what’s the point of making me work from the office to “collaborate” if no one else is here?

A reader writes:

I work at a large nonprofit that went totally remote at the beginning of the pandemic (previously very few people had been allowed to work remotely on any kind of regular basis). Remote work proved both effective and popular. However, as time has gone on, our leadership has mandated first one day, then two days, and now three days in person at the office. The stated logic is that going to the office allows valuable (and in some cases spontaneous) face-to-face interactions and collaborations to occur that just don’t happen over Zoom.

If that were true, I wouldn’t love it but maybe I could get on board. However … it’s not, at least not for me. At LEAST 50% of the time that I come in, I am literally the only member of my team (or of the group of employees with whom I typically interact outside of my team) on the premises. I spend two hours commuting — two extra hours away from my family — to come sit in an office and literally speak to no one the entire day (except by email or maybe Zoom … like I would have done at home). I am growing more and more resentful each time that I arrive at my desk and see the offices of my other team members empty and dark. I feel like several hours a week of my time are being stolen from me (and my family) for no reason at all, and my motivation for work is tanking. Some departments have instituted policies for all staff to come in on the same days to avoid this issue, but mine has not done so, and in any case my work is highly cross-departmental and so the people I need to work with would often fall outside of such a policy anyway (heck, some aren’t even located in the same city!).

My direct supervisor had been fantastic ever since the pandemic started about allowing me to work flexible hours, etc. as long as I get my work done well and on time (I had no childcare until a few months ago due to Covid safety concerns). However, this in-person work mandate comes from above her. Do you think there is any effective way to attempt to address this ridiculous blanket policy with the higher-ups or otherwise?

Yeah, there’s no point in coming in if you’re just going to sit in a closed office and only talk to people on Zoom anyway. Either management above you doesn’t realize that’s happening or they’re okay with it because at some level they believe being physically in the office is “real” working whereas working from home is not.

But I’m curious what the rest of your team is doing. If you’re all supposed to be in the office three days a week and more than half the time you’re the only one there when you come in … is it possible that other people aren’t really adhering to that mandate and you don’t need to follow it as rigidly yourself?

Also, would it be helpful to have face-to-face interactions with other people who work from your same city (including those in other departments)? If so, one option is to coordinate your in-office days with them (if they’re up for face-to-face meetings; not everyone is) and see if that makes those days feel more worthwhile.

But if not, talk to your manager! Explain that you’re commuting two hours round-trip three days a week to sit in an office and see no one, and you’re still talking to people over Zoom or email just like you would have done at home. Tell her you’re happy to come in when there’s a need for it but right now it feels like you’re spending six hours a week driving without any work payoff.

And yes, the policy comes from above her, but she still might be able to okay you doing things differently, and she’s better positioned than you are to push back with managers above her.

It’s also worth talking to your colleagues and seeing if any of them are feeling the same. If so, a group of you all pushing in the same direction about this can be more effective than one voice alone.

Read an update to this letter

{ 170 comments… read them below }

  1. Momma Bear*

    I’d definitely bring it up with the manager, if the point is to collaborate in person. You’ve tried it and found that you aren’t getting the benefit you’re supposed to. I would point out what other departments are doing as a “here’s something that seems to work” and see if your manager has other ideas/anything will work for you. It doesn’t make sense that you’re there alone, nevermind your commute. The commute just makes it worse. If the boss doesn’t switch anyone else, I’d probably switch on my own at least one day a week to be there with someone else. Be proactive about it.

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Our boss and the members of the team that are in the same city decided that when and if coming to the office a couple of days a week is required they are all going to pick the same 1-2 days to avoid the exact situation the LW finds herself in. No point in anyone coming in if 50% or more of the team isn’t there

      1. Storm in a teacup*

        Yeah we’ve done a similar thing at work now we are back 1-2 days a week in-office. We have a shared spreadsheet that we update with if we’re in f2f or not so if no one else is in we don’t need to be in and we have set days for certain meetings that the expectation is you’re in unless there’s a good reason you cannot be (isolating or childcare for example).

  2. Cranky lady*

    Thank you! I see this as a look at my future when we return to the office. My plan is to give my boss a 1 week accounting of actual face-to-face interactions. Is waving at 3 people across the lobby really worth 6 hours of commuting stress?

    1. anne of mean gables*

      Yep, I’m pretty sure this is written from my workplace in the future. I sort of straddle leadership and not-leadership, and I do not think senior leadership has any idea how disgruntled staff are going to be to be back in office to sit on zoom all day. I have hopped into the office a few times throughout the pandemic, and it is soul-crushing. Some workgroups are conducive to coordinating days in-office as OP describes, but mine is not, and people are going to quit over exactly this type of thing.

      1. Jax*

        My senior leadership decided to go back to in-person and masked meetings, which I weirdly appreciate. Best choice is remote, but when you’re a public-facing industry and mandated that all employees have to go back, then WE ALL GO BACK.

        We’re all here, we’re all in person, and we’re all at the same risk level.

        1. anne of mean gables*

          Absolutely better than the alternative – and in their defense, my senior leadership would never stay home while telling everyone else to go in. And I think they know not everyone is as excited to go back to in-office as they are, but they do not understand the magnitude of the discontent, and that it’s bound up in general feelings of inequity in application of office rules.

          To your specific point about shared risk – kind of, yes, but also no. Even if we all look like we’re all assuming the same level of risk (coming into office, masked), some of us have under-5s, some of us are immune-suppressed, some of us are overweight or diabetic, or have high-risk household members. And not all of those conditions are obvious or public knowledge. I hate the idea of someone having to disclose otherwise-irrelevant personal health info to justify why they want to stay remote.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Nope. Not all of us have family members on immunosuppressants. But some of us do.

      2. anon for this comment*

        We’ve lost so many employees to to the sudden about face on remote employment. Being forced to be in the office, only to be apart and only have meetings on zoom (which we can now overhear everyone talking on) just makes no sense.

        And yes, it is disheartening to basically be told that my value to the agency lies in my ability to hold a chair down in a cubicle, not to do the work for taxpayers that I’d thought for years was my actual job. Nope, I can be replaced by a brick apparently. And yes, I would change jobs if a remote work opportunity came my way.

        1. HigherEdAdminista*

          This is definitely coming for my industry as well, and people are in no way prepared. Staff are often largely invisible in a higher education setting, though without us these institutions cannot function. Our larger administration definitely has a goal of 100% work from the office, without exceptions, and our union (in the past) has expressed confusion over the idea that staff might want a hybrid schedule.

          It is always challenging to fill positions because of the structure of the place, but once people start retiring rather can continue to commute and the younger workers start seeking greener pastures, it is going to hit them like a ton of bricks that they cannot keep up with everything that has to be done to serve students.

          1. Adan*

            Faculty are dropping too. The pay is crap, the hours are typically crap, and the workload is more and more crap. My old teaching college (little research) now mandates faculty work on campus over university breaks and on weekends, because they were getting complaints about breach of contract…and the loudest voices were laid off or denied tenure.

            But, yeah, absolutely most staff teams could work remotely but that would mean selling off physical plant or leaving it vacant. That was my institution’s biggest concern, not the people. Zoom worked great but administration complained at every meeting last year that we couldn’t “connect” in person… Silly.

          2. The OTHER Other*

            Your union is oddly clueless if they don’t understand this. They need to be brought up to speed, or replaced. I would start working on this now, before the “everyone get back in the office” mandate comes down.

          3. Ally McBeal*

            This. I worked in higher ed comms for almost 5 years, and when the pandemic hit and I realized I needed to leave my area to move closer to family, my department head told me I could only work remotely for 6 months because “students are coming back to campus in the spring and we need this role to be on-site.” The only time I was ever needed physically on campus was for events; small events were easily transferrable to another coworker, considering I only attended ~10% of the year’s smaller events in normal years, and I indicated I’d be happy to return on my own dime for major events like commencement. So I quit. I was the primary holder of institutional knowledge for my department. Too bad for them.

        2. susan*

          I’m in same boat and it feels like Titanic. I hate my job. i used to like it, but I’m only one forced back into office full time for no reason and it will not change. I cannot wait to leave this place. I cannot rid myself of the anger or bitterness either.

