returning to the office to “collaborate” isn’t always working

One of the most popular arguments for getting employees back to the office is about collaboration: Workers need to be on site, we’re told, because collaborating with one another has been harder to do when everyone is working from separate locations.

But a lot of people who have returned to their offices for some or all of the week have found that they’re the only ones there, or others are staying isolated in their offices, and all communication still happens over email, Slack, or Zoom.

I wrote a piece for Slate about the people who are spending time commuting to and from the office and dealing with all the hassles of in-person work — but without the promised payoff. You can read it here.

{ 368 comments… read them below }

  1. Justin*

    Weirdly I have been dealing with this, but I don’t mind so much. I mind the commute, but I like zooming from my desk. However for people with different and more collaborative jobs it’s probably really really annoying.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      My strategy is to try to come in on days when I have a lot of meetings – let them eat up my employer’s bandwidth (still all online), or when I think not too many people will be in, since my job requires a lot of concentration.

      1. J!*

        At our organization we have to pick a stable schedule, so I made Mondays and Fridays my in-office days with the thought that most people won’t want to be around those days. It’s been so quiet. Some Fridays I’m turning the light on when I come in and off when I leave, and I work a normal business schedule.

  2. COBOL Dinosaur*

    I work in IT. Our collaboration is 1000% better now than it was Pre-Pandemic! We were all ‘forced’ to learn to get better to work together over Teams and it’s a better system then being in person. We can be in the same Teams chat and all throw out our thoughts while typing away at our own PCs and then come back together with a piece of information and then split back apart. We can take turns who is sharing screens. It’s almost like Star Trek Borg!

    1. Rolly*


      I don’t think people should be forced back to the office (though I have an easy commute, so go in by choice most days).

    2. Another Liz*

      We’re finding this too! My colleague and I regularly Zoom/Teams even though we’re only separated by a thin wall, so we can each work on 2-3 screens while the other monitor shows what we’re collaborating on. So much more efficient, even if it does look weird to other people.

    3. L'étrangere*

      We always had truly remote people anyways. Transcontinental remote, not ‘only on Mondays’. And management forgets that cooperation happens more easily at a remove when personalities are not entirely compatible

      1. Radical Edward*

        Heck yes, that second part is such an underrated point. It’s so much easier to stay focused on work and not get dragged into unrelated… stuff… when communication is asynchronous/virtual. That’s exactly why I love it, my interactions with others are shorter and more productive!

      2. iglwif*

        Yes, this has always been the case in my job as well. Pre-pandemic, I was one of half a dozen staff working full-time remote from a different state or country, out of a team of <15 people. We were really, really good at being a distributed team.

    4. Meow*

      Unfortunately we went the opposite way. Without anyone to “make” us collaborate, it seemed like everyone really withdrew and kept to themselves more. Which created additional resentment in a feedback loop. I really thought coming back to the office would help with this, but now everyone just keeps to themselves and rarely talk to each other, even about work.

      Not that I’m blaming remote work in any way. We had dysfunctional communication to begin with. Just saying in our case, instead of “having” to learn to work together, we just… don’t anymore.

      1. aurora*

        Honestly, I see a parallel between org cultures and relationships. The past two years have been a pressure cooker that revealed A LOT.

        The relationships that were (mostly) healthy and happy tended to weather pandemic-related challenges better. Many folks got even closer, took relationships to the next level, got hitched, etc.

        The relationships that weren’t so solid.. well, they didn’t fare so well in the end.

    5. Gatomon*

      I overall hate Teams, but the quick screenshare has totally eliminated the need for everyone to crowd around someone’s PC to see something new/broken in interesting ways. That was all the collaboration we did. Most of us work on our own projects, or if I’m working with someone, I’m giving them info that they do something else with. There’s not much back and forth except for the occasional question.

      At this point, almost half my team works out of another city/from home, and did pre-pandemic or are splitting their time in another city for various Life reasons. If I was going into the office regularly I might see one or two other people in my group.

      Mostly when I do go in now, I end up wasting time as I run into someone outside my normal contacts and we spend an hour catching up without realizing it! I’m convinced that management (who spends 90% of their time in meetings with each other at my company) has no idea how us peons actually operate. We get all the work done while they spend all their time wasting it.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, well, managers get a lot of their work done in meetings, they’re not for wasting time, at least they shouldn’t be in a reasonably functional organization. Most SMEs do a larger part of their work outside of meetings, though. My manager gets a lot of stuff done, and she’s in meetings for at least 90 percent of her workdays. My issue isn’t with her meetings, it’s with her availability, or rather, the lack of it. Luckily I’m experienced enough at my job that I don’t need to run urgent issues past her very often, so it’s more a matter of keeping notes so that I remember to bring things up in our 1:1s, and that’s 100% on me.

        I’ve been to the office a few times these last few months, and while I fully agree that I get a lot more work done on my never ending to-do list when I WFH, there’s value in spending time with coworkers just catching up with them, particularly with coworkers I don’t get to collaborate with very often, if at all.

        My 15-person team has grown to 20 during the pandemic. Two have retired, another is due to retire at the end of April, one’s due to go on maternity leave soon, and two other coworkers have left the organization for other reasons. So since March 2020, the turnover in our team has exceeded 50%, which is very unusual for us, most people tend to stay for more than 5 years (unless they were hired as temps). I’ve really enjoyed getting to know our new hires in person.

        But all that said, I definitely wouldn’t want to go back to 100% at the office.

    6. Certaintroublemaker*

      Yes! We also set up standing Zoom meetings everyone can drop in on to touch base, ask questions, brainstorm solutions, etc. (Higher ed IT, so central and departmental IT are mostly in different buildings, even.) There’s a set starting time and they end when there’s no more topics/questions—usually early. But I see WAY more of my colleagues, even as Zoom squares. Before, we were all in our offices/cubes except for weekly meetings with a small subset of people working on particular projects.

  3. Just another queer reader*

    Yeah, I’ve found that being in the office is even more isolating that working from home.

    At home, at least I have my housemate and my cat to talk to!

    1. Dax*

      Agreed! Things are better here now that restrictions have loosened up, but for months I drove 45 minutes to work every day, just to sit alone in my tiny office and have all of my interactions via Webex.

    2. Maglev to Crazytown*

      Ouch, yes, I felt this. I think this was my last straw towards burnout. I felt reenergized getting back into it originally, thinking it would be the same office dynamics. We were essential but had flexibility to work from home, but we needed someone onsite to respond to emergencies at the facility. Nope, everyone else in my group continued working remote and only came in on days they had onsite meetings or walkthroughs scheduled. So 90% of the time, I was the only person in an entire small building. The resentment spiraled at that point.

      1. Maglev to Crazytown*

        Wanted to add, this was in support role in manufacturing. The ladies and gents doing the hard work were always there. But my role was supposed to support them technically if something happened. So the support roles not coming back except for a few losers like myself not only demoralized the larger workforce, but those of us trying to support them.

      2. Reluctant Mezzo*

        I suppose it would have been wrong to slide around the floor to “Old Time Rock & Roll”…

    3. Jzilbeck*

      1000% agree! Strongly felt this way long before covid, too, which is why I am thoroughly dreading having to be back in the office for ANY reason.

    4. Certaintroublemaker*

      And work/life balance takes a hit when you can’t do a quick bit of dishes / laundry / meal prep on a stretch or lunch break. Taking care of home life solely pre- and post-commute, no thank you.

    5. Distracted Librarian*

      Same here. I think we’ll eventually get back to a more in-person culture, but right now when I go to the office, I spend most of my time alone. I’m happier and spend less time in my own head when I’m home.

    6. MistOrMister*

      I have been fortunate to stay home, but some of my coworkers have had to go back in. What I’ve been hearing is that for the most part they don’t see anyone for most of the day. Yet management keeps saying how great it is that we’re all seeing each other again.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, that feels so out of touch. I went to the office one day last week, and that was fun because I got to see my closest coworker for the first time since November, and for the second time since March 2020. I also got to see some coworkers I almost never work with, and never chat on Teams with.

  4. Viki*

    It’s all on execution, and communication. My team has one day a month we all have to be in the office, and it started last Friday. I found it was great.

    We work well on teams and are in a bit of a hybrid way where besides that one day a month we have to go in, our in office schedule is up to us and what works with our project at a time.

    But our team worked very hard to make sure we had the communication and tools to get ourselves ready for the in office schedules and had been building this plan since Q4 last year.

  5. GhostGirl*

    We had an office week and any meeting that was JUST our group or people who were in our particular branch office went great. Meetings where we had to get on Zoom with other offices? Not so much. If the conference room was set up with Zoom Rooms (with the touch screen pad and a big TV so we could see other attendants) it was fine, but otherwise it was out of sight out of mind. The were on the speaker phone, but didn’t talk much and it was just so awkward. If nothing else, this working from home has REALLY brought our remote teams closer and more collaborative, and that was missing.

    1. Rolly*

      I don’t know your physical set-up, but if it’s a meeting with people in other locations, then you should be trying to use what we learned for the last two years – not ignoring people on a speaker phone but giving attention to everyone on the call. If that means six people in one office are on six laptops at their own desks, then so be it.

      Or have the speaker phone for voice, put each person has a laptop (with camera on at least when speaking if possible). Don’t just go back to 2019 – we can do better.

      1. J!*

        When we first moved back to the office we tried the thing where people who were in the same room used the big screen & speakerphone but it was hard for everyone else to hear them, so now we all zoom from our desks if one person is zooming in. It works much better all around, but definitely makes the need to be in person feel silly.

        1. alienor*

          I worked from home one day a week for a few years pre-pandemic, and I loved it, but the thing I didn’t love was calling into a meeting where everyone else was in a meeting room together. I’d suddenly hear muttering and realize that they were all looking at some physical piece of paper that I couldn’t see, or had devolved into side conversations. So much better when everyone is on a call.

          1. Rolly*

            Yup. There needs to be parity among participants – it improves the quality of communications.

            If that is not possible, whoever is facilitating the meeting has to pro-actively give attention to people calling in from the “less-main” location. Pre-pandemic we had a rule in staff meetings that we would always give people calling in from remote locations the first shot at speaking at any given point in the meeting.

      2. GhostGirl*

        Since it was our first time in two years working in person, it was not something we were used to doing. And that’s not to say everyone is on camera during remote Zooms, but somehow it just worked better even if we didn’t see faces.

        And we did have everyone in the room on their own Zoom with a speaker phone in the center but… all the people in the room were looking at each other not at their computers. The people on the phone didn’t speak up. The didn’t go on camera even if normally they would (and if they did, we weren’t looking at them as much.) It just really makes the remote people seem… remote. It is just so much easier when everyone is in the same “place.” Even if that place is virtual.

        We have worked REALLY hard at being inclusive of our remote teams, so having this hybrid approach was terrible and we all agreed that it wasn’t workable if we want to keep our remote teams feeling a part of it.

    2. Katie*

      This is what I have found. If it’s a hybrid meeting where some people are on the phone and some people were in person, then the phone people were at a great disadvantage.

      It has to be one way or the other or meetings are not nearly as productive.

      1. calonkat*

        Agreed. All on the same platform is best! Headsets for each person and muting can help with echo if some people WANT to be in the same room, but it’s just not a good solution to have some participants on one platform (online) and some on another (real world), just like having a meeting where some were on zoom and some were on teams wouldn’t work out well.

  6. HigherEdAdminista*

    I think the larger context of how society works and even what people want/expect out of their days have changed, and that those in charge are having trouble accepting that they can’t un-ring the bell. The last two years happened and things are still happening now, and I think people just aren’t the same as they once were and can’t slip back into that old mold, and neither can work.

    It makes me wonder if, in many cases, the wonders of frequent, face-to-face collaboration have been overblown. It was more an excuse to get butts in seats in the office, but now that people are there… they are finding that nothing magical is really happening. My colleagues and I worked well together remotely, but in person we socialize more, which is nice in certain ways, but this isn’t something I need to commute 2.5 hours a day to do.

    1. Well...*

      I am finding in person collaboration to be really improving my productivity, and everyone in my workplace is expressing relief and finally being able to get back to the blackboard and work with people.

      I’ve always had remote collaborators due to the international nature of my job, but there’s a big difference between a few Skype (now zoom) meetings a week and being 100% remote.

      The flexibility of being able to WFH and still attend meetings is nice nowadays. Still, nothing beats the rush of figuring a way out of something you thought would kill your project at the blackboard in real time with your colleagues. For me at least, and this seems to be the dominant pov at my office.

      Still, marathon writing sessions have always been a great WFH activity. So there’s a balance.

      1. HigherEdAdminista*

        It likely depends on the nature of the work! For some jobs it seems vital, but I think for many other positions the in-person collaboration was not happening at the level that it was made out to be. Some jobs are certainly very collaborative, but others are less so. Even within individual teams, there is a balance for the way people work. I’ve never been a group brainstormer; I need time to work things out on my own and then come together.

        I think we tend to overcorrect as a society and try to do all one thing or the other when what is really needed is flexibility!

        1. M.*

          I agree with everything you’ve written, and I would add that if the environment you’re working in is not exactly known for its creativity, ingenuity, etc., then it’s unlikely these “magical” connections are springing forward now that everyone is coming back. A broken work environment is a broken work environment is a broken work environment. If you’re in an environment that’s built on trust and true collaboration, I’m sure it’s a much different story.

      2. UKDancer*

        I am really liking having a mixture as well. We’re back in the office 2-3 days per week and it’s lovely being able to sit down with my team and really brainstorm in person some days. Then other days people work from home which is lovely when we have back to back zoom calls or papers to write. The variety and choice suits me.

        Some people are wanting to be in more often and some less often but most of my team seem to like having the choice. In London I think a lot of people don’t live in settings which lend themselves to working from home (house shares and very small flats) so the younger ones in particular are in more often. Older people with more spacious home settings with offices are wanting to be in less often.

        1. L'étrangere*

          Also older people know they’re more likely to die, or get it seriously ill, when this jolly togetherness goes wrong

      3. AcademiaNut*

        What I find in my work (academic, technical, many international collaborations) is that I can be quite productive on tasks working from home for an extended period, but the more creative/strategic end suffers – the problem solving and where to go next. A blackboard and a face to face chat can work something out much faster than having to schedule a Teams call. The ability to spend some time working at home is fantastic, but causes problems in the long term. Also, the lab people can’t work from home, and don’t spend much time sitting at their desks, so face to face interaction works better than trying to find a place and time for a telecon.

        For scheduling – if you’re in the office more than half the time, flexible WFH can work. If you’re in the office less than half the time, you’re more likely to need a schedule, so that you can be in the office the same time as other useful people.

    2. alienor*

      I returned to an office for a couple of months in mid-2021 (then changed jobs) and I enjoyed the novelty of socializing again, but all the problems of actually getting work done in an open office were still there. By the end of it I was back to looking for a quiet place to hide with my laptop.

      The last two years happened and things are still happening now, and I think people just aren’t the same as they once were and can’t slip back into that old mold, and neither can work.

      I’ve thought about this a lot. There’s something very weird about expecting people not to be changed by this experience and to just pick up where they left off in 2019. There are probably some who can (and some who never stopped behaving like it was 2019 anyway) but there’s also a very large group of people whose brains have been rewired by trauma. They’ll still move forward, but not in the same way.

  7. Grits McGee*

    I *just* talked a manager out of requiring in-person meet-and-greet for a cohort of new hires. I honestly think it’s a thoughtless, reflexive impulse- our agency still has six foot physical distancing requirements in place, which makes meetings impossible. People remember the before-times and assume things will be just like 2019, and the reality is very different in 2022.

    1. I.*

      Idk, as a new hire I would really appreciate meeting people in person. Shifting to online work and being a new hire remotely are very different things and companies often don’t have the kind of structures in place for new people that always remote companies generally have.

  8. Lilyflower*

    I’m actually in the opposite situation – we’re all required 5 days in person, so everyone is in and camaraderie is definitely up while productivity has noticeably plummeted. In addition to commuting, I’ve now had to start working more overtime to fill in the gaps, and we’ve also started having massive Covid outbreaks to boot. Remote work was great – why fix something that isn’t broken?

    1. CW*

      And companies that do this say it will help employees be more productive. You just proved that it doesn’t – it is doing completely the opposite. Plus, with the COVID outbreak, it is just making the situation worse.

      Frankly, we should have the option to WFH or go on a hybrid schedule. If you want to go into the office by choice, by all means do so. But forcing employees back in 5 days a week like it’s 2019 doesn’t make matters better. And your situation is a perfect example.

      1. StellaBella*

        yes hits to productivity happen when a few colleagues are out for a week or more with covid.

      2. TechWorker*

        ‘Companies’ is doing a lot of work here – I don’t think there’s one answer to whether being remote or in office is ‘more productive’ – it depends on the role, the team setup and probably who within the team you ask!

        I have employees who don’t really fancy coming in because from their pov they’re just as productive at home. They’re also totally missing that a lot of the training juniors get us from asking questions, joining in/overhearing conversations and being around people really helps with this. And yes part of what the senior folks are being paid for is to pass on their knowledge…

        1. ThatConsultant*

          Yeah… I think the optimal productivity thing at home happens under a few conditions: 1) you’re a mid-career worker with established and well defined work that you’re used to completing; 2) you already have all the social and political capital you need to get shit done; and 3) you don’t have any need to learn new soft skills (whether to succeed at your current job or advance to the next role). I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I really do think that the soft skills are particularly important in-person – you can notice and absorb way more behavioral cues and examples in an office than in Zoom isolation.

          I work in a field with a LOT of trainees and that requires teaching a lot of soft skills. I started to manage over the pandemic and was blown away by how much easier it is to manage and train in-person. For those of my team who are struggling, it is much easier to set up support networks for them as the rest of the team gets to know them faster and it’s a little easier / feels like less of a big deal to ask for help in real time. (There’s something very stressful for some people about showing others something they’re struggling with over Zoom after chatting them to ask for help.) For those of my team who are ahead, it’s easier to deploy them to help other team members and help them learn mentoring and coaching skills in the process. I had one team member who’s been working on speaking up more tell me that it has been much easier now that she’s met the team in-person, since it’s sunk in a bit more that people really are friendly and won’t judge her mistakes.

          1. Rosalind Franklin*

            Agree very much, and I’m going to add a 4 here:
            4) you’re neurotypical or neurodivergent in a way that allows you to succeed at home.

            For me, at least, I’m chafing to get back in the office. I have ADHD and I need the mental division of “now you are at work” vs “now you are at home”. And no one being able to walk behind me in my closet/office means it’s very hard not to give into temptations and lose time. And my little kids being home (either because it’s a vacation day, they’re sick, or just a normal time for them to be home) is incredibly distracting and makes it hard to focus.

            1. ThatConsultant*

              My husband also has ADHD and has the exact same challenges – being in the office has done wonders for his productivity. He was actually diagnosed in the last few years, when his work levels and productivity started to crater during the worst work from home times. The boundaries at up by having a clear place of work, the relative lack of distractions (or the relative productivity of the distractions at the office, where he gets distracted by helping someone rather than YouTube), combined with his joy at being in a community, have really helped him thrive in office again.

            2. other hand*

              It’s so interesting how our different experiences play out with ADHD, as a fellow person w/ ADHD. I do find home to be somewhat distracting, but work was way more distracting for someone like me — I’d be the person to bug all of my coworkers because I was bored and looking for someone to talk to. Being at home makes me prioritize working more.

              1. Le Sigh*

                Agreed. My house has plenty of distractions, but I have a quiet space that I can control much better than my desk in an open-office plan, with people walking by, stopping by, making calls, etc. And while Zoom meetings make me tired, I can turn “off” the rest of the day — whereas in the office, I was always “on” to some extent and it drains my energy faster.

                There are downsides. I miss my daily interactions with coworkers and I have to be more cognizant of moving so I’m not so sedentary. I’m not opposed to a hybrid, but being able to carve out a quiet, controlled space for myself has really helped.

          2. allathian*

            I thrive working from home, and after reading your first paragraph, I had a real eureka moment:
            1) Check, I’m 15 years into my second career, so definitely mid-career by now, my work is pretty established and well defined, and I can do 80% of it without consulting anyone else, 19% of it may benefit from discussing issues with my coworker. We’ve been working together for nearly 8 years, and he’s the closest thing I have to a work friend and we know each other’s work habits and trust each other to do good work. I only need managerial intervention in about 1% of my tasks, not even once a week.
            2) Check. I’ve been at my current job for nearly 15 years, and I’m a well-regarded professional in my field. My job is to provide internal services, but I can also get shit done if necessary.
            3) Check. I don’t need to learn any new soft skills to succeed in my current job, and I’ve no interest in managing people.
            Rosalind Franklin’s comment 4) below is well taken. AFAIK I’m NT, but I’m definitely an introvert, although I can fake extroversion pretty well when necessary. It’s just that I get peopled out pretty quickly when I go to the office. Just being surrounded by other people who aren’t members of my nuclear family drains my people energy, even if, or perhaps particularly if I don’t interact with them at all.

