I have a few life goals written down, where I think if I would achieve them, would signify a very satisfying life for myself.
One I would like to share today, is that I would like to not need to set an alarm on a day-to-day basis. I want to be able to wake up naturally, and go about my day as I see fit.
The biggest and most obvious hinderance to me achieving this goal is my day job. And for most people attempting to achieve something similar, where they have more control over their day, this problem would probably be the same.
The essence of the goal is mostly based on having control over my own timetable, but at the same time, I don’t want this to mean that I can’t work. I’m happy working, but I want to do it on my own time. Maybe that’s expecting too much, but I have a feeling that many people would like to control their day a little more.
This actually came back into my head recently with the news that the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill to make Daylight Saving Time permanent, and also based on commentary from LD Stephens, and Mike Rockwell.
But the idea that triggered it the most was from LD Stephens, where he mentioned how it would more negatively affect the northern states, with darker mornings in the winter months. While I won’t pretend to understand the geography of the U.S. or the opinions of its citizens, it is interesting to me that even inside a time zone, not everyone experiences the same day. I haven’t quite figured out if I think this is a problem, or if it’s just a situation that we have to get on with. But intriguing to me nonetheless.
Where this ties in to my idea about controlling your day, is that because timezones are experienced differently based on where you are within that timezone. So while it may say 8 am on everyone’s clocks, maybe in one place the sun has risen, and in another it hasn’t. That’s probably not a big deal to most. But when you add the context of a normal day job starting at roughly the same time, then it has a more visible effect.
I have many questions in my head regarding why we need to start work at a certain time, and why working hours aren’t adjusted on a hyper-local basis. But I guess the answer is mostly that it’s simply easier this way.
When I think about Daylight Savings Time, it does at least attempt to counteract the varying sunset/sunrise times over the year. But I don’t think the “solution” to this is in the concept of time itself, but how we base our lives on it. For example, if you normally start work at 8 am, but now the sun doesn’t rise until 8:45 am, why can’t you just start work at 9 am instead? Why do we adjust time to compensate? I’m guessing because “it’s easier”.
I’m not sure that this would work for everyone, but I think a more flexible approach to working hours would be widely accepted.
Before the pandemic, I started coming into work earlier, starting at 7:30 instead of 8:30. However, while this may seem flexible, I’m pretty sure there would have been a bit of friction if I asked to start at 7:45 instead. It’s also not flexible, as in I have had to agree this new time, I couldn’t have just arrived one day at 7:30.
What, I think, would be a good solution for most people is if your starting time wasn’t fixed. But maybe there’s an hour window, and then your working hours start from whenever you arrived at work. Perhaps one day you woke up 15 minutes late, and therefore arrived “late” to the office. Why treat it as a problem of being late? Why is there not a general acceptance of the fact that you arrived 15 minutes later, and that you will just leave 15 minutes later as a result?
Personally, I think the best solution for people and companies (where the job allows), is if your entire working hours were flexible. For example, you could be contracted to work 8 hours a day, but you are free to fulfil those 8 hours between the hours of 7 am and 9 pm. Maybe one day you have plans later on in the day, so you choose to start at 7 am, and have a short lunch. But another day, you want to go have brunch with friends, so you could start later, or perhaps you just take a long break?
To go even further on this idea, what if the entire week was flexible? What if you could fit in 40 hours of work as you see fit throughout the week?
I think this idea of control, and having your working hours work around you, instead of everyone conforming to the same schedule, would result in a massive feeling of freedom.
While I have personally been working throughout the entire pandemic, I have now done so from home for two full years. I start going back to the office on the week starting 28th March, for 2 days a week. And I imagine a lot more people will be starting to go back to the office as well, if they haven’t done so already. It will certainly be very fascinating to see what cultural changes have happened over the period of the pandemic, specifically regarding commuting into a city to work after working from home for two years. Especially since it appears that people are at least attempting to “go back to normal”.
I guess the question is, “what is normal now?”. A while ago everyone was predicting significant changes to how people work, how they socialise, and their entire priorities and attitudes towards their lifestyles. But surely at some point we’ve got to see this take place? Or has it already happened, and we’ve already accepted it as normal?
It’s getting close to the time where I think companies will be asking more and more of their employees to migrated back to office life. This has made me wonder what I personally expect will happen in regard to my own situation, and also what I’m hoping for, and willing to settle for.
Back in February this year, I wrote a post entailing reasons why I didn’t want to return to the office. I’d say that my feelings haven’t changed in that regard. But at the same time, there are aspects of office life that I wouldn’t mind getting back. Although I’m not sure how realistic those actually are.
