Office Life: The Old Gray Mare, She Ain’t What She Used To Be

Ding, dong; the office is dead. The real office is in your head.

This is what I tell myself when working from home gets too weird, too stale, too impossible. By now, many of you know some version what I’m talking about. Our circumstances may vary wildly, but the outcome is the same: working from home is pretty awesome, but, some small, secret part of us longs for the office. Why is that?

The answer will be different for everyone. Maybe you’re a social butterfly who misses face-time and the din of familiar voices. Maybe you just appreciate the physical separation between work and home life. If you’re lucky, the choice to go to the office is yours at this point, and if not, well, we have to wonder if you’re looking for new work. It’s 2022, we’re still in a pandemic, and of course there’s this, that, and the other multi-national Dumpster fire you haven’t heard about yet. Isn’t it time we prioritized work output over office attendance when it comes to our livelihoods?

To no one’s surprise, few major companies agree with me. Elon recently decreed that ‘remote work is no longer acceptable‘, and that those who want to work remotely may only do so as a reward after serving a minimum of 40 hours per week in the office. Apple tried to enforce three appearances a week until they received an open letter with 1,000+ signatures against.

The Office Is More Than Space

Photo by Jan Weber on Unsplash

Why would companies want to enforce attendance of non-essential people? I figure that, as the pandemic drags on, all that real estate sitting empty is expensive and makes them look bad financially. But then not having a big physical presence or several medium-sized presences scattered around would make them look bad socially. Well, maybe not bad, but less than powerful, precisely because attitudes about the when and where of work are still evolving.

I believe another reason is simply power. The office is the playing field of work, the stage where a caste system of executives, middle managers, and underlings can be acted out. It’s a natural extension of school, which we all got up for in the morning and suffered through each day until we could leave and do what we wanted for a little while before dinner and homework.

The Grass Is Greener When the Sunlight Hits It

I worked in an office for almost 20 years, fresh out of electronics trade school. I started out in the 24/7/365 NOC where I did shift work, including two twelves over the weekend once a month. For a telecommunications company, NOC workers are the custodians of the office — these are the people who have seen the place at all hours on the regular. These are the essential workers, the people who are troubleshooting IP networks on Christmas morning and filling the dull hours of the afternoon watching Die Hard on one of the big screens. Shift work is interesting because you can theoretically get stuff done during the day if you work second or third shift, but you’re also trying to sleep while the world is awake, and it can really screw you up.

It’s a hard-NOC life, but it would have been better with multiple monitors. Image via OP Services

After a couple of years in the NOC, I moved out to the engineering department and everything changed. I had metamorphosed into one of Them, a regular 9-5 office worker. Instead of getting my binder out of a breadbox-sized locker in the tiny break room and sitting wherever at a long console of computers and phones, I had a cube with a name plate. I had my own phone. My own box of tissues, accordion-style pad of sticky notes, and a chair that would only need to be adjusted one time. And instead of working in a cave by the glow of the monitors, amber terminals, and surveillance screens, I was across the aisle from a cube with a window.

And of course, I thought that would change how I felt about work. We Americans do too much of it in the name of constant growth, and that includes this side hustle culture out there that can turn our relaxing hobbies into entrepreneurial nightmares. At the office, like at school, there are many rules that are difficult to navigate, especially since the office tends to be inter-generational. I grew up in that office, and it holds a special place in my heart.

Work Is A Four-Letter Word

But that was my old job. At the tail end of 2019, I started full-time here at Hackaday as a Staff Writer. Talk about differences! Almost nothing seemed the same, except that I was working and someone was paying me in return, and I would still be using a computer all day. Suddenly, I went from toiling under a cold draft and fluorescent lights with my back to the door of a cubicle to working anywhere I wanted, whenever I wanted, and in whatever clothes I found comfortable. It was all too freeing, and the Monday to Friday I had been pulling all my life suddenly looked like a pile of material and fasteners that I would have to construct by myself into a shelter of sanity.

Most days, I just plain don’t want to do what I’m supposed to be doing at any given time (thanks, ADHD!), but I recognize that I; thrive within a structure. Unfortunately, this works best when that structure is imposed by someone else.

And that’s what I miss most about the office, about going out to work: the whole structure of the thing. You venture out, maybe you’re a little late, maybe there’s time to get a latte. You get there and see familiar faces with stories to tell that distract you from your own life. You work for a few hours, secure in the fact that everyone around you is also working, and often toward a common goal. Then it’s time for lunch, and another change of scenery whether it’s a fast food place, the break room or your car to eat, or, depending on the day, the restroom on another floor to do some crying. Then it’s back to work for a while before we all get excited to go back home to our things that have been sitting alone for nine hours, give or take.