            I’d also add 5) your home life is conducive to WFH. It’s much easier to WFH if you have a room, or at least a corner of a room, to use as an office/workspace, and don’t have to clear everything away to have dinner. It’s also easier if you either live alone, or have a spouse who can work from another room/works out of the house, than if you’re sharing a cramped space with several other people, regardless of whether they’re family members or roommates. Attempting to work while you have to supervise young children is a tough situation that many parents have been forced to deal with during the pandemic.

    2. Beka Cooper*

      My office of 4 people is required to be in 3 days, work from home 2 days. We had to spread out our days to make sure we had “office coverage”. Basically this has resulted in some of us only seeing each other once a week, others twice, and those days have been so unproductive, because the four of us get along well enough that we end up using our in-office days as catching up and chatting days. I have been trying to tell myself not to feel too guilty about it. This is what they wanted, right?

  9. Sloanicota*

    I feel like we can’t really win with this, because my office is doing the opposite – we are all required to come in only one day a week, for the all-staff meeting* – but that also means a single infectious person will expose literally the entire (small) organization at the same time. Masks are not required at this meeting, although we are all vaccinated. At least our office only needs to retain a conference meeting space rather than office space for everybody.

    *Don’t get me started on whether this meeting is valuable or well run or a good use of our time together.

    1. WellRed*

      My tiny company division also bandied about the idea of a monthly in person all hands. Which we already do weekly on Teams. And the mtg is often a waste of time because there is no reason for all of us to meet at all given the nature of our jobs. Fortunately that idea died quietly,

  10. calvin blick*

    I really wonder if the audience on Linkedin, AAM, etc is representative of the overall working population. Those sites are at least 80% in favor of work from home, but if you care enough to check on your professional network, read about managing tips, etc, you are probably pretty curious, probably at least something of a high performer, maybe (since you’re reading at all) a bit more creative than the average person. I wonder if there is a population out there we don’t see commenting here that is a little less independent, a little less concerned with performance and efficiency, and more favorable towards structure that is more excited about returning to the office that most of us here are.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I do think we’re definitely slanted towards white collar office jobs that can more or less be done from home. Obviously there are huge sectors of employment that were never able to go remote. In this sector, I definitely think managers want people back in the office because it is easier to confirm that lower capacity people are working.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        Yup. Reading all these comments is surreal to me. I work in garbage. My particular role is about 50-75% office work that could theoretically be done remotely… except in practice, a lot of the people I need to communicate with can only be reached face-to-face because their job is 100% on the floor (equipment operators, utility workers, etc). I get up from my desk and walk around the yard looking for people frequently throughout the day. Not being able to do so has a significant impact on my productivity. I’ve also seen remote work drive a wedge between office and labor workers, which is already a problem in many workplaces. That can lead to low morale, communication breakdown, reduced productivity, and even safety issues.

        I think this is a very common situation for the workforce as a whole, although it seems to be uncommon for AAM commenters.

    2. TheWriter*

      This! Being single with no kids or even pets, I hated working from home when everything hit the fan in 2020. I wanted my routine back, I wanted office life, I wanted to see people’s faces since work was my only “interaction” with people on a day-to-day basis. Two years later, I still want this, but I have warmed to the idea of a hybrid schedule. My office is incredibly flexible which is great – most teams are still WFH or will only come into the office once a week or once every 2 weeks, or whenever there is a “communal” event like an employee appreciation day or a cookout. I am still deciding what I want to do myself, but I will probably go in at least once, maybe twice a week because I need to get out of the house every so often!

      1. VV*

        Yes, exactly. I am single and live in a small apartment — I have no interest in spending a full work-week at home for both work and off time, plus my space just isn’t set up or built for work productivity (nor do I want it to be, it’s my home). Obviously not everyone has the same life circumstances, but having a distinct work and home space was important to me in 2019 and it’s important to me today. I do wonder how many colleagues will feel similarly at my next job (grad student/working part-time currently, but not for long), but I’d accept some tradeoffs in terms of awkward hybrid meetings to be able to work from an office at least a couple of days a week.

        1. sofar*

          Yep. I started going back to the office the literally SECOND it was possible because my home is my home. I don’t want it “set up for work.” We can’t afford an extra space for a home office.

          These days, I work in-office 3-4 days per week and at home for 1 to 2 (because traffic is picking back up and my commute is getting long, so it’s nice to skip it 1-2 days).

          Even if I’m the only soul in my office building, I am more productive there, and then I get to go HOME.

          Other perks:

          – Our leadership is back to working from the office — so I get a LOT more facetime with them (even just casual conversations) and get to ask them my questions directly (and they’ve got more bandwidth for in-person interactions because we’re the only ones in the office).
          -I got a parking badge for the “good garage” from the office manager, who knew I was regularly going in.
          – Less competition for the free food in the kitchen.
          – Our office has pricey ergonomic set-ups that I couldn’t afford to replicate at home. It’s comfier to work in-office.
          – When the cleaning people show up, it’s my reminder to close the laptop and LEAVE instead of working longer hours at home.

          I love that my office is being flexible because then everyone who’s happier at home can stay there. And I get the office almost to myself.

          1. AuntAmy*

            Same here! What I learned about myself during the WFH time is that I have strong associations/boundaries for home and work. The office is for working and home is for….homing. I have an easy commute, so that’s not a huge issue for me. Leadership in my area has said “we want to see you, but no one will be forced to come in.” I truly am more productive with this setup. But, I get that it’s not for everyone.

        2. UKDancer*

          Yes. We’ve found in my company that the younger, newer people who live in small London flats and house shares were all desperately keen to come into the office because working from home is miserable if you’ve not got the space for it and they could walk or get the tube. My flat is slightly bigger than some but still felt unbelievably confining during lockdown because you couldn’t go out so I was glad when some element of hybrid working returned. Older people (usually more senior people) had more space and home offices and also usually lived outside London with longer commutes as a result so they found working remotely more enjoyable.

          In my experience it’s got as much to do with what your home circumstances are as anything. That’s why I’m glad my company is letting people have some choice in the matter.

          1. Ace in the Hole*

            This is so true. I live in a tiny apartment with two other people. When we were all working from home it was miserable. Also, I wasn’t even given a laptop… my employer gave me a desktop! I had to take up the only desk I had for my work computer, leaving me nowhere to do my schoolwork or hobbies.

        3. Mr T*

          I like WFH, but I love going into the office a couple days a week because on those days I am JUST a worker and not also a husband/father/facilities manager for our house/emotional support human for our neurotic cat.

      2. Will Smith Rock Chris?*

        Same here.
        Like, I don’t need to be best friends with my coworkers, but I would like to have some conversations that aren’t strictly work related throughout the day.
        And I end up with more free time when I go into the office, because there’s a clear separation between home and work, instead of the time just blending together.

      3. Nancy*

        Exactly. I was actually brought back early because my boss was so worried about me. Sitting in a small apt by myself while trying to work on my couch was awful and isolating. I don’t want my workplace to be my apt. Going into work and being at a proper desk was so much better, even if no one was around sometimes.

        People are different and need different things!

    3. Joanna*

      I have several coworkers who went back into the office as soon as it was permitted. I would say that they both struggle with attention issues and reading comprehension. They are definately benefiting from face to face interactions.

      The rest of us have had to return 2 days a week, and we are still mostly doing everything over Zoom. The people I interface with are frequently on travel or are not co-located. So I’m spending 2 hours in my car to attend zoom meetings from my desk with a coworker 2 desks away who does not cover his mouth when he coughs. And no, I’m sorry, I’m not available for that 4:00 meeting, if I don’t leave by 3:30 the traffic makes my ride 20 minutes longer.

    4. Valancy Snaith*

      The audience on AAM is definitely not representative of the overall working population. In my area of Canada, there is just simply not a large sector of people who WFH. The vast majority of people in my area work in service sector (retail), education, utilities, government (in a particular subset that cannot be done from home), and heavy industry (agriculture/logging). In my family I don’t know of many people whose jobs will ever allow WFH. Nurses, factory workers, service sector employees in a million different guises, leisure and hospitality, you name it. I get the impression that this website skews very, very heavily towards a particular group: urban or suburban college-educated professionals in positions where WFH actually does not present a barrier. Sometimes it feels a little silo’ed.

      1. kittymommy*

        Same. Even limiting it to white-collar, I think I can name one person I know who works from home now who did not before. It’s just simply not a thing most people do here.

        1. pancakes*

          I don’t know where “here” is (and am not trying to pry), but I’m in a city of 8+ million people, and as of two weeks ago, the number of office workers who’d returned to the office full time was approximately 30%. I’ll link to an article about this in a separate reply, but I’m not sure why anyone is expecting uniformity on this point when so much varies by location and industry.

            1. pancakes*

              The population and location don’t really say anything about what the leading industries are there, though, do they? Or about the prevailing attitudes of employers towards work from home. There’s so much more to this than that.

      2. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

        True. I literally cannot do my job from home – animals need to be seen to in person. I don’t think most of my skills are even transferrable to an office, unfortunately (although it would be amusing to be able to put people having a tantrum into a kennel to calm down!). I read these debates about wfh vs office with a certain dry amusement, and a little bit of envy that I don’t even have a choice about it.

    5. I should really pick a name*

      There’s no question that Ask a Manager commenters tend to be white collar introverts (myself included).
      An important thing to remember is that the effectiveness of WFH or on-site is very dependent on the role and organization.

      I think the important thing is that WFH has become more of an option where it makes sense. That doesn’t mean WFH is the only or best way to do things in every situation.

    6. Will Smith Rock Chris?*

      My theory is that asking questions is better done in person, while answering them is better done remotely.
      If you’re asking questions, you want to be able to follow up on an answer, get clarifications, read the tone and facial expression of the answerer.
      While if you’re answering, you want to be able to craft your answer, on your own time, and maybe look up some information first.
      So, people whose jobs consist of asking questions, like newer, more junior employees, and also managers and execs, want to collaborate in person. But if you’re a senior technical expert who spends their day dispensing knowledge, you want to work from home.

      1. TechWorker*

        Ha, this lines up with my experience (mostly, I also have some sociable senior technical experts who are happy to be in). But tbh I think the junior people really need the in person answers where possible… so we are asking people to come in some of the time, even the grumpy technical experts.

      2. ThatConsultant*

        I think this also depends on the nature of the answer, tbh – I get a lot of questions that require pretty fast decisions. When I’m in a Zoom meeting, I may see the Slack and put it off till later, then feel a lot of guilt about holding someone up; when I’m in the office with someone, it’s easy for my team to ask when im not in a meeting and get unblocked quickly (or see that I’m in a meeting and try to figure it out themselves). So as the question-answerer, in that context, I prefer in-person!

    7. Spearmint*

      It’s totally true that AAM is not representative. If you post here, most likely that means you have the kind of job where you’re on the computer a lot *and* work relatively independently at least part of the day (otherwise, when would you comment?). Most people don’t have jobs like that.

      Also, I think people who post a lot on the internet are disproportionately introverted and/or not neurotypical, two groups that do better with work from home and are more likely to enjoy it.

      I don’t agree that people who like work form home are necessarily more creative or hard working, though.

      1. R*

        YES to your last sentence. How pompous to assume people who prefer to work face to face are inherently poorer performers.

    8. Meow*

      People at my office, assuming they were all being honest, were overwhelmingly in support of a hybrid schedule. But that hybrid schedule is playing out with basically all the problems that Allison has discussed in her article. It was supposed to be the best of both worlds, but instead, office days are all the pain points of working from home with none of the convenience. The only value add, I guess, is I get to make small talk with the lady from accounting while my lunch heats up.

    9. MistOrMister*

      I think it just depends on the person. I talked to various people at my office and was surprised at how many people want to go back in some of the time (it surprised me because as of right now, I never want to go back ever). Maybe one person I talked to wanted to go back in for the 3 days the office is pushing. Everyone else either wanted to be full remote or only go in one or two days at most. A number of people do want to go back some days to get out ther house, but everyone appreciates the new hybrid schedule so they can work from home at least some days. I’ve also heard that a few people never did go remote, they just went in for the entire pandemic. My take on it is that companies would do well to offer remote and hybrid to anyone who wants it because a lot of people DO want that flexibility and it’s a deal breaker for them now to not have it. These companies can then downsize their offices and still offer space to those who want to come in as well.

    10. LittleMarshmallow*

      I also think that on these forums the people that prefer not to wfh don’t really have a good voice because all of the staunch “wfh is the only way” advocates would prefer that we stay quiet so as to not ruin this for them.

      I personally find wfh to be soul crushing and my productivity from home sucks even on the purely computer things. I live alone so my lunch and coffee break convos are just me talking to my cats, my office desk at work is much more comfortable than my home desk, and I like home to be home and work to be work.

      Luckily I work a job where I need to be present since they won’t let me set up reactors in my garage so it works out for me but I choose my audience carefully when I reveal that I don’t like working from home so that I don’t get jumped all over for it.

      1. iantrovert*

        I’d love to see an example of “WFH is the only way” madness. Frankly, IDGAF whether you want to work in the office while I work from home. It’s the *mandatory* RTO that is upsetting folks like me who want WFH to remain *an option*. I’m Team Let Everyone Work The Way They Prefer.

        Personally? I prefer being home alone with the cat where I can get work done and have three IM conversations going that resolve an issue faster than three face-to-face conversations do. No having to deal with four people coming over to chitcat. No spending 15min circling the halls looking for a room for a meeting because there’s no available bookable rooms and the office is open-plan. No having to put on noise-blocking headphones for an hour because the one guy who’s in denial about his poor hearing who doesn’t bother looking for a room is taking another call on his laptop with his earbuds half out and on full blast. No waiitng in line to use questionably clean microwaves. No wear and tear on my car, or spending more on gas. For me, escaping those negatives makes me happier and more productive.

        And that’s fine! *I don’t need you to be remote just because I am.* The converse is also true–you don’t need me to be in-office just because you are. Would you get more benefit from more people in the office, for bouncing ideas off and socializing? Yes, of course, but it doesn’t entitle you to others’ presence when they’re more productive and happier WFH. The mentality that everyone in a given workplace works best one way or the other is absolutely toxic, and whether that’s implemented as all-WFH for non-safety reasons or as complete RTO, it hurts employees.

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          This argument doesn’t make sense though. The benefit you get from WFH exists even if you are the only one doing it. In contrast, most benefits to being in-office only exist when a sufficient number of people are in-office. If someone wants to be in-office because they need face-to-face communication, what good does it do if they’re the only one present and they still have to talk to everyone remotely? If someone needs a certain amount of social interaction to make their work life tolerable, what good does it do to sit alone in an empty room? If someone needs training or coaching that is most effective in person, what good does it do to be on-site if all the people who could advise them are at home?

          There is an inherent incompatibility between people who hate ever coming into the office and people who need a workplace with lots of in-person interaction. That’s fine. Some workplaces can require everyone work in person, others can require everyone be remote, and some can offer a hybrid schedule or optional WFH. A given workplace can’t make everyone happy… if you prefer WFH, you can look for a job that offers it. If I prefer in-person interaction, I can look for a job that offers it. It’s just like any other aspect of work environment/culture – people find jobs that suit their personal needs and preferences.

          What gets me is the number of comments like yours, where you act like it’s justified to be upset that your WFH might be taken away but treat it as unjustified when other people are upset that their in-person interaction is being taken away.

    11. UKApple*

      I think you are correct that AAM is not representative of the working profession, but I’m bristling at your suggestion that because I prefer a return to the office, I am a little less independent and little less concerned with performance. Ironically I’m more efficient when I’m in the office because I am able to separate home and work, plus fewer opportunities for procrastination in the office.

      My team have to be on the same day each week in the office, and it has worked wonders for our team. We are encouraged to do two days in the office. It’s of huge benefit to us, and gives the new juniors (who joined when we were enforced wfh) opportunity to meet our wider team, and importantly, the wider company bigwigs. These bigwigs can help you network, and help steer your career – I’m in a very friendly industry, where the best career moves come because you know someone who’s hiring. If you’re a new graduate, and haven’t met our chief marketing officer in person, it’s very awkward to just pop in a Teams call with them. Those 5mins making a drink can be career changing.

      Plus, juniors don’t all have nice separate office spaces at home or long commutes.

    12. RagingADHD*

      No. Not at all. There’s certainly a bias here toward WFH, and certain personality types, but you are extrapolating it to an uninformed and offensive extent.

      I think comments like this which conflate a preference for WFH and reading AAM with all kinds of positive traits, and a preference for in-person with being stupid and lazy (which we’ve been seeing since the first lockdown) have made a lot of people throw their hands up and leave. Thereby exacerbating the bias.

      Seriously, y’all?

      “More curious and creative than average?”

      “Less independent and less concerned with productivity?”

      Just say what you’re saying. Don’t try to pretty it up. You’re expressing a very self-congratulatory attitude of superiority which is entirely unwarranted.

    13. Koala dreams*

      You definitely get different impressions from different articles. The other day I read an article about how flexible working, including hybrid work but also work from home, has meant a worse work-life balance and more overtime. It’s too easy to just answer another email or another call, and the extra hours aren’t noticeable the way the would have been in the past when everybody was in the office.

    14. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      There are plenty of people who want to go back to the office. And this is not all or nothing – it is not two groups pitted against each other in Thunderdome.

      I want to work remotely. I don’t care what the rest of the office does! It’s just about me – I want this accommodation on an individual basis. But people who want to return to the office – some of them want *everyone* back in the office, whether it is perceived fairness or socialization or collaboration or whatever. To me, this is the key difference in the positions.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, I agree. Granted, those who prefer everyone in the office do have a point in that if you want more social interaction at work, you won’t get it if everyone else prefers to WFH. But if there’s at least a small number of people who prefer to work at the office, that should be enough social interaction so you don’t have to force everyone to return. Granted, that no doubt means hybrid meetings, or meetings on Teams or zoom, but you can’t have everything.

  11. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

    At my old job that I left earlier this year, were were encouraged to come back to the office over the summer. I had been onboarded remotely and thought it would be beneficial to do a hybrid schedule to get to know my manager and team a little better. Most of the time I was the only one there, and my manager never even came in once. Two months in I found out I had cancer and had to have surgery, so I went back to 100% WFH immediately. I never went back, even after I’d recovered and been deemed NED (no evidence of disease) post-surgery. It just seemed like such a waste of time to get dressed and commute only to sit in an empty office on Teams all day.

    The job I currently have does not even have an office where I live, so I’m still able to be permanently WFH. They had a big campus for their headquarters, but after sending everyone off to work remotely, they decided to close it because everyone was happier and more efficient working from home. They now have a couple of floors in a different building for when people need/want to come in for training or meetings, but otherwise it’s all WFH.

    1. StellaBella*

      Congrats on recovery and doing all this in a pandemic! Yay for the WFH situation now too in the new role!

  12. Just a Thought*

    My team hasn’t been asked to come back on site yet – frankly I wonder if they ever will. Our building is a mix of industrial production/labs and offices. They’ve been talking for years about how they need more lab space and want to expand. It would be a lot easier to do that if they just kept all the office people at home and made the cubicle farm into lab space. I love working from home and the flexibility that comes with that, so I’m firmly on Team Give-up-the-Cubicles, but it’s hard to know what the High Council will decide.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yeah the office space factor is important. If you are going to have most staff in on the same days, there’s no cost savings for the company in giving up the office space – it’s kind of the worst of both worlds, because you are paying for a full complement of desks that are going to be unused most of the time (I wonder if office space sharing with another company is the solution – like TeamCo uses the floor Mondays and Wednesdays but InuTech uses it Tuesdays and Thursdays. I suspect this would be unpopular. Maybe the WeWork model is less dead than I thought). Staggering attendance means you can cut the space at least, but you still have to pay for expensive office space; you don’t really get the savings unless you can get out of your lease entirely and go fully remote, with possibly rented conference space or off site rentals for big convenings (still probably a cost savings unless you start accruing travel costs from people flying from all over the country).

      1. snarktini*

        I’m doing a research project for an office furniture manufacturer right now, and what I’m hearing from workspace designers is they are planning one (non-dedicated) work station for every 3 to 4 employees. This assumes a fair number of people will be hybrid/remote on any given day, plus that not everyone wants a proper work station — when they come in some will choose lounge / collaboration / cafe spaces to work. And on the off chance that everyone did come in on the same day, not everyone has a desk but they have to have enough of that other flex space so everyone can have a seat somewhere.

