Told you so!
I told you that the moment there was good news on COVID-19, your managers would celebrate by demanding that you get your cute little butt back to the office.
It isn’t that they feel verklempt at the idea of sending your paycheck to a beach hut on Bora Bora. It’s just that your managers like you so very much they want to see your smiling face sitting at your smiling desk in your smiling office, if not all the time, then at least from 9 to 5.
But are you appreciative? Do you care that they care so darn much?
Instead, you carp and complain and insist that you can’t go back to the old ways. You do your work. Why should you have to get out of your pajamas to attend a meeting, or go back to a miserable commute or spend your days sitting cheek to jowl with a bunch of annoying losers who drive you cray-cray when they stick their noses in your cubicle five times a day to ask, “What’s happening, dude?”
Julie Creswell and Peter Eavis understand. “Returning to the Office Sparks Anxiety and Dread for Some” is their recent newsflash in The New York Times.
But is it really news?
“Some employees are not keen to go back to the office,” Creswell and Eavis write in their introduction. Well, Julie and Peter, let me be the first to clue you in: Some employees were not keen to be in the office in the first place. Nor were some managers, for that matter.
As any psychiatrist -- or bartender -- will tell you, your managers don’t mind you working from home. What they mind is when you seem happier than they are. It’s only human nature, though I leave it to you to decide if “human” is the right adjective with which to describe your managers.
Obviously, what is needed here is compromise, and, at first blush, some employers seem willing to bend. Not groovy companies like Amazon, who told employees it expects to return to “an office-centric culture as our baseline.” But companies like Target, Ford Motor Company and PricewaterhouseCoopers insist “they are going to let office workers work remotely more frequently.” Even business bulwark JP Morgan Chase is “telling some workers they can cycle in and out of the office.”
Embracing flexibility is fine in principle, but how is it going to work in reality? I can hear the conversation now:
You: I’ll be cycling out and working from home tomorrow.
Your manager: But you worked at home last Tuesday.
You: That was three weeks ago!
Your manager: You’ve got to be flexible.
You: I thought the company was going to be flexible.
Your manager: You’re right! We need to have an all-day, all-departmental meeting on flexibility. This is an important issue, so we’ll do it immediately. How about tomorrow?
Your Manager: Tomorrow it is! Be here at 8. And bring muffins.
There is one group of people who are “eager to return to the office.” These are “younger people who feel they have more to lose by being away.”
Young people want to “connect.” While you want to get away from your colleagues, they want “to get to know them, understand their mind set, how they learn and how they grew their careers.”
You bet they do. Right before the sneaky little buggers learn enough to end your colleagues’ careers by stealing their jobs while they’re at home, working.
Even when a company makes an effort to implement a flexible schedule, there can be hiccups. Trivago, a German travel company, let employees work remotely for three weeks a month and come into the office for one week.
It did not go well.
After three weeks at home alone, employees found the experience “disorienting.” This happened even though management treated the in-office weeks “like celebrations, with balloons hanging from the ceilings” and employees were “plied with coffee and muffins.”
(Pro tip: The power of muffins is limited. They should have used donuts. Or strudel!)
The truth is that being friendly, happy and upbeat even one day a week isn’t easy. Alone at home you can be grumpy and weird and no one will notice -- no one except Mr. Fluffy, your stuffed rabbit, and Florence, the tortured spirit of your company’s HR director who lives in your closet and comes out at midnight to approve your time sheets.
If it doesn’t, it might be time to go back to the office.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at email@example.com.