But at home, it can be like one of those endless, solidly-overcast days of sameness where you can’t tell 10AM from 4PM. Many days I miss the being-somewhere-else aspect of going out to the office. Not just because of the scenery changes, but because it allows the workplace to be an emotional scapegoat. Everyone complains about the office, right? But if you work from home, what are you going to do? It’s a difficult thing to hate your home, especially when you have all the power to make it whatever you want. So for me, this translates to having a highly-decorated office, which of course can be an endless source of distraction if I let it. But I believe it feeds my creativity to have all these objects around, most of which have a story behind them.

Having said all that, I don’t think I can go out to work at this point, at least not at a computer-based job. Between the loud, funny keyboard, the foot pedals, the expensive chair, and the ideal desk height of 21″, I’m too set in my ergonomic ways. But hey, for someone who thought they’d never computer again due to repetitive stress injury, I’m doing pretty good.

For another thing, my work is completely different now. While it’s true that I needed to think in my engineering job, what I do now has been best described by some other writer as sitting down and bleeding from the forehead. At least here at home, no one is going to come up behind me and start talking, or call out my name from over the wall. My biggest interruptions are usually cat-based. I can wear what I want, change if I need to, and I’m not expected to have any shoes on. In other words, I’m pretty happy working from home, and I bet I’m not alone.

85 thoughts on “Office Life: The Old Gray Mare, She Ain’t What She Used To Be

  1. ” Suddenly, I went from toiling under a cold draft and fluorescent lights with my back to the door of a cubicle to working anywhere I wanted, whenever I wanted, and in whatever clothes I found comfortable.”

    And Stanley is still stuck pushing that keyboard.

    “It’s a hard-NOC life, but it would have been better with multiple monitors.”.

    There’s is better.

  2. But where was the rebellion before? It’s easy now, it’s beig talked about, so people can jump on.

    But nobody’s talking about the people who were self employed, and that trend for co-working spaces and working from a cafe. Is the new work from home trend going to dissolve in a few years, “I can’t stand being alone”.

    Most of the work from home has been about relatively rich people. So the neighbor could afford to buy the house up the street, renovate it, and move during the pandemic because their first house seemed too small with everyone home. I’ve read of people building sheds in their backyard to house an office. Another thing that needs money.

    But early on, there was a story about a woman in Winnipeg. She and her husband, and two kids, I think someone immunocompromised. One computer, she couldn’t share because it had to be kept secure for work. I bet she’s eager to go back to work.

    If companies can reduce their office space, they liie that. But then the burden is placed on employees, having to make room for an office at home.

    1. This is a case of tradeoffs if there’s ever been one. The tone of your response feels very “upper-middle management” -bringing up illogical points that don’t hold any real water, and pointing out odd exception cases to try and make your case.

      The author isn’t suggesting, NOBODY is suggesting that “EVERYBODY has to work from home”. That alone nullifies your counterpoint. Sure, some people are more comfortable working from an office, and that’s fine for them. But not everybody is.

      I’ve been pushing for remote work with my employer for nearly a decade, and only got it at the beginning of COVID. My company rebuilt it’s network to handle associates working remotely, and achieved full, 100% capabilities -they PURCHASED the new equipment and hardware, none of this is a lease that they’re trying to get off of, the money has already been spent.
      As a company, our departments have proven to be more efficient working remotely than they ever were in office (I handle reporting company-wide, I would know).

      But none of that changes the corporate desire for power. They’ve already blown all the money to enable this, they’ve seen hard proof that it works BETTER, and yet they still scream at the top of their lungs that it isn’t working. The only thing that’s different, is that incompetent managers can’t physically come over, tap us on the shoulder, and waste our time as they try to intimidate us.

      Still, they hang WFH over our heads as some sort of temporary benefit that we only received out of their benevolence. “Tom, if your numbers keep slipping, were going to have to bring you back into the sick zone -I mean the office.” It’s a threat. Nevermind the fact that Tom likely has performance numbers higher than they had ever been pre-covid.

      It’s the same mentality that leads corporate execs to publicly tell anyone who will listen, that profits are at an all-time low, and that they NEED to bring people back in, they NEED to reign in costs. But it’s all hollow, as it’s been frequently pointed out that those companies are often enjoying the highest profit margins they’ve ever had, and many executives and officers have given themselves raises of 20-30% annually since 2020.

      It’s all just the new version of the same old power grab: who’s going to push harder, the peasants or the chosen corporate oligarchy?

      1. >as it’s been frequently pointed out that those companies are often enjoying the highest profit margins they’ve ever had

        Gross or net?

        Labor expenses make up 57% of the running costs for the average top 500 companies, which is because these companies are mostly 4th or 5th sector work or “pure services”. The “I don’t want to go back to the office!” cry is mostly from people who are the social and economic equivalent of middle and upper management even as workers: coders, administrators, consultants, finances… people who can sit anywhere with a laptop and a phone to perform some type of meta-work or sales.

        For the lower economic sectors, people more or less have to be “in office” to perform the work effectively and efficiently. For these people, working at home means busywork and secondary tasks like cleaning up documentation or planning ahead while the actual work is on hold. This cannot be sustained indefinitely.