      2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        My office is looking to downsize from 2 floors to 1 now that we’ve figured out something like 60% of our staff who were at the main office (the rest of us are WFH with or without the pandemic) are more productive at home than in the office. The people who provide direct client services are the ones who want to have the option of a place to meet face-to-face, but they are only about 20% of the folks in the main office. Everyone else is coordinating projects with outside partners (so 90% of interactions have always been remote) or support staff for the org (HR, accounting). TPTB are thinking of finding a spot where everyone who wants an IRL space can have real offices instead of cubes and 2-3 larger meeting rooms for the rare times we want a face-to-face meeting of the larger staff that are in the main city. It has been a really well thought out process and I’m pretty impressed, but I think it was also easier than many places because so many of us were already remote or mostly work with external partners only.

    2. filosofickle*

      Around me that seems to be a big incentive for companies to allow ongoing WFH — not because “talent” wants it necessarily (even though that’s a factor) but because they can expand headcount without expanding real estate. They’re not giving up leases/sites, they’re just planning to fill it back up over time.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        One of the old places I worked expanded so much during COVID that despite management’s “butts in seats” desires, reality is dictating that hybrid and WFH are going to have to stay because there is no way to fit 30 more people in the building

  13. Girasol*

    The only reason to come into the office to collaborate is because team members lack the skills, or managers fear that their people lack the skills, to collaborate remotely. Those skills can be learned just like people learn the skills for running an effective meeting or scheduling a team meeting using Outlook calendars. If the team doesn’t know how to collaborate well remotely, there’s a fair chance they don’t do it well in the office either. The whole “come back to the office because collaboration!” story is a cop out. It’s like saying “Some of us have email problems therefore we must all use paper mail!”

    1. Loulou*

      I mean…no, that’s not the only reason. In person communication is, in fact, different from virtual communication! That’s not an opinion. You are welcome to say that you think virtual communication is always an effective substitute for in-person, but a lot of people will disagree and it’s not just because they can’t use a computer.

      1. Will Smith Rock Chris?*

        Yup, I’m with you.
        To take one example, there is no good technical solution to replace drawing a diagram in a meeting. Which is something that comes up at my job all the time, and despite two years practice of describing a diagram through words, it still stops the meeting dead and confuses everyone.

        1. merry*

          Virtual whiteboards are a thing, could they help? Googling “virtual whiteboard” brings up both free options and paid services.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Share a sketchpad over Zoom, or even sketch in PowerPoint over Zoom.
          That said, there are even tech-writing tasks that I cannot do remotely: verify hardware installation steps, take product photos, and release print-on-demand items to non-netwotked manufacturing equipment.
          I’m on record with the company that I would be completely content with a hot desk situation or even a table in the cafeteria if I could come in only when those things were on the list.

      2. Valancy Snaith*

        Indeed. They are very different, and the weird tone this site sometimes takes that’s so…antagonistic against anyone who says otherwise is off-putting. In-person and virtual communication are different, which is a fact. The relative merits of each are up for debate, of course, but to say that the only, only, only reason to come into the office is lack of skills is incorrect.

        1. Girasol*

          There was a bit of tone in that post, wasn’t there? I apologize. I didn’t mean to sound that way. Thanks for calling it out.

      3. TechWorker*


        The analogy of paper mail to email does… not work… do you do all your socialising virtually? Gonna guess no because it is infact different having a conversation face to face… :p

    2. Monday Monday*

      THIS THIS THIS. AND at this point, if management hasn’t addressed the issues with those who are struggling to WFH, that is a bigger, management issue. Making the whole team come into work because some can’t handle it is a cowardly management move and is going to cause good employees to leave. I did.

    3. Mary B*

      This is an unfair assessment. I am a fairly junior employee (with a smaller paycheck to match) in a HCOL city. I have a tiny bedroom and 3 roommates. I’m perfectly capable of collaborating online, but I lack a proper setup and a quiet environment. I know a lot of peers in the same situation. Not everyone has access to a home office with a comfortable chair, quiet environment, and room for extra monitors. That doesn’t indicate a lack of skills.

    4. Warrior Princess Xena*

      I’m not sure that’s a fair summation. I’m perfectly capable of collaborating remotely (all my work is team-based) but I enjoy those days where I get together with my team and we work in the same space. Not only are we able to talk through things much more quickly (even with insta messaging apps there’s time delays), it gives an opportunity to get to know my coworkers as people beyond ‘cannot Excel’ and ‘familiar with healthcare’ which makes it much more comfortable the next time we all work together.

    5. Ace in the Hole*

      This is just not true for many work environments.

      I work in garbage. My job has a lot of tasks that can theoretically be done remotely, but all the people I need to communicate with have jobs where the only feasible way to communicate during the workday is face-to-face (e.g. equipment operators, groundskeepers, mechanics). If I need to ask them something, I have to walk over to their work area. Not being able to do so negatively impacts my productivity… by a LOT.

      These guys know perfectly well how to use zoom or telephones or whatever, they just can’t do it when they’re busy running an excavator or elbow deep in greasy garbage.

    6. ThatConsultant*

      Yeah… I don’t buy this. One example I’ve seen of things that are Very Hard and Very Slow to communicate remotely and Very Easy to communicate in-person are professional workplace norms. I manage a lot of new trainees, and we’re in the client services business. This means that my new college grads do actually need to be reasonably available during “normal” working hours, or at least give me a heads up if they won’t be. It’s just not feasible for me to ask a firm partner with children to wait until my Associate gets back from dinner to complete a draft . While yes, I’m able to set and communicate deadlines, this kind of norm hits different when you see all the parents in the office leaving at around the same time each day to help deal with childcare needs, and where I used to tell people maybe once, if at all, I now constantly chase down work that’s past due, since people assume that deadlines are softer/arbitrary. I recently had to explain to a New College Grad that they could not have a middle of the working day “hard stop” right after a client readout. In the Before Times, they would have seen a number of colleagues completing final readouts, and I likely would not have needed that explicit conversation. These are cultural norms that are mediated by the needs of the work and I’ve never had to teach them expressly before we all moved to Zoomland…

  14. DisneyChannelThis*

    We have shared offices, at least 2 people, some have 4. Dual zoom calls are a nightmare. Especially when everyone is on different calls. There’s 1 conference room and it’s such a problem. We need phone booths or something. Pre pandemic meetings were in person. Trying to all zoom is impossible.

    1. local government*

      This is like my workplace. We spend half our time doing in-person customer service, and the remaining time is divided between zoom meetings and independent desk work. When the meetings were all off-site and in-person, having a dozen people share an office with two desks was fine. But now having three or four people trying to decide how to attend two meetings separate meetingsvia zoom, while a third person takes a personal call and possibly a fourth does sensitive work that demands quiet concentration — It’s impossible.

    2. Generic Name*

      Same. I share an office with two other people, which in the before times was not a problem. Now, we all have constant teams meetings, and it’s disruptive when more than one person is on a call. We have several conference rooms, which we try to use when we’re on a call and an office mate is in the office, but it just seems dumb to come to the office so I can sit in a conference room by myself with just my tiny laptop screen. At home I have a whole setup with dual monitors in my private office with a door, and Teams calls are a breeze.

    3. OfficeBigSister*

      This is what my office is like, and it was a nightmare pre-pandemic and moreso now. We have 3-6 people in each office space. It’s white collar work that can easily be done at home. We don’t have a break room or meetings rooms or private spaces for phone calls. We’re now on staggered hybrid schedules and we have branches in different geographical areas that have always connected with us via teleconferencing. The executive management has taken a butts-in-seats approach, and the result is that communication, teamwork, creativity, and energy have taken a nosedive. When we were all WFH, we generally much more efficient and all logged off around 5:30-6:00 but now we’re all taking work home with us, too. That, plus the commute, is really taking a bite out of family, leisure, and self-care time.

  15. Gary Lowe*

    I think whether collaboration needs to be in-person may depend on the nature of the work. I am an IP attorney and at my company, our offices are closed so everyone has been working from home for the last two years. During that time, the number of patent ideas submitted by our engineers has dropped in half even though the number of engineer has increased. This makes sense to me. I was an engineer for 19 years before becoming an attorney, and the discussions we had about innovation worked best when we could sit with each other in front of a whiteboard and collaborate.

    On the other hand, in my job as an attorney, collaborating via email has worked out well, but we don’t really innovate that much.

  16. Tired Social Worker*

    As someone who worked F2F live and in person during the whole pandemic my perspective how how “unfair” it is to require people to come back to an office and commute from home is skewed. I honestly do not feel any pity for those who are now having to come back to the office as I never left and sat through the worst of it up close and personal. I had to work in a COVID unit wearing full PPE for almost 2 years and I am not a RN or doctor. Perhaps a shift in mindset from what you are “losing” to “what you never lost” is required and you will realize that sitting in a safe office 2-3 days a week is not the purgatory you think it is.

    1. sigh*

      Maybe it’s not a competition. Maybe your work experience has been hard and deserving of sympathy, AND YET there’s still no actual benefit to many office workers in making them commute (blocking your roads!) and deal with the distractions of open offices.

      You don’t have to be all “well at least you don’t have cancer and an eating disorder!” at everyone when they note something isn’t great.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        The discourse around WFH is everywhere and it’s toxic and othering in a lot of spaces – I don’t begrudge anyone for being tired of it especially when the burden of being in-person is hyperbolized and someone never had another choice.

        1. Loulou*

          +1. There is absolutely a lot of hyperbole that comes up in these discussions and it can be upsetting/exhausting to hear. And I feel that way having WFH during the worst wave of the pandemic in my area, so I can’t imagine how OP feels.

      2. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

        ^ agree with Sigh here. TSW you’ve had to endure a lot, but the people responsible for that aren’t the ones who WFH. We don’t want your pity – we want our organizations to recognize that we’ve seen the light and that for a lot of people who have been able to WFH we have seen an increase in the quality of our lives. We don’t want to give up that quality of life improvement for no good reason which, honestly at this point we’re seeing that there really isn’t a good reason. I wish for you that your org had found a way to help you WFH. But your situation doesn’t mean we can’t be upset that our quality of life is being impacted negatively for silly reasons.

        1. Tired Social Worker*

          I guess due to pure exhaustion when I have not seen other mobilize to make my job safer I do not have the bandwidth to due it for an issue as small as this. Is it that we don’t think anyone who WFH has the the right to be upset? No, but many of us do think that those who spent the last few years WFH don’t know what they don’t know about what it has been like on the front lines. Is it petty? Maybe, but a lot of us are already SO tired as we did not get the break that when we are told “you should stand up for us” we just don’t have it in us. Even now we are told “shut up don’t be bothered”. No one stood up for us even when we were screaming that the house was burning down. Look at teachers, social workers, nurses, they are all leaving their professions in droves because we haven’t had the support we need.

          1. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

            I think we’re really looking at two separate issues. First is exactly what you said – nobody stood up for you and the situation for social workers, for teachers, for nurses, for grocery store clerks and all of the other “essential” workers is that our systems have utterly failed you. And that truly is unfair and awful. And you’re 100% right that you were left in the dust and it makes sense why you would be angry, bitter, hurt and absolutely exhausted.
            The other issue is that switching back to in-office work away from WFH isn’t as “small” an issue as you are making it out to be. There are a lot of hard costs involved with going back to work – childcare, elder care, gas, parking, meals, office attire that aren’t insignificant amounts of money. For the first time, people have been able to accurately quantify just how much of our salary we were forfeiting in the process of performing our jobs in-person. I mean right now gas is nearly $5/gallon and if your commute is an hour one way (like mine would be) I’m looking at $100/week just in gas. In a pretty fuel efficient car. There’s also significant soft costs that we’re being asked to take too – my workday WFH is from 7:30am-4pm with a half hour lunch. My job gets to lay claim to essentially 8.5 of my hours. If I start commuting, my job lays claim to 10.5 of my hours and I don’t get paid any more money for that time. And in the last two years that time has become a lot more valuable to me because I’ve realized that man, having two more hours in my day actually lets me get a lot more done. Not only that but being able to fit in small things around the house between meetings has made me a lot more productive in my household management. For folks with mental health challenges – ADHD, autism, anxiety, depression WFH is a GODSEND because we can better control our environments and make them work for us. That’s not insignificant. For folks with physical disabilities – WFH has been something they’ve been screaming for for YEARS as a way to make work more accessible. Office doesn’t have reliable elevators or ramps? Big issue for in-person work. Non-issue for WFH. WFH makes the workforce a million times more accessible, which again, is not insignificant. People who otherwise couldn’t be in the workforce are now able to work productively.

            WFH isn’t an option for everyone – but it’s shortsighted to dismiss the benefits for large groups of people.

          2. pancakes*

            These are all important and legitimate complaints, but it doesn’t follow that you can reasonably expect them to be addressed in every bit of online content that talks about working from home. An article about people who’ve productively worked from home during the past couple years and would like to continue, for example, is simply not the right place to look for news or analysis about what nurses are facing.

          3. Also Tired Social Worker - not the same as previous posts!*

            I feel this with my whole being – as I mentioned in my reply to your original comment, I literally used to comment under the same username as you, and for good reason! I’m one of those social workers strongly considering leaving the profession because of how shamefully we were hung out to dry. I’m lucky that I got to experience WFH for a few months early in the pandemic (thanks to an amazing manager who bent over backwards and pushed back against toxic agency leadership to make it work), but those protections quickly unraveled as we were asked to do more and more, for less and less in return.

            So believe me when I say that as we reimagine work in the COVID-and-beyond era (you could not pay me a million bucks to describe our current situation as “post-COVID), we absolutely need to be reimagining the work world for the workers we designated as “essential,” or more accurately, as “sacrificial.” But I think part of that reimagination is facilitated by making sure jobs that can be done remotely are allowed to be! For me, even when I was forced back to in-person work, I benefited from less traffic on the roads, cleaner air, and an increased acceptance of asynchronous communication (a godsend for my ADHD). I get that the WFH discourse has dominated these conversations, which is super frustrating, but that absolutely does not make that discourse less valid or less necessary. Nor does it make the complaints of people being forced back to the office any less valid – this has been an important wake-up call as to how much capitalism and hustle culture have eroded the actual *lives* we are supposedly working for.

      3. ava*

        I don’t mind people noting things aren’t great. But i admit its highly appreciated when people can talk about their end of WFH woes while also understanding that if they’re coming into an empty office 2 days a week, thats still a better set up than the vast majority of people.

    2. ava*

      This is…very true. I don’t begrudge people not wanting to go back to in person when they don’t see any benefits, but the proportion of the population that can go fully remote is not that large. People talking about in person work like its the worst thing in the world gets to be a bit off putting, given that it’s the reality for the majority of people.

    3. anonymous73*

      Life is not a competition and while I understand your frustration, those who have been able to do their jobs remotely for 2 years shouldn’t be forced back into the office if it doesn’t make sense for the business.

    4. pancakes*

      Do you want more fairness, or do you mostly want people to stop reminding you how much unfairness there is in the world? These aren’t quite the same thing. WFH workers feigning gratitude they don’t have for their jobs or simply being quiet about their jobs isn’t going to redistribute any resources. Nor is it going to improve working conditions or wages for people who can’t work from home.

    5. Apples and Oranges*

      I’ve never understood the argument that because one person has it bad, everyone else should have it bad, too. And if they don’t, they should shut up about any discomforts they *do* have.

      Howsabout we work to making things better for everyone? Or howsabout we understand that everyone is different and lives in different circumstances?

      Being upset at people who can do their jobs fully remote (and thus don’t want to go back to the office) because your job requires you to be F2F is like telling someone with hearing issues to stop asking the professor to repeat herself because *you* don’t have a problem following the lecture. Apples and oranges.

      And, like Sigh says above, it’s not a competition.

      I would hope you wouldn’t tell someone with an itchy rash to “shift their mindset” because *you* happen to have a broken bone so maybe they shouldn’t be whining about their minor-compared-to-yours health issue.

      Like, I have shattered my ankle and sat there with it propped up, throbbing with pain in a cast, and still been able to listen to and sympathize with my friend who did poorly in the marathon she’d been training for all year. Could I run myself? Nope. Did I tell her to stop feeling sorry for herself because I had it worse than her? Absolutely effing not.

      1. Tired Social Worker*

        It’s not being upset that they can do their job remotely, it’s almost spraining my eyes rolling them every time someone kicks and screaming about having to work in the office again. It’s true that everyone suffers in their own way and that one pain is not neccicarily worse than others because we all bring different level of resources to cope. That being said I am allowed to be exasperated when this is all I hear about on the news, here, and everywhere else how those who work from home are distressed at the idea of going back to the office. Is it scary? Yes, more so for some than for others, but frankly I am tired of this story being on repeat.

          1. Polly*

            Agreed. That’s the easiest solution, especially because this conversation about WFH is likely going to continue for a while. What we are seeing now is a pretty major overhaul to how a lot of people work and it’s not even about covid anymore, it’s about what makes sense in terms of productivity and it will continue to be a contentious debate between employers and employees. I’m one of the people directly affected by WFH decisions and I’m already sick of the conversation. If it doesn’t directly affect me, I would just ignore it.

          2. Valancy Snaith*

            I mean, notably, that comments section had to be shut down because there were tons of comments about how hard WFH people have had it, and there are still a ton of comments there pretty much defending that viewpoint, so…perhaps it’s not the very best example. I think what Tired Social Worker is getting at is that there’s been a great social erasure of people who’ve been in-person all along, when that’s only really been the case for a certain subset of people (and one that probably disproportionately is upper-class).

            1. EventPlannerGal*

              Yes, I mean, if you scroll down and actually read the comments on that one the very first one is a blue box from Alison because she had to freeze or remove so many comments arguing with in-person workers and the whole post ended up getting moderated. That post was actually very unpleasant and many people exhibited a total inability to step aside and let essential/in-person workers talk even in a post *specifically intended for that purpose*. I don’t think linking to it makes the point the poster thinks they are making.

              1. Also Tired Social Worker - not the same as previous posts!*

                This is NOT intended as an apologia for the WFH commenters who co-opted that post- they were absolutely overstepping and showing a shocking lack of empathy.

                But one thing I think is happening (which may already be super obvious, idk) is that people who only received WFH privileges during COVID, and who prefer that setup, feel that their current situation is EXTREMELY fragile. Managers, CEO’s, and even local governments (Eric Adams, for example) are searching for literally any reason to force people back. After realizing what they’d been missing under the “old normal,” going back to that feels unthinkable, however irritating that may be for people who never got to stay home. In that mindset, any acknowledgement that WFH did not work for everybody – or any casting of WFH as a luxurious concession to the privileged, more generally – feels like it could be the final piece that tips the scales for The Powers That Be, ultimately shattering the precarious new balance that has proven so life-changing.

                Again, the immediate lack of empathy and push to dominate the conversation is a HUGE problem. But on a systemic level (at least in the US), the *root* problem is the chokehold that the 40+ hour, in-person work week (as well as employer-provided health insurance) has on our policymakers and employers.

                1. Esmeralda*

                  I think you have hit on something here, Also Tired.

                  At my university, many of us had asked for years to be able to flex and/or work at least part of the time from home. For all the reasons that people want to work from home. And for many years the asnwer was, nope, it’s impossible for you to do your job at home.

                  Well, pandemic. And all of a sudden nearly everybody at my university was working from home some or all of the time. And doing it well (my department collected data and crunched it — we were actually MORE effective working remotely). So now we know it can be done. And we know that coming back to the office is not 100% necessary.

                  I’m truly grateful to all the essential workers who made it possible for me to WFH: the grocery workers, the people packing and delivering all the stuff I ordered online instead of in person, the restaurant workers who cooked food and packed it up so I could get take out, the home PT, the nurses and doctors and EMTs and orderlies and techs who saved my bacon in May 2020, the doctors and nurses and PTs who helped me get better, the teachers who had to teach in person and online at the same time (my god, how is that even possible). Blessings on all of you, for making my life WFH possible.

                  That doesn’t mean I need to shut up about wanting to continue to WFH. That doesn’t mean I can’t resent having to come back and work in person with students who aren’t required to mask and are no longer required to show proof of vaccination. (You can guess how well that’s working — 15% of my students are out in any week either with suspected covid or actual covid or recuperating poorly with long covid.)

          3. Don't Forget To Mute The Zoom*

            It is utterly heartbreaking to see how quickly this group goes from “essential workers are heroes” to “shut up about your problems and read something else”. How little we think of the people taking care of us in the worst of time. You must be so proud of yourself.