    2. I Herd the Cats*

      I think this will be my situation as well — a brutal commute to go sit in a downtown office, largely devoid of human contact, because the CEO has decided that in-office collaboration is so valuable! If he doesn’t back down (and he might) several of us are looking for employment elsewhere.

    3. DecorativeCacti*

      Way back in the beginning of covid (feels like decades ago) my job tried telling me I couldn’t work from home but I could close my office door and interact with people just by phone or email. So I could “work from home” but from the office. But I definitely wasn’t capable of doing my job from home. Uhhh, okay.

      I took a medical leave of absence instead and ended up going back to school to switch careers entirely.

      1. kicking_k*

        I’m _really_ not able to work from home for practical reasons, and it still sucks to be the only person in the office. Or even with just a few people in, I feel weirdly like I’m inconveniencing them by needing the building to be open. Nonetheless, I still feel nervous (on infection grounds) about actually being around people indoors. There’s no right answer.

        I don’t have a long commute and I’m counting my blessings on that.

    4. VacationMoment*

      One of my colleagues went into the office and took a bunch of screenshots of cubes and conference rooms and uses them as his zoom backgrounds. He did it for fun, but part of me loves the idea of doing that to pretend you’re in the office. Or, in line with the last letter, maybe hire someone to go into the office to pretend to be you.

  3. Jen MaHRtini*

    I drive 2 hours a day to sit in my office with my door closed since I’m very COVID cautious, so I feel this.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Literally we’re supposed to be keeping 6 feet apart still, so watercooler conversations aren’t even supposed to be an option!

      1. Pobody’s Nerfect*

        Covid and coronavirus don’t recognize a 6’ barrier/distance, it’s airborne and can travel much farther than that and lingers in the air for hours, like smoke. Also, even if you’re in a closed door office, once you open the door all the contaminated air can get mixed. Or if your office shares/brings in air from neighboring offices or shared areas, it’s a moot point.

        1. 2 Cents*

          Yeah, I recognize this as we all sit 6′ apart in the conference room, masked, but then are allowed to take off the mask for lunch, which we eat together. (Thank goodness we’re all vaccinated, at least.)

        2. Artemesia*

          The 6 foot thing was based on some very very old research that hs turned out to be simply not valid and particularly not true for COVID There are numerous cases of people being infected at far greater distances. One guy on the back seat of a bus managed to infect a dozen in the front of the bus; one patient in a hospital room managed to infect the three people in the room across the hall. One person in a restaurant managed to infect people at a table 15 feet away.

          Masks work. Isolation works. ‘Social distancing’ doesn’t especially in a room where people work all day.

          1. Candi*

            Have you seen the research paper “Turbulent Gas Clouds and Respiratory Pathogen Emissions
            Potential Implications for Reducing Transmission of COVID-19” by Dr. Lydia Bourouiba, PhD? Her team at MIT has done some great work on the new “warm puff of air” models of droplet and aerosol transmission.

        3. Rock Prof*

          As s professor in the US, somehow we only need 3 feet in the classroom. I’d be really impressed by a virus that could somehow distinguish both distance and classroom setting from regular office setting.

          1. Ridiculous Penguin*

            The university I teach at has no social distancing. There are, however, mandatory masks and vaccines (98% of the campus is vaccinated).

          2. Candi*

            For a non-covid example, my only-masks-when-he-legally-has-to dad visited me early last November because reasons. (We live in the same general area, he’s just usually too busy to come over.)

            The next day, I had my one-day-a-week of butt-in-seat classes, on campus from 9-ish am to 7:50 pm, bussing in and out. Each class meets twice a week, but the other was over Zoom.

            The day after THAT, my dad messages me that he’s feeling sick and so my stepmom will be taking my younger (adult, non-binary) kid to something or other they needed to do. (Kid still lives with me while they’re in college.)

            The evening of that same day, I was feeling sick, and it continued through the next Monday. My dad was sick for almost two weeks (but he’s stubborn, has to be knocked down to stay in bed).

            Just as I was recovering, the teacher of one of my classes (who teaches mask off, six feet away from students), his TA (ditto), and three of my fellow classmates in that same class got sick. So did the young man who sat next to me in another of my classes. (Because, despite university mandates, we were squashed into the classroom like sardines.)

            And I was masked except for when I was eating! Alone, at a table in the subcafeteria! (And that one time in the bathroom when I changed my mask.)

            It wasn’t even covid! “Just” a very nasty flu or cold.

            For pete’s bloody sake. Just, for bloody’s sake.

            The only saving grace is everyone in my classes weren’t infected, likely due to everyone wearing masks.

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        My job can’t be done remotely, so we’ve been working in person this whole time, but when case levels go up one of our precautions is stopping in person meetings. I’m even doing private meetings with my own manager over Teams, and we’re in the same building every day. With the numbers being what they are, it’s not safe to have people closed up in a tiny office together, and we can’t just operate the library out of our houses, so we’re trying to make in-person work as safe as we can.

        1. quill*

          We all have to be in person because of the nature of the work, but every week two or three people are in quarantine with a cold waiting for a negative test, occasionally actually with plague.
          We aren’t using conference rooms either, unless we can spread 10 people 10 feet apart.

          But we work in cubes, and every time someone coughs because their coffee is too hot, I flinch.

    2. steelej10*

      My office is similar. They want us in the maintain the culture (which is…what exactly? Free LaCroix?) I was going into the office but my entire team is around the country so I would sit in a conference room all day. No thanks.

  4. 2 Cents*

    For the “spontaneous face-to-face interactions” argument, when my team was in the office, we were scattered on a huge open floor. Talking to each other at desks was risky because said open floor plan allowed your conversation to be heard literally 30 desks away. We always talked via a messaging system (Team, GChat, etc.). Now that we’re home, not much has changed. The 1 day we all have to be in the office each month, we have 1 long catch-up meeting, then go back to our desk to … chat on messaging systems.

    1. Not really a Waitress*

      Seriously. I work in a bullpen but most of the people I interact with for projects could be anywhere. Thats why we have slack. Slack the person next to me, slack the person across the room, slack my SME in New Jersey. I think this is really just a matter of reevaluating their mental models.

    2. SuperBB*

      Same. Most of our in-person collaboration was in a meeting room, scheduled, not kitchen chit chat. If you went to someone’s desk, you had to awkwardly stand there until they noticed you or do a weird line-of-sight wave to get their attention. Slack/Teams was the preferred method simply because it was less awkward.

    3. Curmudgeon in California*

      There was actually a study that tested before and after open plan was implemented at a company. They measured IM, and email, then measured face-to-face conversation with little gadgets (“wearable sociometric devices”) that could tell when you were talking face-to-face with someone. They found that face-to-face interaction *dropped* after going to open plan, and IM and email increased. (https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rstb.2017.0239)

      1. Your local password resetter*

        Im not suprised.
        When I’m constantly surrounded by people and noise, the last thing I want is to walk over and talk to people.

  5. Aarti*

    I feel like this too. My commute is only 30 minutes but I go in to sit in my office and get back on zoom, I could do that at home. And I LIKE working in person, at least part of the time. Yet I am still expected to show my face at the office. I don’t get it and it is seriously burning me from wanting to go in.

    1. susan*

      ditto. I really want a voodoo doll to channel my anger during the day. Unhealthy to be in this spot and it must change which is by just quitting or leaving. I wish I had a backup money plan.

  6. awesome3*

    But I’m curious what the rest of your team is doing. If you’re all supposed to be in the office three days a week and more than half the time you’re the only one there when you come in … is it possible that other people aren’t really adhering to that mandate and you don’t need to follow it as rigidly yourself?

    This is where my mind went too. If you’re there three days a week, and other people are supposed to be there three days a week, and you’re not overlapping… the math doesn’t necessarily check out.

    1. Antilles*

      Yeah obviously the math doesn’t work because with 3 in-office days out of 5 working days, OP should be overlapping at least once per week with every individual.
      My guess would be that everybody else has decided to straight-up ignore it – possibly with approval of the manager, but possibly just a unilateral “I’ll keep doing this till someone notices and tells me directly to come in”.