  3. the title of your article is a little wierd for me,right now,working from home,with a young grey mare in her stall, I am trying her out
    as the customer liason,though its proving to be hard to keep
    focus on scheduling and work objectives after she has been brought in on a meeting.

  4. Society still has to adapt in order to work from home to work at it’s best.

    We need to separate the social contact aspect of going to work from the work itself, and that needs to be reflected in urban design. This means not only more “coworking” spaces, but more libraries, cultural centers, parks, etc.

    This would be much more efficient due to less travel and better space efficiency, more healthy for individuals and most likely increased productivity due to less stress and better environment.

    Also it opens up opportunities for economic development. The typical busy office park is populated by offices and restaurants, not very attractive unless you are forced to be there.
    If you design a space for more broad social interactions you get more shops, cultural attractions, and a overall more useful and active space.

    There are also some trends that are at odds with WFH, like homes increasingly becoming smaller and smaller (and prices increasing), some to the point of ridiculousness. I’ve seen plenty of new apartments that are unable to accommodate more than one table! I’d be impossible to WFH in a place like that.

    1. If you get rid of commuting you just eliminated the need for big cities full of small apartments – at least as far as remote workers are concerned….

      The only reason to pay atrocious prices for high rise housing, is that it made your commute reasonable.

      Without a commute there’s zero reason not to live in the exurbs/suburbs where housing is larger and more affordable.

      1. > there’s zero reason not to live in the exurbs/suburbs

        Poor access to services and infrastructure comes to mind. Slower more expensive internet, slower cellular networks due to large cell size and sharing bandwidth, no bars and clubs, schools, universities, social life… no special shops, and you have to drive just to get groceries.

  5. One huge drawback to WFH (work from home) – continuity of operations. A couple examples: 1) This week strong thunderstorms in my area knocked out power-the news had a guy who was working from a coffee shop because his power was still out. What if his work couldn’t be contained in his laptop? Now are you schlepping your large external drive out to the coffee shop? 2) A friend, retired military, has been trying to drop his extra Tricare healthcare coverage now that he is on Medicare. With the feds having put everyone doing office work on WFH, they assure him he they will refund the payments that automatically come out of his check, just as soon as someone processes the paperwork. He can’t afford to retire his post-military job until they switch him over, and no one seems to be able to do anything about it, because they are all working from home.

    I’m the most introverted person I know, and I love WFH (if I can get my husband to turn off the TV). But there is a tremendous amount that gets done because somebody saw somebody else by chance in the hall and mentioned (in my case) that there was a small equipment problem and when I took a look, I could schedule preemptive maintenance before it became a far more costly problem. Or passed along a random bit of “who is working on what” that made me email that person about their work, that blossomed into something else.

    I don’t know how we replicate those random interactions, or the personal connections that people use every day to address edge and corner cases in business and work processes. Informally bring up manager personality issues so they can be addressed before front-line employees quit and trigger a domino effect? There is a lot of ego in the calls of “return to work” (Musk absolutely loves an audience, and deludes himself into believing his employees aren’t playing buzzword bingo during the all-employe meetings). But as social animals, humans channel a lot of information into the non-verbal side-channels that telework processes currently aren’t set up to handle.

    1. That’s a point. Before the pandemic, everyone seemed to insist on in person interaction. I’m not sure Zoom changes that, it’s still that need to interact. Nevermind if someone writes something important.

        1. Certainly better than an hour meeting about how to have the next two hour meeting. That requires 20 people to all drive an average of half an hour each (in separate cars of course) to meet in person and then another half an hour to go home. To property they already own and live in.

          Not everyone is extroverted and my guess is that less people are mostly extroverted today than they were two or three decades ago. On top of other socially acceptable things that were previously seen as so bad and yet now are legal and at least somewhat accepted. People of the youngest 18 year old generation cares less about what gender you marry or if you can work from home. Adult media exists. Kink is out there for people who want to engage with their consenting partner. Young adults now grew up with tablets and doing things remotely and realizing the world is much more open than it was when you grew up with no phone and no Internet and only a few people around you.

          If done correctly, remote working will help a lot of people and also shift somethings around too. Less gas gets used. Meetings can be done easier and quicker and not be geographically limited. Companies that appreciate that will thrive more. It doesn’t mean everybody wants to do that. It doesn’t mean everyone should do that. It does mean that land owners are going to take at least a small hit. They still own the property after all. But they will have less people renting in general and that was never an expected thing.

          This transition should have happened a decade ago but COVID-19 finally pushed it. Flights are back to 90% of what they were. People still want to travel and such but they don’t have to travel as much for work when you can at least meet up and communicate for somethings without wasting hours and hours just to chat. Or waste hours and hours driving to work in order to do things that honestly you can just do better at home anyway.

          Is this a huge market changer? Not really. Does it shift gears somewhat? Sure. As usual, some people love it and some people hate it and everything in between. As usual, people will adapt and figure out newer and better ways of doing things and new products and new technologies will evolve.

