wanted to stay in the job that I resigned, I wouldn’t have been as effective working remotely as I was in the office (just due to the nature of the work). That seems to be Alison’s point: Blanket statements like “remote work is better than in-person work in all cases” aren’t accurate, and people should take that into consideration before they decide that the pandemic made offices irrelevant.

  11. ThatGirl*

    I only started at this job in January, so I’m not sure of how last year went. But what I’ve been told is that this is a company that never allowed WFH before, so it was a big adjustment. In spite of that, we had our best year ever last year. But that’s got a lot more to do with the specific kind of products we make and sell, some of which are uniquely suited to thrive in a pandemic-adjacent environment.

    I’ve been going to the office part-time for a couple of months, and there are some upsides to it – if other people I need to talk to are in the office, it’s much easier to have quick conversations. I like having a dedicated workspace/desk. It’s nice to have a change of scenery. I can find physical references for things if I need them.

    I will say, for all of the technology we have available to us, one of the big failings has been meetings were some people are in the office in a meeting room and some people are remote. I think this could be fixed, but our manager doesn’t quite seem to know how to use the camera/screen sharing options in the room, so instead you have everyone with their laptops, trying to manage muting and unmuting and echoes and it’s hard to hear or focus sometimes.

    1. ThatGirl*

      I also feel like I should note that my commute is very short – so that’s a huge factor in how I feel about WFH vs. in-office; I really resented having my commute eat up 90+ minutes of my day in the past.

      1. Bee*

        Absolutely – I know I want to be in the office probably at least half the time, but god, I have an hour-each-way commute that absolutely kills me. (Moving wouldn’t solve this – my office is in midtown Manhattan and I can’t afford to have my own place any closer in.) If I had like a 20-minute walk I’d happily go back full time.

  12. have we met?*

    My boss was chomping at the bit to get us back in the office, without giving any information on spacing, cleaning, mask policies, etc., despite being asked. He was dismissive of our local government guidelines. He (and our admin) didn’t wear masks in the office. So, every single time he asked how WFH was going, I said it was GREAT. But mainly I had no desire to go back to the office under those conditions.

    Now we have flexibility, but if you need to be in the office, it’s all hotdesking, all the time. No thanks to that either.

    The truth is, now that I’m vaccinated, I would be okay working in an office. But I’m not interested in a long daily commute, hotdesking, or desks practically on top of one another. 2-3 days in the office/week would be ideal. Office full-time with flexibility for a sick kid or home repairs would be acceptable.

    Despite being remote since March 2020 and how we’re working now, the way my boss handled COVID office restrictions is yet another reason I’m looking for something new.

    1. AnotherAmy*

      This sounds an awful lot like my boss. We’ve been back in the office a few days a week since September, despite no one except the boss wanting to be there. At least then we all still had offices (there are only 8 people total) and could distance. Then our office downsized into a poorly thought out space where half of us are cubes that are really just poorly designed freestanding partitions that seem like they’ll fall over if you sneeze. And it’s so loud because apparently no one thought about sound absorption? Of course the boss has an office and yet is the person who is in the office the least – thinking going to her second home for a month at a time. One of my coworkers who had been there for 11 years quit last month without a new job lined up and I’m definitely polishing up my resume. It’s been really demoralizing.

  13. Michaela T*

    Thank you! I saw this recently where people were so mean about that place that is doing the colored lanyards. Some people want to be back in the office! And wanting to be back in the office doesn’t mean people aren’t uncomfortable or don’t care. For many people there were no good options this last year.

    I say this as someone who has worked remotely for years but would love if there was a local office that I could go into.

      1. alienor*

        An office in England (I think) had everyone choose badge lanyards that indicated their level of comfort with personal contact. Green=ok with hugs and high-fives, orange=talking but not touching, red=stay away. (That being said, I would have had an orange lanyard even if there were no covid, because I don’t want to hug or high-five anyone in the office ever.)

        1. allathian*

          High fives possibly, hugs only if they’re a huggy work friend rather than simply a random coworker for me.

        2. Caboose*

          Wait, they used this in an office? That’s… huh. I’ve seen these used for conventions to help with consent, since it’s a social environment with lots of strangers, but never an office!

  14. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    I’m just sick of hearing this this dead horse be beaten. I couldn’t care less where anyone else works any more.

    1. BRR*

      YOU couldn’t care less but the point is there are other considerations for when determining if a job can be done remotely.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        There was a point at which it was interesting, but it’s devolved into faith; for those who believe, it’s obvious, and for those who do not, there is no amount of evidence sufficient to instill belief.

        It’s picked up a big parallel of the “sandwiches” guideline–not everyone can eat sandwiches/work from home, etc. I’m actually surprised Alison isn’t squashing the topic on that basis.

        I’ve been remote for a decade. Asking me if the Covid-19 pandemic showed that work from home is viable is like asking if wearing masks during the Covid-19 pandemic shows they slow the spread of the disease–completely ignoring the 1918 Flu pandemic where masks slowed the spread in regions that mandated them. Or if World War II showed that women can be productive employees.

        I guess, only if you hadn’t been paying attention beforehand, and there will always remain those in denial.

        1. BRR*

          Ohhhh, by “couldn’t care less where anyone else works” did you mean in the office or at home? I interpreted the place being specifically not in the office (which would have suggested you’re the target for the post). I do agree with you that people are firmly on both sides and aren’t letting facts get in the way of their opinions.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            Ohhhh, by “couldn’t care less where anyone else works” did you mean in the office or at home?

            I meant it both ways, in that I’m numb to whether someone is in the office or remote, and I’m numb to where remote happens to be if the person is remote. (e.g. coffee shop if you’re not working with PII, etc).

    2. KHB*

      Heaven forfend there be an occasional post on a free blog on a topic you don’t care about.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        My mistake; I thought Alison was soliciting opinions. I didn’t realize mine wasn’t welcome… duly noted. Thank you.

        1. ecnaseener*

          Oh come on, you didn’t offer an opinion, you offered disdain for the whole topic.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            When you put it that way, I do see your point.

            That said, there are a few posts that would agree at face value, so it’s not an opinion that’s unique to me.

    3. NerdyKris*

      Then don’t comment on the post about it? Clearly a lot of people do care. You aren’t the sum total of the zeitgeist.

    4. 4CeeleenLV*

      You’ve been remote since the 1918 pandemic so of course you couldn’t care less. The rest of us have lives that are impacted by these discussions. It’s very much still an active discussion, not a dead horse at all.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        That’s a creative blending of details; it brought me a smile.

    5. RagingADHD*

      These are some prertty strong reactions for someone who doesn’t care or is “numb”.

      I usually deal with things I’m bored with by not taking the time to read or respond. Have you tried that?

  15. Mouse*

    YES. My job has been really heavily affected by 1, 3, and 5 on Alison’s list. I get that wearing comfy clothes and not talking to people is fun, and not commuting is great, and all the other general perks of WFH are really nice. I really do. To an extent, I’ve enjoyed that too. But it’s made most parts of my job so much harder.

    I’ve also heard a lot of “well, the office is open, you can go if you really prefer to be there!” That’s great, and I do go to the office for a few days a week, but it doesn’t help if we don’t have a critical mass of other employees there too. About 10% of our company is regularly going to the office, so it just feels like working remotely (Zoom calls, instant messaging, etc) with extra steps, instead of an actual fix.

    1. Coenobita*

      Yes! A lot of it isn’t about being in the office, it’s about being around/working with other people. My day job is allowing people to come back into the office starting in a few weeks, but sitting alone in an office with the door closed with a mask on, just so that I can Zoom with someone else doing the same thing on the other side of the wall, doesn’t address many of those issues.

    2. Database Developer Dude*

      And this reads to me as if you’re saying because YOU want to go back to the office, you want others to have to go back to the office too, regardless of their needs or wants, and regardless of their productivity.

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          She also said “but it doesn’t help if we don’t have a critical mass of other employees there too.”

            1. Database Developer Dude*

              Which directly implies that because they require others there too, the needs and wants of the others are immaterial. I just got pushed out of a project for the same issues…people who didn’t even interact with me wanted me in the office just because they wanted me there, period, regardless of whether it made sense for me.

              1. Mimi*

                I think your personal frustrations right now are causing you to put words in Mouse’s mouth (keyboard, whatever). Mouse hasn’t demanded that everyone else come into the office — they are just mentioning that x, y, and z are difficult without other people in the office.

                1. Mimi*

                  (And I’m sorry that you’re being forced into the office for no good reason; that sounds awful.)

              2. Mouse*

                No, the wants and needs of others are not immaterial to me. I’m not saying we all need to be 100% back in the office tomorrow. I’m just saying that sometimes even if makes sense to one individual person to stay remote, it harms the workflow (and other cultural benefits like mentoring) for everyone else. Nobody works in a vacuum.

      1. Mouse*

        Thanks, Alison. Yes, it’s not really about my personal preference; like I said, I’ve enjoyed parts of working from home as well. It’s about what I need to effectively do my job. That’s why I said it doesn’t help for *just me* to go into the office–it’s not helpful because it’s not just a personal preference, it’s a workflow issue.

        1. Gumby*

          ITA. We’ve always had a fair number of people in the office (because: labs) but *which* people are there these days determine the extent of the productivity gains for me. It’s great that on the days I come in I can more easily track down the scientists and wrangle them into discussing their budget / schedule / reports. But then I’m still on Teams meetings walking someone on the more admin side through how to use a certain piece of software which is bleeecchh. (“In the upper left corner, no left, too far, the link that says…”) (I also hate, hate, HATE that particular software which probably doesn’t help.)

          Another WFH issue is meetings that could have been hallway conversations – not really suited for email chains, but need to involve one or more co-workers who are not constantly in front of a computer so can’t be an online chat. I used to have 2 or 3 meetings per week before the plague. Now I regularly have that many per day. With the occasional foray into 6 – 7 – 8 meetings in a single day. Because there is no ‘poke your head into a lab to ask a quick question’ – it’s always ‘set up a 30-minute Teams meeting to discuss that question plus anything possibly related since I have you here now.’ Not sure how much of this is personality-driven, one of the worst offenders started working here mid-pandemic, but it is one artifact of these interesting days that I would be beyond thrilled to jettison. But it’s not solved by having 1/2 of the company in-office.

    3. raktajino*

      A critical mass does seem important for group things. We haven’t gone back to the office (yet) and our new hires are all permanently remote positions in different time zones. When we do go back, at whatever schedule, they won’t be expected to join us. So for big meetings and team building, we’re back in that awkward setup with a bunch of people in person and a handful of people online, awkwardly asking the room to speak up or explain what’s not on camera. For my office specifically, I don’t see a lot of benefit outside of a few situations when it’s worth flying people out or the group is limited by *happenstance* to already be locals.

  16. quill*

    My last job could have been fully remote or 95% remote if people outside the company had functioning internet payment systems… but they did not, and it really colored my resentment of being the only person who had to be in office and also trying to contact them being a crapshoot, as they did not email well.

    Current job, nobody could do anything without being onsite (because we need the lab) besides the boss and sometimes me, so overall morale seems to be better.

    I wonder if a lot of the resentment in various teams over WFH is less about WFH being a “privilege” or convenient vs. inconvenient, and more about companies that could have made things easier / more accessible, and actively chose not to for the majority of workers.

  17. Maybe*

    I think Allison’s point emphasize that work from home may not be able to be painted with a broad stroke, but instead should be on a case-by-case basis. For my work, the pandemic has given the gift of no commute and such a better work-life balance that I will only do WFH (or 80% WFH). For me that works. It might not work for others in different situations. Like others, I have been more productive at home and at work, but I can understand colleagues who would prefer to be around other adults during the day. I think the issue is that companies are not listening to their employees and are not being transparent about their reasons to “bring everyone back.”

    1. Gail Davidson-Durst*

      I agree, individuals should be considered, and different TEAMS should be considered! Pre-covid, my company had a general directive that people be in the office, but our particular team is already spread out over the globe so we’ll never all be meeting in person anyway, plus we work almost exclusively in cloud-based, digital platforms so no mail, no physical reference items, etc. Now after working remote during lockdown, we need to be especially careful not to alienate people since our team’s function is currently a super hot market (like, 20 open positions for every qualified candidate in the US) and it would be very easy for people to leave over the remote work question.

      Compare that to a hypothetical team in the same company that does more hands-on or interpersonal work, has an all-local team, and has a robust talent pipeline. They may have a completely different calculation on how important in-office work is!

    2. DrRat*

      I’m very impressed with the way that my company is handling the “who’s coming back to the office full time, who’s going to be hybrid, who’s going to stay remote, how will this all work, will it disadvantage certain groups” questions very well. But I think my company is in the minority on this!

      1. ecnaseener*

        Tell us more! How are they handling it? (Mine has been super vague so I’m curious what an actual deliberate approach might look like.)

        1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

          I think mine is doing a pretty good job! Pre-pandemic there was a long and drawn out discussion about work flexibility; our division includes a wide variety of roles, everything from traveling client reps to office managers and event assistants. At that time it was determined that in order to be “fair” to those whose jobs couldn’t be done from home, they opened it up to consider flexible work weeks as well as teleworking. So I have colleagues who work 4-10s, who work an extra hour Mon-Thurs and then take Friday afternoon off, or spend 1-2 days at home every week. Ironically, this was finalized about 2 months before everyone went home in March 2020 and didn’t come back.

          I’m not sure what the conversation is like for those jobs that were initially determined to be non-remote (like office managers); I would assume they’ll be asked to work full time from the office but with the same option for flex schedules. My job involves travel and I’ve been told that while I need to commit to a set schedule of up to 3 WFH days every week, there will be more flexibility this time around if I decide I need to come into the office on one of my set WFH days. They’ve also established at least one day each week where everyone needs to be in the office, which I think will be better than how it was when some people always missed the staff meetings because they didn’t work Tuesdays, for example.

  18. Michelle A Johnston*

    I have been working from home for 7 years and our company has evolved – some departments never got to work from home until the pandemic happened. And we are now testing the waters on going back…with no pressure. But I know this life is not for everyone. It took me a couple of years to feel fully adjusted and find my groove…the first 2 years were a ton of work at all hours of the day to try and find a path to productivity. Now, I can’t imagine going back…but I know my experience is not the same as everyone else’s. My frustration with the topic is when there are blanket statements about whether or not it works. It is very personal as to who it works for and who it doesn’t.

  19. Nicki Name*

    I see in surveys over and over again that people in the first few years of their careers have a strong preference for being in an office, mainly because of the mentoring issue. Even though I’ve come to love WFH, I’ve been thinking about how to accomodate this as a team lead. One think I’ve resolved to do is if my team brings a very junior person on at some point when we have an office again, I’ll go into the office for their first couple weeks, to build some rapport and help them through the initial learning curve.

    1. Nicki Name*

      (My team’s boss and grandboss will for sure be there too, since they’re both people people and itching to get back to an office ASAP. But it feels like it might help for someone who is more of a peer to be present too, maybe?)

    2. Nicotena*

      I think “in-office for the first six months/first year, after that remote” could work, as long as everyone else is hybrid (not fully remote). You’d get some networking and support for new people but not make everyone sit in cubes 40 hours a week in the name of culture.

      1. English, not American*

        That’s pretty much what my workplace did pre-pandemic. WFH was whatever your manager agreed to, but only after passing your 6-month probation. Most people worked from home atleast one day a week, and a couple of people were rarely seen in the office at all.

      2. DrRat*

        Pre-pandemic, our general rule of thumb was “two years in the office, prove yourself, then remote or hybrid if you want” for many jobs.

    3. Smithy*

      Honestly – it might be worth doing this more some more mid-level/senior hires as well. I’ve had 10+ years in my sector and onboarding during the pandemic has been tough.

      Another thing that might be worth thinking about is to assign younger new hires with a peer or someone outside their chain of command as a new hire mentor/buddy. Having someone else assigned to meet with you regularly and answer questions in addition to your manager can be really helpful. While my onboarding this year wasn’t great, one thing I noticed is that I was more comfortable asking questions or reaching out to set up meetings than I was when I was newer in my career. Interrupting someone to ask a question can be a bit daunting – and for some, taking away physical cues of busy/available, can make that harder.

      1. Nicki Name*

        My company actually has a buddy system like that already. It can definitely be a big help.

      2. TIRED*

        I agree a good mentor or buddy can really help. I’ve mostly seen bad examples rolled out, so definitely think that having regular meetings (even if it’s just quarterly) are important. In a bad company more experienced staff are encouraged (forced?) to sign up, but then they are too busy to meet with someone, or they are late for every meeting (even remote / phone only), or they don’t have good answers to questions. So that’s not a very helpful buddy / mentor experience.

  20. Texan In Exile*

    In my pre-covid job, I worked really well with people outside of my office (via Skype), but I had a chance to meet many of them in person and I was in person with my boss and immediate team.

    I started a job this year where everyone is remote for now and I have found it very difficult to integrate with my team. Except for my boss, they have all been at the company for years. Three of the four have worked together on the same team for years. I get along with them, but if I ever ping someone for a quick conversation or question, I feel as if I am intruding.

    I have no problems building other relationships – I have made “meet for coffee now that we’re vaxxed” work friends with three people already and have standing weekly zoom chats with two other women. But with my immediate team – the vibe is just – odd.

  21. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

    “But other people might have found it harder to reach you, have ad hoc conversations with you, understand all your communications/reports, etc. You might think, “Well, I don’t want you reaching me on the fly; not getting interrupted all the time is part of what has made me more effective.” But it’s not necessarily a net positive for your team as a whole.”

    YES. I see this all the time in this comment section, along with the corresponding belief that any colleague to dares to interrupt your workflow to ask a work-related question, request support or follow-up, etc. is being massively inconsiderate, rude, and a generally bad person. Sometimes being at work means being available to your team for other work-related issues besides your own priorities – it might be annoying, but it is (often) a necessary component to getting all the work done, not just your own slice of it.

    1. PT*

      Some of this really has to do with context, I think. I worked at a place that I used to call the Inception of Interruptions. If you were doing something, you’d be interrupted. And when you were tending to that interruption, you’d be interrupted. And when you were tending to the interruption of your interruption, you’d be interrupted yet again. You were also expected to switch gears seamlessly and cheerfully greet and welcome the person who was interrupting you, and also keep track of all seven or eight things you were doing at once.

      The reality was, you cannot keep track of eight things simultaneously when you are interrupted halfway through each of them, and you end up making mistakes, sometimes big ones, which of course, then created a BIG interruption as you had to drop everything you were doing to go put out the fire that was created by the little interruption two weeks earlier. Most people were secretly ready to strangle the next person who asked them a quick question. Even though the quick question was completely reasonable and fair to ask.

      1. Former Young Lady*

        This is really important. The single biggest change to my experience of work has been the actual ability to get stuff done, and the shift of 95% of all “quick questions” to a text-based format I can refer back to.

        I also spent most of the last half-decade in an Inception of Interruptions, and (self-awareness being the paradox it is), the majority of my in-person interruptions were either (a) neither urgent nor important, (b) questions I couldn’t answer without hours of research, (c) both so urgent and important as to have needed attention three WEEKS ago, or (d) all of the above.

        People who put their questions in an email or an IM seemed to understand that I didn’t just go into suspended animation whenever they weren’t engaging with me. Incidentally, those people seem to be the ones coping better with WFH than the drive-by-quick-question brigade.

        1. Former Young Lady*

          …OK, speaking of paradoxes, (d) should have been “more than one of the above.”

    2. Monty & Millie's Mom*

      And I also think that some people are over-confidently labeling themselves “more productive” when they WFH, when they may not actually be, because of this very thing. (I don’t wanna start a fight, I’m not saying everyone is less productive than they think they are, etc, just an observation and something to think about as part of the larger picture!)

      1. Spreadsheet Enthusiast*

        Yeah, I think claiming you’re *more* productive from home happens too often.

        I’m happy to admit I just maintained the same level of productivity for the org, but since my normal work days were filled with “look busy” time, the time I spent working *felt* more useful/efficient/productive for the same effort.

      2. Allypopx*

        Agreed – and a lot of people in judging their own productivity really lose sight of the fact expectations have been lowered. Again, not everyone. But it’s not something I think people can self report on as confidently as we tend to see en masse.

      3. Smithy*

        My job by nature is very collaborative – both internally and externally – and my take is that most of my colleagues’ individual reviews and metrics probably have very little to do with what I ask of them. And I think that a lot of larger/bureaucratic places of employment have those dynamics. Where being available and cooperative greatly helps a number of people but doesn’t have an obvious impact on your primary metrics. It may be that the brunt is all largely being felt by a few teams, or diffused around issues like how staff are onboarding across an organization.

