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.
Because of the current situation with COVID-19, I’ve been working from home. It’s been quite some time as well, I think about 9 weeks so far. Which is probably slightly longer than most, but that’s because my company enforced remote working (where possible), around 2 weeks before the UK went into lockdown. As you can imagine, I’ve found some things about remote work enjoyable, and also quite a few things that I actually prefer about a physical workplace.
But just for a bit of background information: I work as a software engineer, mainly as a mobile developer, but I’ve also built various REST APIs, and worked on SSO while I’ve been at my current job. Right now, I’ve actually been going through a lot of training, as we’ve been bought by a much larger company, so we’re adapting a lot of our software to their tech stack. But essentially, everything I’m doing is possible from home.
However, I’ve noticed that while the main chunks of my work are possible from home, there’s a lot of extra things that I do that just aren’t as easy. Or sometimes they’re not more difficult to do remotely, they just take some getting used to. For example, our standup1 meetings are usually done in front of our whiteboard, which we use to track the progress of different pieces of work. This is quite good at helping the team visualise the overall progress, and keeps us aligned. It’s completely possible to do this meeting over a video call, but I don’t think it’s quite the same.
The small interactions that happen in a physical workplace are something that I miss as well. Because sometimes you just need to bounce ideas off someone, double check something, or just have a quick chat. Working remotely just makes this seem like more of a hassle.
What I’m discovering, is that my previous idea of remote work wasn’t necessary that accurate. In a normal situation, I would work from home occasionally, but only for one or two days at a time, so no real adjustment was needed. It was just a case of carrying on working on whatever you were previously, join a video call for standup, and possibly one for a meeting. But at least for me, it still felt like the “team” was operating out of a physical location, and I was temporarily separated. My expectations for this period of remote working was that it would be an extended version of my past experience, but now I realise I wasn’t truly “working remotely” before.
Obviously, my current experience of remote work is still not going to be a true representation either, as we are all dealing with the lockdown at the same time. Which I assume clouds my judgement about this quite a lot. So I can’t quite claim that my views now are absolute, and given a different scenario, I would probably have completely different opinions on it.
However, that doesn’t mean I’ve not noticed anything I like more about working in an office. A few probably apply to quite a lot of people: face-to-face conversations, small informal discussions, and an easier way to separate work from home.
One thing I miss that possibly is not that popular, is the commute to and from work. Mine is about an hour and a half in total, and involves walking to a train station, getting a train into London, two underground trains, and finally another walk to the office. To some that may seem tedious, but for me that’s time that can be spent listening to a podcast or music, watching a video, reading a book, etc. But I also enjoy walking, and my commute involves about 40 minutes of walking each way, and I find London to be a pretty good place to stroll around. Especially when I go in early at around 6/7.
There are, of course, quite a lot of things that I enjoy about working from home so much. There’s the time that I’ve gained by removing 3 hours of daily commute from my day, the money I’m disabling by not paying for the daily commute, and also the fact that I don’t have to wake up as early to start work. The extra time in the day means that I’ve got more time to do things like cooking dinner, having a proper lunch, and seeing my girlfriend more. We’ve gone from seeing each other in the evenings and the weekend, to practically every second of the day, apart from when she has to go to work (key worker).
All things considered, the hardest part of this situation is the lockdown, not working from home. And the fact that everything seems to have suddenly changed. We can’t just go outside anymore, see our family, or go out with our friends. One that’s especially difficult for us Brits, is the weather. We spend all of our life moaning about it, but right now we are having some pretty great weather. Lucky for us we have a garden, but I’m sure we’d all much prefer to enjoy it properly.
But for now that’s out of our control, and we’ll just have to get on with it.
A quick daily meeting that happens in the morning to synchronise the team, e.g. what everyone worked on the previous day, what they’re doing currently, and if anything is impeding their progress. ↩