      1. Crackerjack*

        It could work though, couldn’t it? Probability maths problems are not my strong point, but say OP comes in Mon, Tue, Wed and ALL the rest of her team come in Wed, Thu, Fri, then more than 50% of the time she’d be the only one there. Right?

        If they are all co-ordinating except her, though, it’s a pretty shitty thing to do, even if it was just serendipitous to start with.

        1. Smithy*

          This was my thought – that perhaps the rest of the team is largely coming on different days and perhaps the one day when everyone is together there happen to be a lot of large meetings that might still be held on Zoom?

          Like, perhaps Wednesday is the big meeting day but lots of those meetings are still held via Zoom both for remote staff as well as COVID safety. But then because it’s a big meeting day it ends up where people are in a lot of back to back meetings and then scramble to get the rest of their work done and that leaves even less time for spontaneous collaboration in smaller numbers?

          If that’s the case and the OP chose their days due to other scheduling needs – maybe there’s a way to move at least one of their in the office days to one with more of the team in the office? And if the OP moves one day, maybe some others on the team might also be open to moving their days to support this initiative?

          The other thing that crossed my mind is whether someone got obsessed with coverage and so teams that work together have been asked to have at least one person at the office at a time and due to the size of the OP’s team – having “in office coverage” means they don’t overlap with enough relevant colleagues. In which case that might be another avenue to push against.

        2. Antilles*

          Even in your example, you’d still have one day of overlap (Weds) – whereas it doesn’t read to me like OP has seen any pattern like that.

    2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Exactly. Something is wrong with the math.

      And don’t the top managers see that so many desks are unoccupied, and know that people are ignoring or evading the work-in-person policy? If that’s not the case, then the top managers themselves are ignoring their own rules.

      Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

        1. The OTHER Other*

          This. If collaborating and in-person meetings are so valuable to the company culture, why aren’t the managers, and especially upper managers, doing them?

          In my job, there is some value in being able to talk informally with peers, but certainly not 2 hours of commute worth, and not via virtual meetings, phone etc which can be done from anywhere.

          It seems clear that many companies are clinging to old ways of doing things, whether they make sense or not. Hopefully people will vote with their feet and find places that offer more flexibility when possible. Rigid organizations that insist on outmoded policies will probably wonder what is happening when their best people leave. Maybe they will even commission a study!

        2. JustaTech*

          Or can’t be bothered to come down from their offices to look (my work). Director is all “everyone must be in all the time!” but even when he is in no one sees him because he never comes down from the senior manager floor.

    3. Amaranth*

      I’m curious if LW might end up being the whistle blower on the rest of the team totally ignoring the requirement. I don’t know if that should change anything about LW’s approach, however — if the manager is ignoring the empty office as unspoken approval its a terrible way to handle things.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        I had a job (pre-covid) where the core hours were 9 to 3, and everyone was supposed to be there during those hours. I wanted to take a college class, but it would mean I would not get to work until about 9:10. I asked, and was told no, so I couldn’t take the course. I was careful to NOT mention a co-worker who rarely showed up before 10. I didn’t want to mess anything up for others just because I was foolish enough to ask first.

      2. Kate*

        It’s possible that they’re not ignoring it, but they’re theoretically on board and aren’t able to come in that much. A lot of people might still be having to isolate, or their children sent home from school, or just normal winter colds. That happened last time our office tried to reopen. I’m not sure what the manager could do in that case. (Or, option 3, they don’t want to come in and are claiming such problems, but it would be difficult for a manager to dispute that).

        1. The OTHER Other*

          Well, is it a policy requirement or isn’t it? From what the LW says it seems as though few of the people she interacts with are there when she goes into the office, and they are requiring 3 days per week of attendance and climbing.

          1. Kate*

            I don’t know what you mean? Of course it’s possible for something to be a requirement *unless*…. (you’ve tested positive for COVID/ your child’s school is closed for the week). I don’t know what country OP’s in, but most places aren’t completely COVID restriction free yet. I imagine things will settle down a bit in the next few months.

      3. ecnaseener*

        Yeah, maybe LW’s first stop could be asking their coworkers about it. If it turns out everyone else is just quietly not going in 3x a week and the boss is either turning a blind eye or just not checking, better to figure that out before you make it a thing.

        1. Elenna*

          Agreed – ask a couple of the coworkers you’re not seeing “hey, which days are you coming into the office”. If they say something like “never, actually, nobody’s complained yet”, well, that’s still not the best decision on LW’s manager’s part IMO, but it at least opens up the option of LW not saying anything and just quietly not going in anymore.

    4. Alexis Rosay*

      Yeah, my husband works at a place with a 3-day-in-office policy. He follows the policy himself but he decided to let some of his direct reports come in less often. My guess is that a lot of managers are simply interpreting this very loosely so as to keep morale up on their teams.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Yeah, my husband works at a place with a 3-day-in-office policy. He follows the policy himself but he decided to let some of his direct reports come in less often. My guess is that a lot of managers are simply interpreting this very loosely so as to keep morale up on their teams.

        Not just morale, but with the labor market so tight, backfilling positions can be challenging. Management may be willing to accept privately that productivity offsite is more essential than facetime on site, but not quite willing to admit that in public yet (or, as you suggest, willingness to accept this may be inversely proportional how high that manager is in the chain of command).

    5. A Penguin!*

      The math *can* check out, I’m not sure why people claim it doesn’t. Simple example: OP comes in Mon-Wed, coworkers come in Wed-Fri. Overlap is 33%, which is less than the OP’s stated 50%. A conversation with said coworkers could determine if this is the case.

      1. Willis*

        True, especially if OP has a small team. It’s unlikely that like 20 other coworkers would all choose a schedule that only overlaps with OPs on one day, but if it’s just 2-3 other people it seems more plausible. I’d start by asking my teammates what they’ve been doing.

    6. Ann O'Nemity*

      Maybe the OP chose unpopular days to come to work? Like if the OP chose to come in MWF but most of their team did TWR.

      1. jtr*

        Yes, that was what I was thinking, too – that most people (without other schedule needs, like childcare) would choose Monday and Friday to be home, since that theoretically extends their weekend freedom a bit. (Not saying people aren’t working their required hours, but two hours less commuting means stopping work a good bit earlier.)

        1. Gumby*

          I tend to like going to the office on M and F precisely because of that – traffic is noticeably lighter on my commute. Also, most of my co-workers are in-office every day because of the nature of their work requires it so even on weekend-adjacent days they will be there. I do legitimately benefit from some amount of face-time and not only because I can go hunt them down in whatever lab they have holed up in to get an answer to the email I sent 4 days ago…

    7. Nanani*

      There could be people who are in the office but not in the room at the same time as LW, like they’re at other in-person meetings or their hours just don’t line up in terms of start/end, breaks, days completely off, and other normal stuff.

    8. MsMaryMary*

      We are currently supposed to be doing two days in the office (my team is Mon and Thurs) and every other Friday. My team is understaffed and I’m a high performer, so I told my manager every other Friday was BS and I would not be doing it. She just told me to “be more visible” on the days I am in the office

  7. Re'lar Fela*

    The job I had at the beginning of the pandemic did the same thing re: coming in 1, then 2, then 3 days/week starting in October 2020. I lived about 3 minutes away from the office so going in wasn’t such a big deal beyond childcare arrangements and general concern about being in a massive, public building when vaccines were not yet available. The reason they gave was to allow for collaboration, despite the fact that I was literally the only person in my area and doing that type of work. I was nearly always alone or in the office with 1-2 other people whose work had nothing to do with my own. I pushed back with my supervisor on the basis of childcare issues, effective WFH ability, and COVID concerns (high risk family members)…and ended up being laid off a few months later.

    OP, I wish you much better luck (that said, I’m now in a new position and in grad school and I now have the ability to WFH or in the office as I prefer…and when I’m in the office, there’s a mask mandate…and all of my colleagues are fully vaccinated and boosted. So sometimes the “worst case scenario” ends up being not so bad)!

    1. faintofheartt*

      This exact same thing happened to my husband. He pushed back and was let go. He was the only one doing his job in the entire company, and it was all cloud based. There was no reason he needed to go in, but they wanted butts-in-seats and didnt want to hear anything different.

  8. Viki*

    I know when we have to go in, the idea is that the team has a shared calendar that shows when people will be in and at what site.