        2. > quick teams chats have worked extremely well at my current job.

          I can’t even remember the names of the people I’ve worked with “remotely” for the past two years, because I’ve never seen them in person. Just emails and a tiny video square on a Teams call if even that. Sufficient to say, not a lot of actual work was accomplished that way, and most people are just pretending to be busy with something.

    2. I’m not sure how 2) is relevant. Is the idea that some bureaucrat is being less efficient because they’re WFH?

      I agree on the spontaneous interaction thing. I definitely miss that, but at my current job processes are fairly rigid and there isn’t much room for that anyways.

      For 1), at my previous job the campus got power outages much more often than my house did.

      1. When you work remotely, a power outage at either end of the VPN connection does the same trick.

        Though at my work I have UPS and backup generators, and my home doesn’t.

          1. Fighting a tiger with a spear and fighting it with your bare hands is “just an equipment thing” but it’s what makes us… Not chimps, essentially.

    3. If managers aren’t handling the two examples you gave, what are they even doing?

      Would you say work requires quality or quantity? Is it easy to measure quality in your work?

  6. I’ve got to say, I don’t really recognise this hellish model of the office at any of my employers. In all cases, the office has been equitable, and the work team friendly and co-operative. Extended hours are only worked on a personal basis (eg when you’ve got a vendetta against a piece of hardware/software and refuse to let it win overnight)

    Sure, I’m happy to be left alone and ‘just get on with it’ when WFH, but after 2 years, the lack of serendipity as [J ODell] noticed has negatively impacted the company’s products.

    We’re now working a 3/2 home/office hybrid model, and it seems to be working well.

    1. That’s fine. The problems start when the employer takes the “my way or the highway” that problems start. Telecommuting is one of those ideas that’s been fought against for years (add in the current state of broadband in the US) and it took a pandemic to get where we are.

      1. If only… The owners of the business park where our offices are has been laying on events sauce we returned though. I guess they stand to lose big if we downsize our site!

  7. “some small, secret part of us longs for the office”

    That’s the old pull of the familiar. People hate change. Change is almost always a fight (I’m talking about the inward fight). So slay that dragon and move on.

    I’m retired — but still do a fair bit of work for my old employer now and then. There was a period of transition and adjustment to working at home, but now it is part of my way of life. But I bill my time hourly, and I only bill time when I am on task. So they aren’t paying for me chatting with coworkers or screwing off on the internet when I could be working or any of that that goes on at the office. I am more effective and efficient. Never mind total hours spent, I deliver what is asked for in a shorter time frame working from home.

    But a lot of factors work in my favor. I don’t have children to watch over (they are grown and dealing with working from home themselves). I do just fine with lots of isolation, and in many ways thrive on it. As a software developer/engineer, I don’t need to interact a lot with other people. Meetings were always a colossal waste of time, though sometimes there was vital information transfer — but not often. The best meetings are short impromptu things in the hallway.

    A lot of middle managers these days are all but useless. (Weren’t they always?) They want to drag people back into the office, and hold meetings so they can look like they are doing something.

    1. Change is almost always for the worse. People take time to adjust and productivity goes down, and the new conditions usually aren’t any better overall than the old conditions. There’s no point to change over slight theoretical improvements that mostly turn out to have unintended consequences that negate the point.

  8. Most management doesn’t understand what you do, so they can only gauge effort based on ‘office’ time. Ten hours of HARD work at home might only get the same credit as four hours in the office. On the other hand, you might get a promotion just showing up to the office and looking busy for eight hours every day. This devolves into overworking at home then working even more at the office, just to satisfy management.

    Whether at home or at the office, management starts to expect work outside business hours when working from home. “Why haven’t you replied to that email I sent at 2am?”

    For truly productive workers this is a problem. They haven’t yet realized they’re getting screwed.

    For most of the wealthy population which doesn’t actually do anything, this is perfect. Instead of pretending to work at the office, they can pretend to work at home all day. Since their job doesn’t require much actual work, they effectively got an hourly pay increase.

    For example, two friends work at Harley. One is an engineer, the other his manager. in 2019 both would be at the plant for ~45hours a week. Neither worked at home. In 2022, the engineer spends one to three hours each morning responding to emails at home then goes into the office for seven to eight hours of work then goes home to spend another two to three hours dealing with paperwork. The manager hasn’t been to the office this year. He hasn’t taken any vacation days, but spent three weeks in Disneyland. His day is mostly pestering people from his phone. Same with our buyer and HR.

    Hopefully we get back to the ‘office’ and people start pushing more for raises, more competent management and companies trim the fat. Collectively, workers are getting paid much much less than in 2019.

  9. In our business, working from home just doesn’t seem to work as well. One needs to walk over and have a discussion rather then Zoom or Teams or whatever. Or listening to other conversations around you which keeps you ‘informed’ of what is going on inside and outside the company. Isolation isn’t good for anything. Nothing like face to face, gathering the troops so to speak. I think that personal interaction is important and you loose that with Internet meetings (with the kids playing in the background, dogs barking, etc.) . Also it allows people to ‘focus’ on the business at hand, professionalism… Not walking the dog, or getting groceries and such during business hours…. From what I see productivity and creativity is down if working from home.

