The office is dead. Long live the office
In the Spring of 2017, I was a sulphuric acid reporter in London. Yes, that’s a real job.
The whole thing happened in an office, with managers and co-workers, and it sucked the life out of me every day.
At 29, I wanted more. I wanted to travel, see the world, be free. I wanted a flexible schedule, work on my own projects, create things I loved. I despised the office.
So, I quit. I moved back to my home country of Portugal and started working as a freelance writer. I lived alone and worked at home, alone.
Life was great, until it wasn’t. I missed people. Me, a born loner, who took pride in being able to go days without human interaction.
I used the flexibility I had, and started a backpacking adventure in Eastern Europe, working while traveling. After 3 months on the road, I was full of life and dreams. I fell in love with Budapest, moved to the Hungarian capital, and did a programming boot camp.
A year later, I started my career as a Business Analyst, in my new city. In an office. While I enjoyed the occasional home office day, I mostly enjoyed working with other people. I fell in love with the office.
The Office Doomers’ Movement
A few months after the pandemic struck, we all started working from home.
And then it began.
The Office Doomers’ Movement. People adoring the home office gods, cursing the office life, and vowing never to return to a reality where office work is the norm.
A quick scroll through LinkedIn in the early months of the pandemic, and you would see plenty of posts like this:
- 9959847 hours saved on commute
- 28372 healthier meals
- 53745983 more hours of quality family time
- 829872 more hours spent working out
Meanwhile, we all kept hearing stories from friends who, in the new normal, had to juggle Zoom calls, baby diapers, and attention-seeking dogs, all at the same time.
But long live home office!
The Problem Is Not the Office, It’s Your Life
As I said, I lived in London. The city is huge, and I spent 3 hours per day commuting. Every day, I felt myself slowly dying, squeezed against strangers’ sweat on the metro.
If you live in London, I get you. Or New York, or São Paulo, or Mumbai.
But now I live in Budapest. My commute takes only 20 minutes each way. Sometimes, I don’t even have time to reply to all the messages from my friends before arriving at the office. I had healthy meals at the office on most days. I had plenty of quality time with my people after work. And I could always hit the gym before going to the office without having to wake up too early.
Do you know what my problem was back in 2017 when I was a sulphuric acid reporter?
It was not the office.
It was London.
Maybe your problem is not the office. Maybe it’s the city you live in. Maybe it’s the company you work at, that expects you to do extra time. Maybe it’s you, who lack the discipline to cook healthy meals for the week on Sunday evening.
Why We Can’t Kill The Office
A couple of months into the pandemic, I started losing motivation at work. Everything felt harder, as if I was alone dealing with all the problems the clients threw my way.
Oh wait, I really was.
Some days, I wanted to bang my head on the desk, going crazy between four white walls, and the dead silence from my co-workers, the house plants.
Me, the person who praised my job and the company so much that I even managed to refer 2 friends, who then got hired, and are now my co-workers.
I realized that I didn’t like my job that much.
What I liked were the people.
If you take them away from the equation, you are left with the dull, boring part of a job — the actual work.
Being in an office, interacting with people — the real kind, not the 2D faces on computer screens — makes you feel like you belong somewhere. It gives you a common purpose.
One of my colleagues used to send me a Hungarian song every day because I’m learning the language. At lunchtime, we ate together, chatting about whatever, Netflix recommendations, new restaurants in the city, Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina-smelling perfume, anything. It made things lighter, it made the days easier to go through.
Heck, it didn’t make them easier. It made them good.
It might sound like I worked with the perfect people, at a perfect company. If your co-workers give you hell all day, you probably don’t want to sit with them at lunchtime and make meaningless small talk. You probably don’t want to mention Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina at the kitchen table.
I get it. But it begs the question: what is the problem here?
Is it the office?
Or is it the company you work at?
The Office Should Die Sometimes
Just because the office should live, it doesn’t mean you should live in it.
After 2020, most companies will have a hard time denying you a few days of home office without sounding like dictators. Coronavirus proved, for months on end, that you can work from anywhere.
You should work from anywhere.
Work from home with your kid if there is no school that day.
Go visit your friend in another city and work from there.
Go to a new country and work from your hotel room, enjoying the city in the evening.
Have a pajama day on a Wednesday for no reason other than feeling like it.
We all have learned flexibility in 2020. Let us all take it with us moving forward.
But let’s be moderate about things. Just because 2020 was the way it was, it doesn’t mean you should never go back to the office. We are social creatures. If we spend 8 hours of each day working, we might as well incorporate some social interaction in them.
Do home office sometimes, do office-office other times. You still need it, your company still needs it, your co-workers still need it.
2020 hasn’t provided us many treasures to keep. But if there is one thing I heard people saying they would like to take to a post-pandemic world, it is the home office.
The world is changing, we must constantly adapt and change too. Work will be more and more remote from now on. There is no denying it — and there is no need to fight it either.
But we are still human. A screen doesn’t replace social interaction, a Zoom meeting is not more productive than a face-to-face brainstorm, and nothing replaces the feeling of truly knowing the people you work with.
Our common problem is not the office. It’s not spending 40 hours per week closed in a space with our co-workers. Maybe our problem is work itself.
It is spending 40 hours every week doing something that, for most of us, doesn’t allow us to do the very basic thing we were born to do: be human.