    We’re a while from that, but if you do have to go in, the coordination there within the team, would be the pre-emptive planning, if it’s not going to be set (IE Tues, Weds, Thurs in office) to maximize effort.

    I know my company is going hybrid–letting the directors decide how often they want their teams in the office. My director doesn’t care, but I know others do, and as long as the minimum of whatever the director sets is hit. There’s not a lot you can do to push back.

    1. Momma Bear*

      I used to work with a team that was all over the place. They would change their online status to show where they were (client site, home office, at home….) so you could at a glance see where they were. My computer would recognize the network when I go to another location and update automatically. It really helped.

  9. Goldenrod*

    “If you’re all supposed to be in the office three days a week and more than half the time you’re the only one there when you come in … is it possible that other people aren’t really adhering to that mandate and you don’t need to follow it as rigidly yourself?”

    This is the case at my office! We’re all supposed to have the same 2 telework days (Tu/Thus), and work in the office at the other 3 days (M/W/Fri).

    You would think this would be a great way to have “the best of both worlds” in terms of hybrid work. But I’ve noticed that a LOT of people don’t really come in when they are supposed to. ESPECIALLY on Fridays. :D

    I think the managers don’t care, so they just let them do what they want. I don’t really care either – I only have a 15 minute commute – but I’ve definitely noticed it.

    1. Anony*

      Can you suggest to your manager that instead of doing the 50% in office strategy, which clearly isn’t work, that your team schedules that everyone comes in on Tuesdays (or whatever day) and that day is dedicated to collaborative work? If approved, it would be interesting to track what time of collaborative work is done on those days.

  10. H.Regalis*

    My friend’s job does this, and it’s the same: everyone meets over Zoom anyway, because not everyone is there on the same days. It’s not well thought out.

  11. Siege*

    My boss is in this camp. (Fortunately, we’re union, so her word is not law, and we have not returned to work other than as-needed, at the discretion of individual employees.) I will note that she backed off on this once she started dating and is less isolated at home, because otherwise it makes no sense; our office doesn’t really do “spontaneous collaborations” since half the employees are out of the office doing site visits, and that same half works atypical hours. I genuinely think the push for this kind of return stems from either loneliness on the part of the person pushing (plus authority to impose it, and a general lack of understanding of why Zoom doesn’t feel the same as the exact same chat in person or by phone) or a belief that the company culture should be the kind of place where drop-in collaboration happens, because that, like open offices and pool tables and company happy hours, is the “right” way to corporate. Doesn’t matter if you’re the most intensively siloed department-of-one SME or a quirky millennial ad agency, it is The Right Way.

    I think Alison’s advice is sound. If you make no headway, it might help to really dig into why your company feels this way, for your upcoming monograph on Butts In Seats: Misaddressed Socialization Behaviors And The Creation Of Identity In Suited Apes.

  12. Laney Boggs*

    My job does this too, but everyone is required to come in. It’s just that, uh,

    This isn’t a department-collaboration job. I can and do go weeks without speaking to anyone in my department. We all have our own accounts and sit in our cubicles. If I “collaborate” it’s with people in other states or countries over Teams. Just screams that management is out of touch.

    1. Nesprin*

      It really does- If management needs to see me to know that I’m doing my work, they have missed a whole armada of boats.

      I have access to email, 3 flavors of instant messaging, 3 different phone lines, with texting on two of them, and multiple videoconferencing systems. In person water-cooler conversations are not how I build rapport with team members, as they tend to be the opposite of working together to solve problems.

  13. Meow*

    Wow, I could have written this to the point I almost wonder if one of my coworkers did, although enough details are slightly different – like we are all required to come in on a certain day of the week. But we’re not allowed to be within 6 feet of each other for Covid measures, so most collaboration is still done virtually, while all of us sit in the same room, listening to each other’s headsets echo when one of us talks.

    I drew the short stick and am the only person who comes in on Fridays. Management says this is to make sure there is “coverage”… but none of us can figure out why physical coverage is important. We don’t get walk-ups. Even if we did, hardly anyone is in the office on a given day to “walk up”, and people are used to just pinging each other on IM now.

    We’ve asked but won’t give us a reason why. I can only assume they don’t think we are being productive enough at home.

  14. Aggretsuko*

    I have to come in person twice a week in case the front counter staff (student employees) need help. Except WE ALREADY HAVE TWO OTHER STAFF MEMBERS AND A MANAGER onsite, that work on the public service team. And a Slack channel for questions. They don’t really “need” me and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had to do something in person for that. We don’t have enough staff members to even have two other staff members (in addition to the ones already there!) in every single day anyway. It’s really stupid but they will NOT see reason about it. Service workers gotta be here for service, period, consider yourself lucky you get to work at home 3 days a week.

    And don’t even get me started on the horrendous/cumbersome “bring all of your computer stuff” setup we have to start this week.

  15. Spreadsheets and Books*

    Management keeps telling us how excited we all are to go back to the office 3 days a week (but they’ve pushed that date back 3x now with no current updates), with the same messaging about the value of collaboration.

    Yes, people are just so excited they’re quitting over it.

    1. Annie E. Mouse*

      I was on a big townhall where our VP went on and on about how excited we all must be to get back to the office soon. In the same meeting, he showed the results of our latest engagement survey including that 90+% of employees want to work fully or mostly remote. Who does he think is excited?! (To my company’s credit, office is voluntary/business need for the foreseeable future.)

  16. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    I felt this so strongly! When I worked in recruiting I came to work every day to sit in an office to only ask one question a day of a person in the next office. But I was the youngest in the company by 25 years, and nobody understood when I asked if we could work from home. The company was paying millions for the former bank building, but nobody interacted ever. Last I heard, the first thing to go when the company’s struggles became public was the ritzy office building! Vindication!

  17. anonymous73*

    This was me pre-pandemic. I worked in an office with 3 other people. Before our office closed and the rest of my team was laid off, our IT guy had to WFH full time because of something with his setup, and one other guy seemed to show up whenever he felt like it. If my manager called out or had to WFH I would be so annoyed that I had to drive in (2.5 – 3 hour round trip commute) and sit in the office all by myself. I wasn’t missing out on time with my family necessarily, but I was wasting gas, wear & tear on my car and my sanity. If I knew my manager wasn’t coming in ahead of time, I would stay home.

  18. Little Red Fox*

    I feel this 100%. My job has determined my group only has to come in one day a week for “collaboration” and so we can have in person meetings. But that simply does not happen. All the meetings are on Teams/Zoom and we have increasing numbers of remote people (like in different states) on our team that make having Zoom meetings a necessity. It’s a struggle to not be so resentful of that one day a week since I’m trying really had to be grateful for other four WFH; those were a huge win for us. But man, oh man. To just sit all day and just have back to back Zoom meetings when I could’ve just done that home! Why did I waste all that stress and commuting time?! It really, really feels like corporate just wants bodies in this sparkly new building they built and there is no other reason to be there.

    1. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      One day per week is a pointless empty gesture, especially under those circumstances where the meetings are still video conferencing. I think you have a right to be pissed.

    2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      We’re still doing physical distancing. So the one time I was in the office late last year, we had 3 of us in the same virtual meeting. But we ended up in a conference room connecting 2 computers to the same meeting. Long story short, it was really annoying being able to hear the talking in the room, then stuff on the conference line with a lag.

  19. Justin*

    I guess I’m glad I have a fairly short commute. A lot of colleagues have reasonable accomodations (I do too but only for two days a week), but they make me go in for no real reason. However, no one is there, so I’m just getting out of the house with a lot of space to myself, so it doesn’t bother me as much.

    If, however, I had this long of a trip I’d be furious. Some of my colleagues who are coming in have long commutes and they’re pissed.

  20. anon4this*

    This is exactly where my office is at. We’re supposed to be coming in 2 days/week, but I have zero interest in a 90 minute-round trip commute so I can sit in a nearly empty office and only talk to people on Zoom and email. (I also don’t want to risk COVID exposure over it!) Our department leadership isn’t enforcing the requirement very strictly, and I have no intention of going into the office until hospitalizations and case numbers come down significantly.