        For a while, performance metrics have become so boiled down to discrete and measurable targets that more qualitative “team building/mentoring/socializing” efforts get dismissed. Let alone collaborative or brainstorming work. So I think there’s also a huge issue at play around that kind of work being dismissed or viewed moreso as nice to have. But when you take away huge amounts of it – then that’s when it’s easier to see how much is missed when its gone.

      4. Quinalla*

        I’m sure some think they were more productive, but actually weren’t. It’s hard for me to tell honestly as most of the WFH I’ve had my kids around and that was definitely way less productive and I ended up working evenings/early mornings to compensate, but I have worked from home before and it is more productive for me for sure, but it is NOT for everyone. My husband has found it not more productive for him and he also falls into the no-transition trap and ends up working longer than intended some days. So yeah, there can be some real struggles and some real issues with lack of productivity for some.

        I am very privileged to have a real desk set up at home with 2 monitors, etc. – honestly my home desk is much nicer than my work desk. Since I’ll continue working from home full time (with occasional visits to our main office), I’m glad I actually am more productive at home since this is going to be my life from now on.

    3. Nicotena*

      That paragraph was such an interesting point to me. I was desperate to work remote even before the pandemic and made a lot of sacrifices to make it happen, because I had a complex spreadsheety type job in an open office. I would get interrupted constantly by minutiae and wonder why the heck they were paying me for something they wouldn’t let me actually do. I felt like Harrison Bergeron.

      I think it was the 80/20 rule, where some of the interruptions were actually totally valuable to the org overall and probably worth the delays (even if it felt excruciating to me personally) and most were totally inane line-of-sight type things where someone wanted to vent, couldn’t find a password or file they could have just … looked for, or was having a loud phone convo that was legitimate but disruptive to me.

      Some of this could have been improved if the company had been willing to invest in the office environment; they were not, and we bore the brunt of that.

      1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

        +1000 for the Harrison Bergeron reference.

        Also, open offices are the worst of all possible worlds.

        1. Correction*

          Open offices with *hotdesking* (or hoteling, or any other phrase that means not having your own personal desk) are the worst of all possible worlds.

          1. TIRED*

            Yep yep yep!! Open offices are terrible. And yet they are what the “learn by osmosis, learn by over-hearing important work info” side prefers. No thank you.

            1. H2*

              I agree, they’re terrible. But for everyone espousing hybrid setups, they’re the way of the future. A lot of places will cut overhead for half-full offices.

      2. Autistic AF*

        Yeah, I have a lot of trouble with auditory distractions or interruptions as it really impacts my ability to focus. This is due to an ADA-covered disability (or would be if I lived in the US), but I’d often be treated like this was a want instead of a need when I worked in an office. I don’t think asking me in Teams before calling me, or needing to wait 20 seconds for me to mentally task switch, is onerous, but I definitely got the feeling like asking others to change was too much. I’m not against working with others, I just want to be treated equitably as a disabled person.

        1. allathian*

          AFAIK I’m NT, but I struggle with some of the same issues. I’m very happy that the culture at my employer is that we mostly either schedule Skype calls in advance, or if it’s urgent and the other person is flagging green, we give a heads-up in chat before calling. I really appreciate this, because it avoids the sort of sudden interruption that’s hard to get back to, and more importantly, I can see who wants to talk to me. I have some undiagnosed auditory processing issues that mean that I have a hard time recognizing voices on the phone, and if someone’s calling me and I don’t have their name in my contacts, I have to ask their name before we finish the call. Even if they introduce themselves, that goes right over my head.

    4. Sarah*

      My job is remote. It also requires a lot of deep thought and focus. For me, the balance has been to explain to any new people I work with that because of what I do, I won’t always be available immediately if they send me an email. I may have closed that window so I can focus without distractions, but I check it every 90 minutes to 2 hours. Then I make sure they know them that my phone is always on and always with me, so that if they need something immediately, they should not hesitate to text or call. When they do, I’m happy to help with whatever they need, because responding to their needs is also part of my job as a team member.

      I’m aware that I’m lucky to be on a team where there aren’t any needy people, so that helps a lot. They really do respect my focus time.

    5. Green Tea for Me*

      This is 100% what I’ve been dealing with. I’m in office and have been the entire time due to the nature of my job but about 90% of our company shifted to WFH.

      Now they’re wanting people to come back into the office and I keep hearing the complaint that people are more productive when they’re at home (and I want to leave room for the possibility that they are personally), but since it’s made it so much harder for me to reach people out department is less productive.

      I just had my mid year review with my manager and her manager, and we were discussing missed deadlines. And with one excepting every single deadline I’ve missed since March 2020 I have a paper trail that its because I was waiting on answers from someone working from home.

      My manager was well aware of this, since she’s been dealing with it too, but her manager had no idea and once I showed him all the evidence that these missed deadline were through no fault of my own he was shocked. I suspect the people who I wasn’t able to get ahold of will soon be required to be in the office at least one day a week.

  22. Mmkay*

    I started a new position a few months ago and it’s 3 days home/2 days in the office and it’s been perfect for me. I get face to face time with my colleagues but still the benefits of WFH. I don’t think I would have adapted to the job and culture of the company if I hadn’t had office time in the beginning.

    1. Archaeopteryx*

      Yes I’m on hybrid the opposite way (2 at home 3 in office) and it’s perfect. The days in which I get to sleep later / feel relaxed and at peace all day, pet my cat, enjoy my view, etc outnumber the commute days (2 weekend + 2 wfh), which has stopped me feeling like work is dominating my time and preventing me living my life. But I still have the three days to go in and easily clarify questions, bond with the team, etc. It’s perfect for me.

    2. UKDancer*

      I think this is where I’m coming down. I changed jobs within the company during the lockdown and it’s been harder to get up to speed during remote working,

      There are some parts about working from home I like (not commuting, having quiet time without interruptions) but other things work better for me in an office setting (meetings and actually seeing what’s going on). So when we go back I’m going to do 3 days home / 2 days office if I can.

    3. Hybrid or Bust*

      This is what I am looking for. My company is saying they are going full remote, but may actually open up some offices. If they don’t open up offices I am going to look for a company that is hybrid. I really need a better separation between work and home and being at the same desk in my bedroom 5 days a week is not cutting it.

  23. FisherCat*

    I think this is important to note! 100% remote is not right for all jobs. That said, most desk-type jobs could probably be fine with a hybrid model of some sort. I do think its frustrating when entire organizations act like the pandemic has changed nothing about work/work culture/ expectations. My job definitely cannot be fully remote, but I and some other colleagues have asked for maybe even one day per week remote (and gave concrete examples of what I would accomplish). I got turned down flat with a hint of “why don’t you want to do your job?” attitude.

    1. Kimmy Schmidt*

      This is how I feel too. I would never expect (nor be able to) work from home full time, but I’m bummed in a way I can’t quite articulate that my employer won’t even consider hybrid schedules.

      1. FisherCat*

        ^^^ THIS. Its a combination of, we have made this work, and also, who do you not trust your workforce? Especially in a job like mine, where in many ways the job is discretion/judgment calls. Its not the lack of WFH, exactly, but it is the lack of trust in all of us that will eventually lead me to job search

  24. ErgoBun*

    I could not agree more. Like some are saying, I don’t have a good dedicated workspace in my home that offers enough room to work, an appropriate backdrop, and is also out of the way and private. It’s so hard to focus and I start to think more about Home Things than Work Things.

    Also, I miss the off-the-cuff brainstorming and problem-solving with my (very smart and creative) colleagues! It’s so much more difficult to collaborate or just iterate on ideas when we’re all isolated. My office is going to a hybrid model and I hope we keep it, for all the reasons Alison listed and more.

    Thank you for saying this! Like so many conversations with a “pro” and “con” side, the reality is a lot more nuanced and we can all benefit from considering the point of view of the “other side.”

    1. cncx*

      same same, my apartment is amazing but i don’t have a proper home office as it is one bedroom. a lot of people who like full remote have the living spaces to make that work, and in certain cities and pay grades, that just isn’t possible and is something that will need to be addressed holistically at some point. A lot of entry level admin in cities like New York is filled by people who have roommates, for example.

  25. Casey*

    This is so true! I started a new job in February where I was full time in the office, but most of my team was remote. As of a month or so ago, pretty much everyone is back in the office (and vaccinated), which has improved my work immensely. Some changes:

    – By having more visibility into what my team is working on, I can informally get to know who’s a good person to ask for what topic.

    – Troubleshooting goes faster when we can roll over to each other’s desks. Also, we work with a common code base so issues seen by one person are often being experienced by others. This is way easier to hash out in person rather than over Teams.

    – We can still run our code when the VPN is down. Infrequent occurrence, but adds up.

    – I am communicating much better with my boss/teammates because I get to observe how they interact in person, which really helps me understand tone. (For example, I thought one of our senior analysts HATED me until he was in the office and I realized he’s blunt/sarcastic with everyone.)

    – My boss has more insight into what I’m working on and can informally course correct (like “hey I see you have XYZ going, that can actually wait til next week”) vs only checking in at scheduled times.

    – I don’t have to guess if “Away” means “I’m doing my laundry” or “I’ve logged off for the day”, because I can see if someone’s stuff is at their desk / ask their desk mate.

    – I can actually turn off the work portion of my brain when I leave the office, vs always having laptop available “just to check if the code ran correctly/just in case I got an important email” at all hours. This has done wonders for my mental health.

    Our team is very individual-contributor-y, and we do analysis/coding work that requires lots of focus, so theoretically we are great candidates for working remote. I thought it would be helpful to share some of these points in favor of working in the office from the new hire perspective.

    1. Nicotena*

      Just curious, do you think there are other interventions an office could do, besides making in-office 9-5 mandatory, that would address these concerns?

      1. Casey*

        I think remote work requires more time spent on communication since the methods of communication are less direct/efficient. That looks like more documentation provided upfront, more time spent on one-on-one onboarding calls in the first month or two, setting up the tech infrastructure better (like creating an extra GUI to efficiently submit analysis jobs remotely), and having an active, organized teams channel to informally troubleshoot and brainstorm.

        Honestly, though, all of those things help but at the end of the day I think humans are social creatures and we are programmed for non-screen interactions. Starting a new job can already be stressful and lonely, and it kind of bums me out to see so many “I’m glad to be remote so I can actually get work done without new hires bugging me” comments. I’m pretty introverted but if I’m spending 10-12 hours a day with a group of people, I’d at least like to feel comfortable being on “friendly acquaintance” terms with them.

    2. Julianna*

      I find it interesting that several people have said it’s easier to talk through things than use a chat program. I think, for me it’s the opposite, I find using a chat program is a lot easier, it gives me a second to think about my response and if I need to do some quick research, I can. Often in my line of work, I need to go look at the code and then get back to you with an answer or an opinion and it’s much harder to do that in a verbal conversation then it is to do it over chat. Also I hate having people over my shoulder or behind me, so in general having people wheel over to look at what I’m doing drives me crazy.

      1. Jenny D*

        I completely agree! But then, I’ve got loads of friends that I got to know over Usenet, and when I started out as a sysadmin those people were the ones who helped me the most – the people in my office were busy, or I was afraid of showing ignorance before them, or they just weren’t that good at their jobs.

        For me, writing things has always been easier than talking, and I find it easy to be both friendly and clear in text form.

  26. mediamaven*

    Thank you for covering this side of it. It’s unfortunate, but most of these have been true in our company. Most companies are out of survival mentality and now want to thrive and it’s hard to do with a remote staff. I’ve found a lot of people I’m interviewing have recognized what they are missing and are happy to join a company that will give them some time back in the office. The message keeps leaning towards any reluctance to move to completely remote work is just a result of bad management which isn’t always the case. But truth be told it IS more difficult to manage a remote team. It’s a lot more complicated than just granting everyone who wants it the chance to be at home.

  27. Applesauced*

    I’ve done a full 360 on this:
    When we started WFH, I made it work because I had too, but I HATED IT.
    After a few months, I started to like the ability to roll out of bed and into work, I got to spend extra time with my dog, be done as soon as I was done.
    Recently, our office has been slowly opening and I’ve gone back for a day here and there and I can’t wait to be back full time – I missed the people (not the ones who use speaker phone) and it’s so nice to have that physical work/home switch.

    I’m hoping the flexibility stays – as travel opens up and vaccinations rise, a few coworkers have gone to see family and WFH from there for a bit. I would LOVE if that continued (like around the holidays) or at least WFH while waiting for the plumber or similar.

    1. Applesauced*

      To add – my desire to be back full time instead of hybrid stems from laziness, I really dislike setting up and taking down my workstation every day.
      I’m willing to do it every so often but if my schedule was Office-WFH-Office-WHF-Office I would not like the housekeeping at the bookends of everyday.

      1. English, not American*

        We had to do that anyway after the office was robbed a couple of years ago. Everyone had laptops, but very few would take them home, so almost half of the company’s laptops were stolen. I only had mine because I worked from home on Fridays and the robbery happened on the Saturday.

        After that came the decree that everyone has to take them home every night or request use of one of very few lockers we have.

          1. Batty Twerp*

            Hotdesking is a bigger evil than the Open Office! Gah!

            Honestly, if it weren’t for the fact of the Open Office, I wouldn’t mind going back in full time. As it is, I’ve requested Hybrid in our last employee survey. Without going into the politics of it, even with Monday being “Freedom Day” our company has decided to continue with caution, and we’re not even looking at a phased return by any staff until after the summer. What form that phased return takes has yet to be announced. I’m not in a high priority role so I could still be WFH in 2022!

            Curiously, I saw on my LinkedIn feed a while ago a comment by someone who was questioning why the question of “Would you prefer WFH full time, Hybrid or Return to Office full time” was being asked while we were still very much in lockdown. Her analogy was that it was akin to it being like the Mayor reopening Amity Beach and asking Brody if he wanted a swim. It needed to be asked, but the timing of it was a little suspect. The timing I think is better now, but I’m not sure if some companies are going to stick to paddling for a while longer.

        1. Donkey Hotey*

          I can empathize with that.
          My former employer mandated that people with laptops take them home every night “in case of inclement weather” so people wouldn’t call out because of a snow storm. I pointed out that I commuted via foot and bus and that would significantly impact my commute. Their response: buy a car.

          1. allathian*

            I do the same, and before the pandemic I rarely took my laptop home with me. I suspect that when we return to the office, I’ll carry it more often than not. My coworker also commutes by public transit and he used to take his laptop home every day.

      2. Bee*

        Ooh, yikes! Fortunately our office has set up a way for us to remote in from our home computers to our work computers, which saves us this – I would also hate hybrid if I had to lug things back and forth every time.

      3. A Feast of Fools*

        I have worked remotely before, so I have a good setup, including dual monitors and a sit-stand desk, plus a good “office” chair.

        So when we go back to the office at the end of August (3 days in the office, 2 days WFH), I’ll just order a 2nd docking station for my cube. Then all I have to do is unplug my laptop and stuff it in my bag on my way out the door. Which is what I always did, anyway, because I worry about something happening that keeps me from going into the office that wouldn’t necessarily keep me from being able to work.

  28. Mannheim Steamroller*

    [“Usually the implication is that therefore employers who want to bring employees back to the office must be controlling or out of touch.”]

    Yes, I have detected an attitude of “We can’t micromanage you remotely” from some employers.

    In fact, I have begun to wonder lately if my employer might have deliberately slowed down our remote connections with the goal of limiting our at-home productivity and thus strengthening the case for returning everybody to the office.

    1. TechWorker*

      You did get that this article points out non-micromanagement reasons management might have for wanting people in… right…?

      1. Mannheim Steamroller*

        Yes, but I get the sense that micromanagement is at least a part of it, even if employers say otherwise.

  29. English, not American*

    I’m really not looking forward to going back to those in-person interruptions. Despite being in the same team as IT support, it has never been my job. But people think of my team as “the IT team”, I know my way around the systems and am generally helpful, so I still get at least 2-3 support requests per week. Right now I can plausibly ignore Teams as it only has about a 50-50 success rate at notifying me of messages anyway, and wordlessly forward emails to the IT support inbox.

    Actual IT support will drop what they’re doing to help someone who comes to ask in person, so the expectation that I will too is hard to break.

  30. Bloopmaster*

    As a socially awkward introvert (especially one who struggled with severe social anxiety early in my career), the idea that workplace learning and communication (and networking and advancement..) occurs more easily and more naturally in informal and unstructured ways is really disappointing. One thing I very much like about an all-telework environment is that it can put the socially awkward on a more level footing with the schmoozers and the social butterflies. We all have the same regular meetings. We can all reach out to our management to schedule a one-on-one or have an impromptu conversation. My coworker doesn’t get more face time with the boss simply because they sit in the right hallway or share a similar hobby. I get that some orgs find it easier to rely solely on informal channels for things like training/mentoring/communication/culture/etc. but to me it just feels lazy—like they couldn’t be bothered to implement structures that allow organizational access and knowledge to be more evenly distributed among people of all learning styles/communication styles/relationship styles/working preferences.

    1. Allonge*

      I think the point is more that in addition to the formal communicaiton / learning / mentoring time, informal works very well for a lot of stuff. No company is going to set up a training on how you need to approach Giselle with a full blown plan with all the numebrs double-checked but you can go to Xander with a vague idea. There are a billion things you need to learn informally because there is not other way. This is not necessarily schmoozing, either!

      I hate that I needed to set up a weekly meeting with the person who I share an office with to catch up on all the random stuff we usually discuss. We did it, but boy is it weird to have a scheduled meeting for how are your kids doing and what are your plans for the holidays, and what did you think of the last all staff meeting.

      1. A Feast of Fools*

        Hunh. We’ve had a lot of new people start on my team, and on adjacent teams, since the start of the pandemic. I have learned each and every one of their workstyles and communication preferences just by. . . working and communicating with them. And I’ve learned who of the “old timers” [I started just a month and half before we were all sent home] have the subject matter knowledge I’m looking for at any given time.

        My fellow project leads and I have actually grown closer and become a well-oiled machine in a way that would never have happened if we were in the office. We have our own Teams group for random work questions and for super non-work-related stuff like, “OMG, the most amazing Italian food place opened up in my neighborhood,” or “It’s pouring buckets here, what about at y’all’s houses?”

        I also agree with Bloopmaster on the. . . equalizing (?) factor of remote work. I can reach out to a VP as easily as I can a staff member. We’re all faces on a screen or voices in a headset instead of one person in an expansive office on the top floor who is wearing a $2000 suit and someone else who works in a cube on the 1st floor and whose clothes came from the sale racks at Target.

        It’s obviously company- and person-dependent as to how well employees and the org function with everyone (or most people) working remotely.

        1. Allonge*

          I can reach out to a VP as easily as I can a staff member.

          So this is fascinating to me because I honestly don’t get it (as you say, there are major differences between companies). We have a hierarchy and there are people I would not IM now but also would not just drop by their desk in the office; same goes the other way around (if I need to talk to the director, I send an email or schedule an appointment with their EA, live or online). Can you explain why it’s different for you? It’s not that I live in some kind of equality paradise but it’s the same person, in their huge office or behind a screen, so what do you think makes a difference (I am really not trying to be sarcastic here).

          Anyway, more in general: sure, it’s possible to onboard people and form teams while WFH. For us at least, it took a huge extra effort, and is still not 100% where things would be in the office, is all. And I am talking about people who have been journalists, so not the shy type who is afraid to ask questions or do research.

          1. Tau*

            Yeah, I actually think I have more issues with hierarchy than when we were in the office. Because in the office, you could run into the CEO in the kitchen and get chatting, but that doesn’t work remotely and I would never send them an IM. I definitely interact way less with people outside my team in general and upper management in particular than I did before. I also get the impression C-Level is more out of touch than they were before, which – there could be a bunch of reasons for that but I can’t imagine that the fact that they’re so disconnected from the lower-level staff has helped.

            And I hear you about the onboarding thing… I mentioned downthread that we went through a merger while everyone was WFH. That was super not fun and I think a bunch of our ongoing problems involving integrating the two companies would be a lot less or just plain gone if we’d had any way to do the normal informal thing where you just get to know each other due to sharing physical space. Especially with the way the divide worked out as “people from my old company, who I knew pre-pandemic and have had casual social chats in person with, vs people from the new company who I only know as talking heads in meetings about what pieces of our product we keep”… not great.

          2. A Feast of Fools*

            I guess maybe because we didn’t have Teams before the pandemic but it got rolled out and adopted in the first 2-3 months post-WFH (and was a huge improvement over our previous options for communication)?

            IM wasn’t a big thing in my company pre-pandemic and then, poof, it was. So a huge chunk of the VPs ended up preferring being asked quick clarifying questions via IM in Teams instead of scheduling a formal meeting. And it’s understood that the higher up the food chain you are, the longer you have to reply to IMs. So IM-ing a VP is even less of a demand on their time than if I walked up the stairs (my cube is one floor below theirs) and knocked on their door, assuming they were in.