    When I had the ‘crud’ and worked from home for 10 days…. It was hard. Why? I have to many ‘personal’ projects that call me :) that are way to much fun to work on. Taking a ‘break’ may cost an hour or two…. Nope doesn’t work for my personality!

  10. I’ve been working from home for close to two decades, and although I miss going out to lunch with the gang, and sometimes the chance to shoot the breeze, I won’t go back to a full-time office presence by choice.

    In the few years around the turn of the century, I had the opportunity to work from home occasionally, and others I was working with had the same. For myself, I found the recipe for focus and productivity was: treat your home office like an office. I dress business casual, I have more-or-less regular hours, and I work in my more-or-less dedicated home office. I can’t imagine taking my ergo keyboard and big screen with me to the coffee shop to try to work.

    I have had some colleagues over the years that simply could not remain focused and productive away from the office. That’s okay, we are all different.

    But it’s a tradeoff. No commute, less eating out, saves money and commute stress, but in a sense you are ALWAYS at the office, and your clients and colleagues know it.

    Here’s the irony: in early 19 I was laid off from a Giant Soulless Corporation because the CIO wanted to bring all the IT workers into a handful of offices, and the one in my town was not one of the approved locations. He ranted about the productivity benefits of communication and community, blah blah blah. As if a Fortune 50 company could operate by the same rules as a startup full of recent grads. He even built a big new office in his hometown for all the new kids he wanted to hire.

    That didn’t work out too well for him.

  11. I think what companies need to reassess is who they _actually_ need in the office.

    The reason management hates it is because they are unable to spy on people working like they used to be able to do. There is this desire not to simply have people just do the work they are assigned but also maximizing the amount of work that they can give someone without ever having to increase their pay. This decreases the number of workers required. Without this ability, managers get nervous that they are redundant and could be fired (which maybe they should be).

    Also, if positions start being coming remote only then it makes it easier for people to shop for better jobs.

    1. > unable to spy on people working like they used to be able to do

      Counterpoint: not all people are fire-and-forget career missiles that can self-coordinate and know the entire business better than their own boss. The purpose of management is to manage the work – to supervise projects, listen, discuss, instruct, negotiate, organize… and that becomes hard if the boss is not around.

      The cognitive distance between management and the workers grows because the threshold of picking up a phone to call your boss and ask “what next?” is far greater than simply pulling their sleeve in the hallway. After a bit of confusion and “what now?”, people start picking up meaningless and laborious tasks that they can simply do to feel like working, while the management isn’t aware of what everyone is doing any longer without constantly pestering with emails and status reports.

      The organization breaks down into pseudo-work.

      1. Oh, and another important difficulty about remote work is training new employees. It’s mighty difficult to orient people over a Teams chat. It’s just like trying to do tech support over the phone without seeing what the other person is actually doing or what’s happening at their location – extremely frustrating and inefficient.

  12. There are those companies that embraced WFH and those that fought it. Both have their reasons but my organization encouraged WFH mainly because they thought they would be getting extra (free) hours out of us.

    Some of my coworkers went along with it (their choice). The first time I was pinged after hours I had to remind my manager of my overtime rate and the policy requiring overtime be approved, ahead of time, by executive management (who, of course, are NEVER available after hours). There was a bit of verbal back-and-forth, but it ended; “I really wish I could help ya out, but, I don’t work for free.”

      1. That’s true. But if more of us who can afford to stand up to our bosses like that DID so, the normalizing effect might make it less risky for everyone to draw that line between work time and not-work time. I applaud [MW] and wish their stance were more common.

  13. I suspect there will be a collapse in the commercial real estate as companies come to realize that they can redirect office space rent towards hiring workforce. Rent is overhead, workforce is investment. The employees have effectively subsidized the overhead of office space in their personal property.

  14. “, but, some small, secret part of us longs for the office. Why is that?”

    No. Absolutely not.

    I was privileged to work from home for just over a year. Then we were called back to the office. It was really weird to work at home for maybe the first week. At no point after that was any part of me longing for the office. I now long for home.

  15. Having worked for 20 years in IT in office environments I jumped at the chance of working from home when my company closed my office and had space issues at HQ. That was 20 years ago. I have not been into the office since – in fact I’m not even sure where it is now.
    As my work entails pretty much the same set of skills and traits as my hobbies (computers, problem solving, coding) and whilst I can get along with most anyone, mostly I’d rather not, I hope it never changes.
    However, everyone is different and one or two of my colleagues miss the office, which I can understand – I met my wife in an office.
    From the company pov they get much longer and more flexible hoursout of me than if I had to commute, which is invaluable on those projects where I’m working with a customer in the far east, under an ozzy located PM, a test lab in South America and a programming team in eastern Europe.
    Hopefully the good employers will allow the choice where the the job allows.