  21. Generic Name*

    This is pretty much why I rarely come into the office anymore. My commute is much shorter, but it’s still pointless to come into work when the place is a ghost town. I have a great office setup at home, my son is a teenager at school most of the day, so there are very few downsides to working from home for me.

  22. ThatGirl*

    My company is trying to have the best of both worlds. They want to seem flexible, but they also want us to be here 3 days a week — the same 3 days, for collaboration! and company culture!

    My manager doesn’t really care, nor does her, but this is coming from our president so it’s gonna be interesting. I am chatting with people a bit more in person (with masks on) and this morning four of us sat in a conference room with our masks on and talked over Zoom with the rest of our team who work in another state.

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      This is absolutely a reason with my company. They just spent a lot of money renovating old office spaces and building a brand new building in 2019.

    2. CarolynM*

      My boss literally said just that – he was in the management meeting when they announced that it was important for employees to be back working in the office because we spent a lot of money on leases and passed the news along to us. My bald “so, they aren’t even going to church it up, they are just going with sunk cost fallacy to justify this?” was met with a “confused look. So I said “nevermind” and he moved along. Sigh.

  23. JC C.*

    In addition to talking to the manager, I might also suggest that LW talk to the people they might want to collaborate with in person on her team. Ask them what days (if any) they tend to come into the office and try to pick common days. This may lead to a discovery that the broader team is ignoring the rule or that they’ve negotiated some kind of exception that LW could also get.

  24. irene adler*

    It’s this kind of out-of-touch policy plus the “no one really wants to work” mindset that screams management has NO IDEA what is going on with their employees.

    None whatsoever.

    And yet they run the company.

    It’s worse than the blind leading the blind.

    1. Leela*

      suffering through a managing director who can neither manage nor direct, friend of the owner, former accountant. Decided we just don’t need as many people as we do and slashes our staff for cost savings – people in critical roles that don’t show a lot of money or accounting-type progress but were absolutely necessary to the running of the company. We had to replace some of them…with people who don’t know anything about what they need to do outside of “be good at excel” or whatever, all that knowledge is just LOST and it’s obscene to see how many problems we have now because of it. He also spent the first few weeks of lockdown forcing us all to join him for an hour-long daily meeting with no agenda that he did not run at all and just let the loudest people talk about their personal issues, hoping one of us would stumble into the solution FOR him because he had nothing in the way of strategy

  25. The New Normal*

    I don’t think the commute is an issue you can bring to your boss. You choose to live that far from work or work that far from home. It’s different if you were hired for a remote job that is now suddenly changing for no real reason, but a temporarily remote job that returns to in person when conditions allow is expected to have commute times.

    I do think that you should address the necessity of coming in at this point at all. I know the commute makes it more frustrating but the more pressing issue is that there is no need for you to be in person.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I think that OP can bring up the commute. OP can mention that they are more alert and work better if they don’t have to drive two+ hours just to do the same thing they can do from home. I know in jobs when I had to commute just getting up early to get ready for work was exhausting. (I had terrible insomnia at the time too, which also wasn’t great for my energy levels.)

      1. All the Words*

        It matters a lot to the employees. It doesn’t matter at all to management. Employees chose where to live and chose to accept the job, knowing the distance from their home to the workplace.

        I’m not saying it doesn’t suck. It does, but I’m guessing it’s simply not a factor to most management. That’s why I wouldn’t frame any push-back with this as an argument. I’d lean on the “we’re not collaborating any more than we’re at our homes.

        But like someone else said, companies are paying a lot of rent for these suddenly empty buildings.

    2. Adan*

      I did at my job, when I asked to be paid for time I spent working on the weekends, outside of my 190 day contract. My boss said it had to be time spent on site, I asked if she really meant I had to transport my laptop 55 minutes to my work desk to do the same work I could do on the same laptop but on my home desk, she blinked at me, and she told me I could WFH for those weekend hours. It didn’t make any sense to add a 2-hour commute to those days. Also, I wasn’t going to do the weekend work if it meant wasting time and gas money, plus being on site 7 days a week, and I contractually had that leverage.

    3. WhoKnows*

      Normally, I would agree with you (and I am a person who lives an hour away from my job). If this was Feb 2020, I’d be hating myself from living so far from work, but such is life. But it’s not like we’ve just been working from home for the past 2 weeks, or 2 months – it’s been 2 years. People’s lifestyles and priorities have changed, and plenty of companies out there have made the change permanent to reflect this. I now devote more time to my work than I did before because I no longer have to live and die by a commuter railroad train schedule. If, like the OP talks about, you’re coming in to talk to nobody and sit with your door closed, why waste 10 hours of your life every week? Why would employers want that when they could get more hours out of you (and if you’re salaried, for “free”!).

      1. statebaseballhero*

        As an salaried employee your reply is on the right track. Many of us have actually seen an uptick in hours worked per day since going remote. If you are being asked to return to the office (any amount of time), it should be clear to your boss that any embedded daily extra work time seen over the last two years now comes off the table for commuting. It should go without saying but clearly if you are attending work in the office, barring an emergency, the computer should remain closed once returning home as well. Employers can’t have it both ways with extra hours enjoyed the last 24 months AND location choice.. Once employers do the math, I think you will see many bosses / companies keep you home to work those extra 4-8 hours a week instead of losing countless hours to driving for 30 minute conversations. Most companies will get to the right answer, its just a matter of how and how quickly.

  26. Don’t Pay Me Less Because of Body Parts*

    Wow, I could have written this to a T a couple months ago.

    This, combined with a few other things, led me to search. I recently started at a new place, essentially 100% remote other than fun travel when safe and over doubled my pay. Take advantage of the candidate’s market! LinkedIn has a handy feature to sort between in-person, remote and hybrid roles.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I could have written this about my previous job, even in the Beforetimes! I had the only data entry role in a small nonprofit where everyone else’s roles included lots of meetings, external and internal, and the boss was old-school and wanted everyone onsite as much as possible for “team-building.” Thing was, days could go by when the only conversations I had were with my officemate (not even on my “team,” though in reality I was a team of one who served all the other teams). I am one of those rare few whose quality of life improved during the pandemic because I no longer had to leave my house (strong introvert here). When my old org started making noises about returning to the office in the near future, I knew I had to find a different position. I somehow lucked into a role in another nonprofit where they’d decided after the pandemic hit that they all worked just fine from home and have gone 100% remote; I wasn’t even truly looking for a WFH position, but I was *thrilled* to find one.

      OP, you probably can find a different position if your manager can’t get management to agree to your WFH all the time. Sure it’s a drag to job-hunt, but it may very well be worth it to you to not spend six extra useless hours in the car each week.

    2. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      If I am told that I have to return to the office, even just 3 days per week, I will immediately start polishing the resume and looking for a new job where I can be remote full time again. It’s a new world. Companies will suffer the consequences of attrition if they aren’t competitive in this respect.

  27. angry*

    My company’s 20%-in-office-per-pay-period requirement is about to (re)start, and members of my group (which spans at least three and really four office buildings) are strategizing between “try to find a day when anyone else I work with is in the same building” and “try to find a day when few people are present, to decrease my risk”. We’re all going to have to remain on virtual meetings off and on throughout the day, because some members will be WFH and some will be working from *different* offices. It’s garbage, but I guess it makes the CEO happy to have a domain of coerced people to survey, and isn’t that what really matters???

  28. Lucious*

    With tools like Slack, MS Teams and so on, the need for in person supervision has dropped since the pre-Pandemic times. If employees are accomplishing work without even physically sharing a location -much less being physically supervised- it triggers an uncomfortable question whether their managerial role (and cost to the organization) is actually needed. Thus “return to office!!” orders may be a way to conceal an inefficiently high number of managers within the org chart , rather than a directive honestly rooted in preserving collaborative workplace culture.

    1. hodie-hi*

      I think this suggestion + justifying building costs are very compelling. Middle managers who don’t contribute or add value are terrified they’ll be found out if remote folks are performing well without a useless manager stalking around the workplace looking for butts to be in seats.

