We need to talk about remote work

How it started 😷

Looking back, it's all sort of fuzzy. Maybe that's the 2020 effect on my brain, but honestly, it's difficult to remember just when it became starkly clear that the whole Covid 19 thing, was going to be really, really bad. Not to get political, but I think my hazy recollection is due in part to all the mixed messages coming from various "trusted" sources. Let's be honest, it was a real shit show in the beginning. We were told it was no big deal, it was just like the flu, it will be gone in weeks. I can tell you this, I remember watching footage outside of a hospital in New York that was so overwhelmed with death and despair, that healthcare workers were openly crying in the hall, and bodies were being loaded into makeshift morgues that were really just refrigerator trucks parked outside. It was horrific. My employer, like many others, just a few weeks prior out of an "abundance of caution" had made arrangements for us to work from home - for a "short period". This was supposed to just be a for few weeks while this whole thing blew over - like we were being told it would. But it didn't blow over. In fact, my employer, being rather dependent on restaurants and, by association, in person dining, would soon know the full devastation that Covid was capable of. A company that had just crossed a milestone of being in business for over 100 years folded in just a few weeks.

The reality and the gravity of the situation hit so hard and so fast that many of us will likely be dealing with trauma of those early days for years to come

So many were left scrambling to find new jobs, rewriting resumes and CV's in a hurried attempt to find something, anything, to keep the lights on and food in the pantry. If you did find work, it was likely remote, or had been made to be remote, given the circumstances. Customer service representatives were fielding calls from home, retail shops were finding new ways to book online Teams appointments to showcase products and make sales, and an untold number of other "office" workers were navigating the new challenges of a workday from home.

But are you even working? 👨🏻‍💻

I hate to seem simplistic and to be reductive, but there would seem to be two kinds of people. There are the people who are okay with or even like remote work. And then there are the people who freaking hate remote work. I can only present you with my opinion on this as I have no actual studies or bonafide facts to back any of this up. So just bear in mind, that everything you read here is just based on my own interactions and experiences. Let's start with the first crowd. Those that are either, not bothered by or are ambivalent about remote work, as well as those that say they prefer it. I'll just be honest from the outset here, I am in this first crowd. I find that I am more productive when working from home. Firstly, there's no commute - which is not only great for reducing my carbon footprint, but is also great for reducing the amount prep work that I need to complete each morning before even starting actual "work". Living in a cold weather climate also means it is much safer. I can't tell you how many drives into, and home from, the office almost resulted in my untimely death just because of icy roads, unsafe drivers, or an abundance of snow. Working from home and cutting out the commute instantly solves both, the inherent dangers of driving daily (these cannot be understated - just look at driving statistics), and the inefficiency of the "morning routine" of getting myself pretty enough to be seen by others. All this to say that I tend to start work much earlier in the day than I would versus having to arrive at an office. And starting work earlier comes with a whole heap of advantages as well. Starting earlier generally means I have some extra time to organize my thoughts, my emails, my workflow, and more time to just mentally prepare for the day ahead. The importance of this, cannot and should not, be understated either. Let's talk about time management and productivity. Humans are social creatures by nature, and thus, an office provides the perfect opportunity for - yes, you guessed it - being social.

Many of the interactions that occur in the office are purely personal or otherwise anecdotal and serve only to stimulate conversation for the sake of our social requirements or need for "office drama"

Without the office and all it's occupants I've found my time management skills, productivity, and overall efficiency have all benefited. I'm sure you can relate to the person that would just "drop by" with a story or an ad-hoc task, or the impromptu conference room meeting that may, or likely, may not have been necessary. All these daily distractions combined with our own needs to leave the desk for a stretch or a walk, can make for a fairly unproductive work day. However, at home, I can manage my workflow more precisely. Co-workers cannot simply "drop by" and consume time or add to my list of things to do with some "hey can you help me out" task. Everyone is more mindful of schedules as much needs to be coordinated via Teams style meetings. And while I'm sure many of us can attest to "Zoom Fatigue", let's be honest, it's often more effective and efficient than what would have occured in the office conference room anyway. In my experience, it has forced individuals to be more thoughtful about meetings. A person who would have gladly booked time on everyone's schedule for a one hour conference room meeting - allotting 10 mins at the start and 10 mins at the end purely for scuttlebutt - seems to be a lot more apprehensive about booking that same meeting online. I've seen the number of meetings go down, and the meetings that are had, are far more valuable. Couple all this with, eating healthier at home (no snack machines or fast food lunches), quieter and more relaxing/comfortable environment, a more personalized and user specific workspace, and a dog as a lap buddy; and in my mind you have a situation that has so many upsides it's difficult to even contemplate any downsides. But there are those that do see downsides, and so we move to that second group. The group that despises remote work.

