posted: June 24, 2023
tl;dr: Although I enjoyed the office, all good things must come to an end...
An era has ended: I no longer have an office to report to for work.
I got my first payroll job at age 14, and I’ve always worked in an office environment. Except for my last two jobs there was also some sort of production facility attached. Add it all up and I’ve been showing up to the office for almost 45 years. So this is a major change for me, although because I’ve primarily been working from home since the onset of the COVID-19 endemic in mid-March 2020, the big adjustment happened more than three years ago.
I realize now that I have consistently been too optimistic about our response to the endemic. I thought we’d fairly quickly learn to live with the virus; instead, it took three years for the panic and the many restrictions to subside. I also thought my fellow employees would return to the office on some sort of hybrid work schedule. There were multiple attempts to do so, but each time an attempt was made the case numbers in the metropolitan area went up and we were once again asked by the politicians to stay home. When I did go into the office the masking and other restrictions were no fun, and put a major damper on the mood and attendance.
Eventually, company management decided to shut down the office entirely. Another company was found to take over the lease. This was the first time in my career that I had ever worked in an award-winning office, as the interior design was quite fun and innovative. Alas, some other company gets to enjoy it now, and my fellow employees get to “work where you work best”. When I set aside my emotions, however, I believe it was the right decision for my employer to make.
There will be more lockdowns in the future, as it is clear that our politicians consider them a useful tool. The COVID-19 endemic lockdowns were but the most prominent and lengthy lockdowns so far. There have been and will be multiple reasons for governments to impose lockdowns in the future:
My employer is a family-friendly company with more female workers than male. The school and daycare center closures of the COVID-19 lockdowns had a huge impact on families with kids. All of a sudden kids had to stay home and were supposed to socially isolate. This meant that a parent also had to be home to watch over them. Because lockdowns can return at a moment’s notice, no longer can working parents count on schools and daycare centers to be open. Work from home policies are therefore highly desired by parents. Any company which does not adequately support working parents is going to find that these parents will switch to employers who will allow them to be with their families whenever needed.
The company I work for is a cloud-based software and content developer, which leads to a certain work style. Microsoft’s original 1980s-era campus in Redmond, Washington featured private offices for all software developers, with a window and a door that could be closed. Microsoft wanted to provide a work environment conducive to thinking deep thoughts. To solve difficult software problems, you really do need to shut out the outside world for hours at a time. This creates the separation necessary for building a model of the system in your head and considering possible ways to change it. Anything which distracts you from that process can prevent you from solving the problem at hand. Yes, the office I last went to had an open floor plan, but there were also plenty of conference rooms, including one-person rooms, which could be used anytime isolation was necessary. Working from home is one way to minimize outside distractions.
I would still prefer to work in the office if the commute and lockdowns could be eliminated for everyone. I enjoy being around other people, and direct communication in person is always going to be better than video. But while there definitely are some positives, they are outweighed by the negative of the commute, which is mostly a waste of time. Sometimes I used the commute for exercise by bicycling to work, and would often listen to podcasts if I drove. However, the commute was still a time sink. In the final analysis, I’ve long believed that communication trumps transportation.
I doubt I’ll ever again work for a company which requires employees to report to an office. I plan to stay in the pure software realm. Even though the U.S. is conducting industrial policy to reshore some of its manufacturing, and some is coming back because of problems with global supply chains and China, I’m having too much fun working solely on software. Also, I don’t quite trust the current emphasis on “made in U.S.A.” I’ll believe it when I see more of it.
When I’m working, you can find me on the Internet. That’s my real workspace.
Related post: Returning to the office