            And maybe it’s because I’m in internal audit and the VPs *have* to answer my questions?

            There’s still an hierarchy, though, and it’s not like I’m going to IM the VP of our North America Operations to ask how her weekend was. But something like, “Is this your signature on Important Financial Document and can you send me the email conversation you had with Director X and VP Y about it?” with a screenshot of the signature is 100% OK.

            And if the question is a bit more complicated, there’s no issue with me IM-ing them and asking if they’ve got a few minutes for a quick call because that would would be faster than emailing back and forth. (Assuming their status in Teams is green). Most of the time they say Yes, but sometimes they say, “Can you book 5-10 minutes on my calendar later today / tomorrow.” <—(That would have had to have been filtered up my chain of command pre-WFH).

            It just seems that working remotely without all the external trappings / signals of "Don't Talk to Me Unless You're My Peer" or "I Am a Big-Wig, Approach With Caution" that came with our in-office interactions, things have flattened out a bit, org chart-wise. It's more like I am approaching a subject-matter expert instead of someone in an ivory tower.

            1. Allonge*

              Thank you! Having IM as an additional tool (and the sort of enforced use of it) totally makes things different (in a way that makes sense across corporate cultures, even).

    2. MissNomer*

      I can understand where you’re coming from, but I find that these issues still come up when working remotely, and you also still lose out on the “osmosis” learning. Managers can have more one-on-one conversations with certain people or staff different people on different projects, resulting in more “face” time. At least in my office, everyone in the cubes can hear a manager brainstorming with a person in the cubes at the same time, or listen to two managers talking through something in the kitchen, or watch a manager de-escalate an annoyed client at the same time, etc.

    3. FisherCat*

      Ooh I never put this into words but maybe this is what I feel? I am not good with unstructured social interaction and have felt way more comfortable at home. Maybe it’s this.

    4. DG*

      I am also a socially awkward introvert and I see so many benefits to working with people in person, at least occasionally. For one thing, I didn’t realize how much I rely on facial expressions and body language as social cues, which are impossible to discern over phone calls and still difficult to discern over video. Is my boss taking a long time to respond to my question because he thinks it’s stupid, or is he pausing to respond to an email or think of a thoughtful response? Who knows?!

      Plus being in physical proximity to other people is a great way to stay visible with minimal effort (I work an industry where that matters). I’m unlikely to put time on an executive’s calendar for a networking chat, but there’s a good chance I’d make small talk with her at the water cooler or have a casual conversation at a lunch event. Am I super comfortable that those kinds of events? Not really, but it’s less awkward to me than scheduling a one-on-one conversation with someone I don’t otherwise directly work with.

    5. JRR*

      I’m a socially awkward introvert, and my experience is the opposite. I agonize over the wording of text messages and emails. But I find talking to people in person is easier. Talking to schmoozers and social butterflies is especially easy–putting people at ease is their whole thing.

      For that reason and others, I’m happy to be working in-office most days. And I would be happy if more of my coworkers started doing the same.

    6. Liz*

      This is an interesting point, but my social awkwardness has rendered me the complete opposite. I hate working from home because I can’t ask questions in passing – instead I have to purposefully reach out, impose on somebody specifically and deliberately, either by spitting an email into the void or, god forbid, calling someone who for all I know is in a meeting or on holiday. I was so relieved to be back in the office as my anxiety over office discussion is back at a manageable level.

      1. Tau*

        I feel this a LOT. Especially when I start agonizing over the exact text of a Slack message.

      2. AnotherLibrarian*

        Yes, this. As someone with pretty sever social anxiety, I fret over what to say in an email when I could just pop my head in and tell my coworker that I forgot to ask them to order more widgets. I worry when I call someone that I am interrupting them, rather than running into them in the hallway. I have been so happy to return to work where casual interaction doesn’t feel forced or fraught or require me to rewrite a text message three times.

  31. Brian*

    I understand why a lot of people love remote work, but I am worried about trust eroding on my team. Relationships are slowly starting to splinter, and new folks joining the team don’t feel as integrated. So much of human communication is nonverbal – in person, our breathing will synchronize, our pupils will dilate when we make eye contact, we mirror each other’s body language… all of those mechanisms that evolved over thousands of years to help us form and maintain interpersonal relationships are removed from the equation, and I don’t think technology can replace them! There’s a lot missing when we forgo in-person time, even if we don’t explicitly know what it is or how to measure it.

    1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      I think this is such a good point – text-based communication can lose all nuance and it’s easy to misread someone’s tone or intention over written communication. Not being together in the same space means it’s hard to build trust and form strong relationships that can bridge the gap in digital communications.

    2. FisherCat*

      You’re not wrong, but for the neurodivergent among us (me included) all of this costs a LOT of energy without reaping benefits in the same way.

      I think people who want to be in the office should be there as much as they’d like post-vax, and I can understand why most people will have to be there most of the time.

      But 1-2 days/week where I *don’t* have to spend hours upon hours trying to parse and react appropriately to other people’s obscure social cues is incredibly rejuvenating.

      1. Brian*

        That’s a great point! I could see this being a game-changer for folks with disabilities who have physical access-related challenges too.

      2. Flor*

        THIS.

        Like the pupils dilating with eye contact? Great, I guess, if you don’t feel like there are bugs crawling over the backs of your eyeballs when you make eye contact with other people (I can’t even do it with my *husband*, let alone colleagues). Not having to pretend to make eye contact with other people in order to have a work conversation with them makes my day SO much less exhausting.

        That’s not to say that in-person interaction isn’t beneficial for team cohesion; most NT people do indeed benefit from in-person interactions rather than only in-tech interactions. But I think it’s important to remember that these things are not universal, and you won’t necessarily know if someone on your team is ND and struggling with the things you think are beneficial (my boss certainly doesn’t know I’m autistic, and I intend to keep it that way).

        1. Tau*

          I 100% get this but I would carefully note that there’s a diversity in ND experiences as well and it’s not as simple as “NT people benefit from this, neurodiverse people are better off remote”. I’m also autistic and manage pretty OK in in-person work situations these days (way better than in regular social situations, I think it helps that I have a prescribed role). Body language is still hit and miss but I definitely get the team bonding effect from small-talk and noticed its absence this year. WFH has been awful because I suddenly had to learn whole new social rules for IMing (and my already-there tendency to get into anxious spirals about wording whenever I have to approach some in a text-based medium did not help the matter), I have trouble understanding video calls because of sensory issues with video-based media, and the way I usually use strict separation between work and home to mitigate the effect of my major executive function issues on work just… crumbled.

          1. Flor*

            Oh, for sure! I didn’t mean to imply that all ND people are like me, or even just all autistic people, just that the expectations for what works for NT people don’t necessarily apply to ND people. Thanks for clarifying that :)

  32. Dust Bunny*

    I didn’t miss the commute but my job is tied to having access to physical materials (archives) and I can only do the most rote and limited parts of it from home. Fortunately we’re very low-contact because all of us came back pretty much as soon as possible to get actual work done. I can’t bring work home, anyway, and I’m hourly so I’m not allowed to work after hours (and my workplace in general strongly discourages even higher-level, salaried employees from doing so), so work-life balance wasn’t an issue. I also don’t have a great space to work at home and can’t afford a bigger place to live, so my office is a much more comfortable workspace.

    And, yes, the material could be digitized, but that’s one of the massive ongoing projects for which I need to be in the office.

    We just hired a new archivist and, while he knows the work well, he would have a hard time getting a feel for the organization and department specifically if we were still remote. We’re not a Zoom-chatty bunch and in general there isn’t much reason for us to meet–our department meetings are like ten minutes once a week as it is, and otherwise we can go days without really needing to interact with each other.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      And my organization on the whole did very well working remotely, but my department in particular can’t do it most of the time. A lot of the other departments are more patron-facing and can do more by Zoom.

    2. annakarina1*

      I work in archives, and I agree. In my previous job and during lockdown last year, I could do a lot of data entry from home with a lot of previously digitized material. In my current job that I got a few months ago, it’s a full-time on-site job because I work with archives and can’t do much remote work, it isn’t digitized and requires looking at it for data entry and comparing materials to existing finding aids.

    3. AnotherLibrarian*

      As another archivist, I couldn’t work from home for most of the pandemic. I’ve been in the office at least three days a week for pretty much the whole time. Either because someone had to make sure there wasn’t water falling from the ceiling, or because my job didn’t allow it. I wish there was more acknowledgement that some jobs have to be done in a physical space.

  33. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

    A lot of the conversation around working remotely is also super concrete – I hear a lot of “Employees never want to go into the office again! People are quitting instead of going back to the office! Everyone wants to work from home forever! I’m quitting my job because they won’t let me work remotely!” – But at this point, the numbers don’t bear this out (yet). I saw an article* yesterday that only about 6-7% of new job listings are for remote work (pre-pandemic that number was 2-3%). So, there is definitely an increase in WFH, and also certainly a new movement toward flexible or hybrid WFH, but the idea that offices are dead is just not at all realistic.

    *Article linked in comment reply

    1. UKDancer*

      Yes, in our company we have a very small percentage who want to work from home all the time and a very small percentage who want to be in the office all the time. Most of us want to have flexibility and do some time at home and some time in the office. I’m likely to be in 2-3 days per week once we go back fully and that suits me fine.

  34. Daniel*

    The timing of this is uncanny, because after being home after March 2020 and being almost exclusively at home since then (barring a one-day-a-week return in September that got wiped out within a month due to rising virus numbers), I am now back at the office two days a week, starting July 1, and three days a week starting August 1.

    The first three or four weeks of WFH were BRUTAL. Much of that was down to anxiety because of COVID but a lot of that was because I couldn’t work nearly as well from home as I could from the office. I went from two monitors to one, my phone bill went through the roof until I changed providers, the ease of asking my coworkers questions went out the window…but most importantly, I pretty much lost all of the structure I had in my day. My unit did institute daily half-hour calls to keep everyone on base, but that was nothing compared to actually seeing and talking to people face-to-face.

    After that, things got better as I adjusted. I would say from about May until about May this year things went well. And not just “well for the circumstances,” I think things (for me, can’t speak for anyone else) went as well as they did in 2019 or before. After that…I don’t know what it was, but the structure began to dissolve, and I know that May and June were not as focused as they could have been. This last Friday and Monday (the two days I have been in the office) were MUCH before focused than anything I’d done in the last couple of months.

    And you know what? Yesterday at home, I had a super-productive day! So I guess what I have discovered about myself is that I need *some* regular structure, not necessarily every day, to keep my momentum up. Based on this last week and a half, I’m confident I could keep up my work at the usual quality with two or three days a week of WFH. Five days a week…not so much.

    Would be great to get two or three days of WFH for week, but that is down to my agency and my union, and I doubt that will ever happen. We are moving toward having everyone in the office under normal circumstances in September, and given how the agency has handled COVID and how I have down at home…not the personal ideal, but I am OK with that.

  35. PrincessTayla*

    The team I work with was given the option to return to the office or work remotely. Some chose WFH with occasional office visits, some chose a more equal hybrid and I chose to return to the office completely with the option to work from home if necessary. This surprised people because I’m an introvert. There are so many reasons I want to go back though. I worked hard for my social skills and I’m worried about losing them. At the office, I learned about a lot things that I could help with or were relevant to my job because I sat near other people that worked on the other side of those projects. Now I find out much later in the process making it more work to catch up. I tend to build relationships by being around people and doing it through Zoom/Slack or email is a lot harder. I As much as I like getting laundry done during the day and having my own personal bathroom, I’ll trade those for the things I’ll gain by going back to the office.

  36. Jiminy Cricket*

    This is so true. I’m having trouble explaining this to my rather junior employee hired during covid, who believes they did a great job so there is no need for them to come back. Actually I reassigned their tasks significantly and reduced expectations so that they could be successful, but they seem to be refusing to understand this (and have been pushing to be remote, even though our management has been very clear this will only be granted in exceptional cases – which means for example serious health concerns or for very specific roles). They are still talking about our company being very backward and not having seen the light, even though they have no idea how much our industry actually does depend on collaborative, in-person work, because they are so junior. It’s very clear to me as a manager that my employee has not made the kind of personal connections and learned about the business, the way they would have if they had been working in-person.

    1. allathian*

      Ouch! Sounds like you need to have a serious talk with your junior employee. If they want to WFH forever, sounds like they need to switch to another industry that isn’t so focused on collaborative work.

  37. MelonHelen*

    I’m in an accounting department that is not 100% paper free. That means that half the staff has had to be working in office all along, to deal with the high daily volume of mail and daily physical bank deposits. I don’t think our paper will ever go away entirely.

    The other half of us have been working from home, but the only reason everything has gone so well is because aside from one employee (who’s been here 2 years), everyone has been with the company for 17-25 years. We know every procedure inside and out. But if we had to train a new person, there is absolutely no way we could do that remotely.

    1. MelonHelen*

      Forgot to add that since I need access to physical files for part of my work, I’ve been driving in on Saturdays (part of the original agreement which said I was not allowed to be at the office when anyone else was there) to swap them out. So I truly do have to be at the office for at least 15 minutes each week, but it’s still worth it for the massive extra time I gain not having to do a professional grooming routine or commute.

    2. CTT*

      Yeah, I’m a real estate and finance attorney, and until we can convince every single county to go to e-filing and every single lawyer to rely on PDFs of promissory notes and other loan documents, I can never be paper-free. I learned quickly last year that my paralegal and I couldn’t pull documents together like that on our dinky home printers (and would not have wanted a bigger one if our office offered to pay for it, because who wants that in their home!)

  38. Minion*

    I am a govt contractor, the govt chain (my boss and his boss) that i report to changed recently, havent even met the new people yet, so yeah it was mostly okay before because i knew my boss, knew what they needed. I dont know the new person at all, been a lot of trial and error so far with that wouldnt have happened if we were in the office. Personally im ready to go back

  39. Silicon Valley Girl*

    I work for a company in an industry that has done ridiculously well during the pandemic with all our global offices working remote. Company stock is at an all-time high, & we’ve launched more products faster than ever before, so plenty of solid metrics showing that remote work hasn’t hurt anything.

    But yeah, those last two points have been an issue since the company has also been hiring a lot (given all the product launches, meaning extra work). I don’t know how all the remote onboarding has gone, but I’ve made a point of doing frequent 1:1s with my team’s new folks & being extra available for them. But starting during a pandemic is not ideal!

  40. Pipe Organ Guy*

    What has evolved in our operation is that some staff need to be physically present. We have a significant food pantry/social service assistance part of our work as a church, and we have depended on volunteers under the direction of someone with social work credentials, and they all have needed to be on-site. We have dedicated volunteers in the front office, and the rector (the priest-in-charge) has been on-site as well. During much of the last sixteen months or so, we had reduced office hours, and have constantly required that everyone wear masks, regardless of vaccination status. Not having our parish administrator on-site was a challenge; she has returned to the office. The sexton (all-around maintenance person) has remained on-site as well. Interestingly, when things hit the fan in March 2020 or so, I went to working from home, and continue to do so (with the rector’s encouragement). About 90 percent of my office duties I really can do just as well at home. The other big part of my job is planning and rehearsing music; some of that I do at home, and some rehearsal and all service playing is on-site. Thank goodness for remote access software! And thank goodness none of us have come down with COVID.

  41. Not a cool person either*

    Thank you for saying this!
    Yes, people are doing good work at home.

    But, we have adjusted expectations and reduced/eliminated projects or tasks because of the pandemic. Some people have temporarily taken on tasks that will be given back. We accept that there is less collaboration.

    We made the changes with the expectation that they would be temporary to protect high risk staff from getting a fatal disease. We’re not able to keep the changes permanently.
    Yes, there are a lot of nuances that are not being covered in the discussion.

  42. A tester, not a developer*

    I think that this really emphasizes why employers can’t take a one size fits all approach. I’m part of a very small sub team that does actually work better from home (we have a lot of back to back meetings and work with offshore resources, so meeting online allows us to have our “here’s what’s really going on” chats via Teams in real time. Much easier to get new people up to speed that way). But other teams that report to the same manager have wildly different needs – some have been in person all along, others only need office space at month end/quarter end, etc. etc.

  43. Bostonian*

    That first point is really important. The net benefit for the team is really important, not just laser-focused tunnel vision on individual tasks.

    And when it comes to relationship building, it truly does take more time and effort to do remotely. That can easily fall to the wayside during busy and stressful periods.

  44. Msnotmrs*

    “We can all work from home” is always going to get under my skin, regardless of intent, because of the huge amounts of jobs that simply cannot be done from home. I am a librarian; my spouse is a restaurant manager; my best friend is a pet store manager. None of this can be done remotely for basically any serious length of time. And if you have a butts-in-seats job, it’s often a huge crimp in your productivity to have coworkers who are doing WFH full time. As Alison mentioned, you end up picking up their slack, covering for them, etc.

  45. Bookworm*

    Agree. I *personally* have loved working from home, have felt happier, etc. But was I more efficient? Hard to say, given how much our work was upended by a pandemic. And it didn’t help that I had management trying to adjust to WFH when it previously refused to have a standard procedure for this for the organization and thought adapting to a remote workplace meant…having more meetings. Which, in turn, led to an eventual decline in quality because we had so much time to fill and we had to have these meetings.

    What management wanted was to go “back to normal” and it felt increasingly difficult to do a job where the support just wasn’t there.

    I’ll admit to not being my best but in my case I really do think management never really adjusted and never wanted to accept the possibility that this would be for awhile (variants??).

  46. Jenna Webster*

    The productivity of my professional staff dropped dramatically in the year and more they were working from home. Their very core tasks were completed, but overall, they did less of everything. Now that they’re back, most of them are back up to normal productivity levels.

    1. Jenna Webster*

      And I will add that their work could all be done from home, often more easily than at work – it just wasn’t getting done.

    2. Jenna Webster*

      That said, I guess that also says something about my ability to manage them properly.

      1. Lana Kane*

        Managing remote employees can be pretty draining. It seems like everything is just a little more challenging when it comes to managing and coaching. My team will continue to be fully remote and I completely support that, but it’s an adjustment in management style.

  47. A Genuine Scientician*

    When I’m back to being in person — which is looking like January 2022 (I wish it were sooner, but someone on the team needs to handle the online version of stuff through December, and I’m the only logical choice for it) — I am definitely planning on getting an external monitor for my home office so I can do 2 or 3 days a week at home. (I’ll also need to get a good office chair; I’m borrowing one from work, just like I am with my monitors, but I’m sure I’ll need to bring it back when we re-open in person). I’m confident my boss will be on board with that. There are some elements of working from home that are great. But others are just soul crushing, and I’m looking forward to some of the in-person components that haven’t existed for a year and a half.

  48. RC Rascal*

    Something to add to this: Poor Customer Service and Quality Issues.

    My mother died during quarantine and I have spent the past year settling the family estate. Doing so I have encountered many, many, many customer service and quality issues related to work from home. A few examples:

    Credit Card company lost a check and then didn’t apply it to my account. Customer service wouldn’t pick up the phone and I had to solve the issue through IM and Fax. Check was for over $3k and no, I couldn’t pay online because I am out of work and it had to be paid by the estate.

    Insurance company required 3 requests for death claim paperwork they either did not issue or sent to wrong address despite being given correct address.

    Cell phone company refused to speak with me by phone and required me to make an appointment and take a death certificate to a store to discontinue service.

    BANK LEFT ME SITTING IN A DRIVE THROUGH FOR AN HOUR IN 95 DEGREE JULY HEAT BECAUSE THEY WOULD NOT ALLOW ME INTO THE BRANCH TO CLAIM THE BANK ACCOUNTS, WHICH WAS MY DUTY AS TRUSTEE.

    Bank Customer Service representative smarted off to me and hung up on me when I attempted to pay off the mortgage of the property involved in the death.

    The list goes on from here, but I won’t bore everyone.

    1. A Genuine Scientician*

      My brother died intestate in Nov 2019. My father, as next of kin, sent in the death certificate and proof of his identity as the next of kin. We were told it would take up to 6 months to get a court order allowing us access to his banking information. We *still* don’t have it, because everything’s delayed because of the pandemic. We don’t even know what specific bank he used, because every bank in his area we’ve tried to talk to won’t even talk to us without a court order. It’s maddening.

    2. Msnotmrs*

      This has definitely been what I’ve observed for the social workers who work out of my building–seems impossible to get people on the phone at the IRS, Social Security, etc.

