Discover more from Innovation Nation
It's Companies' Fault we don't want to Return to the Office
It wasn't appealing to begin with
Author’s Note: I have started a LinkedIN Newsletter where I will be posting more specific finance, business, and venture capital news. Follow me there for more startup industry stories.
Additionally, I have non-public information about a major news story that I will be breaking first on LinkedIN before any other news source next week. If you want to hear this big news first, follow my newsletter.
I remember growing up and visiting my father’s law firm frequently. It was an extremely quiet environment. Each attorney had moderately sized private office with a solid door and usually an assistant shared by 2-3 attorneys right outside.
It was a very calm place. A place where workers could focus, concentrate, and be efficient in their work. I looked forward to entering the workforce and getting my office someday.
LOL. I don’t think I could have been more wrong.
Every single company I have worked for since 2007 has had open office floorpans in the never-ending quest to reduce costs at the expense of happy employees. Supposedly these were introduced to foster collaboration, but we all know it was to reduce the square foot of leased office space per employee to reduce costs.
As someone who wrote a lot of code during that time, these kinds of workplaces were extremely destructive to my performance. The Joel test asks companies who want to make efficient code, “Do programmers have quiet working conditions?” I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when I saw this as part of the questionnaire. Again, not a single company I coded for would have passed that test on that single question alone.
Knowledge workers need a quiet place where they can focus and think, not to be crammed in like sardines in a can. I was once in an office so overcrowded that I would bump elbows with the person next to me 3-5 times a day, each day our hatred for our employer growing a bit more.
As for collaboration- what collaboration? It happened almost all over Slack from literally across the room. I’d occasionally have meetings, although I eventually reached a point of seniority that I would frequently get up and leave mid-meeting when I realized how useless it was and no one would say a thing.
But then along came Covid. 2020 forced us all to return home and work from there, one way or another. And we discovered something. Many things in fact. To put it simply, our employers were treating us like shit. They’d pack us in tighter than cattle, give us a few snacks, and then tell us we should be grateful. I remember one employer who literally bragged during their interview process about snacks refused to stock Diet Coke since it was so much more expensive than the no-brand-name soda water they carried. It should have been a red flag when they gave me one during the interview process.
Putting aside all the incredible benefits to working from home which I really do not feel need to be repeated, why does any company in their right mind think we would want to go back to be disrespected and treated like shit now that we’ve had a taste of working on our own terms?
Or in a grander sense, it’s not that we don’t need the office. It’s that companies made the office space so horribly unpleasant, even downright miserable, that people will fight tooth and nail to not go back. Are you really saying we’d rather have this:
I mean, who in their right mind would want all the noise, commotion, chaos, and distractions of the modern office compared to quietly sitting at home with your dog and all the snacks of your own choosing.
Especially, when we know damn well that we are just as productive as ever, probably more so, when we work in a conducive environment.
We all know this isn’t about productivity. Companies demanding return to office are so flagrantly hypocritical as to be borderline parody of themselves. First, we know our morale, our well-being, and our productivity will suffer. Second, they know this doesn’t benefit them except justify a lot of unnecessary middle managers and above who have such trust issues that unless they see you physically sitting at a desk, they assume you are slacking off, despite how regularly you deliver your work as requested and on time.
And biggest of all, with ESG being all the hype, returning to the office is terrible for the environment. All these green companies seem to ignore they are asking all their workers to unnecessarily spend an hour or more a day driving and emitting exhaust when they could just be sitting at home helping save the planet. It’s hypocrisy so outrageous for a company that claims it’s “green” and “cares about the environment” to order us back to work when commuting contributes up to 1/3 of all emissions from cars. This alone should tell you how willing your company is to lie to your face about their actual morals.
RTO is completely unnecessary. Americans have adapted and found we enjoy working from home. Its benefits are voluminous, especially when compared to being crammed into a tiny open office with dozens of other noisy workers.
Let’s be honest. This is about saving cities. Without commuting office workers, the office buildings go empty, they become worth a fraction of their cost, and retail cannot survive. This erodes the tax base of most cities so much as to create a more-than-serious problem.
That’s all this is about. Your local government officials are pressuring CEOs to get butts in seats and your bosses want to walk around the office feeling like a God again watching their peons slave away in terrible conditions.
I have a bet with a friend. He says we’ll all be back in the office like 2019 by 2027 or so. When I laugh and ask him how the hell they are going to get workers back there, he says governments will literally pass laws to give tax incentives and payments to companies to force their workers to return. While I could see it, I don’t think it’s likely. Those officials that passed such laws would be literally run out of town.
As for myself, I have made Sibble & Associates a 100% remote company from the start. I have always recognized that my employees are the primary asset of my company. Within the first week of starting, I wrote our values document. Here are some of them:
Family and personal time come first. Work is not the most important thing in our lives.
You time is your own
Whatever hours and wherever you choose to work, it’s up to you.
As long as you meet your deadlines, you will not have more work piled upon you if you complete it early. Extra time belongs to you. Go enjoy it.
Daniel Pink writes that one of the three primary motivators for employees is “autonomy” and that’s exactly what allowing us to work from home brought to a huge number of American workers. More CEOs need to realize that if they want to retain their best and brightest. I would argue ordering workers to return to the office is a breach of fiduciary duty since it will probably cause your best workers to leave and reduce productivity of the rest, resulting in lower profits.
Companies need to think long and hard about the fact that people love WFH so much because they made the office experience so deeply unpleasant to the point where we all came to resent it. It says everything they need to know when every poll shows employees want to keep working from home. It’s their fault for not investing in making a productive workplace and now they get to suffer the consequences.
Thanks for reading Innovation Nation! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.