Remote work has empowered many people to see all the various pitfalls of office work - which is very upsetting to a certain crowd...

It should be said that some people want to go back to the office. They genuinely miss the drive into work, they miss the office gossip, they miss the smell when Pete microwaves his 4 day old leftover haddock in the community lunchroom. And if you fall into this category, I have no problem with you. I get it. You are tired of the isolation. You hate your little home office or the corner nook at home where you work out of. You want your office space back. That's cool. Just don't be upset when I don't feel the same way. If you really just want to get back to "normal", well, I can't fault for you that. Just don't push your "normal" on me. For these individuals that opt to go back, again, you do you boo. If your employer has a space for you and you want it, don't let me stop you. But here's where I'm going to get saucy, because there's a wholly different section of this "want to go back" crowd. It's the "you aren't really working if you aren't in an office" crowd. It's the "you are at home so you are probably watching Netflix" crowd. It's the "the only way I can judge performance is by the butts in the seats" crowd. You - yeah, you. You, I have a problem with. I keep hearing people like you saying "we need to get BACK to work". Like, I'm sorry there Clancy, but you say that like we haven't BEEN working this WHOLE time. You say that like your deadlines haven't been continually met this whole freaking pandemic. You say that like we haven't been doing all your tasks while simultaneously dealing with kids stuck in the house, family or friends or both dying from a horrible virus, stress that we might die too, and oh yeah, just trying just get toilet paper.

Does this crowd even realize how tone deaf they sound?

I know we need to keep moving forward to advance beyond 2020, and some of the unbearable hardships like total lockdowns, and not seeing the ones we love. But at the same time, I think it's insensitive and inappropriate to say that we need to put the Pandemic behind us. A lot of us lost friends and family members to this horrible virus. A lot of us will never fully put Covid behind us. It will always be with us, a gaping trauma, a person in a picture that's not here anymore, a friend that can't go running with us anymore because they can't breathe like they used to. I feel I have to reiterate here, this is just my experience. Some of you might have very valid and necessary reasons for wanting to pile people back into stuffy offices again. If that's the case, I'd love to hear those reasons and try to understand them. I can only say that, all the people whom have voiced to me a strong need to have people go "back to work" have stumbled, or flat out not responded when pressed as to why they have/feel this need. Hence my frustration. Because, at the end of the day, my fear is that these people have this need or feel this way simply because "it's the way we've always done things". And I'm sorry, but that's just not a reason to do anything.

How it's going...🙃

So far a lot of companies seem to be adopting a less is more approach. Opting to be fairly vague on longterm post pandemic work environment plans. Some larger companies have announced hybrid work schedules, 2 days in the office, 3 days at home. Some companies have said if their employees have been productive and reliable (and have the capacity to work from home), that they will be allowed to do so; making it optional if/when the employee would like to be in the office - if at all. Still other companies are announcing plans to bring their full workforce back into office settings just in time for the winter flu season. At the end of the day, I hope most companies will be flexible. That's all I ask. Some workers may want to return. Some may not. Some may be really excited to see people in the office again. Some may be anxious and stressed at the mere thought of being crammed into a concrete box with people again. Some may not care if all their co-workers are vaccinated. Some may worry at night if Pete, with his horrible smelling lunches ever actually got vaccinated. That's partially what makes Humans so great - we experience things at an individual level. That is to say that every experience is subjective to the individual HAVING the experience. And it is for this very reason that a one-size "send everyone back" approach is just the kind of shotgun tactic that will end up hurting businesses in the long run. You have to understand where the other side is coming from. So be flexible. Acknowledge that work has been going on, all this time - acknowledge that we aren't RETURNING to work. Acknowledge that we NEVER LEFT. Acknowledge that good work has been done at home, proving that it is a feasible model going forward. Acknowledge that your talented staff is probably not just "watching Netflix" all day, and that it is insulting to insinuate as much. Talk to your employees, and if they are productive from home and want to stay there - let them. It could be for their health, it could be for their productivity, or their efficiency. Or it could be so they don't have to drive in the snow, or so they don't have to smell Pete's fish in the microwave. Or it could be because they lost a person they'll never get back, and they are still grieving for all things the pandemic took from them. It could be for their mental health and to prevent panic attacks. Or maybe, it could be that working from an office always should have been optional (where appropriate), because the whole "everyone crammed into one big spot" thing, never really made much sense anyway.