    3. Undine*

      I was just about to say the same thing — I’ve been working on settling my mother’s estate and everything takes longer. I was just looking at my to do list and more than half the things on it are things I’ve tried to do at least once and failed. The latest was a form I mailed into the bank that was last by the back office, so my banker resubmitted it, and the resubmission failed because the form was signed more than two months ago, when they lost it.

      There are still paper archives people have to search, forms that have to be submitted physically, mistakes I made filing the will because no one was physically there to help me (because, you know, safety, but I didn’t realize). In California, documents still have to be notarized in person. So much has been slowed down or completely hosed.

    4. KittyCardigans*

      Yes. We were just able to settle our 2019 taxes, which we’ve been trying to get done for a full year with no success due to a small error that required sending in some additional paperwork—I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on hold with the IRS this year. Mostly the system has just hung up on me, and even when I’ve gotten through to people, they have been so unhelpful and borderline rude. And then they had the nerve to add a substantial fee for late payment—for this bill we could not pay because they WOULD NOT SEND IT TO US. I get that they’re probably understaffed and horribly busy, but it’s been frustrating to deal with. It would be much, much worse if grief were involved, and I’m very sorry for those of you who have had to deal with that.

  49. EPLawyer*

    I got a friend who is immunocompromised. She just got new office space that is cleaner and more responsive to the pandemic than the old office. her lease was up but she made the move early because she could not WAIT to get back into the office. Working from home has driven her nuts. She is a solo so its not like she is missing out on the office camaradie, or anything like that. It’s just she can’t focus as well at home.

    There are a lot of people like that. I personally am the exact opposite and have always worked from home since I’ve had my own practice. because I DREADED getting up and having to go to work. That was all of it — just the physically having to leave the house EVERY SINGLE DAY for work.

    Companies need to be flexible. But they are not going to find a solution that fits everyone. Some people who want to stay home are going to have to be in the office just because of the way the team works. For the employer, it is the productivity of the team that matters not individuals. Of course, individuals have choices. You want fully remote, well, there are going to be more of that option that were pre-pandemic.

  50. KHB*

    Point #2 (or something like it) is a big one for me. I’d gotten used to (grudgingly) working from home, and I thought I was doing OK at it. But as soon as I started coming back into the office (which we’ve had the option to do since last September, and which I’ve been doing since getting fully vaccinated in May), I’ve been amazed at how much of a difference it makes for me. Being able to work in a space that’s designed for work is so much more conducive to my productivity than trying to work on a tiny cheap desk in the corner of my bedroom.

    We made do for the past year because we had to. But for many of us, productivity did suffer – and it suffered in ways that we might not be aware of, without a recent memory of in-office work to compare it to.

    1. KHB*

      And another thing: Unfortunately, there’s the segment of the population that likes remote work because it makes it easier for them to skip out on their jobs entirely (whether they’re taking long naps in the middle of the afternoon, trying to work two jobs simultaneously and hope nobody notices, or flying under the radar to get paid for doing nothing at all), and it seems like a lot of employers never really figured out how to guard against things like that without resorting to super-invasive and infantilizing things like keystroke loggers. Most employees are mostly trustworthy, but I wonder if it won’t be that long before the untrustworthy ones once again ruin everything for everyone else.

  51. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    There’s ups and downs for sure. I love being remote and do not miss the several hours I spent each day packing my lunch, making myself presentable to work, commuting, unwinding after a hard commute; knowing how some of my coworkers smell; things of that nature. But there are definitely upsides to being in a physical office with your team. It’s a tough one. And this is all before we go into how many people do not have the privilege of having a dedicated home office with the right setup for their work (I do now, but didn’t always.)

  52. Xantar*

    I have a lot of meetings in my work. They aren’t just meetings for the sake of having meetings either. They are necessary to keep all the departments informed of what’s going on, and most of them are working meetings where we are hashing out a document or project.

    These meetings are MUCH more efficient in person. There is a much lower incidence of “go ahead. No you go ahead I interrupted. Sorry no you go ahead.” People can have side conversations while someone else is talking. We can use our hands to point at things. We can tell who someone is talking to by the way they turn their head. If somebody feels skeptical, it shows up on their face and we can ask them about it.

    And about a thousand other little things that simply will never work as well on a webcam.

    I’m glad that people are getting flexibility. I hope people who want to work from home get to do so. My job is also technically doable from home. But it’s way slower, and I don’t see any way around that using technology.

    1. Valancy Snaith*

      Yeah, this. The vast majority of meetings I attend are not just because we haven’t had a meeting in a while and feel like it. They’re keeping all the six or eight or ten major departments involved aware of what’s going on in various projects, or getting clarification on an ongoing project that requires input from different departments, or whatever. We can bang this out in a 20-minute meeting, but to do everything by email (or, worse, videoconferencing) is hours if not days of chasing people down.

    2. English, not American*

      The absolute worst is having most of the participants in-person and a couple “dialling in”. You really need all of one or all the other. I seriously hope the uptick in hybrid work patterns doesn’t extend to people staying at home when they have meetings.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Yeah, I mentioned this too; I think we COULD work out our tech issues but right now having 3-4 people in a room and 2-3 more remote is just not working well.

      2. AcademiaNut*

        I’ve been involved in meetings like this for years, due to international collaborations. It can work reasonably well, but what I’ve found best is

        – good telecon system with good speakers, and mutual cameras, so the remote people get a video of the room and can see people talking, and the local people can physically see the remote participants when they’re talking. Two projector/screens in the meeting room (one for participants, one for presentations), and two monitors for remote people (ditto).

        – Presentations projected onto the screen, and mirrored for the remote people, so everyone sees the slides, and, ideally, presentations collected before the meeting to avoid long gaps while switching AV sources and troubleshooting problems.

        – A fairly structured meeting with a clear agenda and someone running it (rather than general discussion).

        – Someone running the meeting who is paying close attention, and can make sure everyone is following the meeting and has a chance to participate.

        Disembodied voices on someone’s laptop make it really easy to forget (or not notice) that someone remote is actually at the meeting, or to notice when the person on the other end has wandered off and isn’t actually listening.

        1. KHB*

          My team has also been having meetings like this for years, and it’s always been absolutely fine even before we had mutual webcams and the remote people were just dialing in by phone. Key for us has been your point #3: “Meeting” for us doesn’t mean “free-for-all discussion,” but rather a structured session where it’s always clear who’s supposed to be talking about what when. It also helps a lot that we all tend to think before we speak, so even during designated Q&A periods, there’s always plenty of silence where anyone can jump in with a question or comment if they have one.

          I had a meeting yesterday (ironically, on the future of meetings in the hybrid-remote work environment) with a bunch of people from other departments with different meeting cultures, and it was utter chaos. People talking over each other about nothing, others jockeying to get a word in edgewise, and rather predictably it ended up with the same few people (mostly men) doing all the talking and others being shut out completely.

          I think a hybrid meeting can still work on a more boisterous team, but you’d need to crack way up on your points #3 and #4: If it’s important for everyone to have a chance to provide input, you need to explicitly give everyone a turn to speak. And you need someone in charge who’s willing to jump in and say “All right, Fergus, we’ve heard a lot from you already. Lucinda, what do you think?”

  53. Allypopx*

    Yes! I’m starting a new job next week at a place that is still remote until labor day and I’m very nervous about it. Making a job I knew work remotely was one thing, I’ve never started at a new company remotely and I’m very nervous! I always spend the first couple of days making subtle culture observations and getting to know people – that’s going to be much harder. And I feel like even normal new hire questions will feel a lot bigger when I have to write all of them down or wait for a meeting instead of shooting them off here and there.

    Some of this is just that it’s new, some of it is that WFH isn’t my preference so I feel out of my depth, but there are still many real concerns

  54. Homebody Houseplant*

    I’ve been sitting on this frustration for a little bit and I think now is the time to say something. I’m kind of dismayed that though you benefit from WFH, it seems like you are steering the conversation to be less in favor. You say the conversation needs to be more nuanced, and it does. But you keep giving your platform to those arguing in favor of having everyone return to the office. You have tremendous influence, I do wish you would also highlight some of the positives of WFH more often instead of allowing people that frankly come across as salty more often than not to control the conversation.

    Of course some people are having a rough time, have taken on extra responsibilities, but giving those conversations platforms without nuance as well doesn’t help anyone, and it doesn’t help foster better attitudes and the realization that in order for things to change, lots of thought and effort needs to go into it on every side. But it seems like you’re, perhaps unintentionally, advocating for work to go “back to normal” to appease a specific group of people and that is really sad to see, as someone who has been working well from home and has now had that taken away because of this backwards attitude.

    1. Allypopx*

      Nah. Just search “work from home” in the search bar. There’s tons of conversations, going back months, about the benefits of working from home, the nuances of different WFH situations, pushing back on employers who don’t like it, busting myths, etc. There was one specific ask the readers set aside for people who want to go back to work, specifically in response to all the hype (both in the comments here at the time and the greater media in general) about how “no one” wanted to go back and employees were going to start refusing to return to work. Alison has provided a very balanced view on the different sides of the issue. Different sides, not both sides, because there’s way more than a simple binary in this situation. I’m sorry if your point of view isn’t being pushed as adamantly as you’d like, but it’s a complicated social issue that deserves to be seen from all of its different angles.

      1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

        You’ve responded better than I could have. The small handful of nuanced articles published recently about remote/in-work seem to be a corrected to the MANY MANY threads over the past year where only pro-remote work voices were heard.

      2. Database Developer Dude*

        Yeah, except here’s the thing about that: it was asked that we don’t assume there’s no possible legit reason to want to go back into the office, but the same courtesy is not extended to those of us who don’t want to.

        I’m a database administrator/engineer. Unless I’m working on a classified system, I can VPN in and do the work. When I’m on a classified system, I can go in off-hours in order to reduce my exposure. Neither was acceptable to my last project, which is why I’m on the bench right now.

        1. Allypopx*

          Yes, she said that because the comment section often devolves into strawman arguments and it’s overwhelming to moderate.

        2. Allypopx*

          No one is ever in here saying there’s no possible reason to want to WFH, there’s plenty of very well established reasons, but plenty of people say we’ve proven there’s no reason to go back.

          They don’t require the same courtesy.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’m not sure I follow this — no one normally says there’s no possible legit reason to want to work from home, so there’s no need to ward that off. If that were happening, I’d add that to the sticky at the top too.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If anything, I’ve been slanted in the other direction if you look at the totality of my posts here over the last, say, year and a half! But I do think the conversation (both here and in other places) has started to leave out a ton of nuance about the very real downsides of working from home and I want there to be more balance. A few posts in the last two months were in response to people pointing out that imbalance to me (and rightly so) but this one is very much my own personal frustration with how unbalanced much of the narrative on this topic has become.

      I also think conversations like this one are ultimately good for remote work — because if we don’t identify, acknowledge, and find ways to address the downsides, companies will end up less willing to embrace it when it can work.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        They’re less willing to embrace it -now-. They don’t -want- to address the downsides because it’s easier just to pull everyone back into the office.

    3. Allonge*

      I don’t really get this (also, it’s not true, Alison is very pro-WFH).

      If someone really really really wants to work from home forever and ever, they benefit from considering it in the nuanced, wider context, especially arguments against (who knows, maybe they apply to you too?). Because very few companies are calling people back due to them being Evil, Inhumane Monsters and very few companies will go full remote because they Love their Staff and Want the Bestest for them.

      Good companies will be considering things Alison lists above, and more. All companies will consider their bottom line. if you want your current job to be remote or stay remote, you need arguments beyond I want it. Listen here.

    4. Xantar*

      That is a really strange interpretation of Alison’s attitude towards work from home.

    5. MeowMixers*

      I’ve been here since the pandemic first started. Most WFH discussions have ended up with people slamming those who want to work in the office. Most discussions are pro work from home too.

      1. allathian*

        I think it’s a bit more nuanced than that. If anything, people have been slamming those who want others to return to the office as well because that would make their own jobs easier. “Sure, I’ll go to the office when it makes my job easier, but I’ll resent it if I have to do so to make your job easier.” It’s an understandable, but not very useful attitude. Sometimes the overall productivity of the team requires that some team members work in a suboptimal way, such as putting up with interruptions if the work requires lots of collaboration or mentoring new hires.

  55. Shark Shark*

    Any thoughts on when it will be reasonable to go back to pre-pandemic expectations?

    For example, during COVID people with small children did not have child care. (Literally, the child care centers and schools were not available AT ALL.) Employees had to work while caring for toddlers or home-schooling elementary school kids. It would not be reasonable to expect the same productivity as if they were in the office.

    Some people brought their elderly family members into their homes because they were afraid of COVID in nursing homes. It would not be reasonable to expect the same productivity while caring for a disabled adult.

    When can we go back to the expectation that if you are working from home, you will be essentially as productive as if you were in the office? When is it reasonable to expect parents to find (and pay for) child care?

    I’m not trying to be snarky. This is a genuine question.
    We did adjust expectations during the pandemic. When is it reasonable to adjust back?

    1. Colette*

      I think when care facilities are open, and case numbers are relatively low, it’s reasonable to expect people needing care to be cared for by someone who is not trying to work at the same time.

      When that will be, I do not know. Hopefully soon!

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        My city is experiencing a childcare crisis. Many daycare centers closed during the pandemic and never reopened. The state implemented lower limits on class size and ratios for safety reasons, which many centers are not easily able to accommodate. Prices have shot up. Wait lists are ridiculous. It’s super hard to find new staff. A lot of the elementary schools closed their afterschool care centers, or significantly reduced capacity. The business model was barely working before the pandemic. Even though the overall economy is better, this piece of it is still broken.

    2. Allypopx*

      My guess is we’ll start to see more of this when school starts up again in the fall. I’m seeing labor day as a “return to normal” date for a lot of people, and kids will have built in daycare again. Obviously we don’t know what’s going to happen with the pandemic, and nothing will change overnight, but I think that’s what people have their sights set on.

    3. pbnj*

      I see a lot of articles commenting that WFH saves a lot of money on daycare, but I’m surprised that people expect that companies will let them continue to do that when we get to the post-pandemic world. Whenever in the before-times I’ve seen companies that allow intermittent WFH, they always have written policy that employees with children under a certain age had to use day care or have a full-time caretaker.

      1. JRR*

        There a whole cohort of older children (like 6-14 years old) who shouldn’t be left home alone, but could be at home with their WFH parents without much disruption.

        1. DrRat*

          Wow, that really depends on the kids. Fourth of 4 kids here. One of us (not me) could have been at home with a WFH parent with pretty much zero disruption at any time from age 4 on. The other three of us…ever read Calvin and Hobbes? Picture trying to work from home with 2 Calvins and 1 Calvinette.

        2. AcademiaNut*

          On an occasional basis, maybe (school holidays, snow days). But from everything I’ve seen reported during the pandemic, caring for elementary school aged children while working full time was a huge burden for a lot of people, and seriously impacted work productivity, to the point that it was unrealistic to expect full productivity from the parents. Keep in mind that kids that age are in school. So if they’re at home all day, the parent is either home schooling, or supervising remote schooling. At fourteen, some kids will work independently, but a lot won’t, while at age six, almost all kids are going to need firm parental supervision, and frequent interruptions.

          My brother has a six year old and a nine year old who are advanced academically, love reading, and are pretty well behaved, and he was still having to step in constantly to fix tech problems, or help with understanding assignments.

        3. Rain rain go away*

          I agree that older children can be at home with their WFH parents, but I think that age range is too big. A six-year still needs supervision and direction.

    4. Noel*

      It’s not true across the board that people did not have child care. My four year old has remained in daycare five days a week the entire time except for one week when another kid in his class tested positive and he was exposed. And the new baby started five days a week in January, at age four months, just as her older brother did. Our daycare never closed, thank God.

      1. allathian*

        My son has been in in-person school all the time, except for 2 months at the start of the pandemic, and a week last fall when a teacher was exposed but tested negative. He’s 12 now and will start 6th grade in the fall (in my area, kids start 1st grade the year they turn 7). Middle school and high school kids, 13 and up, were remote for much longer periods. Some managed better than others, but lots of kids are going to need a lot of support in the coming years, I only hope they’ll get it.

        My son’s easy to live with. Admittedly remote school wasn’t fun for either of us, but he managed better than many other kids did. In my area, most kids either walk, ride a bike, or take public transit (not special school buses run by the school district) to school. Some do it as early as first grade, my son was comfortable taking the bus home sometime in 3rd grade. My husband and I worked at the office most days at the time, but a big part of the culture here is that children are encouraged to be independent early. One of us would leave for work very early to get home early, while the other would accompany our son to the school gates, or later just ride the bus with him and continue to work. This meant that my son would be at home alone after school for a few hours until we got home, but this isn’t considered child abandonment here. He could always call us if he had anything, and my manager at least was very understanding and it was understood that I could take a call from my son in the middle of an afternoon meeting if necessary. Of course, some kids are ready to do this earlier than others. That said, my son’s said that he really enjoys knowing that at least one of us is at home when he gets home from school, so yet another reason why a hybrid WFH system would be good even after the pandemic.

    5. allathian*

      Depends a lot on the area. When schools are open and daycare availability is the same as before the pandemic. In some places, that may take a while, because lots of daycares closed for good during the pandemic.

  56. hellohello*

    I started a new fully remote job last winter, and was worried about learning a new place. I’d previously worked fully remote, but at a job that transitioned to it after several years in an office, and I had never started at a new place remote. I ended up being pleasantly surprised by how well the onboarding went. A few things that I think really helped:
    1) everyone is working remotely right now, and at least 50% of those people are going to stay permanently remote even after offices open back up, so onboarding was organized with the assumption that this isn’t a new or temporary normal, but the status quo.
    2) The company has been very intentional about assigning mentors and peer contacts for new hires, and had a well thought out onboarding plan and schedule. There were both scheduled trainings and times carved out specifically to connect with people who had been at the organization longer, as well as regular check ins scheduled both with your supervisors and with the teams you work with most.
    3) They asked for feedback along the way, and reacted in real time to fill in gaps. (In our case, there was feedback that we were missing the more social connection of an office, so more effort was put into having time to chat with coworkers/get to know one another at the start of meetings or in one on one chats.)

    I could see remote onboarding being substandard or difficult, but in my case my new job seem to have found ways to make up for the lack of in-person contact.

  57. Random Internet Stranger*

    I’m absolute garbage at working from home regardless, but more importantly I need conferences/meetings/networking in order to do my work effectively. My job is quite literally to annoy towns into changing their zoning laws. There are folks in a lot of my towns who have no interest in doing this and will never reply to an email or talk with me on the phone willingly, so if I can’t corner them at an in-person event, I can’t reach them!

  58. Just Another Zebra*

    My job has never been truly WFH friendly, but the pandemic warmed my boss up to the idea a bit more. Instead of it now being a hard no, we can work from home in an emergency situation. This means people with kids can WFH when they’re sick, or if we have terrible weather. More than 2 consecutive days needs managerial permission, and we were told to use these days “sparingly”. Still, it’s a step in the right direction.

  59. Mental Lentil*

    I’m just glad that curbside pickup is a thing now. I can get exactly what I need, rather than leisurely strolling around and throwing stuff in my cart until it is full. (I’m looking at you, Target!)

    I know this is as close as it got to remote for a lot of retail workers, so my hat is off to them for all they did, and continue to do.

  60. AnonymousHOU*

    I have been on a hybrid schedule since March 2020 (since some pieces of my job have to be done on-site), and do enjoy that small bit of structure in the week. My issue with being in the office is that WFH has revealed that most weeks, I (and several of my friends in different sectors) don’t actually have 40 hours worth of work to do every week.

    When I’m in the office, I don’t feel like I can do other things during my downtime unless it *looks* like I’m working, since my boss’s office is across from mine. At home, I can go with the ebbs and flows in my energy throughout the day without having to be “on” constantly. Taking a 15 minute break at 2pm to snuggle my cat or sit on the toilet and browse Instagram are things I can’t do in the office, but are so important for my mental health.

  61. Tau*

    My company went through a merger this past year, and doing that while everyone was fully remote was brutal. We’re still having big problems involving integrating the different work cultures and teams and us-vs-them thinking, and I really think a lot of this would be going/have gone so much better and been less painful if they’d been able to put us in the same physical space and we’d been able to get to know people from the other company casually over coffee.

    1. allathian*

      Even in person, it has to be done intentionally. Straight out of college, I did an internship as a back office general assistant. My employer was a bank, which was the result of a merger some 10 years before I worked there. I thought of myself as an employee at bank X, but everyone else in the department, who had started working there before the merger, still thought of themselves as employees of either bank A or bank B.

      1. Msnotmrs*

        I worked at a library like that. A small exurban town got annexed by a big city, and by the time I got there, there were only 2 or 3 people from the small town library days. But I guess the branch manager handled it pretty poorly… she went from being a library director to a middle manager, so I can’t say I really blame her.