            1. Polly*

              This is a pretty extreme interpretation of the comment you’re replying to. No one is telling anyone to shut up about their problems, just pointing out this post is about a different topic.

              1. Don't Forget To Mute The Zoom*

                That is EXACTLY what the underlying message is. Maybe you don’t like being called out on it, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that all of these comments represent anything new. On the rarer occasion that AAM posts about essential and frontline workers, she has had to shutdown so many comment threads from frontline people about how we all have it bad. There is NO empathy for people that kept the day to day operations running and frankly, if the only way of expressing that is a random comment on a random post, I would think you might feel lucky to have had the absolute privilege of keeping yourself and your family safe for the last few years. Instead, you pile on a Social Worker. Tell me again who that serves?

                1. Don't Forget To Mute The Zoom*

                  EDIT *she has had to shutdown so many comment threads from WFH people about how bad they have it

              2. Ace in the Hole*

                As another “essential worker” who has had to continue working in person through the whole pandemic…. that was exactly how the comment came across to me. With a side dose of “if injustice bothers you so much, just look away every time people in your community talk about something unjust.”

            2. jarofbluefire*

              That is entirely not the message I intended, not in the slightest. I apologize if it came off that way.

              I genuinely meant that reading an article about a subject that exasperates you is not a great idea. Not that TSW shouldn’t feel exasperated, just that this *specific* article was not going to help.

              Again, apologies.

        1. Don't Forget To Mute The Zoom*

          I will warn you that you will find almost no sympathy in this group. Anytime anyone says “Hey, just a reminder that a lot of people have not had the privilege to WFH”, they are jumped on. It happens over and over again and I understand your utter frustration. I am in the same boat of having a job that requires being on-site and the very suggestion that asking people to return to office is tantamount to torture is infuriating. I don’t think it will ever get better and I stopped expecting even a modicum of caring 1.5 years ago. Most people will respond with a “we all have our struggles” comment as if that clears the runway for them to feel like they are the victims too. You have my understanding and completely empathy for what you are going through. I am right there with you and so are lots of other people.

          1. Polly*

            Are you suggesting that people shouldn’t talk about WFH because it doesn’t apply to you? I’m really not trying to “jump on you.” I’m aware that not everyone can work from home and that a lot of people got screwed during the pandemic and I’m sorry for that. I think a lot of people around here have a lot of sympathy for that, but we can both have sympathy and complain about our employers’ WFH rules. We are not forgetting about the existence of other people. It just doesn’t apply to them.

            1. Don't Forget To Mute The Zoom*

              Have you read this entire comment section? There has been pretty much one person saying “The conversation around the frustrations of people who are WFH is exhausting” and the replies are mostly aimed at telling them to just be quiet. And sure you may have sympathy, but you are lacking empathy. Not one person that has been on the frontlines for the last year needs to hear how sorry you feel for them . What would be nice is that when they express frustration at the overwhelming one-sidedness of it all, you just let them express that. Is that too much to ask?

              1. Polly*

                I’m not stopping anybody from expressing themselves and I don’t see anyone else doing that either. We are just responding the the people saying they are frustrated by the conversation by suggesting that they remove themselves from the conversation. You seem to be reading ill-intent into that suggestion that isn’t there. It’s not like we caused your situation or can do anything to fix it, so I honestly don’t know what else you want from us other than for us to just stop talking about something that is a big deal for a lot of us.

                1. pancakes*

                  I don’t quite agree with this. I don’t know who all “we” is meant to be, but essential workers don’t have to be treated as expendable, and there’s a lot all of us in the US can do to try to put an end to that. That is the result of a series of choices we make as a society. Simply sending office workers back to the office isn’t progress, though. Returning to the pre-pandemic status quo isn’t progress.

            2. Apples and Oranges*

              Reminds me of the time someone at work overheard me talking about the money I spend on animal rescue groups. They jumped in to essentially tell me I was a terrible human because I wasn’t doing anything for at-risk children and therefore didn’t care about them.

              So…. No. The topic had been animals. Not children. Not “charities in general”.

              I can care about animals and still equally care about children.

              I can also, say, care about Alzheimer’s research more than I care about vision correction research because my life is directly impacted by Alzheimer’s. We’re allowed to have preferences and focuses. And caring about something that affects us directly doesn’t mean that’s the end of the thought process.

              It’s like people who get upset because someone wants clean air regulations (and spends their energy on that) when they think workers’ rights are more important so how dare someone advocate for environmental regulations when human beings can’t make a living wage.

              It’s not and/or. It’s both. And for the person who has a history of non-smoking lung cancer in their family and has trouble breathing, clean air regulations (or deregulation) directly impacts them, so that’s where their focus is.

              So if people are talking about animals, please don’t butt in and tell them they’re jerks for not caring about children.

              1. Don't Forget To Mute The Zoom*

                You keep going back to these example of things that are not even close to being the same as the experience of someone who worked from home and someone in person. This is not cat charities versus kid charities. This is the deep and wide gap between people forced to risk covid every minute of their working life and those who remained at home, tucked away from a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people. I am sure it makes it easier to swallow and less uncomfortable to ponder, but that doesn’t change what the the last two years has show. Essential employees are disposable and mere suggestion that people who can WFH return to an office is abhorrent.

                1. Apples and Oranges*

                  No. There’s nothing abhorrent about wanting to stay on topic. Alison’s article is about people who’ve been able to WFH, who are now being told to return to the office, and how some companies are really botching the whole thing up.

                  Or are you saying that Alison’s article is abhorrent because it isn’t about people who had to risk their lives during a pandemic just to get a paycheck?

        2. Apples and Oranges*

          I have zero problems with someone venting. The thing I take issue with is then telling the people who have different circumstances than you do to change *their* feelings and not vent.

          1. Don't Forget To Mute The Zoom*

            Look at this singular comment thread if you want an example of just how much WFH people have a problem with anyone expressing the slightest bit of doubt at the “the sky is falling if I have to return to an office” messaging. There are 263 comments and the vast majority are on topic and reflective of the article. A social worker expresses her exhaustion with the constant drum of “we don’t want to go back to an office” and people absolutely jump on them. Would you disagree with that or would you like to attempt to gaslight me further?

            1. Abby*

              That’s because this article was about the WFH people returning to the office. Not about people who have been in the office this whole time. Why are you trying to hijack a conversation, turn it into something else, and then argue when people aren’t playing along?

              Nobody here was saying you’re disposable or not valuable. We’re saying we have this annoyance and you not being able to WFH at all doesn’t change the fact that we have this annoyance.

    6. merry*

      I’m not sure saying you suffered so you don’t have sympathy for folks who had different options and requirements is the most useful.

      I get the need to express your feelings. But…well…do we all have to walk uphill in a blizzard both ways to school because you did?

      1. Pescadero*

        See – that is the issue.

        As someone who has been F2F for most of this – I have EMPATHY for folks who don’t want to go back to the office, but I don’t SYMPATHY.

        1. pancakes*

          Ok, but why should either of those be central to discussion? Why should decisions about public health or workplace policies or the feasibility of working from home in a practical sense (opportunities to collaborate, etc.) be centered around your feelings at all? Or anyone’s, for that matter? We don’t have to focus on that.

          Whenever this subject comes up here, there are always at least a few people who seem to think it’s helpful to inject as much emotion as possible into it — characterizing people who want to work from home as “kicking and screaming,” etc., or any pushback as a directive to “shut up.” It doesn’t seem productive. Neither does this us vs. them mindset.

          1. Loulou*

            But these discussions always end up being about emotion! It’s not just the OP on this thread who’s bringing emotion to this topic. Alison’s post wasn’t exclusively about this, but certainly the bulk of the comments any time this comes up is how people FEEL about being “dragged back” (very emotionally loaded choice of words!) to the office, how they feel about X aspect of in office work, etc. That’s the topic at hand.

            1. pancakes*

              I don’t at all disagree that lots and lots of people have strong feelings about this topic. Encountering what feels like an emotionally loaded phrase isn’t or shouldn’t be a cue to really let it rip with hyperbole or exaggeration, though.

              1. Loulou*

                Sure, I agree, but I’m responding to your comments asking why OP’s or anyone’s feelings are relevant to this topic. Feelings are the heart of this topic!

                1. pancakes*

                  That comment of mine wasn’t a reply to OP, it was a reply to Pescadero. Feelings are the heart of the topic for many, but “I have sympathy for this category of people” vs. “I do not have sympathy for that category of people” is a bad way to make decisions about labor policy, inequality, etc. It’s terribly limited in scope and reduces big, complex, sociopolitical questions to the level of personal likes and dislikes.

    7. Also Tired Social Worker - not the same as previous posts!*

      Respectfully, as a fellow social worker (who has previously commented under the Tired Social Worker username!), I don’t think that shift in mindset is what’s required here. As social workers, we’re concerned with the big-picture implications of these changes as much as we are with the smaller-scale inconveniences, injustices, or lack thereof. My hope for this pandemic was that we would shift our mindset toward reimagining what work has to be, both for those whose work is possible to do remotely, as well as for those whose work must be in-person. The “I never left, so you don’t get to complain about coming back” messaging, while understandable, ultimately doesn’t do much to actually advance equity or justice, IMO.

    8. Over It*

      Fellow social worker who has been working in-person or hybrid for nearly the whole pandemic. On the one hand, I agree with you. I cannot overstate how much I want to flip a table every time I hear one of my (non-immunocompromised, non-parent) friends complain about being asked to maybe possibly go back into the office one day per week in a few months. The over-emphasis on the great WFH vs in office debate for white collar workers in the general discourse the past two years has been a distraction from much more serious labor issues happening in vast swaths of the labor sector where WFH isn’t an option. If I never have to hear about the pros vs cons of WFH again it wouldn’t be too soon. It’s outright exhausting to listen to most of the time.

      That said while I’m emotionally with you 100% Tired Social Worker, your comment is not helpful *in this particular context.* (Although I need to echo what some people above have noted that every time there’s been a post here about essential workers here, some pro-WFH members of the commentariat have tried to reclaim that space for WFH issues, and it got hostile at times. Essential workers deserve more spaces to talk about this than one post every few months). We’re all entitled to our preferences as well as safe and humane working conditions, white collar workers included. While their are benefits to in person collaboration, despite what many commenters here will say, having people return to the office just to sit in a private office and meet with people over Zoom all day doesn’t benefit anyone, but many places seem to have that as their RTO plan. So maybe stop engaging on this particular post because this isn’t our space, but don’t stop raising the issue!

      1. Loulou*

        Your first paragraph sums up my feelings perfectly. In office or WFH, degreed professionals do not need to be centered in discussions about occupational COVID safety and it truly is a distraction. I’m fine with posts like this discussing how people feel about in office work, but let’s be clear that we’re talking about feelings and comfort.

    9. How About That*

      The difference…full PPE. That’s lacking in many offices, as is negative air and heightened filtration. Office may not be so safe especially for immunocompromised people or those with risk factors.

      Sorry you wet through what you did, but not all jobs require bodily presence.

      1. Don’t Forget to Mute the Zoom*

        Our office has had PPE readily available the entire pandemic and upgraded our filters to hospital grade.

        And do not lump people who simply prefer to work from home with those that require accommodations because of a health issue.

        Also, “sorry you went through what you did but…” is so incredibly rude and dismissive. Like I said, 2020’s frontline heroes are now disposable nothings who you can barely muster even an iota of understanding for. How we have fallen in those two years, all while some of you let other people take all the risk to keep you safe.

        1. pancakes*

          I don’t think you’re being fair or reasonable in trying to characterize “sorry you went through what you did” as rude and dismissive. That’s pretty clearly not the intent.

          Fallen from where, exactly? The power structures and inequalities that were key features of the pre-pandemic status quo are big factors in why essential workers have been treated as expendable throughout the pandemic, no? Bigger, splashier, more emotional apologies from people who benefit from those power structures and inequalities aren’t going to meaningfully change anything about those power structures and inequalities, but it almost seems like that’s what you’re hoping to see.

          I’m also not clear on what you’re looking for with regard “let other people take all the risk.” I don’t think the situation would’ve been improved if those of us with no medical training whatsoever, for example, tried to fill in for nurses or social workers who were on the front lines.

        2. Abby*

          I think it’s pretty rude and dismissive to comment constantly on a post about WFH people returning to the office (and the very real impacts to their jobs it poses) with a bunch of comments about how they’re whiny and don’t have it bad and should be concerned about all this other stuff instead. But hey, you do you and continue your own rude and dismissive discourse.

      2. Ace in the hole*

        A lot of us have been working in-person the whole time without PPE. My agency asked the government for help sourcing PPE at the beginning of the pandemic and we were told it was all being saved for “critical” workers. We were also told under no circumstances could we stop operations or else it would be a public health disaster. So we just had to continue coming to work with no meaningful protection.

        Now we have vaccines, commercially available N95 masks, and much better testing/treatment capabilities. If you want to wear “full PPE” to the office… guess what! You can!

        Don’t even start with this suggestion that office workers now are in more danger than those of us who have never had the option to stay home. That’s just insulting.

    10. Wisteria*

      I understand. I did not have to work with the public, but I did have to work with COVID-skeptical, mask-skeptical, and vaccine-skeptical coworkers. Pretty much daily I was worried that one of those loons would bring COVID into work with them. When I do have work that I can do at home, I value the opportunity to save on gas (especially now!) and wear comfy pants, but I know it’s a perk, not an expectation.

  17. SassyAccountant*

    I knew this was bull BEFORE Covid. I worked at the TOUR and they had pretty much outgrown the original buildings so people were jammed packed into an office, 5-6 deep in small ones, 25+ in open areas designed for 10 and then areas that were not even meant for work spaces (walking areas) were buried in cubicles. I thought I had it bad when I got tacked on the outside end of someone’s cubicle but that did not compare to the one lady who just got a desk in hallway. It was like she was a bad kid and made to sit at her desk away from the other kids. She was new.
    All that being said, you can imagine how……ahem collaborative the atmosphere was because there were no walls, even if you had a cubicle you were in a space of 6 that was meant for maybe 2. You know what? I rarely if ever actually used my voice or had a voice used in my direction. Even if someone sat 3 feet away from you (literally) they would communicate only by an instant message program we had. Seriously. Whole work conversations were had via this thing and anyone one of us could have easily gotten up or in some cases turn our chair around to discuss. The thing was it was VERY VERY VERY discouraged. You got looks, pointed remarks, passive aggressive remarks etc. Then they were building the new fancy larger office and did a mock up so people could get a “feel” of the new place. Got rid of cubicles, all open plan, everyone in each other’s face and monitors were deliberately tacked on high so you could “stand and work if you wanted” but we all knew it was so every single person could see what you were doing, not doing, doing incorrectly, etc. at all times. This was all under the guise of “better collaboration” which makes me laugh because no one was collaborating before. If they were, it wasn’t the accounting department. Maybe the fun marketing and “I get to hang out with professional golfers as my paid job” department but there was never ever ever any “collaboration” for the other departments. In fact we had a hurricane and couldn’t go to work for several days because of no power and worked from home and it was no different then being in the office. Still talking via IM and no voices. In fact it would have worked out better but we had many middle and upper management who were obsessed with actual paper and wouldn’t digitally look at or sign off on anything. And Adobe was sponsor. Insert rolling eyes…..

    1. Overeducated*

      This is a huge factor – it’s not just being in person that fosters collaboration, it’s the nature of the work and the design of the space. When my office moved from one where people were grouped in large offices by sub-department to one that was more of a cubicle farm, the previous informal “walk to so-and-so-‘s desk to discuss a random work question” collaboration was really discouraged because it was distracting to their cubicle neighbors. So you had to book one of the too-few, small conference rooms even for a one-on-one conversation, meanwhile trying to concentrate on your own work while someone two desks up took a conference call at “outside voice” volume. I moved to another building where people were two to an office, and that was much better because you were only disturbing a max of one other person. I do miss that informal collaboration, but the fact of the matter is that it doesn’t happen “naturally,” it’s a design feature.

  18. Katie*

    I work with people all across the US and the world. Unless those people are coming in person to the office (US people may be some, and the international people I doubt ever will visit), I see no point in ever going back. We easily collaborate in Teams and have discussions all the time.

    Thankfully my office, boss and grandboss understands this and aren’t pushing it to happen. Two years ago was a different story but I think they have learned lots since then.

  19. JustAMillenial*

    It’s been weird watching this, especially all the people acting like remote collaboration is a new thing.

    The team I’ve worked on for the last 6 years has always been split between offices, and until 2019 I was the only one on my team in my local office. By my boss’s standard, we’ve all been working remotely the whole time – Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Petaluma, Honolulu, Charlotte, no more than 2 people in each office. We’re a marketing team, and our projects require a ton of collaboration, but our day-to-day changed very little for us in 2020, the biggest loss being our 2-3 times per year get togethers. Our company released a classification system early last year, and no one on our team chose to be “in-office”. I think one person chose “hybrid” but hasn’t used any office time yet.

    1. cat socks*

      That is my situation as well. I’ve been collaborating with people across the US and India for most of my 20-year career. Even when I went into the office, I would be on conference calls sitting in my cubicle. Now I do the same thing at home. No one I work with on a daily basis is in my same work location. Even my boss is in a different state. I work in software development so maybe this hasn’t been as common in other industries.

    2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Same. There are 2 of us in my city but no physical office, so we have been remote since 2019 and have most of the organization. The head office was more onsite, but it was a too small, too crowded set up that everyone knew had to be changed. The past 2 years have helped them figure out the best way to organize our workforce in the future.

  20. Goldenrod*

    This article is SPOT ON. My husband goes into work 3 days a week just to see no one and sit in front of his computer all day, just like at home.

    One of the many reasons I left my last job is that they were insisting that I go in every day “for coverage” and it was like, “Coverage of what???”

    Also, there are many, many jobs (such as mine) where there really is no “collaboration” as part of the job. I’m an executive assistant, my job is make everything run smoothly, not to creatively brainstorm ideas. When we did go into the office, it was nice to socialize with people, but that’s what it was – socializing that was pleasant but that really had nothing to do with getting actual work done.

    1. Laney Boggs*

      This!!! I dont talk to anyone on my own team – if I’m in a meeting it’s with someone in the Midwest or in Canada.

    2. turquoisecow*

      Yeah I miss seeing my coworkers and being able to ask or answer in person questions, but my job doesn’t really require collaboration, it’s more socializing that I miss sometimes. If they or I have a random question we can still email or IM especially now that we have Teams.

    3. Aggretsuko*

      Oh yeah, the “coverage” thing with my office. We have the public service team—a few adults and mostly part- time students–and then there’s me and my mini-team that do harder paperwork. Public service team student manager and the temps all have to come in daily (they aren’t bothering to set up the temps with WFH), so they HAVE people around in person in case the students need help. Yet my team has to come in person 2 days a week to baby sit…er, adult sit…just in case. I wouldn’t mind going in once a week to do the mail–that’s really the only thing I need to do IRL and the students are usually too busy on phones to be able to get them to do the mail–but it’s pretty useless to come in person otherwise.

  21. Antilles*

    I think whether or not it works depends entirely only how thoughtful the company is about creating the hybrid model and then continuing to honestly evaluate how it’s working after implementation.
    -Did you really consider the benefits of being in person?
    -Are you actually arranging things clearly so that people are there together?
    -Does your company culture really encourage swinging by others’ offices to chat?
    -Are you applying the policy evenly across levels?
    -How well has your company collaborated during the pandemic?

  22. AndersonDarling*

    Arg! My company has been using the same argument, that we need to have spontaneous collaboration to be successful. But what leadership REALLY means is that they want people around that they can talk at and then receive praise for their brilliance. I have never had a leader come by to ask for my opinion or delve into my experience, they just want to tell me the last random thought they had, hold my attention for 15 minutes, and then I need to thank them for sharing their glory with me.
    I’d feel better about it if leaders stopped saying that they need “collaboration” and honestly said that they just need attention.

    1. mlem*

      THANK you. I’ve never understood the collaboration argument. For the past 20+ years, if I’ve needed to work with someone in another group, I’ve emailed/chatted/called. My work group has been split across three or four buildings the entire time. I’ve never been ~inspired~ by standing behind someone in a lunch line or meeting eyes in the bathroom mirror. I’m actually seeing more of people now that we’ve normalized video calling than I ever did in person … and I’m far more likely to link names to faces now!

    2. Goldenrod*

      “I’d feel better about it if leaders stopped saying that they need “collaboration” and honestly said that they just need attention.”

      x 1,000. So true! My last boss was so needy – she misses the attention! She never listened to anything I had to say or wanted my input – she even went so far as to tell me to never stop her in the hallway to ask a question and to never knock on her door. And I was her dedicated assistant!

