No One Wants to Return to Office

Pen Magnet
Jul 27, 2020 · 7 min read
Photo by Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash

When the news broke about Facebook and Google going fully remote for a very long time, I was wondering if my software employer was keen on following the suit.

We were already remote for 1.5 months at that time. When I queried some colleagues on Slack, the unanimous opinion was: I can’t wait to come back.

Most tech employees find it quite at home — working from home

That wasn’t something I had expected.

So I conducted a short survey on my LinkedIn feed.

The result: Most tech employees find it quite at home — working from home.

  • The survey mostly included programmers
  • The total votes received as of this writing is 65, and counting. What truly relieved me was that the survey came off far from inconclusive.

While number of people who simply love to work from home is already astounding, those not wanting to leave home for the sake of health and safety isn’t quite small either. Together, they form almost 80% of the total respondents.

The writing is on the wall: Remote is no longer a fad, an inevitable future, or a nomad techie’s excursion. It is already the default mode of work — pandemic or not.

The longer an enterprise grasps this fact is more likely to beat itself in the foot.

Remote is no longer a fad, it is already the default mode of work — pandemic or not.

On the contrary, companies (not just tech) that willingly embrace remote as part of their corporate cultures will not only be pandemic proof. They will also be resilient to many more situations and inefficiencies arising from work-life imbalances.

Remote Is More Productive:

Productivity is an outdated ideal, at least in tech.

However, taking stakeholders into consideration, office culture comes out to be the exact enemy of productivity.

It seems to limit you; when you’re working in an office, you’re a creature in a small cell under somebody’s supervision and surveillance.

Jack Vance

This is an obvious fact knowingly overlooked by organizations. This is because most management theories are rooted in the factory era, when time spent with machines directly contributed to production, and hence, profits.

Those factories exist today, too, but they are increasingly becoming operated with remote tools.

Modern economies (tech + software + creative jobs such as writing and content creation) are different. Here, outcomes loosely depend upon Pareto principle: 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

But it’s even trickier than Pareto. In software, the most complex problems are solved in seconds.

True, it takes hours of thinking/trying to arrive at that magical second. But those hours rarely include time staring at a monitor.

And definitely, someone supervising has no effect on the outcome.

Remote not only saves time+energy for commute. If unchecked, it provides ample opportunities for experimentation. It allows tech employees to tweak their schedules in the most efficient and suitable manners.

Tech employees already find it hard to strike the right work schedule. Not just the order of tasks, but also an ideal day/night schedule to maximize a day’s throughput.

Sleep deprivation is quite common among tech workforce. No amount of workout routines can fix it. They often struggle to keep their sleep hours consistent.

Remote work allows them to experiment seamlessly, and tune up to their best in least amount of time.

Want to browse some tech news that you could later share on Slack with your colleagues and have healthy discussions for a forthcoming product? Want to take a fresh stroll across the supermarket, while mentally optimizing that annoying while loop?

If unchecked, remote work provides ample opportunities for experimentation.

Blocked for ideas? Eyes/elbows strained? Take a shower or jog to come back re-energized, eager to topple the charts.

Want fresh, home-cooked food for lunch along with family? You can now afford to lunch low-cal because you don’t have to stuff yourself up for the commute.

Office culture prescription includes Getting Ready pills everyday.

  • Getting ready for Monday.
  • Getting ready every morning.
  • Getting ready for lunch.
  • Getting ready to head to meeting rooms.

The side effect of these pills is the biggest psychological burden that causes office anxiety, and not just in women. It takes away one’s attention from the intended work.

Remote lifts this biggest mental block off of people’s shoulders.

Employees, especially those in software or digital business, often don’t know how brains function at any given time of the day. Office puts invisible barriers against all such activities.Even without supervisors watching you, simply having peers around restricts you from slightest activities that seem unrelated to your work.

The Only Aim Of Traditional Office:

It’s not efficiency. It is supervision.

When workflows are mature, supervised work is an oxymoron. Organizations would do better putting their money where the mouth (Design thinking = mature workflows) is, rather than chasing surveillance techs to measure productivity.

Managers often put remoters in the same basket as employees who punch in their presence for the day and spend the day roaming around the streets.

The aim of supervision is rooted under inherent mistrust. It is not aimed at helping workers finish their tasks in correct and timely manner. It is aimed at stopping them from wandering off in undesired direction.

All arguments against remote work are held citing the extreme cases of inefficiencies. Managers often put remoters in the same basket as employees who punch in their presence for the day and spend the day roaming around the streets.

There are smarter ways to measure employee efficiencies. But even surveillance tools aren’t full solution. While they are good for abrupt times like this when remote isn’t a habit for many organizations, time isn’t far when they will be outdated too.

With enormous digital penetration, our economies are becoming outcome based, rather than time based. Bots might soon eradicate BPOs. Soon enough, time trackers or VPN spoofing tools would be considered archaic.

Remote Is Cheap:

The investment frenzy after WeWork (downfall nonetheless) told us market is inclined to dismantle the traditional office.

In software, logging into virtual machine or using SSH or equivalent is quite common since decades. The lines between remote vs office are already blurred.

In developed countries, kids are remote-savvy already, even before pandemic.

Hence, up-skilling costs associated with remote is almost nil.

A Zoom subscription for 100 hosts or an equivalent MS Teams subscription barely equals monthly rental in suburban city center in EU or USA. Discount the costs associated with physical security, electricity, internet, and dining facility from it.

With more enterprise players opting for remote, economies of scale are likely to make it sweeter.

The investment frenzy for WeWork (downfall nonetheless) told us market is inclined to dismantle the traditional office.

Who Are Those That Can’t Wait To Return:

If you love what you do, if you love going to the office, if you really like it — not just say it, but really like it — it keeps you young and energized. I really love what I do.

Donald Trump

Most of my colleagues who expressed steadfast desire to return to work were, as you may have guessed, managers.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

But there were other developers who shared the similar opinion. Some of them missed not the work, but memories strongly associated with office culture: Reaching the office in the least busy commute hour, sipping the freshest espresso, chatting with fellow early-goers, ordering the first batch of donuts out of oven — these constituted their reasons for missing the office. There was not a single account of why office increased efficiency, or how WFH was ineffective.

A few of my friends I spoke on phone wanted to return to office because their homes were situated in noisy neighborhoods. Very few of them said that frequent intervention from kids/spouse/roommates caused some trouble, but saved commute often compensated for those interruptions.

Yet, there were some fellows who shouted from the rooftops: Nothing beats office. They weren’t managers. The way they expressed their desire to return bestowed sanctimonious status to workplaces. Their reasons never went beyond sparse words like “Focus”, “Flow”, “Ergonomics” or “Family Interruptions”. But when asked about quiet room + ergonomic setup, they were out of excuses.

In fact, they admitted that ideal offices that took care of all those necessities rarely existed. Even workplaces that boasted about comfy work-setup often reserved those privileges for managers and favorite employees. Those facilities were great for photo-ops and attracting newbies, but equal access to them was a puzzle to everyone.

Conclusion:

The compound effect of pandemic will boost the scope of remote-gig economy in an unprecedented manner. Laid off workforce is more likely to be filled in or rehired as/with remote freelancers.

With schools and government — the last bastions of office culture — that went remote, the days of traditional office are numbered.

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Pen Magnet

Written by

Startup writer, Programmer, Tech Career Blogger, Education Engagement Enthusiast

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +787K followers.

Pen Magnet

Written by

Startup writer, Programmer, Tech Career Blogger, Education Engagement Enthusiast

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +787K followers.

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