      2. Tau*

        Yeah, not saying this would have gone perfectly if not for the pandemic (especially because apparently some of the cultural problems we’re now seeing were a problem in the other company pre-pandemic as well). Just that… a merger is hard at the best of times, and pandemic-induced full-time remote is really not the best of times.

  62. Colette*

    One of my teams found that it was hard for the newer people to get answers, so they instituted office hours. Every morning from 9 – 10 (I think), there was an open meeting people could join to ask or answer questions. It worked really well. That same team has daily meetings; our Friday meeting is at 2:30, with open “talk about anything you want, cameras on if possible) afterwards, so people can get to know each other outside of work.

    So there are ways around some of the problems, but it’s still not the same as being in the office. And how well it works depends on the work, your personality, and your living environment. There’s a difference between being in a studio apartment and a house with a free room for an office!

  63. Spreadsheet Enthusiast*

    I absolutely do not want to be in the office every day, but so long as I get at least one day remote I think I’ll be happy. It gets more complicated looking for jobs in other cities because the number of days in office vs remote impacts how close I might want to live to work.

    Commuting is the worst part of office work for me, but commuting an hour each way once or twice a week is far more tolerable than making that trip 4-5 days per week.

  64. Tinker*

    I’ve gone through a whole dang cycle of feelings about remote work over the course of the pandemic — this also somewhat ties in to significant changes in how I feel about work generally, which I’ve been thinking about since that call for reader discussion last week (I intended to post there, but found it too much for the number of words I could manage to write).

    Before the pandemic, I was fairly skeptical about anything like a fully remote position; I felt like I was set up adequately for things on the order of snow days or working-sick days, but that if I tried to do this full time I would be even more constantly confused than I already am. (It’s a factor here that my current employer has some entrenched opportunities in areas like coherent decision-making and/or effective communication between teams and with higher level management, and also that I have some officially characterized opportunities in relevant areas like executive function and sensory processing.)

    Once the pandemic was on, my employer was striking in how decisively and effectively they pivoted to the new working reality, and we were accordingly truly effective in our transition. We have a wide range of roles from fully phone-and-computer customer service to literally the whole job is visiting the physical locations where our intrinsically highly dispersed equipment is installed, and have been pretty good at identifying truly remote-capable work and managing resources appropriately. My job is truly remote-capable, and a couple few months in I was planning to make the change permanent — I was on a team that took crisply defined process fairly seriously and had some success at containing the chaotic tendencies of our larger organization (inclusive of our own internalized habits from working in that environment), and we were achieving measurable successes. For “every two week period is basically an identical zone of watching little boxes turn from green to red and sometimes the other way, ending in paycheck” life, it was a pretty adequately manageable life.

    Then my team got reorganized and the manager behind said drive for process got laid off, my role fell back into the hazy swamp it has existed in for most of my tenure here, and the promised end of the pandemic has turned from “that beautiful summer day when we all run out and hug each other and lick each other’s faces like dogs” to “those incredibly hot summer days where at work I’m still a brain in a box with no sunlight and vague anxiety talking to other brains in boxes about how we ought to be doing something that we’re not doing, but if I’m not at work I get to have a body, human relationships, and real problems that may actually be solvable”. I’m ten thousand levels of done about this, and not only am revisiting my constantly incipient plans to exit for the same job for another employer, I’ve started a business (fine okay it’s an Etsy shop but I have got dreams) and am assembling plans to change the basic nature of my career plans down to the level of discarding elements I’ve assumed consistently since childhood.

    What I’d like to see come out of this era isn’t so much having one or another team win the war of “are we in the office or are we not”, but a change in the dialogue to center more firmly around collaborative decisions about what we need to get done and where we therefore need to be to do it rather than about what mandates we should hand down or have handed down about where we should be located and what pants we should wear while being there. And I mean this not just within a given company, but also on an individual and a societal level — for instance, what I’m building toward in my life is having multiple projects going that I have more personal ownership in rather than a singular employment relationship intended to encompass everything about me that isn’t acting as a consumer, and also I think there are good reasons to structure society in a way that incentivizes and supports that type of approach in a sustainable way.

    Let’s look to build solidarity with one another and make use of what freedom and power we each have to solve the problems around us — whether that freedom and power is conferencing in to our meetings from a van down by the river, building a manufacturing process in our basements, or intentionally and with appreciation getting the humans we work with in the same room with an array of snacks and a whiteboard.

  65. Veryanon*

    My company is getting ready to do a “soft” re-open next week (for vaccinated employees who are comfortable returning to the office), with a full reopening planned in September. The nature of my job (HR) is such that it’s definitely easier to support employees you can see and meet with face to face, but it’s not impossible to do it remotely. We are giving employees who have been working remotely the option of returning to office on a hybrid basis (some work onsite, some work at home), and some employees will continue to stay fully remote, while others have been onsite all along. We’ll see how it goes.

    1. VendingMachineGourmand*

      Has there been discussion about how to allow those that have to be in the office some of the flexibility that naturally occurs with WFH? I feel like companies would find much more enthusiasm for hybrid work if everyone felt like they benefited from it, especially those in the office. If they are anything like me , they want to feel like they matter too. Being in the office and being forced to use PTO for things that WFH people don’t has been kind of a thorn in my side that has never been addressed by HR or management.

  66. Tink’s Mom*

    I agree with this.

    There are times when my work has been able to be done fully in my apartment but there are times when working at my desk was better.

    Regarding on-boarding new employees in any WFH environment, I think that is a very specific type of on-boarding and will require a major shift in tactics. That is not easy to do.

  67. twocents*

    I changed my jobs around a year ago (same company, same overall larger department, different team/role).

    In my previous role, if the boss said we needed to come back in, well that would have made sense. I supported about 100 people all on site in that role, and the off-the-cuff conversations, quick updates, “Can you do this for me?” is just easier in an office.

    In my current role, I’m very resistant to the idea of returning to the office. My hours are longer — which I couldn’t accommodate with a drive time — and I don’t work with anyone even in the same state as me, much less the same site. My direct manager is technically at our same site, but our team is all high-level individual contributors, so there’s no direct oversight. (And he’s even more resistant… his commute was an hour in good weather.)

    We do have a team member who wants to return to the office, and I’m very of the opinion that, if you’re a high performer, and there’s no strong argument to require you be in the office, then you should get your choice. If you require more management or are in a role that has to be done in the office, then it makes more sense to at least require a hybrid setup.

    I work for a huge company, though, so hopefully the powers that be come up with an approach that is flexible to the unique situations for their hundreds of thousands of employees.

  68. CheeryO*

    Yes, thank you! This kind of thing doubly grinds my gears as a state government employee. On top of everything else, we have extreme budget limitations, so you can’t just throw money at technology problems, and we are extremely short-staffed due to a Covid-related hiring freeze. I can’t stand when people at my organization talk about how much they LOVE working from home. They don’t see their peers who are filing their documents because they can’t access the database from home, the people in the office who get bombarded with random calls and questions all day long, or the newbie who is dying for more learning opportunities and interaction. And NO, people are not more productive at home. Our metrics are down across the board, and a lot of the work quality is bad.

    1. Amtelope*

      Yes, but this isn’t every organization. Our metrics aren’t down. Our work quality isn’t bad. We’ve invested in the technology required to do our work from home, in a company where we were already working with partners around the country. Pushing to bring EVERYONE back to the office full-time is wrong.

  69. Quickbeam*

    One of the reasons I am bring called back to the office seting is that I’ve been doing this for 35 years and they want people to be able to run scenarios past me, even people not on my team. So for a business reason, it makes sense.

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          Then they needed to find out WHY it didn’t happen remotely, and facilitate making it easier to happen remotely.

          If it’s just that people didn’t feel like getting on IM or picking up a phone, I have very little sympathy for that.

  70. I'm A Little Teapot*

    I think it showed that the “work can only get done if you’re in the office” attitude is wrong. Sometimes being in the office is needed. Sometimes it doesn’t matter. Sometimes being offsite is better. But the butts in seat attitude as the only option is wrong.

    1. Hybrid or Bust*

      I think this is 100% right, but I am afraid that people are trying to replace it with a ‘all work must forever be done out of the office’ which is wrong too. It seems like lots of companies are getting the course correction wrong now that they have realized that some people and some roles can be really effective at home.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yes, this. We had people in the leadership in the past that had this “work can only get done if you’re in the office” attitude, and it was hurting everyone and increasing turnover. There certainly needs to be a balance, but I hope we won’t be going back to that attitude ever again.

  71. baseballfan*

    I really appreciate this balanced look at the topic. I personally like having a mix of in-office and remote work as it allows us to have the benefits of both. In the past I worked 3-4 days in office and 1-2 days at home and many on my team did the same. I think long-term that may get flipped around to the opposite approach but still a balance.

    So many things are easier when you have in-person collaboration, especially when you are working on something in a “war room” marathon working session for multiple days at a time – that length of time over video meeting gets REALLY old. It’s also much easier to train new hires in person than remote. As mentioned in the post, of course we made it work over the past year to onboard people 100% remotely, but that doesn’t make it ideal.

    And there’s just no substitute for the informal conversations that happen organically when people are in physical proximity. That’s an integral part of team building and relationship building. (I also challenge the idea that these quick chats are distracting or negatively affect productivity. Building rapport among team members should help increase productivity. On the other hand, the distractions at home such as running errands or doing laundry have pretty much no positive effect on my work product).

  72. Me*

    I’m a woman in a male dominated profession. When discussing in person vs virtual meetings with a friend, I realized how much easier it is for me to say contribute in meetings virtually, both being able to interject and not getting interrupted/talked over. Friend valued in person meetings because he struggles to read body language in virtual and needs that to effectively lead a meeting.

    I think individual experiences of office vs home are more nuanced than we may think.

    1. Valancy Snaith*

      How funny–I’m a woman in an extremely male-dominated area and I feel the opposite. Virtual and phone meetings I feel like I’m talked over and dismissed, but in-person it’s much easier to use my body language to signal that I’m not done speaking, and much quicker and easier to interrupt the interrupter in person.

      1. Me*

        In my situation I’m dealing with people who don’t care that I’m not done speaking. I can use all the body language in the world and it wouldn’t stop these individuals.

        Something about the act of having to unmute themselves and start talking over me mid sentence seems to do the trick. Where in person the seem to think if they’re just loud enough they can drown me out.

        1. Valancy Snaith*

          I’m in the military, so judicious use of rank, language, and body language makes in-person meetings significantly easier for me to navigate than online.

    2. Jenny D*

      I’ve found one huge advantage with online meetings is that I can use a separate chat window to coordinate with other women when we get talked over. I was in one meeting, where the other two members were one man who was a manager, and a woman who was extremely competent and good at her job. She and I needed to explain to the manager why he should approve a certain contractor to come in for less than a week.

      The manager kept being very dismissive and talking over the other woman – not me so much, because I’m a quite highly paid consulting expert, but she was “merely” an employee. She and I kept passing suggestions and arguments to each other in a chat window, and we did end up getting the manager to approve our suggestion.

      In other meetings, one of the younger and less techie women I work with keeps getting dismissed by some of the men. I’ve been giving her tech tips and suggestions in chat, which she has been able to use to get proper answers out of the dismissive men.

      It’s been very useful for several of us women in male dominated fields.

      1. Me*

        I’ve never done that but that’s only because I’m the only woman in the room 99.9% of the time.

        It’s a really smart useful tactic though! I hope other women who have this issue see your comment and are able to implement it.

        1. Jenny D*

          I know how soul-wearying it is to always be the only one, I’ve been there for much of my work life… which is why I now as a senior/expert consultant make an effort to support other women, especially younger ones, to give them the help that I would have wanted earlier.

          Of course I will also try to help out younger/more junior men, but they usually don’t meet the same kind of issues with being talked over, dismissed or ignore. But when it does happen I’ll try to support them too.

  73. corsa*

    I’m definitely feeling the downside of this right now. I started at a consulting firm during the pandemic and I have a somewhat strained relationship with one of the partners. I think a large part of it is that we have never met in person (even though we live in the same city! that is now pretty safe!). That means that I only talk to him when we are in a status meeting or something like that, and not when I enter work in the morning or when we walk out to lunch or coffee or anything else, so there is not much context to our work related interactions.

  74. Box of Kittens*

    I only worked from home for 6 weeks last year, but I moved offices recently, from a very isolated office in a back-office building to a new office next to my supervisor in the main building (not within customer view but in the same building where customers come in). The pandemic really really caused my motivation to take a hit, but being in a different space where there’s an ambient productivity vibe has helped me bounce back more than anything except getting vaxxed. I have been more productive in the past few weeks than I was all of last year (I’m exaggerating, but like, not that much). So while I enjoyed remote work and definitely see how so many people love it (and I wouldn’t turn down a remote position in the future), I 100% understand the points brought up here. Being around people at work makes a huge difference, especially for someone (me) who can become inert and not reach out when I’m not around people regularly.

  75. Rachel*

    Now that we are back in the office on regular schedule, I realized how much I actually do like working in the office. Much more collaborative, my boss is right there, my co-workers are there for questions, and it’s nice to get a non home made lunch! It also helps me leave work at the office too which was hard the last year.

  76. DadSaidSo*

    I wish I could agree with literally anything on this list, because I know there is truth there. But at the bottom of the chain of command, I don’t care at all. None of that matters to me, and if I was forced into something, I’d just quit. My team was given the choice about what to do and we all picked a really good mix of in office vs work from home.

  77. Coast-to-Coast*

    So I’m on the fence here. I’m a supervisor with a team that reports to me. WFH has worked out for my group because we managed the technical challenges that came our way and I was able to leverage some needed additional tech from our mothership across the country (we’re a satellite office).

    It has also vastly improved our communication and personnel work/life balance because a.) they did not deal with constant interruptions to their work b.)Majority of inter-personal office dramas has leveled off considerably.

    Losing half of my workforce during the pandemic has also made WFH absolutely necessary for my team to even cope since projects are flying everywhere and its easier for them to jump from project to project and to meetings across the country without having to worry about computer access, unnecessary interruptions, etc. However, I’m now feeling the pressure from upper management to bring them back in and I’m very, VERY hesitant to say yes.

  78. Llellayena*

    I’m in an industry (architecture) that definitely benefits by in-person collaboration. It’s much harder to solve design issues when you can’t walk up to someones desk…and then the next person over if they’re busy. However, there are definitely days when your job is head down crank it out and interruptions are very unwelcome. Personally, I think a flexible set up where you can have X days per month (or pay period) where you’re allowed to work from home as long as you don’t take them on days of in person meetings or similar things would work well for our industry. I’d probably want a better WFH set up if we go that route (sporadic use of my dining table is problematic), but it could be very useful. Also, we’re currently back in the office part time, but the number of people back almost makes it feel more empty than WFH did…

  79. Giddyup*

    This is from the perspective of work being the top priority, and producing as much as possible. For me, the planet and my family are higher on the list, and we could stand to produce and consume less overall. So what if a project gets dropped? So what if we slowed down (I don’t know that we did, but let’s assume it’s true)? Obviously that’s not the case for all fields-I hope Stryker keeps making hospital beds, for instance–but do we really need to go back to pre-pandemic levels of production, consumption, and commuting/supporting massive energy-sucking buildings? It’s not sustainable and yet it’s just assumed. A hybrid model could help. But my point is that I hear these arguments, agree that wfh isn’t optimal in terms of driving business results, and simply don’t care. Other things are more important.

    1. English, not American*

      Energy consumption isn’t necessarily lower with everyone working from home. Instead of climate control in one office building with the worker’s homes being “powered down”, each individual home is heating/cooling a larger space per number of occupants. Whether that balances out the commute depends on the ratio of cars to public transport, but it’s not a straightforward answer.

      1. Allonge*

        I am also wondering about the consequences of having WHF spaces and offices maintained (as you have to for a hybrid org). Will the larger apartments / houses be balanced out by the maybe-smaller office buildings?

      2. Amethystmoon*

        Yes, and the cost is being passed on to the workers instead of the companies. But the companies forget that the workers may be financially struggling with having to pay for 7 full days of major electricity use as opposed to evenings and weekends only, especially when air conditioning is involved.

    2. Rabbit*

      Whereas I’ve seen several pieces of analysis that said that having the majority of office worker working from home was worse for the environment, because homes are generally much less energy efficient than office buildings. The answer really isn’t as obvious as you are assuming.

      1. Giddyup*

        The one I saw said emissions were reduced by 80% for most at-home workers. Office buildings consume more energy combined than residential units, at least in the US, mostly due to equipment, refrigeration and lighting. I don’t know about you, but I don’t light my house 24/7 or have a server room in the middle of it. I don’t run my air conditioning/heat all day every day and don’t run lifts. And I don’t have to drive to/from my house, or build a separate building to do my work in. I don’t consume as much outside of my house or produce as much waste. I’m not flying to/from other offices.
        With AI, computers, and robotics, you’d think we wouldn’t have to work as much for the same level of output, but employers have simply increased their expectations (but not wages). Again, this level of consumption and productivity is unsustainable so when I hear people say we’re less productive, I think ‘great!’

        1. Allonge*

          The servers kinda have to stay somewhere though? They are really not a hobby for the IT department.

          1. TechWorker*

            Haha yes. And I don’t have aircon at home and got basically nothing done the last heat wave because I cannot THINK when it reaches 30 deg.

  80. Absurda*

    A couple more things to consider:

    Not all internet connections are equal and we’ve found that a lot of the applications we use perfectly fine in the office don’t always work well over personal internet connections, this has been especially true in some countries outside the US. There are work arounds but no where near as efficient as using the apps.

    Working from home makes it harder to keep up with what’s going on in other teams/orgs. There have been several times I’ve been able to come up with new ideas or improvements by understanding what another team is doing just by being in the office with them and hearing them talk about it. These aren’t teams or people I would normally have reason to IM to or have a call with.

    That said, I’ve worked from home for many years and love it, but I do miss being able to pop into the office on occasion to catch up.

    1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      Your point about internet connections brings up another good point – working from home requires a transfer of work infrastructure (internet, office furniture, space, printer ink) from company property to personal property. Some companies are great about providing anything an employee could possibly need plus a stipend for phone and internet, but most don’t. Employees are often paying for the privilege of working from home via increased utility bills, paying to upgrade their internet/phone service, additional wear and tear on their personal property, etc. Some people are fine with that trade off but it’s important to recognize that it exists.

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        I really hated this aspect of WFH during Covid. If my home air conditioning broke, or the city was jackhammering the street right in front of my house, I was just stuck enduring it. I suppose in non-pandemic times, I wouldn’t have to literally work from *home* no matter how un-conducive to working my home might become.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I did take a day off this spring for no reason other than that the heat wave came earlier than I’d expected, and I hadn’t bought window AC units for my new apartment yet. Worked with the fans on for a couple of days, but it got to the point where it was unbearable. I cannot work when it’s 85 degrees in my office. Also, the Wifi turned out to be spotty in the back half of my apartment, and I’m just massively lucky that it’s working well in the bedroom I chose for my office. It’s hit or miss in the other bedroom.

    2. Amethystmoon*

      Yes, this is true. Anytime the group drives are used, it is quite a bit slower than working from one’s hard drive. But my team wants everything saved onto the group drives.

  81. Grilledcheeser*

    I find this all fascinating because when I started my job three years ago, I was seated in a cubicle in a different part of the building from the rest of my team. I was given very few chances to interact with anyone in person. There was no documentation on my required tasks, and very little documentation for *anything* in the company as a whole. I got more info from casual conversations with my cubicle neighbors, the marketing department, than i did from my own manager. It was an insane struggle to learn anything & to do my job. It took me years to get up to speed – and it could have been mere months if people had actually documented things & shared knowledge.

    So when I see things like “being there in person means knowledge transfer happens!”, I wish it really did! It is not a guarantee. Communication & knowledge transfer needs management & executive support.

    I look forward to a hybrid schedule, 2 in 3 out, when we finally go back. Two days commuting, i can handle. I can schedule days in around the home games of the major sports teams in town, so that I don’t have to stand for two hours on the bus those days.

    1. Team QA*

      When I first started at my current job we were in some rented office space off the main campus (we outgrew the building) and my team, which is QA, and the development team that we were QA for were on different floors. I never saw them. I never talked to them. When we moved to a new office location QA and Dev were in the same area it made such a difference! Even before we moved to an agile model I could see and talk to these people who had previously been only names on tickets. I got to know them, got to work more closely with them and could better understand their work. Communication improved so much.

    2. Simply the best*

      Okay, but if you started that position working from home, there would have been just as little documentation for your job plus no cubicle mates and marketing department for you to casually pick up information from.