      But she sure wanted those sitting ducks for when she needed attention. She could hold forth and tell jokes that everyone had to pretend were funny.

    3. A Feast of Fools*

      Attention and that ego-stroking thing of looking around at a sea of filled cubicles and swelling with pride at their personal empire / fiefdom.

    4. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      LOL. Yep. The CEO at my company wants people back in the office so he can bestow a few words here and there on grateful subjects, and gaze contentedly at his office drone army staring at their computers all day, typing away, clickety-clack. I’m only half-kidding of course. There really is an element of control at play here. There are certain high level people who want to feel that dominance and control in person.

  23. BBB*

    one of the first days working in the office and a co worker from another team barged into the conference room during a meeting to scream at me because I “stole her desk”.
    all teams are hoteling when in the office.
    yay collaboration?

  24. iglwif*

    My company is allowing people to come back to the office if they want to, but is not requiring it–and, in fact, they’ve closed their office in the city where I live because not enough people were interested in coming back to it, so even if I wanted to work in an office, I couldn’t. Big win for me, because I have ZERO desire to do so.

    My spouse’s company is requiring people to go back, and at the same time has lifted their masking and vaccination requirements. He’s still masking, because he’s not stupid, but the number of people calling in sick has, unsurprisingly, skyrocketed, and I’m afraid it’s just a matter of time until he gets COVID again.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      Yep. People have been saying they have “a cold” or “the flu” lately, & I think, “Is it reeaaalllly?”

      Luckily my time in the office so far has not overlapped with when they were contagious. But still!

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I will say as someone currently chasing down people to take covid tests, it is a cold a lot of the time right now! We’re circulating the minor illnesses again and they’re spreading like wildfire.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Agreed! But I don’t like taking chances, especially when I enjoyed skipping the flu last winter.

          I know someone who got RSV when the masks first started coming off last year.

          1. iglwif*

            Yikes D:

            I just want some honest conversation about what the benefits are that, for your bog-standard office worker, outweigh the massively increased risk of all kinds of infection when you (a) make everyone come back to the office, and (b) still don’t provide adequate paid sick leave.

      2. Just another queer reader*

        I mean, I don’t want to get what they have, whether it’s a cold, flu, or COVID! The flu sucks and would knock me out for a week, just like COVID would!

        1. Also Tired Social Worker - not the same as previous posts!*

          Yep. It’s astounding how defensive people get when you suggest that non-COVID illnesses are not fair game to spread, though – I’ve seen AAM commenters be accused of ignorance re: sick leave policies, or even of *demanding personal medical information*, when they suggest that we should normalize staying home for all infectious illnesses.

          Be mad at your employer for not giving you enough sick leave, not for your vulnerable coworker who could be hospitalized if they catch your non-COVID illness!

  25. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    We got Slack, email, Teams…mostly use Slack to be honest and there’s just as much collaboration now as there was before all this. Actually often more. Granted we’re IT and more used to talking via computers anyway.

    All the other teams returning to the office, followed by the dropping of mask use, just resulted in a lot of viruses, including covid, sweeping through the building. We’ve even had a norovirus outbreak.

  26. Lynx*

    I’m hybrid but actually now schedule most of my meetings for my wfh days. I don’t have a private office & my work computer has no camera, so with most of my meetings being Teams meetings with other regional offices, it’s actually just easier for me to do them at home on my laptop. Even my standing meeting with my boss is easier that way because it doesn’t require we both be in the office on the same day & he travels a lot.

  27. Brains or Bust*

    I left an organization that was extremely flexible with a mostly remote schedule, to an organization that is 100% onsite (ability to be remote in bad weather, sickness, signing for a package, etc.). I was really nervous but the pay and opportunity were something I couldn’t say no to. Well, 6 months in, and I love it. I truly do have spontaneous discussions with my coworkers every day. I’m sure that part of this is due to working in the Construction/Manufacturing industry, but it has been so good for my mental health to be back in an office onsite and I NEVER would have expected this!

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I think it’s highly industry/office dependant. I think the ability to be remote if the weather is bad or if there is a plumber coming over is key though. Sick days I’m more wobbly on because I know that can discourage the use of sick time.

      1. MistOrMister*

        If I had to be working in the office 5 days a week I would really apprciate the flexibility to work at home when sick. Not the sort of flexibility where you want to be in bed resting and are shamed into dragging your carcass to the computer and suffering all day. But the sort where you feel off/not great and can manage fine at home with your pjs/comfy robe, fuzzy slippers, maybe a heating pad and the knowledge that you’re home and comfortable. I have not called out sick/used any unscheduled sick leave for the entire pandemic. There were definitely a few days where I was not my best and if I had been required to schlep into the office, I wouldn’t have made it, but was able to work ok since I was home. I assume (and hope!!) that’s the kind of flexibility during illness that Brains or Bust was referring to.

    2. Firm Believer*

      I think there is a lot of fear of going back to the office because people have become accustomed to working from home. I think a lot of people will feel like you with some exposure to coworkers and business relationships in person.

  28. urguncle*

    I will applaud my employer for how they’re handling a “come back to the office” environment: it’s all voluntary, the office is “open” 4 days a week and we’re encouraged to come when we want. I have my 1:1 with my boss in-person most weeks, it’s no-questions-asked if I’m not able to come in.

  29. Eldritch Office Worker*

    My team has really enjoyed getting back to in-person collaboration (3 days in, 2 virtual right now) and we’ve also gotten good at virtual collaboration. The hybrid stuff is where it gets dicey – the tech just isn’t where we need it to be. So if we have virtual contributers it ends up being easier for everyone to zoom in. It’s very hit or miss.

  30. Somniloquist*

    Before the pandemic, we used to not be able to WFH because managers worried about productivity. Now that we have all proven that productivity has improved, the reason is “collaboration”. I work in a highly collaborative job and WFH never hampered it. In fact, I had the same problem as others – I commuted in only to sit in a room on zoom/teams all day.

    I’m sure there’s a bevy of reasons why managers are doing this, but I can’t help but feel like it’s some sort of power play.

    1. HigherEdAdminista*

      This is what stands out to me. We were basically outright told in the past that if they allowed WFH, we would do zero work. Now that this turned out not to be true, the reason for denying any flexibility is because we are a family who needs to be together for our well-being and to have important discussions… which largely take place on Zoom because of people’s needs and schedules.

      1. me*

        ugh any organization that says “we’re a family” is a mess. If I hear that in a job interview it’s a major red flag. I already have a family for one thing, and also it always means they trample all over your boundaries and have unrealistic expectations of you while not actually doing anything that benefits you (except issue paychecks on time so you can pay your bills I suppose). They’ll expect more and more until you either leave because you can’t take it anymore (in which case forget a decent reference) or they fire you for not being a “team player” because you had the audacity to want a few days off to go on vacation, recover from an illness, or need surgery. Of course they’ll say the quality of your work suffered or something.

    2. me*

      My organization is the same way, it wasn’t really my immediate manager’s feelings but people above them that made the rules. We got a lot of kudos and praise for being rock stars and so productive over the last 2 years and in the annual survey the vast majority of people said they wanted to continue with either full time WFH or a hybrid schedule and were likely to leave if we reverted back to on site all the time…we reverted back to on site all the time for “collaboration and culture” and people are leaving and they are having trouble filling the positions. Part of it is because not every position there can be done remotely and it’s “not fair to them” if we’re remote, but they’re jobs where you know they’re not remote jobs plus they don’t work year round when we do…but if they want to be that way, these jobs can be had elsewhere that are in fact fully remote (trying to be as vague as possible here).

      I 100% think it’s a power play, executive leadership wants to see their minions running around doing their bidding and feel like they’re in control. I say this because my manager and even people above them had no problems with us continuing to work hybrid but it’s not up to them. But no one wants to work right?

    3. MistOrMister*

      I saw an article a while back where a CEO admitted that productivity for his company had skyrocketed during early covid when everyone was home. He said he was ending remote work because he wanted people in the office. He flat out admitted that he didn’t care if productivity tanked, he wanted bodies in the seats no matter what.

    4. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      Yes, power play, control. In some cases this isn’t about collaboration. It’s about requiring butts in seats because controlling workers physically in this manner is the traditional way of exerting control and dominance over workers. A corporation wants to control its workers’ physical movements – where the work is performed, where the workers sit, what time the work will be performed – when the worker must physically appear and when the worker is permitted to leave to the worksite. And of course, the old favorite of the Before Times: work must performed under the corporation’s direct observation to ensure the work is actually taking place.

  31. soontoberetired*

    Pre covid, I was in a separate office from others in the company, and we did ZOOM a lot (in Zoom rooms which would have issues half the time). Doing ZOOM from home is easier and better. the company isn’t forcing anyone to come back to work, although some managers want people to come in. My division lead isn’t one of those – he was all for WFH so he didn’t have to move to our NHQ!

    One of the reason they aren’t forcing people to come back is the building costs have been down.

    I’ve been way more productive from home – less interruptions for spontaneous collaborations is a good thing. The thing I see lacking from WFH is a lack of communication – we have too many people assuming everyone knows things. And I would think training might be easier in person but we haven’t hired anyone knew to the team. I just know if I had to go back in fulltime, my soon to be retired self would be retired even sooner.

    1. After 33 years ...*

      Interesting … I am also soon-to-be-retired, and I can say my experience has been almost the exact opposite. As much of what I do involves collaboration and teaching, WFH substantially decreased my effectiveness. I’m worse at remote calls than I was six months ago. Group meetings (seminars) are much less effective now that people are tired (even those who prefer to WFH don’t want to attend). It’s definitely been a major impediment to those trying to start their careers, the grad students and younger faculty.
      I’m now retiring 8 months earlier than I had planned to in late 2019.

  32. Richard Hershberger*

    “A more thoughtful approach would be fore teams to map out what they truly need to collaborate on, with whom, and when, and then plan schedules accordingly…”

    The ideological justification for forcing people back is not merely collaboration, but *spontaneous* collaboration. The approach Alison gives here is the opposite of that. This approach does not achieve the desired end because, as Alison immediately points out,

    “(and acknowledge that some weeks there may be no need to come in at all).”

    Alison’s argument makes perfect sense if we assume that the goal is to maximize productivity while allowing employees to work from home as much as possible. That isn’t even the pretextual argument being made.

    1. Nanani*

      But spontaneous collaboration just doesn’t happen in a lot of types of jobs, or only happens in specific phases – the coming up with ideas part as opposed to the implementing ideas part.

      Mapping out when you’re going to brainstorm and outline, and cooperating during that phase makes sense. Pretending that people totally spontaneously cooperate on their individual contributions is kind of nonsense for a lot of jobs. Most jobs don’t involve that much personal spin or creativity.

      1. TechWorker*

        Okay – but it’s also not nonsense for some jobs. Where I work we absolutely do ‘spontaneously collaborate’ a LOT. Whether that’s a quick question that a couple of people nearby answer, or a longer discussion where 2-3 people grab a meeting room/use the whiteboard… it IS harder to replicate that remotely. We really tried. But it’s a hell of a lot easier when everyone’s sat in the same place.

        It’s also honestly, helpful to me as a manager to be able to see how busy people are – it’s a lot easier to see how interruptible someone is (are they clearly deep in thought? Are they on a break? are they scrolling through email?) and that saves SO much time. I can fit in 10 minute conversations in between meetings by grabbing people who are free vs having to IM and then having some indeterminate wait whilst the other person might not even be at their desk; or having to schedule something in which means I end up with loads of 10 minute slots between meetings. (I guess that’s solvable by asking people to set their IM to ‘away’ every time they go to the loo or to get a drink.. but that’s not really our culture and feels onerous to me).

        1. Rocket*

          So much more gets done and so many little annoyances are mitigated because I happened to overhear someone having a conversation and can say “hey, don’t forget to think about x.” That just doesn’t happen when everyone is remote, and in my particular office where so much of our work is collaborative in that way, it makes a huge difference.

    2. Eyes Kiwami*

      Yeah I think that is also part of the calculus that must be made. How does this team do their best work? Do they frequently collaborate, cross-train, brainstorm, work with locally nearby team members very closely on complex projects? Do they mostly work independently, on focus-heavy work, or with team members in other regions? How do we WANT them to get their work done, and what kind of company culture do we want to foster?

      I think many WFH fans would agree with the “but collaboration!” argument if it were couched in this kind of language, and accompanied other culture/how we work changes and reimaginings. But so often it seems like management hasn’t thought about the actual topic–how can we do our best work–so the decision is not based on business reasons either way. Even if everyone enthusiastically returned to the office, a deep dive into work culture could help teams be even more successful.

  33. turquoisecow*

    I work remote but had to go to the office last week for a computer upgrade that should have taken 15 minutes but took 2 hours. I was one of the only people wearing a mask (the other person I saw I know had a small child recently), no one was keeping 6 feet apart, and everything seemed to be running as it was 2.5 years ago when I was last there. There’s a vaccine requirement for vendors who come to visit but not employees who are there all day. They stopped requiring masks, but even when they did require them, they were only required when you weren’t sitting at your desk (because cubicle walls protect you?) The only thing that has changed that they are sticking to is limiting the number of people allowed in a conference room, so the monthly “town hall” meeting is on Teams, which is nice because I can attend without having to drive to the office, but means everyone is attending the meeting from their desks, which they could do from home. I think they allow the full-timers (I’m part time) one day a week at home, but it can’t be Friday or Monday. If I was required to come in regularly at this point I’d probably quit, because the remote set up works for me. Thankfully, I don’t see that happening in the near future, and I’ve made my position clear.

    My husband’s company is international and his team is scattered over the country – he’s in NY and he has people in Texas, California, Boston, and Virginia, plus he regularly talks to people in California and even overseas. Before the pandemic he used to go in a couple of times a week mostly to meet with the other NY coworker on his team and a few other people, occasionally if vendors came in and wanted to go to lunch. But now we have a baby and the other NY team member is expecting one so neither feel safe going to the office, and there would be limited benefit since they’re mostly not there. He actually was considering going in to have lunch with a guy who was in from California, but around the same time several people in the office tested positive for Covid so he declined.

    My company is smaller and in an industry where butts in seats has been the standard for many years so I think they haven’t quite figured out how to work with remote working. Pre-pandemic, very few people worked from home. My husband is in tech so remote work is basically the standard, and people who chose to go to the office every day were seen as outliers, and he’s also always worked with more distributed teams so even when he was in the office and they were in the office, they weren’t really together.

    I bet for a lot of companies it’s hard to wrap minds around the idea of working but not being in a work location. My job is white collar but we support more blue collar workers (retail) and a lot of us used to work in the more blue collar section so I think especially in my industry the idea that you wouldn’t go somewhere to work is a bit alien. My husband’s company is tech and that’s always been more of the mindset that you can work from wherever as long as you have a computer and a network connection.

  34. Llellayena*

    I think there’s some tug-of-war among the decision makers because what we now have for WFH seems like a compromise-by-committee. We’re allowed up to 2 WFH days per week, pre-scheduled, same days each week, but we can only use them T-W-Th. So…those 3 days we only have a third of the office in, but Friday and Monday we should have everyone in. Kinda cuts out the “flexibility” aspect of WFH.

    1. Workerbee*

      Isn’t that weird, the stigma some places have about Fridays and Mondays? That never made any sense to me.

      1. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

        I think it comes down to the idea that “working from home” isn’t REALLY working, it’s just employees slacking off. So if they’re allowed to WFH on Monday or Friday it’s just like giving them a long weekend and encouraging even more slacking.
        By limiting the WFH days to mid-week, they’re making them less desirable/exploitable.
        To be clear, I think this ‘reasoning’ is complete hogwash, but it certainly does seem to happen more with employers who manage more on butts in seats than performance metrics.

        1. Nanani*

          Which isn’t true – and if a workplace does have a slacker that treats it that way, they need to manage that person and not pretend everyone at the office is high schoolers trying to cut class.

  35. Dee Dee*

    A big but informal part of my job used to be facilitating different kinds of meetings and workshops. We have people at various different locations, and had some software tools (think virtual whiteboards) to do these remotely. One thing I learned is that as soon as one person is remote, everyone may as well be remote. Everyone’s going to have to be crowded around their screens anyway. Back then it wasn’t such a big deal but with COVID still lurking I’d just as soon hold the whole workshop virtually.

    (BTW, I heard about a company that recently brought folks back to the office for a big workshop. It was very productive—but one person got a message halfway through that their partner had tested positive for COVID, and then the next day it was shared that another participant also tested positive. A lot of people flew in for this event, and flew back the night before the second person shared their positive test. Yeah, I’m in no hurry to crowd around a whiteboard in a room with a bunch of co-workers.)

  36. House Tyrell*

    We’re 100% in person again and 99% of our meetings are still happening from Zoom because covid safety rules in our office prohibit meeting in person still. So now we just hear everyone on all their calls all day or other voices pick up on your calls and if you bring your lunch you have to eat it alone at your desk because the staff lounge is still closed. The execs who made us all return have huge offices with windows and don’t have to wear masks in their offices, but everyone in the cubicles has to wear a KN95 or double mask all day long even at our desks and we have no windows.

  37. A Feast of Fools*

    I get up two to two-and-a-half hours before I have to leave my house to start my commute. I need that much time because I’ll be gone 10-11 hours, and have both pets and an elderly parent living with me, so I have to get everyone 100% set for the day before I leave.

    Then I spend 40 minutes to an hour in my car — driving 16 miles — chewing through $10 worth of gas.

    Then I sit in my cube for 4 hours, wearing a tight-fitting KN95 mask with a triple-layer fabric mask over it, all snugged up with an adjustable lanyard that goes over the top of my ponytail (to keep it from sliding down the back of my head).

    Then I sit in my car for 30 minutes, wolfing down food and chugging as much water as I can because I can’t drink water *and* keep myself safe from COVID while at my cube.

    Then I sit in my cube for another 4 hours, with an ever-increasing headache from dehydration, the pressure of the masks, and the mind-numbing drone of the building’s HVAC system.

    During the 8 hours I’m in my cube, I will have several meetings with people who are in my same building. Over video. Including with people on my own team who sit mere feet from me. If we need to talk 1:1, we *might* get up and go to the other person’s cube / office, but it’s easier to IM each other or use Teams for a phone call.

    Then I spend another 40 minutes to an hour in my car — driving 16 miles — chewing through another $10 worth of gas.

    All so I can sit in another town… in an uncomfortable space… wearing an uncomfortable mask… getting a dehydration headache.. just to do literally the exact same thing I do at home.

    Even without the personal hardships, this would still p*ss me off because of the utter lunacy of it all. We only go in two days a week (for now) and on those days I am mentally saying, “This is dumb. This is so f*cking dumb,” over and over and over again, from the moment I get up until I fall in bed — exhausted and mentally drained — at night.

    Why is Corporate America so f*cking stupid?

  38. idwtpaun*

    Yes, yes, all of the yes!

    My company aggressively insists on 2 days a week in the office with exactly that “teams want to collaborate in person” justification that just isn’t true for a lot of us. The commute is long and expensive for me and I resent being forced to pay time and money to be less productive in a less comfortable environment. We have offices in other geographic locations, so tele-meetings have always been and will always be part of the job anyway.

    I’m not one of the people who feels lonely and isolated at home, but even if I were, I don’t see how our current set up would remedy that, given that we are still following some safety protocols, so the open-plan office is always mostly empty. It just feels lonelier to sit in a cavernous space, with AC settings I can’t control, having to use a public bathroom, and with a computer set-up that’s less productive than what I have at home (a gaming mouse with its multiple buttons is also great for all sorts of office work shortcuts!).

    Apologies for the rant, it’s been a source of frustration because my company has not been open to feedback on this.

  39. anonymous73*

    There are pros and cons to every argument, both full time remote, full time in office, and hybrid, and it’s all dependent on the type of role you fill. But even way before the pandemic, my company was starting to have a lot of teleconference meetings (with everyone in the same location), and in my last job, my team was all over the country so all of our meetings were over a conference line. If you are able to do your job fully remote without issues, there needs to be a solid plan for in office that makes sense for everyone. Because while it may have been painful at the beginning, I think we’ve all proven that remote employees can get their jobs done.