  16. The obvious and genuine reason companies insist on people coming to office, is that most of them are really less productive, and lot of them just don’t do anything at all.

    1. Same experience. I see a lot of people who use their lack of supervision to perform other tasks that have nothing to do with work, during working hours, to save themselves more leisure time off the clock.

      People may slack off at the office, but all they gain is boredom. Stealing just 15 minutes every day for personal time saving is like taking an extra day off every month without telling anyone that you’re gone – and nobody is any wiser.

  17. I am happy to have a boss who does not care about office presence or working hours, just the quality of our output. He wants us to be in “an” office (we have many buildings with desks available) about twice per week, not necessarily with him but with each other.

    1. I WFH’d before the pandemic for 1-2 days a week, which occasionally got me remarks, eapecially as people tend to call when you’re doing the dishes or groceries, which is a perfect work break. But as I work with batch jobs that can take 24-48 hrs to complete, I am used to working on odd times (like one hour on sunday morning) to check on progress.

      After (I hope) covid I really decide where I go for what type of work I have to do – I almost always go into work for meetings with bus drivers (I’ve done that over teams once, but other than that went in each time even during the height of the pandemic (it was once my only day in the office in 3 months). I stay home when I have to do work I need to focus on but go to an office when I need to do boring work as I am less easily distracted for longer times.

      Today I went into work and had 4 teams meetings or calls with coworkers who also were in an office.

      But I’m from the Netherlands, work hierarchy here is less strict than in the USA, it seems.

    2. >or working hours, just the quality of our output

      How does he measure productivity, then? If some task normally requires 8 hours to complete, but people spend 16 hours on it because they’re slacking off unsupervised and trying to delay getting handed the next task, is that a good thing?

      1. I work in a bus company and make the duties for drivers (and buses), and do this alone for a certain areas. We have very fixed deadlines, if there is a new timetable, the new duties need to be done by then. My productivity is measured in efficiency, i.e. how many minutes are our drivers on duty relative to how many minutes in the public timetable. (Or, with the current staff shortage, there is more focus on with how few staff can we run the full timetable)

        He does not care whether I do this in 8 or 16 “hours”, because it’s always 16 weeks I have for this task. If I finish early I have time leftover to try and improve efficiency more, or work on special projects.

        He can assess the quality of my work without expressing it as a objectively determined fixed number.

          1. I have an overtime sheet that he can see. I have had this arrangement for 6 years (through various direct managers). It has worked. The mere idea I could commit fraud saddens me.

            This week I have clocked in -5, 0, -1, 1 and -2 hours of overtime (so basically, 7 hours of undertime). But other weeks I do overtime and I’m confident I will even out over the year and if not, I will give up on holidays.

            Note that I’m Dutch. Overtime here is 1:1 (so no time-and-a-half), but I have 42* days off per year (next to 108 weekend days and in general 6 “boxing days”).
            Also, I am a “professional”. To lie on something as simple as overtime could be a serious dent to my career posssibilities.

            *This differs by sector, 22 is the legal minimum based on a 5 day work week.

          2. I nominate you a saint if you in those six years have never nor twice clocked out 15 minutes early and called it an hour.

            In other words, I don’t believe you.

          3. I don’t think you’re properly figuring the risk/reward there. He’s not a Saint. Morality doesn’t figure in, at all. It’s just not worth the risk of ruin your ng a career, the stress of that lie, for an extra hour and a half free time. It’s not like he’s being made to work at McDonald’s or carrying trash or cleaning up kid puke, and he gets paid way better too.

          4. Nah. At that point it’s like school. You spent eight hours at school but you didn’t spend eight hours at school working at school work.

            coffee breaks every hour, stretch your legs and tell a joke, have a family mentor an extra long lunch… It’s all part of the job, all paid in full. Dealing with a twenty minute personal call? Shopping online because your work is “done”.

            Not like an hourly job. not at all.

    3. Jobs where its some subjective “quality” over quantity seem to work from home without loosing any subjective quality at all. But every job that works on an objective quantity definitely suffers from work at home,or at least, they just don’t seem very common at all.

      It seems like the more somebodys can be actually measured, the more likely they are to work less effectively when they manage their own time.

  18. As a fellow ADHDer, I know how that goes. I enjoy working out in the real world due to the structure. I also like being surrounded by things I enjoy. Office life was rough for me because I get mentally exhausted easily and couldn’t just sit and rest. New job gives me plenty of down time thankfully. Currently working on starting my next business so I can escape it all.

    Wishing you the best out there. I enjoy reading your writing. Don’t let the world get you down.