  29. AndersonDarling*

    I’m in the same situation. I’m supposed to start coming into the office one day a week, but my entire team is out of state. So my boss and I came up with a plan. I’ll make appearances for the first few weeks, then have *wink* doctors appointments, or other scheduling conflicts after that. I’ll still go into the office every once in a while to make a show. But since I can’t get any work done at a landing station with out a screen, my team can’t have me being non productive for 8 hours a week just because the big boss wants to “collaborate” more.
    Like the Big Boss is going to seek me out to collaborate. My eyes cannot roll any farther.

  30. Summer Day*

    Ahhh yes…. My sympathies…. I have a friend who’s entire work can be done remotely and the business policy is all meetings to be on zoom. However- the CEO feels they should set an example for those who can’t work remotely by going in. So they go into the office, shut their doors and zoom each other!! The mind boggles!

  31. Carmen*

    In my large local government office starting this month they’ve mandated 2 WFH/3 in office. My supervisor is pushing back on it for us because we really do all of our work on the computer and there are no plans for large group meetings anytime soon. My team of 4 people all come in one day a week but it’s so uncomfortable because we sit in one medium office together. We still have virtual meetings with others so we disburse into other people’s empty offices for our virtual meetings so we don’t disturb each other. We don’t get much “work” done because either we’re in meetings all day or talking to each other in the little room because it’s awkward not to. It’s so FRUSTRATING! I feel exhausted when I finish working in office and all we do as look at the clock and RUN to the exit as soon as we can leave. It is NOT building any comradery, collaboration, or anything positive….

  32. agnes*

    I think you have hit the nail on the head about why “hybrid” work isn’t going to work for most organizations. Unless the entire work group or whatever all come in on the same days, there isn’t that “in person” collaboration.

    Personally I think the idea of everybody in the office every day is already dead, companies just haven’t admitted it yet.

    1. Dragon*

      Along this line, some people need to realize they may need to come into the office occasionally, if something requires being physically there.

      No saying, “Oh, I can’t come in, that’s my WFH day.” Or imposing on someone else who is there because it’s his/her in-office day.

      1. Hall pass*

        For a while when I was allowed to work from home, I’d zip into the office to print and mail a letter, or write a check or whatnot. No big deal!

        But yeah, where it used to just be the few people who had off-site meetings occasionally out of the office and checking in by email, now we have a daily roster of who’s in the office and who is working remotely. More senior employees just do whatever they want with no explanation whereas the lower level employees are only allowed to WFH for concrete reasons like covid symptoms/family member exposures, weather closures, etc, and are made to feel super guilty/as though they’re taking advantage. :-|

    2. amoeba*

      We were hybrid in summer (now mostly back to home office due to the Omicron wave…) and it worked quite well – people would plan working lunches and coffees and in person meetings and would then come in on those days, actively reach out to others beforehand to see if they would be available for a catch up, etc… it’s not necessarily doomed to fail, I’d say it just requires a bit of planning.
      And good facilities at the office that people actually enjoy working in – I’d say the classic cubicle setup is probably actually going to die out – seems like the trend is now activity-based working, so let’s see how that turns out…

    3. Evonon*

      My husband’s company has basically moved fully remote and have employees come in office twice a month for trainings. Meanwhile I have had to work on person since may of 2020 to schedule zoom meetings…I am leaving in April for grad school

  33. This Could Be ME*

    I could have written this letter as well, except that my issue is that even though I have a short commute, working in an empty office is super creepy and I tend to not be as productive.

    Here’s my twist: I work for state government, and there is definitely a push to get back to work and “get over” COVID on the part of the legislative end executive branch (red state). Our leadership is between a rock and a hard place. Almost everyone has an awful commute, we’re a very high-performing agency in WFH mode, and we’re split 50/50 about COVID in general.

    The person upthread who mentioned justifying office leases is likely spot on. The state just built out a BUNCH of buildings right before and during COVID, so….

      1. agnes*

        The one caveat I will put out there for public sector is that public sector employees working remotely have to be responsive to the public. I’ve seen a huge drop off in the ability to reach anyone in my local government. No one answers their phones (Im told it’s because “I can’t forward calls to my personal phone” or ” we aren’t set up to forward calls”) It’s very difficult to get someone to respond to voice messages left , and the ability to go down to Town Hall when all else fails is now not available because no one is there.

        If public sector employees want to work remotely, they have to be better about answering their phones, and returning calls and emails. If there was a live person answering the phone before covid, that still needs to happen, even if it’s someone working remotely.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          That’s a shame because the tech is there to have all those phone numbers within the staff’s computers. Mine was converted years ago and it’s been almost seamless –the only problem being how to get a replacement headset offsite when the earpiece wore out.
          Me, I work across 3 continents and the newest members of my department are in India…so I see little collaboration in the cubicle warren.

        2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          That is totally fair, agnes. And I’m sorry it’s been such a struggle for you to get what you need from the people you’re collectively paying to serve you. The public sector moves notoriously slowly, but after 2 years, they need to have figured out how to make things work.

          For myself, I don’t have a public-facing role, and don’t think I’ve ever gotten an e-mail or phone call from a member of the public in this position. Just internal people and folks from stakeholder organizations. I have an employer-issued cellphone and my number is available in a public directory.

        3. This could be ME*

          We don’t work directly with the public. Or with the public at all, for that matter.

          But yeah…some agencies were ill-prepared for WFH, and continue to be. As a tech agency, our transition was seamless. But some of us still forget to mute/unmute, lol.

  34. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    When my company was discussing a 2 or 3 day onsite policy, this exact issue came up. If employees choose the days to be onsite, you will have a lack of overlap, and lose the advantage of all people interacting in person. And instituting such a policy knowingly makes the policy look superficial and pointless. If there is mandatory specific 3 days per week (which was also discussed), the company will not be competitive in the market compared to other companies offering more flexibility. I made it clear that I wanted to continue to be remote full time, and was asked if I would be willing to come onsite once per month. LOL. Totally superficial. It’s all just gestures.

    Let’s face it – there are companies where the executives want the butts-in-seats for the sake of the symbolism and adherence to the old ways (including the appearance of physical control), not for any compelling practical reasons. The symbolism is the old myth of engagement – engaged workers are there in person, butt in seat, visible nose to the proverbial grindstone, talking to each other at the water cooler, visibly working late at night; whereas remote workers are absent disengaged slackers who are just pretending to work but are really shopping. Now, we have had almost two years of compelled remote work in a huge slice of the office workforce to prove that the myth isn’t true–and as far as I am concerned, the myth has been busted. But the old ways die hard. On the bright side, some industries and companies evolved and made remote work permanent policy. Some companies started hiring out-of-state workers as permanent remote workers – that is hard to undo and speaks volumes as admission that the jobs can be done remotely. Once you have a bunch of out-of-state remote workers, can you really justify requiring your local workers to come to the office every day?

  35. IWantToGoToThere*

    The people who live close to my company’s office have created a shared calendar, where each person can mark down which days they plan to be in the office. That way, no one has to pick a set schedule (e.g., you could come in on Monday/Wednesday one week and only Thursday the next), and you can see when people that you work closely with are planning to be in the office. People seem to like it; any way your office could create a similar shared calendar?

  36. Office Lobster DJ*

    We still have people working partially from home in my office, although I’ve been on site full time throughout. In defense of the collaboration angle, things were so much easier and quicker when we could just pop by someone’s desk – 2 minute chat vs 3 days of asynchronous e-mails to get to the same point.

    But even then, having people in and out randomly, like OP describes, doesn’t actually leads to much. If the person you need isn’t around when you need them, if you don’t know when to expect someone or who will be around, if you keep putting something off until the next time you can catch someone for a chat….eh.

    I’m a little fuzzy on OP’s goal. Is it to be able to WFH full time? (For now? Forever?) Is OP fine with coming in, as long as everyone else is doing their part, too? OP will need to be crystal clear in their proposal to the boss, especially if the boss has to go to bat with the higher ups.

    One thing I wouldn’t include is telling the boss that it feels like the 6 commute hours are being “stolen” from OP and their family, even though that’s how it feels. If this office is intending a return to full time on-site work, they may hear that with a level of alarm that a lower key “This seems like a poor use of my time” wouldn’t cause.