As for my current work situation, I’m still working from home full-time, having started back in March 2019. The company I work for have started talking about flexible working in the future, although these plans were pushed back recently, as it was planned to be in action around September. But, it did seem that at that point, the balance was seemingly going to be a pretty even split of working at home and in the office.
Right now, my office is open for people to go in and has been for a few months. Except, it’s not open as usual (as you might expect). Instead, only half of our floors are open in the building, and are at a maximum 50% capacity, along with no one having an assigned desk.
If you want to go into the office, you need to book a slot online, and in the morning you have to get your personal items from a locker, pick up a fresh mouse and keyboard, and take everything to your desk.
Once you’re set up at your desk, that’s it for the rest of the day. Because most likely your teammates aren’t even in the building, let alone sat anywhere near you. So you’re basically remote-working from the office. Especially as meetings will continue to require a video call.
That situation is precisely why I haven’t returned to the office at all. Because the value I see in being in an office is the fact that your team is sat together, you can have quick discussions, a meeting can happen in person around a whiteboard, and you can generally socialise with other colleagues. But right now, none of these benefits are possible. And I’m starting to think that while I am open to returning to the office unless most people are more-or-less working from the office full-time, it’s not going to be the same.
For example, my ideal balance is that I work from the office 1 or 2 days a week and the rest from home. But what happens when each member of the team does the same and chooses different days to come in?
If a majority of the team are working most of the time from home, then is it reasonable to expect a permanent desk? Because if not, then you could be spread out all over the office. This means back to everyone sat at a desk connecting to a video call. So you may as well be sat at home.
Because of those reasons, I think a more realistic balance is that most people work 3 or more days in the office if we are to expect a return to normal. Otherwise, I’m not too sure what the benefits of returning would be.
What I think will happen is that some people will choose to go back, pretty much full-time, but it will depend on their role. For example, people on the phone all day might prefer to be in the office, whereas developers like myself will probably choose to stay at home. So I’m a bit pessimistic whether office life will ever actually be normal for me again.
Instead, I think that while companies are offering either flexible or completely remote working, then others will be pressured into doing the same thing. And to be honest, if the company I work at weren’t flexible in letting me work from home enough, then I’d probably look to move somewhere else.
I guess there’s only one way to find out, and that will be to simply wait. But I’m curious to see what will happen to office working over the long-term. And if it will have any effect on house prices, office locations, and cities in general, if they aren’t receiving the same level of footfall as they were before the pandemic.
I wrote in the first issue of my newsletter, about what I think life will look like after the pandemic, and I also touched on my personal situation. But I thought I’d go deeper on that today. Specifically on the main reasons why I don’t want to go back to the office.
Firstly, the time spent commuting is too high. Or at least I’ve come to get used to not having a commute, and I don’t particularly want to go back to losing three hours of my day, five days a week. There’s so much more stuff I could be doing with my time.
The next big reason is because I can. I'm a software engineer, and can do my job fairly easily, anywhere in the world. I just need a computer and an internet connection. The past year has proven that I am capable of working from home. Although, I'd obviously prefer to do it in a better scenario, where I'm actually able to make use of my extra free time more.
Then there’s the benefits of having just that extra bit of friction between other people and myself. We have the typical communication tools which we use, so we can talk to each other, and we have regular video calls within teams, but it’s not as instant as physically talking to someone. Some people may find this to be a negative, but I find that it lets me get on with my work. Rather than someone interrupting me when I'm in the middle of something, I can get back to them on my ow schedule.
Adding to that, there’s a whole host of reasons why I find my house more comfortable to work in than an office environment. I’m lucky to have a dedicated room for an office, so I can go there and focus on a task, I can sit downstairs on the sofa and do something less intensive, and just generally move around and still work. I can listen to music as loud as I want (very loud), which is something that is happening a lot more recently. I can talk to my partner throughout the day if she’s not working, and I just feel like I’m more present. Because lets face it, no-one works at 100% for the whole working day. Because sometimes the work is simply menial and doesn’t require deep concentration, other times you’re in a presentation and can relax a bit, or maybe you’ve just finished a big task and you’re having a small coffee break. Whatever the situation, I’d much rather do any of that in my own home.
The final reason is my cat. He’s grown pretty attached to me over the past year, spending quite a lot of time in my office with me, and even getting involved in video calls. I’m not sure how he’d cope if I was suddenly away for 12 hours a day.