  19. My brother in law works as an IT manager for a bank. The upper management wants people back in the office due to empty buildings all over the U.S. . They hold 10 and 20 year leases on some of this property that is costing them the G.D.P. of a small country. The upper management has a belief that if were paying for it were going to use it. There is a huge fight back from the plebes who do not want to return to the office. It is a bank. Not everyone banks online and a human presence needs to exist. Although I do agree that it is time for alot of companies to move on and realize the benefits of not paying rent for office space that is not needed. BTW my brother in law has worked “from the office” since the pandemic started. Him and his team have to replace the switches, routers, etc. to make sure all is well.

    1. I also work for a bank, there is so much back office work that needs to get done every day and its just not something that can be done from home. we have 200 people in my building, and while we could get stuff done with half that it wouldn’t be good in the long run.

      front line staff, tellers and branch mangers..
      IT people for more than 100 buildings that all have networks and phone systems that need service, thousands of computers that potentially have problems…

      Back office Fraud departments, Exceptions (stop pays, bounced checks) Lockbox where you have to actually be there to recieve, open and scan mail… Teams that send wire transfers between customers and other banks…Teams that approve new accounts.

  20. For school I made a point of leaving home, where distractions had their place of power, asked going somewhere else I didn’t own, like a library. It wasn’t perfect but it was better on the ADHD than trying to work on the gaming computer.

  21. really weird seeing the header image after just seeing “Office Space”. as an self employed person i mostly work from home in the first place and only visit a office for a client once every week. but two hours in traffic is the most tiring.

  22. 10 years ago when I started with my current employer, I was a contractor, and was mostly working from home.

    Then, it was hot-desking… I’d come in, and if someone was on site for the day, I’d be using their desk. If everyone was in, I got relegated to the server room.

    Later, I’d get my own desk, and when our office moved in 2012, my desk until 2020 was pretty much right in the middle of the upper floor which was open-plan. I became a full-time employee shortly after.

    I still used my own equipment for my IT work, but now didn’t have to cart it back and forth, it was safe enough to leave there and wasn’t in anyone’s way.

    The open-plan environment is a bit distracting to work in, but in general it worked well-enough, and people knew where to find me if needed as I was also the network admin at the time. I of course would don the headset and turn some music up to block out the distractions — that mostly worked… once got called out for tapping to the music (put on Simon & Garfunkel’s “Concert in Central Park” and try not to!) but that’s about it. That, and a cap, hood or the coolie hat (it’s not just an avatar) to block the distracting light from the fluros overhead and I can mostly deal with it.

    Then the pandemic came along, and we were all forced to work from home. No biggie, at first it was thought this would just be a few months so I set up my home-office. Eventually I packed up my desk with my desktop PC (again, my own equipment) and brought it home, set it up here at home. Sure, our few minutes of scattered discussion got compressed into the morning stand-up held over Slack, but gone was the distraction, fluro lighting, and no one complained if I cranked up some of Bon Scott’s best from the late 70’s.

    In the intervening year I basically lost my desk. I had also brought home a lot of the equipment I use for my work (my workplace is a systems integrator, so there’s 3 different types of electrical meter and some 6LoWPAN-based data collection devices sitting here).

    Just as we were about to move back, the Brisbane River decided to come check us out… so we ended up re-building the lower floor, and my desk is now downstairs. The test rig we had in the office got unceremoniously thrown onto the Douglas Street dump, and so what little I have at home is pretty much all my workplace has of that test rig.

    Insurance is pretty much non-existent in a flood-zone so I refuse to keep my nice desktop PC downstairs. Work has supplied me with a laptop which I’ve set up, but I won’t be leaving a personal machine behind to use as I don’t want to lose it in the next flood.

    I’ll probably be hybrid from now on… work in the office a couple of days a week for face-to-face meetings, back at home the rest of the week to actually get work done, as going to the office to remote-into machines at home is just silly. Sure they’ll re-build the test rigs we had, but my days in the office will be heavily governed by my need for physical access.

  23. I’ve only ever worked in labs and stuff so the concept of work from home is pretty foreign to me all together. But then again, the concept of a cubicle farm office environment is equally bizarre. I’d be interested to learn the actual percentage of, say, US jobs that are NOT hands on type things. Certainly the HaD readership is not representative. Tech, finance, to some degree real estate seems like work from home is fine. But lab, manufacturing, any and all service industries it just isn’t an option.

    1. Yes, and two years ago it annoyed me to see lots of articles about working from home, and often added was “so I ordered new office equioment frm Amazon”. It wasn’t that people worked from home, but an unawareness that many were still going into work to do things that couldn’t be done from home. We could live with fewer forms, but not without food or the guy who has to go in and reset the internet. But a level of society was working from home, including the writers, so everything seemed aboutworking from home, except the occasional article that made the work at work people the odd ones.

      Even a few months ago, I saw an article about an “essential worker”. But he made acoustic tiles. Hardly essential. But if he wanted to get paid, he had to go into work. We could live without acoustic tiles for a while, but he couldn’t live without his paycheck.

      Many work at work is essential, but not all of it. And doesn’t thatsay workfrom home isn’t essential?