    1. Usagi*

      I came to comment on the “stolen” thing too. I completely, 100% understand what OP is saying, and I’m absolutely not saying she’s wrong for feeling as such. But that’s not a great way to look at it, mainly because it’s just objectively not true. Before COVID, OP would have been commuting those two hours every day. After COVID (hopefully sooner rather than later), she will also be commuting those two hours every day. It’s just part of the job, and while it’s a big chunk of time, that’s kind of what she signed up for.

      So yes! I agree with Lobster DJ, I definitely wouldn’t tell anyone about how it feels like they’re being stolen, because while many people would understand what she meant, there is always the risk that someone will take offense to that.

  37. IT But I Can't Fix Your Printer*

    This is my office. My small team comes in the same 2 days a week, but everyone else we works with is there on different days and/or doesn’t work in the same city as us so I just sit at my desk in a mask on Zoom calls while my coworkers are in the next cubicles on the same calls. And the windchill has been below zero a bunch this month, making my short but car-free commute quite unpleasant. Our VP agrees that this makes no sense but their hands are tied because central leadership believes that being in person is critical to our institutional “culture”.

  38. Nanani*

    Is it something like “you have to come in X days/week” with no planning so that everyone on the team comes in on the same X days? That could maybe be solved with a heads up to the right person. But whether it resovles as “go back to 100% remote” or “in-office days must now be this specific day” is not guaranteed.

  39. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    I’m in the same boat. We’re not currently in the office, but it looks like we’ll be back in a couple months, part time. With my role, I collaborate basically only with people outside my team. Most of those are in different buildings or in different cities. Even pre-COVID, the meetings were all by conference call.

    Add in that we’ve changed offices (and will be hot-desking), I’m pretty sure we’re going to be stuck with people having work meetings on videocalls from their desks. The noise is going to make me lose my mind.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      As others have mentioned, I’m pretty sure that the real motivations for getting us back to the office are not all about collaboration, because the way these policies are enacted do a bad job of actually supporting collaboration. It’s also stuff like justifying paying for office space. We’ve also been told they want us paying for transit and shopping/buying lunch downtown to “support the economy.”

  40. RB*

    Hey LW, I’ll go you one better. My office did a complete remodel during the pandemic and decided we needed a hot-desking office setup. So, now, even if I come into the office, I won’t know where my teammates are sitting, or the people outside my department that I need to interact with. They could be scattered all about, and it’s a big office.

  41. hbc*

    I would bet that most colleagues are looking at the intent of the rule (i.e.: a lack of in-person collaboration shouldn’t be affecting productivity any more) and ignoring the letter of the law. I’d also bet that your manager doesn’t want to go on record saying, “Ignore the rule” but will not do a darn thing about it as long as work continues to get done.

    This kind of situation can be really difficult if you’re a literal rule follower, but it sounds like no one would even be able to call you on it if you started doing 1 day a week. Coordinate any necessary in-person collaboration diligently, make sure you never say “I’m waiting until I’m in the office” when discussing schedules, and don’t let a visitor show up looking for you/your group and finding no one.

  42. Anonymous, colleagues who read here will recognize it*

    TPTB in our academic adjacent division are pushing for us all to be back all the time because it’s better for the students lalalala — except that the students LOVE meeting with us virtually. Even on days when I’m in my office and students could meet with me in person, very few do. It’s way more convenient for them to zoom in, and we provide exceptional service regardless of inperson/virtual. We have excellent data and analysis showing it.

    My immediate bosses have us in two teams, depending on who reports to whom. Everyone on team 1 meets MWF, everyone on team 2 meets TuThF (earlier it was alternate Fridays, so there were some co-workers I did not see in person). We can come in more often if we want to. There’s flexibility as well for problems with childcare, health, etc. So I can see half the staff in person (if I want to and if they aren’t out for some other reason) every week.

    My immediate bosses are continuing to have to fight for us to have time for WFH every week. There is a lot of resentment and discontent towards TPTB, especially since a lot of us like WFH regardless of covid — and if they get their way, we will lose a lot of good people. It’s already happening elsewhere in our division and around campus. The more rigid administration is about return/in person, the more people are saying F this, I’m going some place where I can WFH at least part of the time AND get paid better.

    If your employer had a structure like our alternating teams, OP, it would probably be less of a waste of time. But what you’re doing now– it’s pointless. And counterproductive for you and for the employer.

    1. Anonymous, colleagues who read here will recognize it*

      On Friday, when everyone is more or less in the office, our staff meeting is on zoom.

      Head of our division has said, “Remote? No, we are not the University of Phoenix.”

      1. HigherEdAdminista*

        At my institution there is definitely also a similar level of denial about what student’s will want and expect going forward. They seem to think they pressed pause on campus life and it is all going to just come back once they take their finger off the button. They are going to lose staff who are tired of long commutes every day to do work that can be done remotely, and things are going to crumble as more and more of them leave.

        People’s priorities have changed.

  43. Taxidermybobcat*

    The company I work for has designated Wednesdays as “in office days” for everyone. It’s still optional, but it’s suggested that if you want to collaborate onsite with coworkers, that’s the day you do it. We have some people who chose to return to the office and work from there a few days a week voluntarily, and it’s crazy how distracting it is to be on calls w/ them. The rest of us who are working remotely have relatively quiet home offices (even those with kids), but the people working in the office…it’s like you can hear every side conversation, every phone call, every office noise because it’s a cube farm and there is no separation or sound barrier! I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to ask an in-office colleague “hey can you please mute yourself? we can hear jerry over there on his sales call.” Still very thankful being in office is not required, because I would be job hunting aggressively tomorrow if it was. I’m so much more efficient working from home.

  44. Gail Davidson-Durst*

    CAVEAT: This is HIGHLY dependent on your personal capital, how your manager relates to you, how hardass you think the company hierarchy would be, and how much flak you’re willing to weather in the short term.


    What if you just didn’t go in? Think of all the outrageous crap employees have done as reported in this blog, with managers extremely hesitant to address it. If this is important, let your manager a.) notice the fact that you’re not coming in (may never happen!) and b.) raise the issue. If it is made clear this is a Condition of Employment, you may have plenty of time to course correct and no lasting harm done.

    At my company, our whole department is basically doing this. The managers have officially communicated the mandate, and unofficially said they won’t enforce it at all unless another department complains that we don’t have to come in, at which point they’ll decide what to do.

    (Personally I am playing the Cancer Survivor card with extreme prejudice and using ADA if necessary, but I doubt it will ever come close to being necessary.)

    1. Aggretsuko*

      It sounds like this works because your entire department AND managers are all on board with not enforcing it.

  45. Goldenrod*

    It SHOULD work out that if everyone has the exact same telework days, then everyone is in/out at the same time….but in my office, this is not the case. Even though we all are supposed to come in on M/W/F, a lot of the time, people just….don’t.

    I think unless management is super strict about people actually adhering to this, there’s a lot of backsliding to the point where “officially” people are showing up, but in practice, they aren’t.

  46. cactus lady*

    Oh my goodness, we are dealing with the same thing at my office. My employees complain about it, but as leaders when we bring it up it falls on deaf ears. I think my org falls into the “it’s only ‘real’ work if you’re in the office” camp. It’s SO frustrating to have to be in the office doing all the same things I do at home, but add in a commute and take away my furry coworker.

    No advice, just comisseration.

  47. Guin*

    My feeling is, if no one in the office is dependent on paper mail, then everyone should stay home. I am dependent on paper mail, so I come in a couple times a week. I see colleagues who are sitting in their offices on Zoom, or conducting business on the phone. There is NO reason for them to be in the office, except for the stupid Prime Directive that everyone needs to be on-site at least once a week.

    1. What’s in a name, anyway?*

      That’s so interesting! I am one of those people on Zoom all day, being asked to come in to the office by leadership so we are being “fair” to people (like you) who to get the paper mail for their jobs.

    2. kicking_k*

      I need access to paper files. So I’m in-office. But if I’m here, there needs to be a receptionist here too…

      I did wonder during the heights of the pandemic if the company might divest this old, relatively expensive building, outstore *all* the paper records (some already are) and get me a smaller office somewhere. This is looking less likely now. More people did come back before Omicron, though there was a new work-from-home edict for that and levels have not recovered yet.