  40. RunShaker*

    My small department is part of larger area & they’re stating the exact same thing about “collaboration will be so much better.” My department leader also tried to say that customer service will improve, we’ll be able to innovation more & you’ll be able to lead over & speak to your co-worker across the aisle to problem solve. LOL, most of my coworkers are located in other states! Our customer service has not suffered & I know that since I’ve been working our customer complaints for years & am able to see the boarder complaints. Nothing as changed. As for innovation, my small department is closing. How do you innovate when you’re closing down???? Even with closing, we’ve come up with ways to address issues. I feel like I’m banging my head on the desk. The department leader has always had the mentality that you’re not working unless your butts are in your office chair at the office. Pre-pandemic, he would walk the aisles after 6pm asking where is everybody. I looked at him & said the coworkers in question are working their normal schedules & their hours are earlier & have gonna home. I’ve even had to point out to him, well Wakeen comes in at 7:30am so has left. I work a later schedule. I’m so frustrated. WFH model has shown we can be just as or even more successful working from home.

    1. RunShaker*

      Our office has been open for over a year on limited number basis which is great for people who struggled with WFH & I thought that was really good. The limited number of people allow back never maxed out. It had been a win/win for all of us. But company is now forcing everybody to hybrid schedule & that my issue.

  41. Quinalla*

    We just had a survey for my company about “Future of Work” planning – they were very careful not to call it “Return to Work” and I emphasized strongly that if we do plan to have any required work in office days they should be carefully planned so that folks can collaborate on those days and that it should be coordinated at a smaller team level and a larger company level. Otherwise, things should continue as they have for a while with everyone have ultimate flexibility to come in or not as much as they want.

    I also talked about the fact that we have regional offices and a few people who are or always have been permanently remote and we need to make sure we continue to support them. That doesn’t mean in person events/etc. can’t happen, it just means that some culture events and most meetings should by hybrid or everyone Teams-into it.

    My company has been great about all of this and frankly, we have quite a bit of focus work necessary and most (not all – some prefer office all the time which is np with me) people prefer to do that WFH where it is easier again for most people to focus. But yeah, if we do end up doing a hybrid schedule, I’d anticipate a meeting/collab day or two and 3-4 focus days and likely more encouraging of people to be in on meeting/collab days and likely not requiring it.

    1. a varying amount of alacrity*

      I wish my company had done a survey, or even made any pretense towards asking the workforce what would be preferred. Even having different mandated days in the office would be an improvement, but there was no attempts to solicit feedback.

  42. irene adler*

    I bet the underlying reason for this is that managers fear for their jobs. Without reports on site to control, it might appear to upper management that middle managers are superfluous.

    1. TechWorker*

      For a site with presumably a lot of managers there’s… really not a lot of faith in managers.

      Maybe this is common?! Idk – but there are also a whole bunch of managers who genuinely think / even if you disagree / that being in the office is more productive. The number of motivations the comment section manager to assign to that (control? Being mean for the sake of it? Worried about their own jobs?) is kinda astonishing.

      1. Goldenrod*

        Agreed – I don’t have a lot of faith in middle managers, because in my experience, a lot of them don’t do much real work.

        Sure, some managers are great and contribute to a productive workplace. But do we really need so many of them? Working from home does put the focus more actual work output and less on performative aspects of jobs, like being in your seat, or schmoozing with the boss, or performing having a good attitude. If you are a middle manager, you can spend your time tracking everyone’s comings and goings and reporting on that. But how helpful is that, really?

        Why should people generally have faith in managers if their own direct, personal experience tells them something different? I think all the comments about crappy managers probably means….there are a lot of crappy managers out there.

        Is that astonishing? I’m not astonished by it, but that’s my experience. I wish it were different, but I think bad managers generally outnumber good managers, simply because there are a lot of people in power who don’t know how to use it correctly.

        I believe that in order to be a good manager, you pretty much have to be an evolved, reasonable, kind, emotionally mature person. And a lot of people….just aren’t that.

      2. pancakes*

        I’m not astonished. People have been saying this about middle managers for decades, and the number of them has ballooned over the same time frame. Barbara and John Ehrenreich came up with the phrase Professional Managerial Class (PMC) in 1977, and when they wrote about it again in 2013, they said,

        “Although a variety of practical and theoretical obstacles prevent making any precise analysis, we estimate that as late as 1930, people in PMC occupations still made up less than 1 percent of total employment. By 1972, about 24 percent of American jobs were in PMC occupations. By 1983 the number had risen to 28 percent and by 2006, just before the Great Recession, to 35 percent.”

        This shouldn’t be new news. David Graeber’s book “Bullshit Jobs: A Theory” is also on point here.

        1. Goldenrod*


          This argument is also very well-articulated in Ed Zitron’s article, “Why Managers Fear a Remote-Work Future.” The whole article is amazing, but I especially like this part:

          “Remote work lays bare many brutal inefficiencies and problems that executives don’t want to deal with because they reflect poorly on leaders and those they’ve hired. Remote work empowers those who produce and disempowers those who have succeeded by being excellent diplomats and poor workers, along with those who have succeeded by always finding someone to blame for their failures. It removes the ability to seem productive (by sitting at your desk looking stressed or always being on the phone), and also, crucially, may reveal how many bosses and managers simply don’t contribute to the bottom line.”

  43. DJ*

    During the pandemic our conservative state govt has cut back on and privatised public public transport lengthening our commutes. In some cases previously well transported area now there are days commuters can be left stranded mid journey. More cars are on the road as commuters can’t rely on transport. We even had the govt cancel all train services with no notice. Yet they are so hell bent on workers returning to CBD areas to “stimulate the economy”. Such so that they haven’t encouraged WFH due to current lengthy bad weather conditions freeing up roads for emergency, essential service workers and evacuees.
    But not willing to look at creative solutions such as encouraging other use for office space, many businesses setting up hubs etc in a former single workplace occupied building!

  44. WomEngineer*

    My office is doing a hybrid schedule that’s 2 days/week in-office based on which product you support (Teapot A, Teapot B, etc.). We’ll see how it goes! I started during the pandemic, so I can’t compare it to “before.”

  45. Liz*

    We’re getting the same lines with a lot of pressure to go back into the office for more and more time, with lots of veiled and not-so veiled comments that if we don’t, we can kiss any career advancement goodbye. It’s like they forgot that for the past two years everyone worked very productively from home. I have no issues if people want to be in the office (many do!) or need to be, but to force multi hour commutes to sit in a cube on zoom (even before Covid almost all collaboration was with people outside of the physical office due to the nature of our business), is ridiculous. I have a job interview this week for a permanently remote job. My company has made it obvious that they don’t trust or respect us, and want people back to soothe their own anxieties, and even though they are losing good candidates to other companies who are not so reactionary (which is most of the other companies in our industry).

    And in twenty years I have never seen “spontaneous collaboration” happen purely because people were breathing on each other in the same space. We are just not that kind of industry.

    “I resent being forced to pay time and money to be less productive in a less comfortable environment”


  46. No Dumb Blonde*

    Yep, our gov’t agency rule was to return to work by mid-September last year, and in my small office, everyone did so largely without complaint. However, meetings still take place over Microsoft Teams, partly because we have two staff members who feel unsafe (medical conditions, etc.) and a few still deal with childcare issues or positive tests that keep them at home. Most meetings and work can be managed this way; however, the situation has been hugely detrimental for a system enhancement I am involved in. The project manager is a contractor who previously used one of our existing empty offices; now, because they are not a regular employee, they aren’t subject to return-to-office rules. The staff person who is the primary SME and decisionmaker on the project is one of those still working remotely due to medical conditions. Remote meetings and numerous email threads continue to be the default, which has led to much confusion, balls being dropped, and major delays on the project. To make matters worse, both the PM and primary SME live in a rural area outside our town and sometimes experience bandwidth / connectivity issues. I certainly don’t blame either of these individuals for the current situation, but I’m here to say that collaboration — having all key personnel in the same room, hearing and seeing the same thing, able to chime in with ideas or concerns in real time — sometimes is quite important.

  47. Hunter*

    I’m a contractor for a federal government entity that has mandated three days of in-person office work. At the same time, they revoked contractor access to the parking garage, meaning that I now get to pay $20 per day to drive 30 miles into work, then walk half a mile to my office. Many of the other people in my department have different telework agreements and many have reasonable accommodations, so we’re not even in the office at the same time or on the same days. It’s stuff like this that makes people leave for greener pastures…

  48. Alice*

    I’ve suggested that my boss and my grandboss explicitly to make the case that returning to the office will make our work better — either for us or for our users; we are in academia and our department is made up of very service-oriented people. They haven’t, beyond “because collaboration and brainstorming” and “because relationships”!
    Well, in fact we are still doing almost everything that has to be synchronous via Zoom because on any given day some people are WFH. Even more than video calls, we are doing a lot asynchronously because we fit it in around synchronous meetings with our clients at their convenience. Relationships with colleagues are not improved by people unmasking in shared workspaces when they know other people in the space don’t want that. So why is working from the office three days a week helping achieve our mission?

  49. Jane Smith*

    I can’t believe people are willing to accept long-term working from home without additional compensation. Compare your heating bill (or cooling, if you’re in a hot place) from January 2020 to January 2022 … and then think about your square footage. Currently, 25% of my home is being donated free-of-charge to my employer as workspace. I’m lucky to have the space to dedicate as an office … but I’d kinda like it to be a TV room someday? I truly can’t believe that people are OK with essentially forfeiting some portions of their homes for their employers’ use. Not to mention the way we’re shortening the lifespans of toilets, micowaves, ovens, etc, because of increased use.

    On a work-related note, collaboration is good – but another concern is how we support younger employees. Those connections just don’t happen over Teams or Slack the way they do in person – I have dedicated a good bit of time over the past few years to reaching out to young or new co-workers, and no matter what you tell them, they just don’t feel comfortable “bothering” you with a question until you’ve reached out a dozen or so times. All of us had the support and guidance of our older colleagues when we started out, but we’re expecting young people to make it without our help.

    1. HigherEdAdminista*

      If I have a choice between the lack of compensation that happens during my commute (2.5 hours per day) and a lack of compensation that happens by turning over some of my space, the answer is easy: I will take the lack of compensation for turning over some of my space because then I am at least paid in time. When I commute, I spend money and time to get somewhere, and time is very precious. I would rather have 2.5 hours every day added to my life than to worry I might have to replace a microwave after 8 years as opposed to 10.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes. My season ticket cost me £2000 per year (which my employer paid and then took from my salary). Working from home saves me significantly on the travel costs of commuting into London and the time it takes me to do it. I also spend less on food because I’m not feeding my Starbucks frappacino habit.

        I am having to pay for heating my flat and electricity but to be honest for me I’m slightly better off on the whole.

        1. Hunter*

          Convenience food is something I forgot to mention in my reply but it’s definitely a real concern of mine as well. I tend to indulge as a way to keep my morale up, but when I’m at home it’s harder to justify.

          1. UKDancer*

            I find I definitely cook more fresh and healthy things when I’m at home than I do when I’ve got to commute. So I’ve been in the office today and done a street dance class. By the time I got in I wanted a ready meal and a soda because I’m tired. Tomorrow I’m at home so I’m planning to do beef with green peppers and rice from scratch and then go to a zoom lecture.

            I think on balance there are pros and cons to each but overall I find a mixture suits me best.

      2. iglwif*

        Yep. It’s the time for me–that and the money I’m not spending on “office-appropriate” clothing and, especially, footwear.

        And I’m not trying to feed into the “if only people bought less Starbucks they could afford a down payment on a house” BS, but for me personally, working from home (which I started doing in 2017, so completely unrelated to the pandemic) has meant WAY less impulse spending on things like coffee and takeaways and snack foods.

        Also, maybe this is just a Canadian thing? But I get a tax break for using space in my home for work–and considering all the other things I use this room for (it’s my kid’s room, when she’s home from university, as well as my office and the room I use for non-work zooms and a storage space for various things), it works out pretty well.

        Your point about younger/newer staff is interesting. My team has hired 2 new people during the pandemic, and they’re both awesome, and neither of them would have been hired if working in the office were a requirement. Maybe they’re exceptional, but they definitely do not seem to have ANY hesitation in joining in the IM conversations (business-related and not) or in asking the rest of us questions or asking for help. Onboarding people remotely definitely does not *have* to mean a lack of support for those people!

    2. Firm Believer*

      Is there an office that you can go to to mitigate this? This wouldn’t be argument in my workplace – we have an office that people can work from every day if they want.

    3. Nanani*

      Depending where you live, working from home is tax deductible specifically in these ways – rooms given over to work use, portions of internet use and heating bills, etc.

    4. After 33 years ...*

      +1000000 This is not a good time to be a senior undergraduate, grad student or hopeful faculty person, in a profession which thrives on collaboration and interaction and requires field research. As an ‘established’ academic, I’m seeing the negative consequences and the resulting mental stress in young people, and it hurts. Unfortunately, there are no universal answers.

      1. Alice*

        Yes this is a difficult time, but before the pandemic there were already high rates of mental health challenges among grad students. This paper came out during the pandemic but all the included studies were conducted before.

        Satinsky, E.N., Kimura, T., Kiang, M.V. et al. Systematic review and meta-analysis of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation among Ph.D. students. Sci Rep 11, 14370 (2021). 10.1038/s41598-021-93687-7

    5. Hunter*

      I work as a federal contractor. My agency’s floor for working in the office is 3 days in-person per week, unless you get a reasonable accommodation. They also just told us that contractors can no longer park in the garage. That means that I will be driving to and from my office a total of 1.5 hours per day and spending $20 per day parking in the garage. Additionally, I have to walk half a mile from my car to my building. If you add all of that up (assuming I don’t get my accommodation) I truly think that getting back about 5.5 hours of my life every week (4.5 for the commute and 1 for the walk), driving 720 miles less in my car every month, and not spending $240 to park every month is worth it even without additional compensation. And I think that beats out all the added wear and tear on appliances and the increased bills, at least in my personal situation.

    6. A Feast of Fools*

      My increase in utilities is miniscule compared to my commuting costs (which include makeup, hair styling products, and a “professional” wardrobe). As in, we’ve only started back 2 days a week this month and I can already see a huge chunk of my budget that will need to be redirected toward “go to the office” costs. For going in 2 days a week, it will cost me ~$200. The more days I am forced to go back, the higher that cost.

      As for training up new “young” people: I’m assuming you’ve never worked with anyone who was remote? In a satellite office? An international company with people on your team in 9 different time zones?

      We hired six new people during the pandemic, four of which were fresh out of school. We’re all tight and have developed good relationships because I reach out to them on an almost daily basis. Via Teams. Sometimes it’s IM and sometimes it’s a Teams call. No one is expecting them to make it without our help. We just understand that communication works in whatever medium we have at hand: in person, in chat, in email, over the phone. Whatever.

      So if the new hires in your company don’t feel comfortable asking you anything until you’ve reached out to them a dozen times then. . . reach out to them a dozen times. You don’t need to be in the same physical location to do that.

      1. After 33 years ...*

        YMMV – situations are so different:
        “As for training up new “young” people: I’m assuming you’ve never worked with anyone who was remote? In a satellite office? An international company with people on your team in 9 different time zones?”

        I appreciate that it works for you, but your situation is very different from how we have to interact with graduate students to mentor them effectively, so my answers as far as grad students are concerned would be “no, no, and no”. I cannot teach someone to be a gardener if they are not allowed to touch a real plant or work with actual soil. In March 2020, I was optimistic that we could teach effectively remotely, but now I am not.

        1. Apples and Oranges*

          Sorry, I didn’t catch where the OP said she was in academia?

          Or any other profession where someone must watch-then-physically-do a process in order to learn it, like manufacturing, or gardening.

          My answer would be different for jobs that *require* F2F interaction.

          1. Jane Smith*

            I work in an industry where the first year or so is like an informal apprenticeship, and it works a lot better with regular input from older staffers. Everyone who started in my industry pre pandemic had the ability to tap the collective knowledge base easily and quickly via in-person interaction. It’s challenging to replicate electronically.

      2. I.*

        Companies with employees in 9 different time zones have built that into their structures and cultures bc they’ve had to. Some companies that went remote have been intentional about this but many haven’t. If you just got hired at one of those (esp straight out of school!) you’re missing out on all these informal interactions that don’t have a virtual equivalent yet. I hear you that they do in your company and that’s great, but apples and oranges here.

      3. Jane Smith*

        I think you misunderstand my frustration – it’s not having to reach out to new hires multiple times. It’s that there’s a long period of time where they’re not getting the help they need while you slowly convince them that it’s really ok to ask.

        1. ThatConsultant*

          Also – when I was a new college grad on an international team, I still benefited from being able to tap the collective office knowledge base in my home office. Questions like “where do the project management templates live” and “how do I submit a time sheet” and “can you help me proof an email so I don’t look dumb in front of a senior person” don’t require a specific manager, they just require a juman with more professional experience and company experience than I had at the time. So even tho I was working remotely with an international team, I (and they) benefited from in-office communities…

    7. Rocket*

      Considering all the people on this site clamoring for WFH, I can’t see an employer paying extra for it. You want to be paid extra for something the bosses don’t want in the first place? That’s going to be a real quick no WFH then.

    8. just another bureaucrat*

      Clearly, a lot of people value not commuting over space in their home which is wild to me because I live in a place with a very short commute on purpose, but also when I had to stay home and quarantine and had to give up a huge portion of my studio apartment to work it was horrible because then work was always in my own space. It’s my home, my personal sanctuary and now work invaded it. I’ve had a couple of subsequent quarantine blocks so I haven’t torn it down and gone back to having it be my own space yet and it makes me less happy at home. I’m really looking forward to being out of this far enough that I can take it down and take back my home.

      1. Jane Smith*

        Yeah, when people complain about the commute it’s like … they chose that. They decided to live 45 minutes or an hour or whatever from their work because living there was appealing to them and the literal and metaphorical math worked. I live seven minutes from my work, which has its upsides and its downsides … but I made this choice in part because I hate commuting.

        I hope you get your space back soon!

        1. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

          In major cities, you can’t always just choose to live 10 minutes from the office because the housing costs in the city are much higher – unaffordable to many. So you live further out, with a longer commute, in an area in which you can afford housing. But the jobs are still in the city. It’s not much of a choice.

    9. MistOrMister*

      When we first started working remotely, I was a little testy that my company wasn’t offering some sort of compensation for the fact that my home bills would be going up. I was worried I would be blowing through toilet paper like water and that my water bill would be through the roof now that I would be using the bathroom at home all day. And what I have found….there is virtually no change to any of that. My electricity usage is almost identical to before covid. I’m personally not really using my stove and appliances all that much more as I make batch meals on the weekend to have during the week. Meanwhile, I am saving $130 a month by not needing to pay for office parking. I’m saving up to $100 a month not needing to pay for 5 days’ of commuting and not putting that wear and tear on my car. I’ve got an extra hour or more time of my own now that I have no commute and my lunch hour feels more like a real personal hour. I save money by cooking more and not popping out for lunch or breakfast – and by not having to buy both lunch and breakfast out if I forget my food at home. I would think that most people don’t feel their WFH set up is the same as giving up part of their home for their employers’ use. After all, I am the only one using the work equipment in my house. If I was expected to let my coworkers use the equipment, that would feel like giving up part of my home. Having a desk set up for work feels more like what I assume it feels like for, say a plumber, to have a set of work issued tools. If that person keeps a toolbox in their car while not on site, it doesn’t come across as if they have given up part of their car for the employer’s usage.

      I don’t think anyone is expecting younger employees to make it without help. Trainers of new colleagues can and should be reaching out to them regularly to help them get accustomed to things. The one big difference I would say is that new people can’t just stop by someone’s desk and ask a question if they can’t get ahold of their normal go-to people. And there is less getting to know someone spontaneously because you helped them with the copier or some such thing. Hopefully we will come up with ways to get around those sorts of issues as/if remote work becomes more of the norm.

    10. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      I am willing to accept WFH without compensation because I have no choice. My employer isn’t going to compensate me for use of my home or utilities, and if I don’t like it, I can come into the office every day. There is no leverage. What I really object to is not having a tax deduction for these home business expenses.

      I had to buy a window air conditioner for my home office because my house is not air conditioned. So, in fact, I do have a significant electric expense for that air conditioning for my home office. Other than that, the additional direct utility cost is minimal.

    11. Koala dreams*

      Yes, I don’t get it either. Where I live, you could pay for a car (and all the related costs) for the cost of an extra work room, or several monthly bus passes. Sure, a lot of people have been working from their bed or their kitchen table so technically they don’t use extra space, but then you would need to set up and remove all your stuff every day, perhaps twice a day if your family eat at the kitchen table during the work day.

      I agree that it’s less of a barrier when you can pick things up just by being in the vicinity. There’s a mental barrier when you have to book a meeting for every little thing. It takes more time too. I don’t think offices will go back to the way things used to be, but I wished I knew where things are going. This in-between phase is not good.