      1. My friend was an essential worker at a Tim Hortons.

        Apparently caffeine is a legit biological need, and people will die without donuts and breakfast bacon.

        The other side of this is that cops and ems workers DO need caffeine, pretty much as a safety thing, at night. And mri machines DO still need acoustic tiles.

        “need” and “want” isn’t a binary thing, it’s anolog. It. Actually nothing is a binary thing, which is why so many smart STEM people fail to adequately explain relatively simply social phenomenon. It’s not 1 or 0 its like 0.56982. The average number of testicles for a human being is one, but that number alone is incredibly misleading without the context thst most humans have 0 or 2. Numbers, alone, fail to adequately capture the situation.

    2. The HaD readership is definitely a skewed sample. Not only in profession, but most demographics. A strong representation of the social segment which massively benefited during 2021.

    3. I got to take a bunch of lab equipment home to be able to do anything at all when the labs were forced to close – on a solemn pinkie promise not to break it, since none of it was insured for “travel use”.

    1. PC LOAD LETTER! What does that even mean? I remember seeing that on our office HP Laser somethings in the mid-nineties. it really was a confusing error message for the vast majority of us who didn’t realize that paper comes in standard sizes including LETTER. There was only one spot for paper, why not just say OUT OF PAPER? Although IIRC, if somebody tried to print A4 or 11×17 it just stopped printing until the IT guy cleared the queue. If I ever design a user interface, it will be perfect, and nobody will complain about it (or whatever the kids use for sarcasm tags these days).

  24. What’s weird in all this is that companies seem to be very keen to get people back into office but haven’t really thrown up much actual evidence of improved productivity – you’d think they’d welcome the huge cost savings from being able to downsize or even close offices as well as the quality-of-life improvements that WfH brings for many people.

    If I was a cynical person I’d almost feel like we were being gaslit by middle management desperate to justify their existence and maintain a status-quo of unnecessary control & micro-management.

    All the best managers I’ve known & worked for have hardly cared what people do with their time as long as the work gets done and the mickey isn’t being taken, while all the worst ones have nickel-and-dimed every minute of everyone’s day and been authoritarian control freaks.

    1. I’m sure the corporations thought that the ones who extracted maximum value from you and other employees was better. What did you you think you are to a corporation, a human being with rights. Lmfao. Naive

  25. Its an interesting thing. In my own experience on software-heavy engineering projects, working with people in person is way more productive at getting the overall job done. I can recall many instances where we worked remotely with teams across the country for months slowly slogging through stuff, developing piles of interface documents and mountains of code but not having anything “working” to show for it. Then we made huge leaps of progress when we all traveled to a single common location, set up everybody in the same room, and banged out the short and sweet stuff that truly worked. But maybe that burst of productivity only works if primed by the months of slogging?

    My opinion for most of this “new era” has been that eventually, after all old dinosaur companies have transitioned to working from home, they will be overtaken by new nimble startups that rediscover how productive teams are when everybody works face-to-face in the same building, and I will laugh and say I told you so. But I realized I have been saying that about a lot of things for years, just like every oldster before me… Java was a silly toy that I never bothered to learn (and I still think that’s true, denying all the overwhelming evidence to the contrary like a flat-earther). Even 10 years ago I didn’t think I would ever write code in anything besides Matlab and C/C++. Python? Too slow, not efficient. But over time priorities change, new ways of solving problems overcome old ways for reasons we can’t foresee, machine learning actually works and boy is it easy to do in Python.

    Maybe new generations of teams really are just as productive with Zoom as they are face to face… maybe more so. And as mentioned above, commercial real estate is a huge overhead expense. Companies that invest that money differently may find other efficiencies and their teams may be even more productive than us dinosaurs patting ourselves on the back for banging out a working demo by huddling around a conference room table all week. Those of us who work with real hardware can sneer and say you can’t build an airplane or a nuclear reactor over Teams, and that will be true until it eventually isn’t… maybe it will be AI driven robotic factories with magic 3D printers, maybe neural injected VR telepresence with haptic feedback, but somebody will make it work, and maybe somebody else will make it efficient enough to supplant the dinosaur factories and labs that required techs, engineers, and scientists to be there holding on with bare hands.

    I hope I am retired or in Heaven by then. As introverted a nerd as I am, I still enjoy seeing my colleagues in the office, many of whom have become good friends over the years. It turns out that deep down inside, maybe this geeky engineer is a people person.

  26. “I believe another reason is simply power. The office is the playing field of work, the stage where a caste system of executives, middle managers, and underlings can be acted out. ”

    That right there, putting the socio back in sociopath.

  27. This gets a top spot on my list of favorite HAD articles of the last decade!
    What works for me is to get properly dressed in the morning and take a walk for at least half an hour – then start to work.

  28. Because they have mistaken “working for the same corporation” as “a relationship” or “friendship” or “human interaction.” Really you are interacting with a corporate employee, any human traits are ones they’ve only been unable to supress in their workers, not something a human ever does or says without corporate influence.

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