  48. Anon for this one*

    I was back to in-person full time but (having been very covid-conscious throughout—sick loved one in early pandemic, under-5 now) when Omicron hit, I sort of decided I was going to WFH except when absolutely necessary and see if anyone wanted to have a discussion about it with me. I’ve been to the office two days this month, and in the meantime, several support staff and several professional staffin my unit, on my floor, and right around my office have gotten covid (at work? Hard to say, but hard to say definitely NOT). I had to go in today and I am crossing my fingers my KN95 worked and it’s not *that* airborne. But generally, my decision? No one has talked to me about it and I kept my 4 yo safe(r). Je ne regrette rien.

  49. Seeking Second Childhood*

    Those of us dealing with physical objects sometimes do need to be on site. It’s possible to design a widget remotely, but someone has to be there to build and test a sample run.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Nesting fail. That was for Guin, adding objects to the paper mail for reasons to be onsite.

  50. H*

    We are supposed to be back 3 days a week and it is a similar situation to you. I love before Christmas when we had a team meeting and 3 of us got into a conference room to zoom with the rest of the team who were all at home. So stupid. Until my boss tells me directly to come in more, I will not be doing it. I am awaiting a job offer…got a tenative one last week that is fully remote so twiddling my thumbs now.

  51. berto*

    I started a new job in late 2020 and have been half in-office and half-out since. There is some inconsistent communication regarding in-office vs. remote but some employees are FT remote, some are FT in-office (some due to role, some by choice) and largely the executives are in-office and value it (they are older). But my boss spends 10 hours a day in her office and barely engages with anyone. The other execs are basically the same. So I stopped going in and now just go in occasionally. I think a lot of executives (older) assumed that in-office means something is happening, but the reality is, at least pretty frequently, there is nothing going on there that is worth a 2 hour commute!

  52. Sick of this*

    I have 3 subordinates who have to come in twice a week. I come in 3 times a week.
    It’s not because we have to, the company wants us to do so (up to 50% of office face time)
    I schedule it such that I get to meet the 3 of them F2F at least once, and they can see each other occasionally too.
    I don’t see the point of spreading it out such that at least 1 of us is in the office everyday (alone) when there is no reason to do so.
    Explained it to my boss and he’s like ‘I respect your decision but…’
    Also, the senior management comes in pretty much everyday. They only WFH when the government says it’s a must.

  53. Matt*

    This reminds me of my workplace. At the moment we have 100 % WFH allowed (Omicron), but whenever there is no current covid wave, lockdown etc., we have 60 % or 80 %. Which means we have to come in on 1 or 2 days a week, mandatory. And then they prefer that we time our office days so everybody sits in his office alone. And when there is more than one person, masks are mandatory. And no physical meetings. So WTF is the point of coming to the office?

  54. On the Market*

    Reason numero uno that I’m looking for a new job.
    Our boss put on a big show of having a “task force” examine the issue last summer, and those of us involved all strongly suggested that a primarily-telework environment with some action-related work stations in a physical location would be best (eg., docking stations, meeting room, etc.).
    Ignored. We’re all coming back.
    Oh, except those people we just hired who don’t live in town.
    Then it got pushed back from September to October to January to February.
    So frustrating.
    And yes, the few times I’ve been in the office since 3/2020, I was alone on Zoom calls with people all over the state–just like I’d be at home.
    I fully expect we’ll be told today that our RTO is being pushed back again.

  55. Unaccountably*

    LW, do you work at my company? Because this is us. Even when most people are in the office, all the meetings are still on Zoom. We have three mandatory in-office days a week, we’re understaffed by 20%, and we cannot hire IT people for love nor money; they’re all being scooped up by big companies who are overjoyed to be able to recruit from the best applicants in the entire country.

    This is funny because we have two branch offices on opposite sides of the country. In the Before Times, senior management was all about us collaborating and including each other in meetings. Now that it’s much simpler to do that because everyone is remote, suddenly it’s only in-person collaboration around the water cooler that counts.

    I manage a team of four, all of whom are at the other branch. They could never come in for all I know. I know they’re working because it’s my literal job to know what their deliverables are and whether they’re being met. We have Zoom meetings regularly. We have chat. They’re always accessible during work hours, and so am I. No part of their job description includes making it possible for me to sit at the head of the room surveying my tiny kingdom like Scrooge glaring at Bob Cratchit all day.

  56. Kate in Colorado*

    I feel ya. It was obnoxious to discover that the job I started in August of 2020 was only “flexible” and “family friendly” when they HAD to be and now insist on everyone being in person whether it makes sense or not.

  57. Middle Manager*

    My organization recently did a survey clearly making the assumption that telework could reduce collaboration. Luckily it had a comment field and I very strongly pointed out that I was significantly less collaborative on the few occasions when I went into the office, as I was literally the only person on the entire floor. I don’t think senior execs have really made that paradigm shift though yet.

  58. Sick of City Work*

    I work for NYC and the Mayor mandated us to mandatory 5 days in the office since August 2021. My coworkers and I feel the same way about “collaboration” in that we still have to take meetings on zoom or on the phone. But, I can’t even take Alison’s advice and go to my manager. Manager has no say over this, neither does my boss’s boss’s boss. It’s what the new Mayor wants to “stimulate the economy.” Like I am going to fix the economy by buying a $13 salad for lunch. We are just stuck this way. Today is especially bad because it is Lunar New Year, so all the union people have the day off and I had to come in. There are literally 3 people here on my whole floor. I commuted 50 minutes on a Covid-ridden subway for this.

  59. Arts Admin*

    I work in a graduate acting program and am OFTEN the only person in the office. It’s very frustrating for me. For awile, I would commute 3.5 hours a day to sit in a dark office practically by myself. Now I own a car and can get there in 30 minutes, but I still find it ridiculous I had to buy a car to make this job bearable. The location changed drastically after the first couple of week. I was not told the location was expected to change until after I started. Especially since the holidays, the lack of showing up to school has been even worse. The only things I need to be present for are a COVID symptom check and temp check (I’m supposed to make the students leave if they fail one) at 8:00 AM (I was originally told my start time would be 9:30 AM) and print things on our printer for them such as scripts. It’s maddening. I started leaving after 6 hours because that’s when the free parking expires. I finish up my day at home. No way I’m additionally paying $14 a day for parking on top of all that nonsense!

  60. Evonon*

    I thought I wrote this for a second because this has been what I’ve been dealing with the entire pandemic (and one of the reasons I’m leaving for grad school). Only it was made worse that my coworkers all had their own offices and I was the only one in an open floor plan…scheduling their zoom meetings since we can’t meet with grantees on person. The only reason I’ve been working remote has been due to a medical emergency caused by stress (gee wonder why) and am now returning to the office after a month. Oh and my boss/founder has worked remote the whole pandemic so take that as you will

  61. Rosacolleti*

    We work in cross functional teams so we all come in every day, unless there’s a mandated shutdown or wave in our area. Fortunately we all prefer being ‘in’ and definitely see the benefit. If even one person is at home, it has a huge impact.

  62. Hall pass*

    I can relate! I’m typing this from my office where I’m the only one in my suite and have been all week. More colleagues are physically present across the building but all my work is done on a computer and I have no reason to interact with them in person. It’s just the old logic that you’re not really working if you’re not in the office (except for the higher ups who do whatever they want). Thankfully I have a short commute, but the feeling of being watched/babysat is definitely weighing me down. I loved working from home and was very productive there. I’m currently job searching and only applying to remote jobs…

  63. MCMonkeyBean*

    The policy may come from above your manager, but would anyone else enforce it? I think with this type of thing, exceptions or changes are often up to manager discretion.

    My company is moving to a “hybrid” model. We’re still remote through at least April but then they plan to have “hotelling” where you just show up and reserve a desk each day and everyone WFH a couple days and comes into the office a couple days. The goal seems to be to actually minimize how many people are there at at time, and also my manager is permanently remote as she lives a few hours away so our communication would continue to be digital. Because of all that, I told her I didn’t see any benefit to going in and would prefer to just work from home all the time unless there was like a big meeting in the office I needed to go in for. I don’t think my official status will be reclassified but have been told that “unofficially” that will be fine.

    (Though obviously I’ll see if they actually stick to that come April. I have no reason to believe they’ll change their mind though.)

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