  50. Confused By People*

    I had a one week rotation in office a few weeks ago. The socialization aspect was nice, but I found myself eating my lunch at my desk and working through lunch and staying 15-30 minutes late to finish things up. I also had a one hour meeting turn into a two hour. I appreciate the work/life balance of wfh so much more.

  51. CW*

    After working remotely or hybrid for the past two years, my current employer will be moving to a hybrid model permanently, with different departments going in on different days of the week. This will be two to three times a week, the amount of days being our choice. The plus side is everyone in your department will be in so it will guarantee that the office will not be empty.

    My previous job, which I started in summer 2019, went hybrid when the pandemic began, with me going in once a week, but only because I had to do something on a weekly basis that I couldn’t do from home. I left that job in December. My current job was all remote until now. Nothing set in stone yet, but I have no problems with hybrid two days a week. The plus side is that not everyone will be in the office at once, which will lessen the chances of any COVID outbreaks. But I wouldn’t be careless about this either.

    1. Brain the Brian*

      How are they planning to square the circle of having people in two or three days of the way at each employee’s choice and having everyone from a department in on the same days? It sounds like if employees are allowed to choose their days, the won’t result in each department being in on the same day.

  52. Nanani*

    I wonder how much the realization of how much time was really being wasted on commutes in particular has changed people’s willingness to accept them as normal.
    We know remote work CAN work for a lot of jobs that never considered it before, now. The cat is not going back into the bag.

  53. Classic Criss Cross*

    My company has us all coming in on the same two days and they’re catering lunch for us on those days. We’re a small office of 15, so it makes sense to try and coordinate when we’ll all be in. And so far, most people are sticking around at lunch and socializing for half an hour or so.
    However, despite being small in number, we have two floors of a building. Most people are sitting on the lower floor, but I’m sitting on the upper floor because I like the quiet. We come together for lunch and meetings, and that’s enough for me. I have no doubt though that once the lease comes up for renewal, we’ll be moving to a different location where we’ll all be on the same floor because that’s what everyone wants.

  54. CAS*

    In March 2020, I was told I had to work from home because my job is so critical that if I became ill for an extended period, it would affect operations. We stopped all in-person contact with customers as well. This expectation continued until last summer when I was required to be at the office two days per week. At that time, three of us in the office routinely wore masks. I stayed in my office all day, every day, to minimize interaction with others. I also used the office’s body temperature scanner every time I was in the office just like I was supposed to. “Fever over 100 degrees? Go back to your car and call your supervisor.” After all, if I got sick, it would disrupt operations, right? LOL. What a joke. Through all of Beta and Omicron, the same small handful of us wore our masks faithfully. Several of my coworkers became ill with COVID during Omicron. We were all exposed but weren’t informed. A few weeks ago, I was told I was expected to start coming in three days per week and we are resuming in-person contact with customers. I stopped scanning my body temperature weeks ago. I mean, what difference does it make if I have a fever when all these unmasked people in the office could be asymptomatic carriers? I sit in my office alone three days a week. There is little to no collaboration. And I am more efficient at home. But I guess they aren’t worried anymore about the effects of COVID exposure on our operations.

  55. Melting HR Guru*

    I have never been WFH Ever in this whole thing. Eveyone I worked for wanted me to stay to bitter end. I get people not wanting to come back but spare a thought for me who never got to WFH. I look at the ones in my own office wanting to work form home and then when I ask how? (My industry ) I get well we could but our ownership will not pony up for the tech to do so. I am at work typing this on a desktop as our leadership feels we must be in the office and only has desktops no laptops except for sales

  56. StellaBella*

    Another added frustration is that covid is striking our in person folks in the office….5 that I know of in my office in the past 4 weeks. A few of us mask still, but come on. One person was 3x vaxxed and still out for 2+ weeks. How is this aiding productivity?

    1. CW*

      This reminds me of a job I was at for only a month, required us to be on-site 5 days a week. Within two weeks there were two possible exposures to COVID, one lady even lost her sense of smell and taste. My boss had to isolate as well. That was really nerve-wracking. Plus, not everyone wore a mask. As you said, how is it aiding productivity? It certainly isn’t in your case or mine.

  57. Phil*

    I might be a minority here, but I’m an employee who is enjoying the office days. I love working from home because I have a long commute, but I also live alone so even though I see friends regularly and have a life, I like that human connection with work. Having said that, it’s not something I’m going to push either way with other employees.
    I think the other thing is, what Allison wrote in the last paragraph, my company actually did! Employees were surveyed to find out which days of the week worked better for office days and how many per week, because the higher-ups acknowledged people’s routines and commitments may have changed with full time work from home. They asked what we liked best about coming into the office and what needed to change. And probably most important with this article, they asked team leaders to think about meetings that work better in person, and to prioritise those on office days (I also spoke up on this because I was concerned an office day could easily devolve into nonstop meetings, and it looks like my team at least has realised this).
    Anyway, I guess my point is, hybrid working can work when done right, but it shouldn’t be done for the sake of doing it.

    1. Joielle*

      Yeah, I’ve been going in voluntarily one day a week for about 6 months, and I like it. Seeing other people is nice! Leadership has mostly been coming in too so I get lots of face time with them. And there’s a weekly meeting that I’ve been attending in person, which I prefer.

      Soon everyone will be required to come in two days a week, and (ironically) even though I don’t mind going to the office, I’m a little annoyed at having to add another in-office day. They’re saying it’s “for collaboration,” but our work does not really require collaboration at all (and to the extent it rarely might, we’d be doing it by email or Teams anyways). I do like coming in, but I really chafe at being told it’s for reasons that are clearly not true.

      1. NYC Taxi*

        I’m back in the office 3 days a week and love it. Our leadership is coming in as well and that face time has been invaluable, and is affording me additional opportunities to work on new business. My team comes in 2-3 days a week, and it’s been really valuable to getting our type of work done.

  58. faintofheartt*

    My partner was the only person in his department doing database management, and his office mandated that everyone go back to the office full-time November 1, 2021, right before the big wave in America. He tried to explain to his supervisor that his job was literally not collaborative in any way, and in fact he was MORE productive at home. His boss gave him an ultimatum to start coming in or be let go, so my partner left. 60 days later he was hired at great new company, fully remote, with 30% pay increase.

  59. Veronica Mars*

    I work in state government, and we’re back in office ~50 percent of the time. I was in a Teams meeting today where we were discussing a future meeting that needs to be collaborative and we decided it would be better to do it when we are all working from home, so it’s easier to share screens and not have annoying feedback from people sitting near each other, than to do it when we are all in the office together. We’ve gotten really good at collaborating remotely, and while I don’t mind going into the office (it’s nice to see people and be able to pop into someone’s office for a quick question instead of send a Teams chat), there was no small irony to the idea that collaborating isn’t necessarily easier in person than it is remotely. But I do really hate commuting.

  60. Brain the Brian*

    I wouldn’t mind returning to the office in a few weeks if management had made any real plans at all for it, but they haven’t given it any thought aside from “People should come in two days per week!”

    Example: lunch, and where to eat it. Our staff lounge / kitchen is closed to discourage congregating. We’re not supposed to unmask while near other coworkers — no exceptions, even for eating or drinking. So I asked where I should plan to eat my lunch. After a few days of radio silence, HR informed me via email that I should plan to buy my lunch at a nearby restaurant (keep in mind there have been no salary raises for two years) or reserve a conference room to unmask and eat alone. I guess there will be a run on our three conference rooms at lunchtime every day! Great planning! /s

    This lack of planning extends to nearly every facet of returning to the office. And that’s sad, in my opinion, because I’d actually been looking forward to no longer sitting at home alone five days every week with anxiety about whether I’m using my time efficiently. I was looking forward to seeing people again, to in-person collaboration, and to my walking-heavy commute. But alas, management’s lack of planning, clarity, and consideration have turned the whole mess into another nightmare.

    (Oh, and let’s add this: we’re going back the day after Easter — not great for observant Christians — and in the middle of Ramadan — not great for observant Muslims. Just incredible.)

      1. Brain the Brian*

        I would be perfectly happy to do this — even if it means unmasking near others to do so. But our policy is that we can’t unmask for any reason, and they’ve told us that won’t be changing. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    1. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      Similar situation in my office. We have officially returned to work on a hybrid schedule… but not really. We opened two new worksites during the prior year, and the seating is unassigned. No one knows where to sit! The company didn’t get its act together on the seating planning, and still hasn’t. The general staff, who have been working remotely during the pandemic, continue to do so and pretty much ignored the “return to office” announcement because of the lack of planning.

  61. Rogalio*

    I’m in the situation where we’re required to go in the office now, but at least it’s just one day a week. Collaboration is the reason, but the rest of my team are in other cities in the US. I’m the only one in mine. So I’m collaborating over Zoom in a windowless office that I have to commute to.

    It’s depressing and I’m less productive than my home office, and I’m dreading them increasing the days we have to go in. It’s making me search for another job that’s full time remote. If I was actually collaborating with people, I’d be willing to give it a try, but I’m literally sitting alone all day. It’s a pointless exercise and the “do it because we say so” reasoning is something I find insulting.

    1. Clandestine Timoraetta*

      I also get really depressed at the office. At home I open all my windows, I’m with my dogs, I’m comfortable. And frankly I get up and do other things all day while working as well. At the office I would stare at my computer but get nothing done.
      I also am not interested in people judging me on how much weight I gained or anything like that. And they are judging. The things people are saying about others are really mean. No thanks.

  62. quill*

    My entire work group has to be in (we all do QC sampling, rather hard to do from outside the building) and though I wasn’t here pre-pandemic, it’s weirdly cosy with everyone in? Of course, the company being serious about masks has helped, and so has the fact that we basically don’t interact in person with anyone outside the QC office.

    When it comes to collaboration, we’ve been picking Teams vs. in person based on how many screens we need for the meeting.

  63. Queen of the Hill*

    My office has tried out 3/2 hybrid schedules since last September where we have two required days (Tuesday and Wednesday) and a third day we can choose. When we had an increase in COVID cases, we had the option to be 100% remote for a few months, which was nice for peace of mind but I did miss people more than I thought I would! I think hybrid is the best of both worlds, I did miss that in-person interaction but there is NO way I will come back to the office full time. There are just tasks that are better done at home and not in the huge open-plan office we all share with 80 other people. Our all-office meetings and continuing ed presentations are scheduled on the required days so that’s helped us all get to know each other better since we’re often siloed in our project teams. Still, there are some days or weeks that are more sparse because people are out sick, or working at a job site or at meetings elsewhere – but really that was the case for us pre-pandemic as well!

  64. Hailrobonia*

    I’m just beginning to recover from breakthrough COVID so I would really want to hear from my office how face to face meetings are so valuable they are worth risking our health for.

  65. Sandiera*

    We’re supposed to be in office 2-8 days a month, but we can decide those days. So what happens is twice a month, my team manager schedules a team lunch and we all come into the office that morning, stay until after lunch, and then finish the day out from home. So we have the morning for any team meetings that may be necessary, then bond over lunch and avoid rush hour and get back to our normal WFH routine. It’s been working for us so far and it was nice to meet and interact with the people on my team who had been hired during the pandemic.

  66. Art3mis*

    Companies don’t want employees back to boost collaboration or productivity. They want employees back because real estate investors stand to lose a fortune. We can’t have rich people losing money, now can we? We don’t want those office building converted to housing thereby making housing more affordable. No, no. That won’t do.

    1. TechWorker*

      ?? This is a bizarre straw man, I think if companies genuinely felt they were getting more value out of wfh they would very happily give up paying for their office space – many already have!

      1. Firm Believer*

        Exactly. The amount of money I would safe if I got rid of my offices is two of the costliest cities in the country could go right in my pocket if I wanted it to. But my goals don’t really permit that to be a good solution for the health of the country.

      2. alienor*

        Do most companies have the flexibility to do that on a whim, though? I know my last employer was something like two years into a 10-year lease when everyone went to work from home, so they couldn’t have given up their space even if they’d wanted to, at least not without a huge financial penalty.

        1. just another bureaucrat*

          Sure but even if you signed a 10-year lease on march 1st 2020 you could still save money by not paying for all the other things of having an occupied building so yeah, it’s a really weird strawman. They could still pay rent but stop paying cleaners, or fire them if they are internal. They could pay for a lot less bandwith and electricity and toilet paper. And that’s not as much as rent but it is absolutely possible to cut cost by not being in the buildings. This is a super strange conspiracy theory excuse. Unless you work at a place where the company owner or coo has a sweetheart deal or ownership stake in the company that your company is renting from (which should be a conflict that should be raised) then this is just odd. If it’s people paying themselves WeWork style for things they already own, then definately that’s a problem. But that’s not all companies.

      3. Delphine*

        Right, this position is becoming so commonplace and it is so silly. No, companies are not maliciously demanding people back in the office because they’re beholden to real estate investors and rich people.

        1. pancakes*

          There needn’t be any malice for there to be competing interests here. If you think institutional investors aren’t concerned about retaining the value of their investments you’re misunderstanding some rather basic facts about how the market works. There’s no shortage of information on it.

          A brief quote from a recent article, just to throw some names out for you: “Office REITs that would benefit workers returning to NYC offices include: Empire State Realty Trust (ESRT +0.4%), SL Green (SLG +1.0%), Paramount Group (PGRE -0.5%), Vornado Realty Trust (VNO +1.8%), and Boston Properties (BXP +0.4%).”

      4. J*

        It’s very true for my industry though. The legal field has a huge portion of clients who are real estate clients and the ones who returned to office the earliest were definitely aware of the interconnectedness between their industries. They pushed the butts in seats ideas and went forward with new office construction in order to appease their real estate clients who therefore tied their legal spend on future projects to firms who did this when times were tough. I know this isn’t necessarily at play in every industry, my husband’s company is selling half its campus but it’s been so unsuccessful that they’re debating having people return just to get use out of it. I don’t think people are fully making rational decisions based on employees here.

  67. chewingle*

    Mine is also gently encouraging us to return ti the office for collaboration. However, I’m in Atlanta and everyone I would collaborate with is in New York, so…nah.

  68. MadnessInTheMethod*

    I work at a UK university, and even those who can work entirely from home have to do two days a week in the office because our students need a “vibrant campus”. Vibrancy appears to be equal staff density as far as I can tell, even if those staff are entirely back office and are never seen by students. Particularly for junior staff as senior managers seem to be on campus less–or perhaps they’re more dense!

  69. sarah*

    It would be really interesting to have a thread specifically focused on what *does* work well for hybrid office work or return-to-office processes. For myself I’m especially interested in hearing more about what has worked in situations similar to mine: vaccination required to be in the office, but otherwise no covid restrictions left; some permanent-remote/non-local people in nearly every meeting; genuine use case for in-person collaboration (we’re R&D). We are aiming for local people to come in 2-3 days per week starting late spring but haven’t worked out exact details yet. For example, does it make more sense to have whole departments come in together, or cross-functional teams? Hybrid meetings, or leave the big meetings on zoom and come in to co-work?

    What has worked well so far: we have two conference rooms set up with really nice, consistently working teleconference gear and that makes a huge difference for hybrid meetings so remote people can participate well. We’ve been bringing back our in-office perks like lots of snacks, which had been slim pickings when hardly anyone was going in, and we may start catering lunch for in-office days. We’ve had effective social/meet-and-greet events as well as live events like hosted external talks and people really seem to enjoy these, even though we are mostly introverted engineering types.

    1. TechWorker*

      Our company has mandated 3 days as ‘core days’ – though not fully enforced, I’d say we’re up to 60-70% of people in on those days.

      There was resistance initially from people who feel like getting the days chosen for them removed some of the benefits of ‘hybrid’ working (like, I guess the ability to wake up & decide today is not a commuting day) – but overall I think it works better than just saying ‘do whatever 3 days you like’ – it means the office feels less empty/more sociable & makes it easy to plan meetings.

      We still have (& always had) flexibility for ‘feeling well enough to work but not well enough to come in’ or ‘need to be at home because a plumber is coming’.

    2. LittleMarshmallow*

      Ours has been relatively drama free (most of our drama was around covering for wfh people who actually could only do 75% of their job from home but didn’t want to come in at all – we have mostly resolved those issues – in those cases… speaking up to management was the only thing that helped fix that issue… we made a list, presented our case, and we’re willing to listen and try different solutions).

      As far as hybrid stuff goes: we have a core team that is probably 90-100% in person. We are also R&D so lab and plan setting so we always have to have some in person staff. Our managers have been flexible about those that don’t need to be in person to run equipment. Our safety person comes in 3 days a week on specific days he chose. Our mangers and more “desky” people come in 1-4 days a week depending on their needs. If they have conf calls all day they don’t bother. If they have free blocks they do cuz they get to see our smiley faces and sometimes we let them touch the equipment. Our food safety person comes in as he pleases and that’s fine for us. I’d say 1-5 times a month. We also have a guy that works 4 10’s due to long commute and that works fine for us too. Being very deliberate about what works for each role and person and allowing that flexibility has really helped us make it work. Our biggest issue we are coming up to now is that sometimes we run out of “public desks” if too many randos come in at once. We are working on that. Haha!

    3. SophiaS*

      I like my coworkers and want to see them, and we have a workplace/culture where discussing together, asking questions etc is good for productivity. Also we are group a, part of company b, which is part of umbrella company c.

      I don’t get any plus from interacting with company c, and prefer the open office space to be empty. It’s nice to socially interact with company b sometimes, but doesn’t affect my job in any way. So our small group has just coordinated amongst ourselves. We try to be in office together, or we don’t come in. This approach has been broadly supported by the wider company, but they have begun gently pushing for more in-office. We do have some meetings that make it more natural to come in on given days. Pre-pandemic we were often at clients offices, and had been pushing for more time at our own office, so it’s obvious if there were no health concerns we’d like to be in the office sometimes, which I think helps shape what the “correct” approach is.

      Sadly there is no legal framework to require vaccines where I am, and the culture is not pro mask, which are too things which have made me go in less frequently. The push to come in, when greeted with responses such as “I’d rather get boosted first, I’m definitely holding out for that given case numbers” was answered with “oh, of course. Hope we see you after that”. I do think a level of respect for people’s differing health concerns is a prerequisite for successful hybrid.

      What has gone badly. The meeting rooms have the worst tech for joint remote/in office. We have more than one location so we definitely want this tech to work. This was something that was a pain in the neck before, but no just feels intolerable. They’ve gone on and on about innovation and the office of the future, but can’t have a proper teams meeting in half the meeting rooms. We’re a tech company, for goodness sake.

  70. izbit*

    I really liked this from the post: “A more thoughtful approach would be for teams to map out what they truly need to collaborate on, with whom, and when, and then plan schedules accordingly (and acknowledge that some weeks there may be no need to come in at all).” Allison — would love to see any examples, guidelines, tools, etc for doing this.

    1. Mr T*

      I work in a small office, but we’ve set Tuesday/thursday as possible in office days and schedule meetings then. If we don’t end up having any meetings scheduled people don’t have to come in. To me that makes sense. Even in a bigger office, it would make sense to have days that people are expected in and schedule meetings around that. Or maybe there is one “all-in” day, and other department in-person days as the function requires. It’s helpful to know I might have to go in on a Thursday if need be. I wouldn’t want my schedule to change every single week based on what meetings were happening because I’m also coordinating childcare with my spouse.

  71. Timortalla*

    Our company “solved” this by trying to force people into the office all together. It ultimately was scrapped because we had so many people just quitting. But the thing is, yes you can talk to people, but we collaborate so well online. It still feels dumb to come in around other people who are just going to chat with you all day about mindless nothing.

  72. Trawna*

    In my kind of work all communication was happening over email, Slack or Zoom pre-COVID, anyway. It didn’t matter if team members were across the country, one floor up or two aisles over, we all had headsets on and met electronically. It happened organically once we went to an agile workspace.

    I love it, and recently started a new 100% remote position, so I’m off the hook for anything but a party I want to go to!

  73. James*

    I had some bad experiences with remote working in my early career so I was worried when we went remote at the start of the pandemic, but it worked amazingly well. All our goals were achieved, no problems came up and with a little effort and structure we found we were able to collaborate just fine. So I was very glad my company decided to make returning to the office 100% optional; you can go in if you prefer to work from the office but if not, you can stay remote. I guess we miss out on “spontaneous collaboration” but I have to dredge through my memory to think of the last time I experienced any; I think it may have been 2009!

    Obviously, it depends very much on what your job is and what is the culture of your team. But I think it’s great that some companies are looking at this from a “what gets the best results” perspective, rather than “everyone has to be in their cubicles because that’s how it was in the past”.