      1. allathian*

        In this case, probably. Some companies manage to onboard fully remote employees well, though.

  82. El l*

    That’s right. WFH is a question that is so context-dependent on so many things – more than just simple abstract nouns like “culture” – and resists formulas:

    Are your tasks well-defined?

    Is “high performance” a concept pitched at the right level of ambiguity – neither too much, or too little?

    How important is face-to-face, especially if your role is client-facing?

    Is your personality comfortable with fewer boundaries between work and play?

    How constant of input do you need from others? The last question – which can be restated as how many meetings you need – may end up being key:
    https://www.economist.com/business/2021/06/10/remote-workers-work-longer-not-more-efficiently (apologies of not able to get past paywall)

    Finally – leaving aside partial/hybrid WFH – people might just value it more because of the novelty. Give it long enough, and it’ll become even clearer that WFH is not a solution to many common complaints about bosses, dysfunctional cultures, and so on. WFH changes the game…but it doesn’t make it go away.

    Ask your doctor if WFH is right for you. ;)

  83. JRR*

    This last year had made me appreciate my cubical at work.

    It’s small and drab, but 60 square feet of floor space, 10 linear feet of desk, multiple large monitors, and blazing fast internet are things I can’t have at home but count on to do my job.

  84. AthenaC*

    Last year when we all went remote, with inflexible deadlines crashing down on us, we marshalled a LOT of adrenaline to punch through. But adrenaline doesn’t last forever.

    I have noticed so. many. people. hide behind plausible deniability while remote to just not get their stuff done, which means it’s on me to do all my regular work …. and their work, too, before the deadline. On a short-term basis I just took care of it, but again – adrenaline doesn’t last forever.

    Also, it’s been increasingly difficult to get my family to leave me alone during the workday, which impacts my productivity.

    Which is why I’m sitting in the office now with my team – easier to stay focused, keep tabs, collaborate, and generally it’s just not as painful to get everything done on time.

  85. Mimmy*

    The state-run program I work for (voc rehab training and services for blind and visually impaired adults) was always in person, so it was really stressful at first last year in figuring out how to do it remotely. It’s been working out very well and I’ve come to like the flexibility of working from home.

    That said, I agree with Alison’s points. Now we’re preparing for return to in-person, most likely mid-September and I’m both dreading and looking forward to it. It’ll be a big adjustment but I do miss the energy of actually being with my students and coworkers…you really do learn through osmosis! Plus, some of the services we provide cannot be done virtually, so a lot of our students will be invited back to fill in those gaps.

    I will say that I hope that employers will be more flexible with WFH, especially for people with disabilities that make it hard to commute (*raises hand*) or who have responsibilities at home.

  86. El l*

    We can think of WFH as a paraphrase of the classic line from Jurassic Park:

    “Your workers were so preoccupied with whether or not they could…they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

    1. Tinker*

      I do love me a snappy pop culture reference, but that sort of ends up framing the WFH position as one of frivolous hedonism, which isn’t all that helpful.

      There’s a serious dialogue to be had about how we structure our working lives, and the way we got here wasn’t by spending the last year and a half at a theme park.

      1. Tinker*

        Actually I was thinking about this, and let me disprove my thesis that this isn’t a great way to approach the dialogue.

        Taking as a given the concept that workers are “so preoccupied with whether or not they could… they didn’t stop to think if they should”, why is that? Why are workers, as a whole, exclusively concerned with whether they are working in a location that is superficially agreeable while satisfying the letter of an obligation and not concerned at all with whether the way they are working is effective?

        That’s not how people tend to act when they’re trying to make something happen that they want to have happen, as evidenced for instance by the lack of a genre of newspaper articles about “I got into homemade bread during the pandemic, so I put my laptop on the kitchen table and wrote a bunch of very compelling PowerPoints about hypothetical bread and didn’t buy any yeast”. Rather, it’s a pattern of behavior that tends to occur in places where people lack autonomy, do not believe in the value of the project, and are primarily concerned with placating powerful and arbitrary authorities — it’s the plot of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, basically, not the story of a barn-raising.

        If all workers behave like that, the implication is that all work is valueless, but if that were the case there would be no reason not to immediately put an end to it, institute a universal basic income, and start our permanent beach vacations. We’re not doing that (yet). Instead, we’re persistently saying that if we did that “who would collect the garbage”, and hence we need a system to coerce people into being sanitation workers with the mostly implicit threat that if they don’t they will have to sleep in a lopsided tent in the grass strip next to the governor’s mansion and periodically have all their stuff thrown away by the police. For that sort of incentive to be appropriate, there must be some substantive reason to do work — and also the nature of the incentive implies that people can be predictably expected to find living in a pile of garbage less desirable than cleaning up garbage if they are able to do so.

        I think we could do to have a little more attention given to resolving the contradiction between these two points, personally.

  87. Pennilyn Lot*

    I think some of the nuance in this conversation also needs to be that there are huge, and I mean huge, financial incentives for many industries to get people to go back to work in the office, regardless of whether it’s necessary or not. Particularly owners of office buildings and downtown retail/service industries.

  88. RunShaker*

    My situation has been very different in that my department announced we were closing down on 3/3/2020 & then by end of the month, we were all working from home. It will take over 2.5 years to close. My department is very small, around 50 people in a company of over 16,000 employees. The pandemic proved our work can be done in WFH environment & on most part WFH has been successful. Management had been against WFH before & said it couldn’t be done. Everything we do is on computer. A few months ago, our company started a pilot program return to office, so it allowed a few of my coworkers that wanted to go back to the office to do so. I’m happy that flexibility was provided since WFH isn’t for everyone. For me, WFH has given me the opportunity to expand my knowledge and team lead skills which I appreciate.
    I am a team lead and work directly with team manager. I don’t report directly to him (team manager) but am here to support him & he isn’t part of management problem we have. My department has always been toxic as in no mentoring, inconsistent communication, moving micromanaging targets, mansplaining, unprofessional behavior allowed by head of department, a lack of understanding from management on what our team did day to day, etc., so ask a manager has been a life saver for me. I communicate with my director about the same frequency whether I was in the office or WFH. WFH highlighted a few failings of our management team that are now easier to see than when we were in the office. The biggest was many of us found our department head didn’t care and/or encourage wider participation/net working with rest of our broader work area (that isn’t closing down) and this failing is now showing as negative due to us all being laid off if we can’t find another internal position once we complete our department closing.
    Some of things I did once we went to WFH was set up huddles 3 times a week with my team which excluded management to allow the team to voice concerns & speak freely, we hired contractors to help with closing so I volunteered to help with training & came up with modification on how I trained & continued to check in every so often, reach out to individual teammates to check up on how they were holding up and allowed them to vent, and escalated team issues to our team manager quickly. The biggest complaint that continued from when we were in the office to WFH was the lack of access we had to our director when a few of my coworkers were struggling. Our director did whatever she could to avoid speaking with us over the phone & insisted on email only. The other complaint was a lack of coaching for individuals that needed it. It was like our director is using WFH to avoid us even more and not address individual team concerns & penalize the whole team for one person’s lack of performance which is par for the course even when we were in the office. My director has attempted to cancel my team huddles which team manager stopped her from doing which is sad that our director has no understanding on impact for the team to stay connected & keep morale up.
    I do wonder if by choosing to continue to WFH will it hurt my ability to possibly network with other teams in the area as we start to return to the office voluntary? I will have the opportunity to start to apply for internal positions in next several months. I do reach out to other collogues every so often to stay in touch. I hope it’s enough. Thanks for allowing me to vent.

  89. Database Developer Dude*

    Work from home vs in-the-office: yes, different situations require different responses, but I’ve seen plenty of comments where the commenter works better IN the office, so they want to ignore or dismiss the reasons others may work more efficiently from home and require them to be in the office as well.

    I’m a database engineer. I don’t need to be in the office to do what I need to do, and real-time conversations are not always necessary for me to get my job done. I get that you want to be social, Karen, but I don’t. I want to do my job.

    In the area where I live, less commuting is always a plus, because the metro DC area has the second worst traffic in the nation, right behind Los Angeles.

    1. TechWorker*

      Right… and I get that… but you have to appreciate that some of the reasons Alison listed could apply even to people who strongly believe their job is done better from home.

      For example, are there people who need to get hold of you who can’t, or more junior people who in the office would be learning from you and aren’t getting that opportunity?

      Dismissing it as ‘Karen wanting to be social’ is a really limited view.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        No one at any workplace has to break a sweat to get in touch with me, whether it’s email, Slack, Skype, text, phonecall, or what have you. I would question anyone who says it’s difficult to get hold of me, because they’re not really trying at all.

        It is not a limited view, it’s a view that those on the other side aren’t really trying to address issues, just wanting to pull everyone back into the office.

    2. Gumby*

      For 2020 Los Angeles was ousted from ‘worst’ place – it fell behind New York-Newark, Boston, and Houston. Though it is expected to regain its throne after the pandemic stuff abates according to the article I read.

      Personally, I have noticed a large uptick in traffic volume after the July 4th weekend in the SF Bay Area. Still far from pre-pandemic levels, but gone are the glory days of commuting at the normal rush hour times willy nilly like it doesn’t make a difference.

  90. HelloHello*

    I feel like sometimes people take “remote work can be just as effective” to mean “remote work can be exactly the same” which just isn’t going to be true. There are obviously differences between being in a physical office and being fully online, but the question is if you are willing and able to embrace the benefits of remote work while mitigating/accepting the differences and downsides. Since switching to remote I have less personal interaction with coworkers, and collaboration looks very *different*, but the companies I’ve worked for have worked to find new, remote friendly methods of collaboration, and have embraced the upsides of a staff that has far more flexibility, isn’t losing hours of our day to commute, is more diverse because we are able to hire from the entire country instead of a specific geographic location, and is very tech savvy, and is able to cover a broader range of timezones for client support. There are obviously some jobs that are never going to be fully remote because in-person work is an integral part of the job, but I do think a lot of people see “I can’t have a casual water cooler chat if we’re remote” and assume that means remote is always going to be lesser than in person, without considering there may be other options available to remote workers that can be incredibly beneficial, just different.

  91. Choggy*

    Yes, it’s a hard question to answer because, as you mention, it’s been easier for me to focus on my work process (researching resolutions, projects, as well as handling day to day operations requests/issues), but I can absolutely see first-hand how new hires will be lost without interacting with their coworkers inside and out of their departments. I went into one of our office locations just yesterday after more than a year and met a number of new hires, while most of the rest of the company is still working remotely. I can see my (newish since Aug 2020) manager is struggling with communicating with his team, and really getting a handle on how to manage us with our ever-changing workload and priorities. I don’t think 100% remote would work for us, but that’s also our culture, we are a blue-collar company (utility) and many of our users are not comfortable joining video conferences and would prefer face to face interactions. Of course I’m saying all this while at the same time looking to work permanently when I move to another state!

  92. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    Has anyone brought up the cost of the daily commute to both the employees and the environment yet? Personally I’ve been loving it that I’ve been saving all the money on gas, and all the wear and tear on my elderly car (that I probably would’ve needed to replace in the next year if the pandemic and the resulting switch to remote work hadn’t happened), but I’m also thinking that, on a larger scale, it’s probably really beneficial to us as a whole that we are burning less gas and are having fewer cars on the roads.

    1. New Job So Much Better*

      I was thinking about that too, but from what I’ve seen there are as many cars back on the road now as before the pandemic. Very strange, with so many working at home.

      1. Kate Daniels*

        I think that’s because a lot more people are driving since they no longer feel comfortable taking public transit. At my office, we are each going in a couple times a week and WFH on the other days. Most of my colleagues who used to take the train now drive to the office.

    2. SnappinTerrapin*

      I appreciated the fact that gas for my commute was less expensive when a lot of people were WFH.

      But, as noted, demand has gone up, and so has the price.

    3. HereKittyKitty*

      Also early studies have shown that worldwide there were fewer premature babies born and they believe it was a combo of fewer pollution-related pre-term births and less stress on mothers.

  93. Gail Davidson-Durst*

    Thanks for this! I agree, I’m seeing a lot of one-sided declarations about how evil corporations just want us to come to the office for no good reason. But there ARE benefits to having everyone in a central place at least some of the time!

    I’m back in the office more and more these days, and not only do I focus better, have easier “off the cuff” interactions, and just enjoy seeing my teammates, but last week I needed to brainstorm for a slide deck and I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to have a WALL-SIZED WHITE BOARD to scribble on!

    Sometimes offices really do offer more! (That said, my favorite setup is 3-4 days in office, 1-2 days at home per week.)

  94. Jenny D*

    I’ve been very happy to work from home. But then, I’ve got enough space to have a proper office with all the computers and monitors, and my husband and I don’t need to use the same room so we can both keep our own meetings private, and I’ve got a good internet connection which is paid for by my employer.

    But one of the people I work with lives in a very small apartment, so she doesn’t have the space to even put up a second monitor even though her employer makes them available for home use. And some of the people she works with are in the same position, and some of them have small children and have asked her to hold meetings at 8 or 9 pm so they can do it after the kids are in bed. She feels that her work has taken over all of her home life and she’s been really stressed out. For her, this has been a nightmare and she’s longing to get back to the office!

  95. Amtelope*

    The goal isn’t just to be as productive employees as we possibly can be; it’s to live sustainable lives. I’m never doing five days a week in the office again, and looking at current practices in my field, I don’t see why in the world I should have to. We need to keep the benefits of remote or hybrid work available for employees, even if that means being willing to walk to do it.

    1. Amtelope*

      And I have to say, I’m really sad to see Alison advancing this argument. I’ve been a long-time reader, and this site has usually been consistently focused on the needs of employees, but the arguments for getting us all back in offices 40 hours a week are not for the benefit of employees. I understand the last year has been hard on employees who haven’t been able to work offsite, but the answer to that is not to break what’s working for remote or hybrid employees.

      1. mediamaven*

        Alison has always been a big proponent of WFH – she’s simply sharing both sides which has been woefully under told by most media. Just because something worked for you doesn’t mean it works for everyone. And just because you want something doesn’t mean your employer has to give it to you.

      2. ecnaseener*

        I think you’re completely discounting that for some people, working at home is hell mental-health-wise. It can be really hard to maintain work/life boundaries when you essentially live in your office.

        You are happier and healthier WFHing; that’s great for you! But for some of us, wanting to return to the office is ABSOLUTELY for our own benefit as employees.

        1. Liz*

          Yes x1000. I have HATED working from home. I have a history of depression and I’m being assessed for autism and adhd specifically in light of difficulties I’ve faced in the past year.

          Home, for me, is the place I go to switch off from the world. I’m pretty terrible and getting things done around the house, and only really feel like I “come to life” when I’m out in the world. Something about being around people and moving my body, having a place to be at, activates my brain and gives me a sense of purpose in a way a nebulous “to do” list simply does not. I go onto the office and I switch on. On some level, it’s actually performative (“people here are busy doing things, I should do things too so I fit in”) but it means I get things done.

          I checked out SO BADLY working from home. It was honestly like I was dosed up on valium. I could stare at a wall for hours while some distant voice in my head screamed at me to just do something. About 3 weeks in, I was sitting at my desk at 11am and had done absolutely nothing, and I just burst into tears, called my manager, and said “I just can’t do this.” They were very kind, but there was nothing to be done.

          I’m now back in the office. I have the furthest commute, but as soon as we started shifting back, I was the first to volunteer for on site tasks. I just can’t hack it at home. My depression is worse, my energy levels hit the floor, and I hope I never have to do it again.

    2. Giddyup*

      Right? I don’t care about being the best employee if I have to make a choice between that and being the best wife/mom/citizen/daughter/friend/etc. We could all stand to be a bit less productive at work and channel some of that productivity into our own lives. I just don’t see productivity as being a good argument for people going back to work. Like, it’s good for the company, sure, but I couldn’t care less about that.

      1. HereKittyKitty*

        Agreed. The “productivity” angle doesn’t work for me because it feels too much like “you must grind and work as much as you possibly can and any loss of productivity is BAD.” I’m sure I’ll get a ton of eyerolls but maybe loss of productivity is… a good thing? It’s too micro for anybody to make a sweeping judgement, but what if the loss of productivity meant that people were living happier, more fulfilled lives and finding better work-life balance?

        I think it’s impossible to say WFH caused less productivity, or if the doom of covid caused less productivity, or if a person finding work-life balance caused less productivity. There’s really no way to pinpoint that across the board.

      2. Xantar*

        I think what Alison is responding to is the argument advanced in many places that work from home can be done without loss of productivity, therefore it’s a no brainer that companies should offer it to their employees. What she’s saying in this post is that’s not necessarily true.

        And that means some companies are going to offer work from home and some are not. Just like some positions are going to give you higher salaries and some will give you lower ones. Companies will do what makes the most business sense to them, and it’s not always going to be letting everyone work from home.

  96. Anonosaurus*

    I think there are some good points here. I am concerned (and I know the local bar association is as well) that very junior attorneys are missing out on learning the unspoken, interpersonal aspects of the job, not making connections, and in particular are not having the opportunity to observe and learn from court appearances, where watching how other people do it (and sometimes doing the opposite) is very important.

    I am coming to terms with the idea that I have been less productive during the pandemic. I’ve WFH throughout. I think it’s fair to say that while I serviced client work to the same standard as before, I didn’t do the other parts of my job such as networking, finding new clients etc to the same level. Partly because it was more difficult but also because I didn’t have the bandwidth. I live alone and was also very worried about my immunocompromised partner in another state. My company was broadly supportive of staff but the overwhelming focus was on parents and families. I understand why, but I didn’t feel supported in my own challenges.

    I also found that the decision making hierarchy in my firm became very closed. When we were all in the office I felt I had the ear of the senior partners and I generally knew what was going on and could contribute to how the firm was run. During WFH all decisions about the business were being made during Zoom calls between the partners, from which everyone else was excluded. I don’t think this was intentional – it happened because all discussion had to be scheduled, of necessity, and they couldn’t figure out a way to open that up to mirror how it would have been done in the office. To be honest it took me a long time to figure out myself that this was happening – I just felt increasingly powerless and demoralised. I don’t think anyone, including me, has gotten to grips with the non-technological aspects of collaborative working and how office hierarchy and power structures translate to WFH/hybrid.

  97. aebhel*

    Also, not everybody WAS happier or more effective working from home. My WFH area was a tiny desk with a laptop in the corner of my dining room while my kids careened through the house and my spouse tried to do his job on the other side of the room. I *vastly* prefer my private dedicated workspace at work, and I also vastly prefer having a clear separation between work-life and home-life.

    It’s great if it’s feasible for people who want it, but not everyone does.

  98. Frideag Dachaigh*

    I’ve come to love a lot about remote work, but also realized more and more how much I miss the office- not just for the community or asking questions (I’m 2.5 years into a field where all of my colleagues are at 20), but for the office itself. I’m in a field akin to being a tax account at an art museum. There’s nothing about my job that requires me to be in person or be in person at the museum vs some other office space, but I didn’t just sign up to be a tax account FOR the art museum or for some totally random Company- I signed up to be one AT the museum. I miss walking in the front door and feeling the power of the space, feeling connected to the legacy of everything and everyone around me, hearing little tidbits about the art world I wouldn’t otherwise know about, etc. Remote work feels so much more disconnected in a lot of ways.

  99. CurrentlyBill*

    One of the big take-aways from the shift to work from home is in terms of disability. Organizations that denied WFH accommodations for disabled folks suddenly found a way to make WFH work for folks not yet disabled.

    This opens up tremendous opportunities for the disabled who are able to work, but just can’t mange the commute or office environment for whatever reason.

    Any employer who made WFH work during the pandemic and later denies a WFH accommodation for a role that was WFH during the pandemic will be showing that not hiring disabled people now has nothing to do with unreasonable accommodations. It’s just plain ableism and a violation of the ADA. And that needs to be stopped.

    1. Amtelope*

      +1

      But they’ll try to pull out exactly this kind of “but you can’t learn by osmosis or be mentored if you’re not in the office!” stuff to prevent people with disabilities from being hired. Yes, you can. Use remote tools for communicating.

    2. hellohello*

      +1

      I also think “it’s harder and/or different to do what we’ve always done while remote” is a less compelling argument than many people seem to think it is. Like, yeah. Sometimes things are harder or are not the way we’ve always done them, but we do them anyway because they are important or come with upsides. (In the case of remote work, one of the key upsides is the ability to hire much more diverse workforces in terms of disability, demographics, geographic location, etc.) Is it hard to facilitate workplace collaboration in exactly the same way you would do it in an office if people are working from home? Sure. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible or doomed to be eternally lesser. Workplaces have to be willing to embrace change and find new opportunities.