  74. lilsheba*

    Needing to be onsite to collaborate is a load of crap. We collaborate just great in teams, and frankly I find it much easier with the screenshare capability. Training goes well this way also.

  75. Wilton Businessman*

    On Tuesdays and Friday’s I utilize MS Teams from my home to facilitate meetings and calls.

    Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday I spend 45 minutes in the car driving to work and then another 45 minutes driving home from work. When I get to work, we have strict policies in place that all conference rooms are closed, you can’t travel between floors, and you have to wear a mask in all public spaces. I go into my office, close the door, and I utilize MS Teams from my work to facilitate meetings and calls. The only difference is I am using their bandwidth instead of my own and I waste 1.5 hours a day in traffic.

    Collaboration: Achieved.

  76. just another bureaucrat*

    The actual collaboration comes from not doing 10 other things during every single meeting and therefore never paying attention, but being in the same room means you aren’t doing other things and distracted the whole time.

    I hate teams meetings so much. They are great for one on one screen sharing, but other than that hate them. Everyone forwards the meetings to an armload of people who don’t need to be there because they can’t be bothered to communicate other than just have everyone hear everything, which turns every meeting into a performance in front of 20-30 people which is exhausting in a way talking to 3 people in a conference room who are all paying attention isn’t.

    I want people in meetings so they don’t invite everyone because it is a huge waste of time which people would get if they had those people not working and in a place where they couldn’t talk to them for that hour. But every time I try to bring this up people talk about how great it is that everyone gets to participate except they never participate and they still have the same dumb I didn’t pay attention questions that they would have.

    I don’t miss people coming in to the office, but I miss meetings being in a physical place that someone would have to interrupt and see they were inturrupting, and that people would not be at their computers and doing other things. This absolutely hurts productivity and collaboration and if people are still expecting that behavior when people are in the office that’s basically the worst of all worlds.

  77. Allura Vysoren*

    This is my company and it’s infuriating. The real kicker is that I work in a satellite office of a larger company. Outside of my direct team, everyone I talk to isn’t even in the same city. Before the pandemic everything was done over email or phone and now everything is done over Teams. So I’m driving an hour a day to…sit at my desk and stare at a screen when I can just as easily do that at home for free. But upper management’s party line is “We want you all in the office because culture! Collaboration!” when we’re not even in the same office anyway.

  78. nonprofit llama groomer*

    I work for an organization that is encouraging 2 days per week in the office. They’ve been very upfront that this is to determine the need for physical offices. My job would be much more difficult if I didn’t have a place to meet with clients, so I’m willing to go in a few times per week, even if I don’t have client meetings scheduled for those days because I don’t want the determination made that we no longer need ANY physical space. I also have a relatively easy 40-minute each way commute AND my organization counts my commutes to remote spots to accommodate rural clients as commutes to the office. So if I have to meet clients in remote locations 2x per week, that counts as my in-office time.

  79. Carlie*

    This is relatable! I actually have a relatively collaborative, traditionally in person job. However, all of the corporate folks I work with at my home office aren’t back in person yet, so I’m just sitting at my desk all day when I go to the office. I actually like going into the office normally, but it’s a waste of time when I’m spending 4-8 hours a day on zoom alone at my desk.

    Another sore spot was that my grandboss decided we should all work from the office 5 days a week starting January 4th, when omicron was at its peak. However, he conveniently “couldn’t come in” for the first 6 weeks of this plan. So I was coming in every day during a pandemic, when my office had just removed the mask mandate, and my grandboss wasn’t following his own rules. Very demoralizing.

  80. Matt*

    This could be my job. Governmental IT, software developer. They are actually pretty good in allowing WFH, they even did pre-pandemic, but they only allow 100 % during specific Covid waves when strict measures are in place. In between they mandate 20 % or (the normal pre-pandemic) 40 % at the office. Which would be legitimate but simply doesn’t make sense when all other Covid measures are still in place! We are encouraged to make plans so that as few people as possible sit in one office together on any given day. Masks are mandated as soon as more than one person is in the same room. Physical meetings are discouraged, we still shall use virtual meetings whenever possible. All of this is perfectly legitimate too, but what’s the point of mandating on-site days alltogether then?

  81. anon thx*

    I’m so sick of these “get back to the office!” mandates, and their insistence that it’s about “collaboration” or “team culture” or whatever other “reasons” being spewed out. It’s about two things: commercial real estate and useless managers who want to feel “powerful” and/or don’t have the skills to manage anything (let alone people) and/or know their jobs are not actually required if people are working remotely.

  82. Lucida*

    While I agree that it’s BS to say we have to go in to collaborate, I think we should be careful not to sell ourselves short on the value of *connection*. When the pandemic started I enjoyed WFH and fought the return but I later realised that I was happier and my mental health improved the weeks I’d gone to the office at least once. I’m obligated to go in 3 days a week but most of my office seems to be ignoring their agreements and stays home. So now I resent the hybrid set up because there’s no standard. Plus the same coworkers who are deliberately staying home are mostly the same people who complain about a lack of office cohesion and culture. It feels like people want to have their cake and to eat it too.

  83. LittleMarshmallow*

    Some things I’ve noticed (this is anecdotal so don’t be too mean to me about it) – also for context, I worked from home for 2 weeks very early pandemic then was called back as essential and have been in office ever since, I personally prefer working in an office but am not against other working from home as long as they meet deliverables, I work in a more lab/plant setting so I can’t be 100% work from home… i have to be present 99% of the time:

    – meetings where the majority are in person and like 1-2 people are remote are the hardest style of meeting. Mostly remote with like 2 together is fine. All remote is fine. All in person is fine.
    – heavy resistance and refusal to consider other options is bad on both sides (those that think only work from office is correct are wrong and those that think only wfh is correct are wrong – there are different situations that allow for and limit both options… there isn’t a “right” answer
    – people I work with”multitask” too much on conference calls both in office and from home. It’s a problem on both sides. The distractions may be different but both sides have them.
    -personally there are a handful of conversations that for me work better in person. I will wait until your scheduled day in the office so I can meet with you in person. If you’re not scheduled for specific days I will find out when you’re in next and wait for then if possible. I don’t know what psychology is at play here I just know it works better for me.
    -the “I can do my full job from home” people where I work are kidding themselves. Other people have taken over tasks that they used to do that have to be done in person, and yes it causes resentment when I have to do this part of your job when it’s not even part of my job but affects me if it’s not done so that you can sit at home and do laundry during work hours. Because now I’m doing more work and you’re doing less work and that is rarely acknowledged. I realize it’s the employer I should be annoyed with but I’m human so it’s hard not be be resentful of the person I get stuck covering for especially when they’ve led their bosses to believe something that isn’t true.

    There are other things but those are the ones that come to mind quickly.

  84. Me*

    I find this whole conversation fascinating, because I went back to in-person at my job (as a librarian) in August of 2020, and I’ve been in-person most of the time since. (I worked from home for two weeks right before Passover 2021 so I could quarantine and see family, and I was extremely sick over summer 2021 and did a little work from home when I was well enough to do stuff but not well enough to come in.)

    This includes both time with and without patrons — we were allowing very limited numbers of people in the building from about July 2020 through November 2020, then we closed to the public (except for curbside pickup) until April 2021, then we reopened to small numbers until around August 2021, and now we’re back to normal.

    The thing is, while I can do somewhere between 1/2 and 2/3 of my job from home, the other 1/3 to 1/2 just absolutely cannot be done from home. And a lot of that’s the important parts of librarianship — being available for people to answer questions, helping people find things on the catalog (which I can only access at the patron level, not the staff level, from home), taking phone calls, whatever comes up. Oh, and helping with passport applications, which has gotten much busier.

    But even the parts I can do from home sometimes…

    Look, I have a coworker who I am 95% certain has undiagnosed ADHD. Nailing them down when I need something from them is extremely difficult, but it’s so much less difficult when we’re both in the same place and I can go to their office and repeatedly remind them that I need the thing. Yes, it’s nagging, but it feels less like nagging than trying to call them 17 times in one day to get the damn answer.

    If I have a question that needs answering immediately, it’s just so much easier to walk to a coworker’s desk and ask it than it is to try and pin them down by phone or email — especially when we all had to use personal phones at home. It works better imo.

    Luckily for me, I like being in person. It significantly helped my mental health to get out of my apartment and go to work, even when we weren’t allowing patrons in the building. I get more done there than I do at home where there’s more distractions. And I get to see sunlight more often.

    But that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. I think for me part of it is my choice of careers — public libraries really can’t be fully remote (though I wish we were enforcing mask wearing for longer).

    I don’t know. I don’t think there’s a right answer here. I think a lot of it depends on the nature of each individual business as well as people’s productivity — some people really do better working from home while others really need to be not at home to get work done. I think reopening just so businesses can feel like they’re doing something isn’t useful. But I also think there are advantages to in-person work and sometimes the people who have been lucky enough to work from home need to acknowledge those too.

    So yeah. If all hybrid is doing is making people feel like they’re on Zoom at the office instead of home, it’s not useful. But maybe try to find the positives to being in-person too and take advantage of those.

  85. Allonge*

    Just like any major change, I am sure a lot of places will mess this up, but… it feels like some people go to the office for two days (some already angry they have to), don’t immediately feel more cooperation or whatever and decide it’s just not happening. It takes a while. I don’t disagree with Alison that some planning from the company side can be useful, but that, too takes time.

    On the other hand: if you are 100% convinced that WFH is the only way for you, go ahead and find that perfect remote job. Life is too short to be angry about commutes and parking fees and open office spaces (brrr!) all the time. You can do it!

    1. Aggresuko*

      An online crony of mine said a recruiter was trying to recruit her for in-person work, she told him she only wanted remote, and he said “EVERYBODY is going back into the office now.”

  86. Onetime Poster*

    I’m really looking forward to reading your take on this. Ideally I’d do so before commenting, but feeling super-compelled to add my 2 cents at the moment, as this has been a recent pet peeve of mine.

    In my office, I’m part of a manager team that HR has brought together over the last 9 months or so to discuss a return to the office plan. There was a load of discussion that focused on the social and “collaborative” aspect of being in a shared physical space. I unfortunately had to dial-in to the most detailed one where “collaboration” was tossed about as such a necessity; trying to break into the discussion was impossible, and when I did, I don’t think anyone heard me. My input was this: “Collaboration for the sake of collaboration alone is not a reason to bring people back to the office. It’s a catchword of sorts that sounds good ‘on paper’ and has that warm and fuzzy HR buzz to it that ultimately, likely, doesn’t pan out in the real world; rather it feels forced and unnatural.”

    See, the way the other managers talked about it (and boy-o, it was a prime example of group-think!), was that different teams could “collaborate” where they haven’t before, regardless of actual *need* to do so. And, we would arrange the floor space in such a way to help foster this new-found collaborative environment. So, rather than having the teapot making team all sit together, they could choose where they want to sit any given day they choose to come into the office, so that they can wind up sitting next to random members of the legal team and ‘collaborate’.

    The thing is, there is rarely, if ever, a need to, ugh, ‘collaborate’ across teams like this. In fact the Director of our Finance team said so: “we need a quiet space where we all sit together because *within* our team, we need to collaborate; not with other groups—and breaking us up, or making it less likely we will have this space, will decrease our ability to do our job.” And she was spot on.

    We already collaborate with others in the office as needed. Forcing it by coming up with some overly-devised seating plan to force more cross-working makes people generally uncomfortable and may have an overall negative affect on efficiency and productivity.

    I understand the benefits, don’t get me wrong. However, posing the fluffy-nutty buzzword of the year as a panacea to solve the perceived problems (and, honestly we’re all collaborating A LOT more remotely because it’s easier to get a hold of someone online), without really having a problem to actually solve, is just anarchy waiting to happen.

    1. Testerbert*

      It sounds like they don’t want collaborative working, they want a justification to impose hot-desking. If the Finance Team (for instance) no longer has designated desks, they can just cram more people into the space. That’s doubly true if they get rid of any office walls or cubicles and go full open plan. I’ve seen this sort of thing done pre-pandemic, where it got to the point where managers were told they *had* to circulate their staff; if someone used the same desk a few days in a row, they were given a ‘parking ticket’ to ‘encourage’ them to sit at a different desk because lord forbid they become attached to a particular seat, or want to be near where the rest of their team usually sits.

      I never quite worked out how that system worked when staff had special chairs or desks specifically set up for their needs.

      1. Aggresuko*

        Oh god, the hot desking. They keep changing their minds here on which office spaces are the hot desks and I’ve had to move in and out of four different offices and I just can’t say, put stuff I need for in-person days in ANY of them. They assigned the room where we could keep our stuff in a cabinet to one of the temps who’s in daily, so I can’t even get into that any more. We can’t station anything anywhere. I asked why they were doing that and they really just had no answer other than “we wanted to” make it more difficult for everyone! My coworker who needed to use the standing desk in there was told she’d have to bring a doctor’s note and she quit 2 weeks later.

  87. Testerbert*

    My place of work has been thoroughly decent and while they have reopened offices and encouraged people to go to them for face-to-face meetings & collaborative work, they aren’t forcing people back, and recognise that doing so would be actively harmful.

    If I worked for a place which forced the matter, I would actively seek out the senior management to berate them I MEAN HAVE NICE FACE-TO-FACE INTERACTIONS WITH THEM. If they aren’t present regularly, I would accidentally reply-all to one of the email proclaimations asking when they’ll be in because I hadn’t seen them in, and it’d be really important for them to show leadership and collaborative working by joining us in the hotdesk pit.

  88. Paul Pearson*

    I actually get far less done because of “collaboration”. When I’m easily accessible more than a few colleagues feel they can drop in and ask me questions they can quickly and easily look up on the work intranet (or google). And those who persist even when I’m remote at least send me emails which I can respond to on my schedule rather than having someone hovering in my office until I drop everything to google something for them

    My eternal bitterness aside – there’s a LOT of dead time in an office i don’t have at home. There may be distractions at home but I’ve never had to drop everything for 30mins to nod and smile and pretend interest in Joanne who just has to tell me about the latest episode of whatever…

  89. TechyBird*

    We had this issue at our office. I am a developer on a team of developers, and over the past two years we got really used to sharing over Slack or Teams. When you have multiple windows on multiple monitors between code, being online, etc on you get really used to being able to just share your screen at your desk and dragging whatever was relevant into the window, rather than one person crowding around another person’s desk or bringing their small laptop into somebody else’s office or cubicle.

    Additionally, getting a message and being able to mull over a reply, look at multiple sources, and then send the answer, was much better than getting asked a complicated question in person and stammering out an answer, or having to either drop what you’re doing to get a good answer or tell them to come back later (and probably forget!).

    We were also a cross-office team with people in other states and countries, so 99% of our meetings continued being over Teams.

    I will say the only nice part was being able to pop into somebody’s cubicle for a quick question and getting an instant reply – but our team was always very good in communicating over Slack so typically you wouldn’t have to wait that long for an IM answer anyways.

    There was a lot of frustration on our team when they called us back into the office to “collaborate” when everything was still going on online – we were offered a hybrid schedule 3 in, 2 at home, and it annoyed a lot of people, and we lost multiple people after we implemented the schedule. We have since partially reverted to 1/office, 4 wherever.

  90. WfH or Bust*

    I desperately need WfH to stay a normalised thing if I’m to have any hope of rejoining the workforce – my physical and mental health isn’t robust enough for the commute + 8hrs. Experience says that without it just being a ‘thing’, something normal that at least 30% of my colleagues are doing, the barriers placed in my way whether intentional or accidental will result in a manager forcing me back into the office and a massive health collapse.

  91. AndyW65*

    My employer is re-introducing office work beginning next month. It’s going to be a hybrid system – exact arrangements depend on individual teams but ours is going for one day in the office a week to start with, all on the same day to avoid the tumbleweed problem.

    While I can work with that, management are still pushing this mythology of all the marvellous collaborative conversations we are supposed to be having in the tea room. I don’t buy it. From what I recall, rather than cosmic insights into The Work, the talk would usually be about weekend plans, the kids, pets, TV film or books and occasional comments on someone’s lunch (‘ooh, that looks nice’ rather than ‘not pasta again?’). I also resent having to take two hours and quite a lot of ££s out of my day to commute, just to do what I have proved I can do perfectly well from my home desk – can’t believe how much money I used to spend on train tickets in the Before Times!

  92. Delphine*

    Putting aside health concerns for a moment and focusing solely on the in-office/WFH debate, I’m exhausted by the inflexibility from both sides. “We want to be permanently remote! If you don’t agree, you’re a boot licker and capitalist pig!” “We want you to permanently return to the office! If you don’t agree you’re lazy and stealing from your employer!” Neither of these options will work best for everyone, but neither of the proponents of these positions is willing to cede ground to the other group.

  93. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    It’s like employers have forgotten what work was like in the Before Times: predominant communication through messaging and emails instead of face-to-fact interactions. I always favored having in-person discussions, instead of those annoying long email exchanges with a person that sits 50 feet away, but my co-workers didn’t favor it. I do miss the occasional in-person interactions since I work remotely – but exactly how much do I miss it? Enough to spend 2.5 hours commuting in order to say “good morning” to someone at the coffee machine, and then go stare at my computer all day, with the occasional Zoom meeting? Meh. I will stick with fully remote as long as I can get it. The latest word is that I can continue to work remotely but my boss wants me to come in one day per month – LOL. See what an empty gesture? It is just a token day onsite – that’s how loathe employers are to let go of that control.

  94. eisa*

    Working in a mostly-empty office is the best of both worlds for me :

    *) Real work equipment (desktop PC, monitor, keyboard, .. a good chair .. a desk .. ) vs. a laptop and furniture usually associated with work of a different kind
    *) very little risk of infection
    *) Free (good) coffee
    *) A varied lunch in the canteen vs. whatever can be scrounged up AND consumed at home within the 30 minutes granted for lunch break (spoiler : neither varied nor healthy)
    *) An office room to myself, optimally (remember when in Before Times, this was what everybody aspired to?)
    *) Some colleagues will still be around to have a chinwag with

    Seriously, what’s not to love ?

  95. NotSoGoodListener*

    I actually like going into the office (though I do have a short commute) because I like to finely separate my work and home life.

    That being said, Teams meetings have done wonders for me! As a hard of hearing person, it’s been life changing! On a Teams call people wait until the other has finished, so no talking over each other. I can turn on auto close captioning, and it’s removed those awful speaker conference phones in the middle of the room where I couldn’t understand anything. On Teams, I can watch peoples’ mouths moving to better understand.

    I hope Teams meetings never go away! It’s a huge win for accessibility!

  96. Brookhaven*

    My company has pushed hard to get people back in the office a couple of days a week.

    • They are now providing free lunches one day a week.
    • They have a fully stocked wall of snacks (chips, candy, nuts, granola bars).
    • They have removed the mask requirements (although if you want to wear one you are free to do so).
    • Managers have assigned a day of the week as the team’s office day so everyone in the group can meet face to face.
    • They’ve even relaxed the hours, so you can come in late and leave early to beat traffic.

    I’ve been going into the office just for the break from being at home all the time, but I’m the outlier.

    80% are not coming into the office–period. It’s not a ghost town, but it’s no where near enough to “collaborate” with your co-workers.

    We had some employees that had been full time working from home before the pandemic. I suspect many of our employees have said to themselves “if others were allowed to work from home, why not me?” They won’t come back willingly and will fight going back if forced.

    Office culture has changed over the last two years. Management will have to adapt.

  97. Dragon*

    Before and without Covid, my office had an issue with professionals who would WFH on days major projects were due. So staffers with questions had to e-compete with everyone else who was calling/texting/emailing/Zooming the boss.

    Covid WFH has only made that worse. We’ve been back in office only a month, and already I’ve come in more often than not on my authorized WFH days. Originally because of construction noise near home, and now because it’s easier to do some tasks at the office instead of at home. I don’t like heavy-duty work tasks intruding on my home space.

  98. liquidus*

    The collaboration argument being made isn’t that people need to talk face-to-face. It’s that there are times when people who are just talking, perhaps while microwaving lunch or scrounging free food or when one person takes a walk and passes by another person just to say hi, and they start talking about work and it sparks a great idea. It’s when folk collaborate WITHOUT originally intending to. I used to just take a walk to clear my brain, which helped me with my own work problems, and visit my colleagues spread across two floors. Often, I’d pop by, say hi, they’d talk about something blocking them and we’d figure out a solution.

    Unintended collaboration springing from an unplanned talk that folk wouldn’t have discussed a particular work item with otherwise.

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