    3. Colette*

      In my experience, there is a significant difference between having one person remote and having everyone remote, even if the job can technically be done remotely without in-office support. When one person is remote, they miss out on a lot of stuff that happens – not because anyone intentionally leaves them out, but because they aren’t there to hear the spontaneous conversations or to answer a quick question.

      Should employers accommodate people who need to work from home due to disability? Of course. But the person who needs to work from home would probably be better off finding a place where remote work is the norm, because it will be better for their career.

    4. Maxy*

      Being fully remote for the pandemic has been such a relief for me as a disabled person. About 6 months before the pandemic my health started to go downhill – I had to drop out of grad school in my last semester and I’ve spent the last year and a half trying to get a diagnosis. Turns out I have fibromyalgia, and who knows if I’ll ever be able to commute daily to a job.

      And, of course, the law is technically on my side, but abled people just…don’t get it. My disability is invisible; I look like a perfectly “normal” 26 year old. So trying to get full time WFH status as an accommodation is so much more difficult than it should be. Obviously it’s a good thing the pandemic has wound down but having to now have these conversations again and fight for our rights when it’s been proven that we can effectively WFH sucks for disabled folks.

      1. Pepper*

        If it helps I have not one, not two, but several variously disabled friends whose experiences are much like yours. And I have not yet seen a good argument as to why you and they should not be allowed to WFH anymore.

    5. Pepper*

      This, so much this. I’ve been scanning down this discussion waiting for someone to bring up the ways in which WFH benefits many disabled people and can be the difference between being able to work and not being able to. Isn’t it supposed to be a net benefit to society to have as many people available to work as possible?

  100. NewYork*

    My office has said that people will have to be back 3 days a week in September. Resignations have started already. I agree harder to train people when working remote, but businesses will have to decide who they want to keep.

    1. Amtelope*

      Exactly. We can’t afford to lose everyone who’d quit if we returned to full-time in-office work.

      1. NewYork*

        I have one person on my team who is a new mother. She is extremely productive and I do not want to lose her. One size does not fit all.

      2. James*

        My office is the opposite. They’ve decided that individual cubicles are not warranted, so they’ve pushed for “rotating work stations”. Pretty much everyone in my office threatened to quit if that happened. They backed down and kept a number of us in dedicated office spaces, but it’s not nearly as much as we once had. The few times I’ve been in the office (I mostly work on project sites) have been….annoying. We’re still all adjusting.

        1. lilsheba*

          That right there would make me quit. Not only is going to the office bad enough, but not even a desk to call your own? NOOOOOOOOOOO. That is not flying with me.

          1. Amethystmoon*

            In pre-Covid times, the building I used to work in technically had hot-desking, but the reality was that if you got there early enough, you could pretty much grab the same space every time. So all you had to do was set your alarm clock a bit earlier and leave earlier. You couldn’t actually leave anything at your space, but it was unofficially officially yours. And it was open office space to boot.

            I would think hot-desking would change after the pandemic in most companies though, just because of the possibility of transmitting a virus alone if different people sit at the same desk.

    2. ecnaseener*

      Flexibility is going to have to be the name of the game. There are also plenty of people who would (and have) resigned if their jobs were going to be 100% remote forever.

  101. Hiring Mgr*

    My company had been planning to return at some point full time in office. However at least in my group, I’m simply unable to find good candidates unless we offer WFH. Since in this case anway the answer to Alison’s question at the top is Yes we can be just as effective, we made that call and now we offer remote or hybrid as an option.

    But like many things, it’s very job dependent, so YMMV

  102. Delta Delta*

    I really enjoy remote work, although there are times some things need to be done in person. I’m an attorney and have become very good at remote hearings. My clients largely enjoy it, as well, because it often saves them time and money by not having to travel to a hearing (and pay me to travel, as well).

    I work closely with lots of lawyers who generally like it, as well. Some, however, have just refused to accept that we had to be remote for a while. I had a harder time with those who refused to budge because they couldn’t fathom doing something differently than those who had genuine needs/preferences. “We’ve always done it this way” is not usually the best rationale for doing anything.

  103. new kid*

    I agree that the conversation about ‘more or less productive’ should be more org or team-centric than individual-centric, because I think a lot of it depends on both the infrastructure and culture around remote work. On my team, we already had a team member who was permanently remote so we were used to working in ways that included him as a full team member. Did that mean he missed out on office-specific conversations that would happen sometimes? Probably, but I also never found myself going to someone else on something instead of him just because he was remote, because that wasn’t the culture.

    I had a new hire start in March, and at her recent 3 month check in, the HR rep relayed to me how surprised she was by how welcomed and included she felt in the team even though she was remote and I fully believe that was more achievable for us because we had that culture in place already to support her and integrate her without physical presence. But it also means that other orgs/teams that are struggling may actually be able to get there as well if they commit to wanting to build that type of culture moving forward. (Though obviously job/industry dependent.)

  104. Not So Super-visor*

    This 100%! As a supervisor, this WFH thing has been such a mixed bag. We’re in a coverage-based position, so being available is essential. Some employees were great, and some of them I felt like I was long distance babysitting and having to constantly have performance discussions with. We’re definitely not as productive as a group despite what the group claims. We have #s to show that decline despite the fact that we’ve added 10 more people to the department (essentially doubling it). It really didn’t surprise me that the VP is asking everyone to return to the office this fall

  105. gmg22*

    I wish I could say I liked WFH more. It has definitely improved my life in one very basic way, by removing a lengthy driving commute from my life. But covid hit right after I finally got out from under three years working for a super micromanaging, undermining boss, and I never had time to rebound in a “normal” work environment — new boss is great, but still. I’m now finding it a big struggle to get out of the pandemic routine of mostly hunkering down at home, especially after a typically long Vermont winter. Separating work and non-work hours is incredibly difficult for me — I think constantly about home messes I need to clean up rather than focusing on work tasks, for example. (I’ve also become increasingly aware that I need to do something about my long-term suspicion, absolutely exacerbated during this time, that I have some level of untreated ADHD.) Things are harder when I can’t draw off my colleagues’ energy in person — we’ve been doing a day or so a week in the office for the past month and I was almost giddy just to see everyone IRL. I wouldn’t ever want to go back to that commute and the office schedule 5X per week, but I know that I can’t do my current job, at least, totally WFH in the long term.

    I would definitely say that I’m burned out to some degree, and WFH has been a factor in that. I feel like I get less and less done every week. I looked over last year’s vacation time and when I used it, and was horrified to find that the vast majority of it was “half day here because I couldn’t get anything done, half day there because I couldn’t focus and had to say eff it, book it to CTO.” What I really need RIGHT NOW is a week off to just rest and regroup — not a week that gets interrupted by an urgent work task, like what happened around this time last summer, or a week where I spend the whole time with my best friend’s hyperactive toddlers (like the vaca we already have planned for next month) because I’m a sucker who can’t say no even when I need to. A true R&R week, for myself and no one else, where I unplug from the screens, make myself leave the house EVERY DAY but for extremely low-stakes things that don’t require any packing or prep, take the most relaxing pace I can manage. I’m coming closer to deciding on just taking it and dealing with the shortfall later.

    1. gmg22*

      On a happier note! The one big pro of WFH is that I love my home office space, and am aware of how privileged I am to have it. When I bought my condo five years ago, I expected to buy a 2BR, but the units in the neighborhood where I ended up buying happen to all be 3BRs. So I said great, I’ll have a guest room AND an office space to use once in awhile! Except for the first 3 1/2 years here, it was really just a junk room. When the pandemic began, I spent about a month working at my dining table, said eff this! and went to work, with curbside delivery of paint supplies and purchases of home office items, to whip this room into shape. It is a lovely place to work, when I can focus on work — bright, sunny, a view of trees and our local rec path.

    2. DG*

      The WFH burnout is real. Every day for the past ~16 months has felt exactly the same. I used to travel for work often, and while that was exhausting in its own way, there was always variety – a new restaurant to try on the company dime, a new city to visit with the points I’d accrued, etc. I’ve realized how much some of that served as a distraction from the actual work (which it turns out I’m not all that passionate about). It was also easier to mentally detach from work when my office wasn’t adjacent to my living room. Add in the fact that everyone just assumes everyone else is accessible all the time now, effectively extending my work hours much longer than they used to be and… whew, it’s a lot.

      1. Bee*

        I’ve been pretty good about not being accessible to other people in my off hours (and my company is very good about these boundaries), but there’s just nothing I can do about having my work space and my relaxing space in the same small room, which means there’s just a low-level drain in the background all the time. If I never went into the office (or did like 2-4 days a month), I could move out of the city to a place where I could afford multiple bedrooms, but then I’d also be giving up my entire social circle! Maybe I’d be willing to upheave my entire life for something new, but right now I’m so burned out I can barely contemplate it. (And when I do it’s more like “what if I quit my job and ran off to be a lighthouse keeper and/or hedgewitch,” which is probably not the solution.)

  106. Newbie-Blues*

    This. I started a new job some months ago, and none of my team are ever in. The learning curve was vertical, and it was very lonely. Since I live in a small apartment, I don’t have a desk at home. I much prefer the office anyway.

    I get that hybrid working is a great option, and some people with disabilities or childcare commitments could benefit immensely from it, but just never coming in has consequences for new starters :(

  107. Green*

    One of the big questions when looking at this is how much did you interact with other people when you were in the office? Did you go to lunch with co workers? Did you pop your head into another office to ask a question? Or was it largely remote work anyway, communicating with offices or people long distance? Were you completely left alone except for scheduled meetings?

  108. KN*

    The last two points on new hires and more junior employees are something I’ve been noticing a lot of recently, and they’ve really shifted my view of remote work.

    I work in a managerial role at a consulting company with a lot of team-based work and high staff turnover / progression (typically 2 years as an individual contributor before becoming a manager). At the beginning of WFH, I was surprised by how well everything was going. Remote work didn’t seem bad at all! I even made some comments to the effect of: it’s really not that different–normally we work from home in the evenings, and sometimes have a day a week when teams are not physically together, and rapid technology adoption (e.g., everyone learning how to screen-share and annotate) was actually making those periods of work easier.

    But then time went on, and more and more of the people on my teams had limited pre-Covid experience at my company, and eventually many of them had no pre-Covid experience. And suddenly the quality of our work and teaming, which hadn’t dropped at all at first, started to decline. We were very proactive in trying to make up for the lost socializing and learning opportunities with things like virtual coffee chats, virtual team rooms, and best practice sharing sessions, and I assumed those things would be sufficient. I was vocally skeptical of the idea that you need to “look over someone’s shoulder” to teach them how to build a model.

    And yet, the results spoke for themselves: team members without in-person experience were just not developing at the same pace as we normally saw. I’m still not 100% sure which factors contributed the most, but over time I started to notice things that felt different about my teams, no matter how much we tried to replicate the in-person environment. Relationships with fellow teammates became more transactional and less personal. There were fewer opportunities to see teammates as fellow humans, and fewer environments that allowed for informal, “off the record” type questions. There weren’t as many opportunities to ask someone one tiny question on the side that turned out to be an important question.

    I still don’t think that a virtual whiteboard ought to be any different than a physical whiteboard, and yet my teammates (and eventually I) started to talk about how desperately we missed “whiteboarding.” I don’t think it was the whiteboard we missed: it was the social connection and the informal mentorship that surrounded it.

    I am not against remote work in any way, and I’m sure it makes a lot more sense for some roles than others. But as someone who was very in favor of remote work early on, I think this post is spot-on in some of the pitfalls that may be harder to see at first.

  109. Falling Diphthong*

    I remember back when I was in college, they renovated our dorms. It used to be that the rooms had regular doors, and “open” meant “come in and chat” while “closed” meant “knock if you really need me.” The new doors were heavy fireproof doors set to swing closed, and while they came with a doorstop that really didn’t work. The code vanished, and with it a lot of the “oh hey I can ask Jasmine” stuff that had built a sense of community in the old dorms.

    Because my roommate and I lived in the same dorm three years running, we really noticed the change. But for new people, it was just normal to be more siloed. Moving everyone to remote work strikes me as similar–a lot of casual learning is lost.

  110. Chc34*

    One thing the pandemic has made me realize is that I just . . . don’t care about a “career” anymore. I like my job, and I’m a remote employee in a different state so I couldn’t commute to the office even if I wanted to. But I’ve found that not having to expend all my social interacting-with-people energy at work means that I have so much more energy and time to give to my friends, my family, my hobbies, everything I do outside of work. So when people say things like it might hurt my career because people won’t see me, or I’ll lose out on informal mentoring, I’m really okay with that.

    1. Anonny nonny*

      Chc34 Same thoughts here. The pandemic really forced me to consider what’s important. My family is but my career just isn’t.

    2. Victoria*

      Same here. I have realised there is more to life than my career. I don’t care about climbing the ladder anymore. I just want to earn enough to be comfortable and not stressed about money and be able to enjoy life a little and be done. I now work to live, not live to work.

      And that extra 2 hours of sleep from not commuting has been life changing for me. I’m RESTED now. I don’t miss constantly feeling tired. (And no, going to bed 2 hours earlier doesn’t work for me. My body doesn’t sleep before midnight even if I take melatonin).

  111. Mystic*

    I can’t add much, but I’m brand new in the professional world, relatively speaking.
    My job has had the option to work remotely after a year, as long as you meet all expectations. They start asking 5-6 months in if you want to remote.
    I always said “No” vehemently, because I thought it’d limit my promotion chances, and meant I’d be passed over for everything, opportunities and things.
    This past year proved that wrong. I’m not against remote working anymore.

  112. Seeking Second Childhood*

    For those of us who had a bad commute, that’s an additional factor. This link is behind a paywall, limited number free visit the month oh, but I think it’s a good addition to today’s discussion. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/commute-return-to-work-stress/2021/07/13/dc23cd0c-e35a-11eb-8aa5-5662858b696e_story.html?itid=hp-top-table-main
    Condensed version of my story. I took the job with a 20-mile commute and partial WFH followed soon afterwards, for ~15 years. Unfortunately right after I moved, WFH was cancelled without warning. The company doesn’t know it, but the pandemic bought them 16 months of me not job hunting.

  113. HereKittyKitty*

    I think it’s also worth noting that you can’t really have a direct comparison of WFH vs in office because of the pandemic. To directly compare it would have to be, say, a software company that has always been remote vs a software company that has always been in-person. Because of course productivity went down when companies with zero infrastructure went WFH overnight, and childcare was non-existent and anxiety weighed down on everyone. That makes total sense. However, I’m sure there are plenty of remote-first companies that have been working that way for years that could solve and has solved every issue on that list.

    Ultimately, it kind of comes down to the industry and infrastructure. A lot of government jobs have crap technology and infrastructure, so it makes sense for them to work in-office. HOWEVER, while we’re “reimagining work” this year, I think it would be wise for companies to start investing and building out their infrastructure now and starting testing out more online structures for roles. Because look, I’m sorry, this won’t be the last pandemic in our lifetime. Not to mention other environmental disasters looming on the edges. I’m more or less hoping this will serve as a wake-up call to have the plans for remote work in place now, and not scramble later.

    On the other end of that, about culture and mentorship and building relationships and what not, I’m sort of wondering if that’s…. as important to people as it was before the pandemic? I’m kind of pulling on my peer group here with this question, but more and more people I talk to are less interested in culture, relationships and mentorship. I’ve talked to people who have said it was more important in office because they spent so much time at work, commuting to work, then coming home tired from work that a lot of their social interaction could only really come from the office environment. Now that they work from home, they’re less tired, have more fulfilling hobbies, and are having more specific interactions with friends and family to the point where they’d happily give up on office culture, mentoriships and relationships to keep what they have going.

    Idk it’s just something I’ve been thinking about after talking to a bunch of peers about how we feel our relationship to work has changed. Just so many more people are less interested in… work as an identity. As a communal space. And they don’t really have the desire to move up anymore. Maybe that feeling will wear off over time, who knows.

    1. TechWorker*

      Personally I don’t feel like the pandemic has allowed me to experience ‘more fulfilling hobbies or interactions with friends and family’ AT ALL :p but I agree wfh would be different if I could meet others freely outside of work.

      There’s always been people who don’t particularly care about work culture/work relationships/mentorship, and maybe you’re right that the number of people in that category will rise? It definitely comes at a cost to your career in most cases but if people are happy to pay that then good for them.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Yeah I wonder if the hobbies/socialization thing depends on how careful you are about pandemic safety. Like, I certainly was not spending time with friends in 2020. Office socialization became more important to me, not less.

        1. HereKittyKitty*

          I think two things can be true at once. For example, I was laid off, lost all my savings and it took 9 months to get a full-time job back. My mental health was fucked and there was many a breakdown. I basically never left the house because I took the pandemic very seriously and my husband has bad lungs from asthma. But also I took up roller skating (like literally 1000s of other people) solo, taught myself how to draw, taught myself how to crochet and began researching pottery classes. I also set up more consistent virtual movie nights with people that I had very little interaction with pre-pandemic, so yeah even if I wasn’t seeing friends in person, I ended up interacting with people more during the pandemic than before because virtual communication became more the norm.

          Obviously not everyone was able to dive into a hobby, or experienced such stress that a hobby sounds ridiculous. I 100% understand that. But there have been quite a few articles about the huge surge crafting and other hobbies got during the pandemic. For example in rolling skating Riedell went from making about 500 boots a month to 12x that amount and there has been a massive shortage for about a year now. There was also a yarn shortage for various reasons, one being a huge influx of new hobbyists as well as a shortage of pottery wheels. I would predict that some people may abandon the hobby when things “return to normal,” but also a lot of people may move to more group crafting sessions and find the time being spent outside work to be more fulfilling.

        2. Victoria*

          I think this depends on where you live. I live in a part of Australia where I was able to socialise with family and friends in 2020.

  114. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    I do miss my office and I am going back to on-site next week. My commute is not bad, and I can probably easily ask for 1x a week at home to catch up on things where/when it makes sense. For me being at home on occasion was isolating and depressing at times. That coupled with a laptop or a tablet or some device ringing in every room of the house made it seem like work was always on, and if I weren’t at one of these devices I felt wasn’t doing my job effectively, or at all. If you want to work remote 100%, fine, if you want a hybrid or semi-hybrid (I think I might) fine. But just because I am there and you are not does not mean that you can call me from your ten minute away commute and say, “Oh hey, since YOU’RE there, can you get my teapots rearranged and filed in order of size for me?” This person was full vaccination and lived alone. There couldn’t have been more than 10 people total on the whole floor and we all have individual offices. Those teapots are still waiting for her return.

  115. RunShaker*

    I saw an article several weeks ago in which a large bank stated they would allow employees to WFH but pay them less. That left me wondering WTH. I left a international bank due to low pay & went into investments with a regional investment firm. Back in my banking days, it seemed like large banks barely paid a living wage unless you moved up to management type roles. Large banks as in Chase, Citibank, Bank of America, etc.

    1. gmg22*

      I would think that a larger remote workforce would save a company money — the biggest reason being the ability to downsize physical facilities — but I wonder whether these institutions have actually tried to assess that and gather real data about it, or if they are just assuming that any loss in productivity would outweigh those savings.

      I’ve noted a lot of new commercial real estate being built around where I live (Burlington, VT) so far this year and I think, what? We need affordable HOUSING here, desperately, but up go the office buildings. Who’s going to use them?

  116. James*

    #5 doesn’t just apply to new hires. One of my projects pulls people in from a pretty wide area, and I’ve seen that help even mid-level staff when it comes to networking. You’d never email a person out of the blue and say “Hey, got any work for me? I’m interested in X, Y, and Z”. In contrast, if you’re at the coffee pot it’s the most natural thing in the world to discus mutual interests, which often includes work. I’ve seen people change their entire career based on such conversations–they met someone in an area they hadn’t thought to work, and developed their skills in that area.

    Remote work seems to work best for folks with a clearly-defined career path and a clearly-defined role. When either is more nebulous, direct interaction is useful. The social Brownian motion of the office provides opportunities that would otherwise be missed.

    At the end of the day, the main question for a manager is “What’s best for my team?” That means both the individuals, and the team as a whole. Sometimes that means individuals get to do things they find sub-optimal, because the team as a whole operates better that way. This goes for those required to work remotely and those required to work in an office.

  117. Not playing your game anymore*

    To answer your question, no my org. cannot be just as effective working at home as we could from the office, but then we never thought we could work from home at all. We have learned that with some planning and preparation we can be a bit more flexible than we ever imagined we could. We have too much physical “stuff” that we need to be able to access to be able to not be in the office a good percentage of the time, and frankly, in our rural area the net is so slow and flaky that some thing just don’t work from home. But I could see working from home for 10-20 hours a week.

    The other issue, is the fact that supervising people who have in person interactions with the public is trickier from home. When I’m in the office I able to give feed back… Yes! You handled that upset person perfectly. I can step in if I see abuse or harassment of staff, or patron to patron, I can make a mental not to go over “what not to say” “remember to offer xyz” with newer staff.

    So yeah.

  118. Love WFH*

    I work in IT. My team develops and supports applications used internally and by customers. We did GREAT working remotely. We deployed brand new applications fast. We added important features and improvements to existing apps. And we added 5 new hires — they learned fast and are doing good work.

  119. Macaroni Penguine*

    “Things have gone really well this past year” sometimes means “we adjusted priorities and expectations when the pandemic started and things have gone really well for that context.”
    This sentence resonated for me. My company restructured a 100% in person social support program to operate in 100% remote mode. We were able to support our clients and meet measurable incomes. Was this a miracle? Yes. Should the Program operate in remote status indefinably? Absolutely not. Operations survived the pandemic, but it wouldn’t be good to keep Pandemic Survival Mode forever. Saying that, we’ve adopted the best parts of remote work to become even better.

  120. LS*

    For highly collaborative fields, it’s imperative that younger staff be in the office with more senior staff. Sure the can email/IM with questions about their specific problem on their specific project, but they aren’t hearing all of the problem solving on other projects that they aren’t on. For our industry, it’s a necessity. I can only imagine the knowledge gap that would start to occur over time if junior staff were fully remote.

    1. TechWorker*

      Agree. I think the experience for our graduate hires has been vastly different/worse this year and it will only continue to get worse if we all stay remote.

      I do find it a frustrating to see views along the lines of ‘well I can do MY job fine, so if my manager thinks I should be in the office they must be trying to micromanage or just want to make their own job easier’… like… yes I do happen to think managing people is a bit easier in person but that’s really not my primary concern here.

  121. IrishEm*

    Yes there are definitely some ppl who lived their best lives doing wfh full time (like me) and others for whom the Struggle is Real and are desperate to get back in the office (friend of mine), and a whole lot in between. I think making wfh an option that enables those for whom it is a strength to be able to do it and those who struggle with it to opt out (where and when it is covid safe, obvi) is a wise strategy but hard af to implement.

    I have several compelling arguments up my sleeve to request FT WFH for myself but I know not everyone is in my situation. I wouldn’t ask my friend to work in a way that exacerbates her mental health issues (for which she refuses treatment because therapy is for losers, apparently… nothing to unpack in that statement… thanks for calling me a loser, friend), but it is so much better for me both physically and mentally to be at home and out of the office. It’s definitely not black and white.

  122. Chief bottle washer*

    I am back part time in person, but almost no one else is, and I’m miserable. Working full-time from home has created physical problems for me! Staring at a screen for 9+ (often way more) hours per day has given me severe, painful dry eye. When at least some people are in the office, I get a mix of in-person meetings so I’m not literally staring at screen 100% of the time, and I don’t have eye problems. I’m pretty miserable right now and hope every day that more people will come back.

  123. Girasol*

    Reminds me of the early 1900s when people argued over whether the horseless carriage would ever replace the horse. Everyone depended on horses, knew the skills to use them, and had all the tack and carts. The first autos were awfully undependable, unsupported, and pretty experimental. It’s the same situation here: We have well honed in-office infrastructure, policies, business etiquette and skills. By contrast our remote tools aren’t very dependable, our homes aren’t all set up well, remote work policies are still pretty shaky, and people’s remote communication and relationship building skills are still pretty rudimentary. I agree with Alison that many companies and employees aren’t ready to go all-in on remote work yet and they’ll need to fall back on in-office work for the time being. But anyone who comes down heavily on the “get a horse” side and doesn’t keep developing company policies and personal skills for remote work won’t be very happy where they end up a few years down the line.

    1. Lana Kane*

      Yes, I see it this way too! You can pick so many examples throughout history of times when something significant has changed, and you’ll see that there is a wobbly period in the beginning where people are questioning things, not quite sure how to adjust, etc. And then after some growing pains, we shift into a new normal. I think we’re just seeing the beginning of this shift and we just have to try different approaches and see what works. But assuming that the first thing you try means the whole thing won’t work will just leave you in the dust later.

    2. JRR*

      Ten years from now there will be no argument because the technology will be vastly better. Ad hoc conversations and learning by osmosis will happen over the internet as easily as they happen IRL.

      I’m curious to see what future WFH will look like. I predict it will involve 3D-headsets and augmented reality.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Ngl, I shuddered involuntarily reading that! To have ad-hoc conversations and osmosis learning through the internet, we’d have to be perpetually online. I’m picturing some sort of all-day zoom running in the background, though I’m sure that’s not what you meant.

        I guess what I’m trying to say is, staring at a screen all day will never not suck. Trying to make eye contact with your camera so that it looks like you’re making eye contact with the other people will never not suck. The technology can improve to some extent but it’s not going to improve enough to convince me we should be plugged into it all the time.

        1. allathian*

          Agreed. The only thing that could help even a little would be a completely transparent camera in the middle of the screen, so that you could look people in the eye more naturally. But I’m lucky in that in my org there’s no expectation to be staring at the camera, so I look at whoever I’m talking to or who’s talking.

    3. Doris Thatcher*

      This is one of the reasons why the “you worked well from home because someone else had to do some things in the office” bugs me in general. My organization heavily resisted many things that could have greatly reduced this “things other people have to do for you” factor, including video meetings and phone calls. It is only recently they got on board and it was really frustrating both from a get with the times perspective, but the gnawing guilt felt knowing someone else was having to do something that I was more than capable of doing myself remotely. The tech was already there and used for other purposes in the org, so it wasn’t like someone was going to have to spend $$$ to upgrade. The meeting times were already set, so it wasn’t a time suck. It truly just felt like a “this is the way we’ve always done it, and we can’t be bothered to think outside the box”.

  124. Exhausted Trope*

    My productivity wfh has soared. I finally have the quiet I need to concentrate. I do go into the office 1-2 days a week and have from the beginning of 2020.
    I’ve being free from “ad hoc conversations” the rest of the time and that’s been a major factor in my productivity. I’ve taken on so many extra duties and have really shined. No pay increase but still.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      This is how I feel.
      The office is for Meetings, not for getting WORK done.

      Unless you’re one of those people who do nothing but sit in meetings all day. (managers, executives)

      My open office with hotdesking pre-Pandemic was a horrible place to do any type of deep or detailed work requiring concentration. I love the peace and privacy of WFH even when my cats ooze all over my desk.

      1. allathian*

        I agree. That said, I’d vastly prefer working in even a noisy office over trying to help a bunch of young children with remote school and trying to work at the same time. Some people have longed to go back to the office to get away from the distractions at home.

  125. Slinky*

    I really appreciate this post! Prior to the pandemic, the conventional wisdom was that we couldn’t do any of our job from home. The last year+ proved that we can do *some* of our jobs from home. The core of our work really does need to be done onsite. However, there are tasks that can be done remotely. I recently returned to working onsite part-time and I’m so happy to be back! That said, I do prize my work-from-home time. I hope, going forward, that we can see more flexibility, letting staff work from home a day or two and requiring people to come in when they have tasks they can’t do remotely.

    I’ve seen a lot of all-or-nothing thinking, in both directions. In truth, for many of our roles, reality is somewhere in the middle. I think it will take some time to find the balance. I really hope that our administrator will support us in that, rather than just ordering everyone back full time.

  126. lilsheba*

    For me personally work from home has been amazing. I am severely introverted and really hated the bright lights and noise of offices, especially with those awful open floor plans they insisted on using. Fluorescent lights give me migraines, and the noise of people talking right by my cube when I’m trying to talk on the phone or concentrate has been super irritating. Now that I’m home, with nice low level lighting, no noise, music whenever I want and candles burning whenever I want, and food much easier to manage, I have been way more productive at work and at home, because of the time gained back. I started a new job almost a year ago, entirely remote, and I haven’t even called off sick once so far. I would have a lot if I had to commute. For me this is the only way to go, and I will never work in an office again. So yes it’s been proven that we are more productive at home, and it works out much better. And last but not least, I don’t have to deal with multi use bathrooms anymore (gag). I can’t even count how many times I walked in on smells I could have lived without, people puking, people on the damn phone while in a stall (who does that??) people taking up all the sinks to put on makeup etc.

  127. Sara without an H*

    As some anonymous genius once said…it depends. I just retired from a job in higher education (libraries). We went to remote instruction in March 2020. Any tasks that were internet-based worked fine from home, stuff like ordering, interlibrary lending, and database access. Most of the problems were the result of weaknesses in our own wonky VPN and the usual difficulties of reconciling PCs and Macs. (Note: I am NOT blaming our IT staff, who worked like pack mules for months to keep us all up and running.)

    Other things worked but seemed to take longer. We didn’t have Slack, so all interactions had to be handled by Zoom or email. Issues that could have been solved the same day by popping into somebody’s office would take 2-3 days of emailing back and forth to resolve. It was doable, but not efficient.

    Faculty meetings, however, were much, much better on Zoom. (Oh, so much better!)

    So a lot depends on the industry. I personally think a hybrid model (days in the office alternated with days at home) has a lot of possibilities IF the organization can provide the technical infrastructure to support it.

    1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      It’s interesting that your faculty meetings got better; our faculty/staff meetings got so, so much worse. I can’t believe the things people will say out loud and write in the chat. I highly doubt they’d be so confrontational and rude if they had to say it directly to the president’s face instead of into the internet void!

      1. Sara without an H*

        It’s true that our faculty are a pretty mellow group. What I think they really appreciated was the ability to join from home if they didn’t have to be on campus that day for anything else.

  128. singlemaltgirl*

    thank you for this post, alison. as a leader in my org, i have bent over backwards to make the accommodations necessary for my team to wfh (b/c it felt safer for them or to meet caregiver obligations, etc).

    it has required we adjust targets, efficiency and productivity. i have lowered expectations b/c people were struggling with so many pressures related to the pandemic and family and financial stressors that we didn’t want to add to those. we made a concerted effort to ensure people could rely on continued employment, in appropriate benefits, in supportive wellness leave, in flexibility for scheduling vaccine appointments, etc. i have had to cover office needs for in person deliveries, tech, and maintenance. i have modified meetings and projects which take longer for us over zoom and the like. i have worked more hours that i can say as a manager trying to make it easier for my employees during what i know has been a very stressful time for them all. but damn, it’s a lot of work for me to make wfh work for them.

    but it doesn’t work 100% for my org. we are not as productive or as efficient. i can view this against benchmarking data from 2 years ago vs last year and where we are ytd this year. it’s trickier to keep people engaged, to not feel left out, to coordinate things that were just easier in person. i don’t think people who are non managers get how much additional management is required to do this; a different set of skills are needed and i’ve felt behind the 8 ball most of the past 18 months and trying to figure out the needs of my team on the fly constantly.

    i hate wfh. i hate managing it. i hate having to accommodate it. and that’s from a manager that used to be quite open and flexible for wfh for a variety of positions in previous orgs. i’m just so done with it all and it will take a while for me to recover a positive outlook about wfh.

    i understand many people are re-thinking their work/life balance and what they want from their careers and jobs. and wfh may be a significant factor for them in considering what they want to do. and more power to the orgs and companies that can manage it without loss of productivity while maintaining good solid team dynamics and high morale. i’m committed to work/life balance but wfh is not something i want to even consider for any staff for the foreseeable future. i’m exhausted.

    1. Database Developer Dude*

      “i’m committed to work/life balance but wfh is not something i want to even consider for any staff for the foreseeable future. i’m exhausted.”

      Sorry, but if you’re not even going to consider WFH for -any- staff for the forseeable future, you’re not as committed to work/life balance as you say you are. Some jobs are better with WFH, some are not. Some -people- are better WFH, some are not.

      That’s the problem. Everyone wants a cookie-cutter solution, and nobody cares about nuance.

      1. singlemaltgirl*

        wfh doesn’t automatically = work/life balance for many people. in fact, there are many things people value over wfh that could serve to achieve many of the things people look for when they’re seeking that balance. it also depends on the work that the org does and the type of work the employee is required to do.

        but i can see why you’d dismiss my entire post, focus on the one thing you value, and tell me what i’m committed to, dude.

        1. csuite-gibberish*

          Eh, I think all the studies that have been done both in the past and more recently show WTF = work/life balance for the vast majority. It’s also pretty evident in the fact that the vast majority of workers do not want to come back to the office (some don’t want to come back at all, and others want hybrid arrangements).

          I understand your struggles, and it sounds like you’ve been a great manager. But, with the greatest of respect, it sounds like all you have been struggling with are the things that managers do as part of their role. Sure, it’s easier to manage people in person. But that’s the job. I admit that I’m also curious as to what work it is that your org does that makes WFH so difficult.

        2. a developer*

          I presume this will be make or break for many people. I for one will not permanently return to the office. I’ve known how much less stress wfh gives me, and i’ll just pursue a job that offers it if mine won’t. I suspect this will be the case for a sizeable portion of people in high demand fields.

      2. Mouse*

        I do think it’s interesting that some people are so emphatic that work/life balance is much improved for everyone by working from home. I actually disagree. To me, the only improvement is the lack of commute. Otherwise, I find that it’s harder for me to separate work from personal. I can’t afford a very separate work space and when I’m crushed by my to do list, it’s so easy to just log in at night and keep working (or even if I don’t, the temptation is there and I’m thinking about it). If I’m used to going to the office, it’s easier to (figuratively) leave work there at the end of the day.

        This is obviously my personal preference and some people may disagree! Just wanted to add a data point to support that remote work is not universally an improvement to work/life balance.

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          But that’s the point. It’s not universal, and those who are against it are by and large against it for everyone. If it doesn’t work for you, great! Go back into the office. It does work for me. Keep your (generic) nose out of my business.

        2. some dude*

          This is my concern about remote work – you are essentially on all the time. I haven’t been “off” for more than a few days for over a year. It’s exhausting. My computer is always there taunting me to respond to an email or do that task I need to complete. Pre pandemic I worked very regular hours, and now I find myself answering emails at 6am or working at 8pm. Part of that is that my home life impedes upon my work day, but now my work day impedes upon my home life. And we don’t have Slack. My partner does, and they’ll respond to messages at all hours of the day.

    2. some dude*

      You are benchmarking from a non-pandemic time to a pandemic time. I know that I have been less productive because I have had to take care of my child, and even when I have childcare it hasn’t been 8-5 like it was pre-pandemic. Or people are taking care of sick relatives. Or grieving the dead. I was also super, super freaked out for a lot of the pandemic and sometimes its hard to do your best work when you are in the middle of an anxiety attack or haven’t had a good night’s sleep in a week because the world is literally on fire. I don’t think we know what people can actually do remotely until our kids are safely in schools and our communities aren’t being ravaged by a deadly virus, and we ain’t quite there yet.

    3. mediamaven*

      “I hate managing it”
      This. I hate it too. It’s much more challenging and difficult.

  129. Another British poster*

    I find the assumption that everyone works in an office/does an office-type job, and that everyone works in a “team” slightly odd.

    I’ve never worked an official job and my job doesn’t involve working with other people at all. I don’t know anyone whose job fits that description.

    1. H*

      I think this is a good point. I was actually a FT health care/hospital worker until Nov 2020 and now I am just PRN so there really wasn’t a remote option for me but then I got a new job where they have been remote for over a year and the volume of work and demanded has been exceed all 3 quarters I have worked there (all virtually). So now I am a bit bothered about being told we need to come back 4 days a week when it was proven we were very productive while remote and I have also been on the frontlines the whole time anyway as I still moonlight at a hospital some weekends and nights. SIGH.

  130. Junior Dev*

    I have auditory processing issues. On the one hand, working from home means I’m less likely to have to deal with other people’s noise (I bought noise cancelling headphones for the office but they only do so much). On the other hand, so many video calls have terrible sound quality, or people mumble and don’t speak into their microphones, or I hear their kids/pets/neighbor’s lawnmowing/etc. in the background and I have to strain to hear them. In an office I could at least say “Hey, could we take this conversation to a conference room? I’m having trouble hearing you” but with WFH setups, if someone is hard to hear on a video call there’s often nothing to do.

    I missed out on a job opportunity I was really excited about because the interviewer hadn’t set up his audio right, I couldn’t understand most of what he was saying, and I kept asking him to repeat himself. I try to tell myself I wouldn’t have wanted to work under those conditions but it still stings.

  131. Cookies For Breakfast*

    The default expectation at my workplace is that people will handle every remote interaction the same way as colleagues stopping by their desks in pre-pandemic times. Very few people accept that remote communication can be asynchronous, and expect immediate chat responses at all times.

    Chunks of 2-3 uninterrupted hours at a time for focused work are valuable in my role. However…half of my day is usually made of meetings. The other half is dealing with interruptions that will escalate to my manager or higher if I don’t reply right away. 90% of them are stuff that doesn’t really need immediate attention. I’ve also seen more colleagues than before pick up Slack messages on days they’re supposed to be off (that’s the one thing I’ll never do, and when I’m the one messaging others, I always make it clear that I don’t expect or need a reply until they’re back).

    I see everyone’s point about being a good coworker and helping others out. Believe me, I want to help everyone – but very often now I wonder who’s going to help me, since every boundary I’ve set to feel in control of my time has been stomped on several times.

    There are many reasons I love WFH, but spending 8+ hours on end chained to my computer because “let’s go remote to deal with a pandemic” has turned into “if you’re not talking to someone then you’re slacking off” has soured it for me.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      It must be a quirk of your workplace.
      No one expects instant replies where I work, especially as we’re in different time zones.

      1. Cookies For Breakfast*

        Yes, it totally is. And it’s one of a few things that, throughout the pandemic, have made me reconsider how good a fit I really am for my specific job at that specific company.

        Whatever my next job will be, I want it to still have a remote component, because I’m not ready to lose the advantages WFH does have to me. But this post is about the disadvantages, and where I work now, the big one is the company does not value asynchronous work as much as it does real-time interaction. There’s a bit of a “we are family” culture that makes some people feel let down if they don’t have immediate access to everyone, and at least a few higher-ups who see Slack replies as the equivalent of bums in seats.

    2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      I feel this in my soul. I find this is typical of orgs that went kicking and screaming into remote work as a type of Gotcha. I mean, if I am on a conference call and therefore not available for a phone call, that’s no different than if i am in an in-person meeting at work and unavailable!

      1. Cookies For Breakfast*

        Yes! This became truly bizarre when my grandboss sided with a team that complained some of their Slack questions had gone unanswered during the Christmas break. Several other people could have answered in that channel, and did not. But they were upset at me and my manager. My manager argued that we had all taken time off, were still catching up, and had come back to a schedule full of calls. Grandboss said that doesn’t matter and we should keep monitoring Slack during calls, which is just bonkers. Especially since we had a team member who did that constantly, and getting his attention in a call was impossible, so we’d just asked him to shut it down.

        1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

          Unless it is an emergency (and if it is, it is noted as such), taking a few hours/a day to answer questions should be considered normal.

  132. Raida*

    Absolutely.
    I’d also like to add that some people at my work basically worked from home for maaaaaaaaybe two weeks before coming in every day. They had in some cases an entire floor to themselves!

    Because, quite simply, they work very poorly at home. They don’t like it, they don’t want it, they don’t want to see their work in their house, they function better with the change of scenery to switch into work mode and they can’t focus at home.
    Any assumptions that ‘everyone will work two days a week at home’ is, like all broad ideas, not going to work for everyone.

    Personally I enjoy having no commute, being able to do laundry, cook my lunch, run errands, prep dinner while I’m WFH and I like the privacy and I like that having two options for online meetings build into our system means we can always manage to do a meeting online.
    But when I have a day in the office and the guy behind me asks a question, I swivel around and look at his screen – that’s fantastic. no IM with “can I give you a call?”, no figuring out they need to screen-share when I’m on my phone for the assumption it’s just a phone call, no lag, no VPN – bliss. Chatting with someone and realising we’re both in the office today so one just walks to the other’s desk? Awesome. Setting up a meeting for a day everyone’ll be in the office? Great.
    it’s not that meetings and calls aren’t effective remotely, but that they are (if it’s not wasting your time) so good to do in person, actually see the other person.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Honest confession, I love screen sharing. I have bad vision as a result of a past eye injury, that cannot be corrected all the way. I dread the day when I’m back in the office and I come to a teammate with a question and they go “oh it’s easy, come over to my desk and I’ll show you” because I will not be able to see their screen without leaning in close enough as to be in their personal space! I used to just stand behind a coworker’s back while they showed me invisible things on their screen, nod, say thank you, and go back to my desk none the wiser. I value some aspects of in-person interaction, but not this.

      1. Ramona Q*