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November 30, 2022

Hybrid Work Only Makes It More Obvious How Much Going to the Office Sucks

While there are small pockets of American white collar workers who would welcome a respite from screaming kids and incontinent dogs at home (shout-out to a certain Going Concern team member always regaling us with shitty stories on Zoom calls), a good majority of people have realized that skipping the commute and making your own lunch while working from home is far superior to the pre-Covid office grind.

In an article I posted last week about the costs of working from home in 2022, commenters listed their own back-of-the-envelope math on WFH vs. office. Here are a few choice comments from that article:

  • [T]he commute took 3 hours a day and cost $15 per day in tolls and gas (when. $3 per gallon). That’s three hours to relax and $15 saved every day I work from home.
  • Yeah, what a horrible take on the person who wrote that article [the original Fortune article I referenced, not ours WHEW]. Not factoring in eating out with coworkers, car maintenance for putting on so many more miles, and so much more.
  • While I’m fortunate to have a short commute, gas is $5.60/gal here. Also, I use dry cleaning for my work clothes. That’s a combined daily cost of ~$8. I also am less likely to eat out for lunch when at home. With difference in food costs, I’m saving up to $15/day.
  • My commute was 2 hours, unpaid, per day. Public transit was $100+ per month, private parking was $200+. Sure I’m running my AC a little more but I got a raise, two extra hours back every day, using my own toilet, brewing my own coffee, saving money eating healthier lunches, and don’t have to rent a parking spot downtown. Seems like the real issue is there’s a lot of empty obsolete sky scrapers downtown.

That’s…*wriggles fingers*…a lot of money!

When I worked in CPA review many, many years ago my commute was about an hour and a half one way from the outskirts of San Francisco to our office in North Beach. Mind you, I LOVED the office. We had team lunch on Fridays, someone was always bringing in homemade baked goods and snacks, the coffee was free and strong, and my colleague and I who shared an office both loved EDM so we’d just jam out all day (Ida Corr vs Fedde Le Grand “Let Me Think About It” was on repeat all hours of the workday). But I had to take two buses and a BART ride (four buses and two BART rides in total) not to mention needing to delicately step over any number of human fluids to get to work (Bay Area readers know exactly what I’m talking about). No one wants that, no matter how much they actually like being at the office. The commute, I mean.

Time — not questionable fluids on city streets — continues to be a huge reason why people don’t want to go to the office. No one ever enjoyed commuting, except maybe a couple people who hate their home lives and value the solitude of a daily commute as it allows them to listen to gangsta rap without the wife laughing at how absurd it is for a 45-year-old dude from the ‘burbs to blast N.W.A. For the most part NO ONE likes commuting. The time you spend doing it is just…gone. You don’t get paid for it and actually, it costs you money. What kind of nutjob would enjoy getting charged to do something they hate?

As hybrid working arrangements continue to be pushed by middle managers who desperately need to physically observe their underlings at their desks in order to feel like anyone is getting any work done, those who are making the trek back to the office a couple days a week are coming to a not-so-shocking realization: the office sucks.

Here’s Vox’s Recode on why hybrid work isn’t working:

For now, many employees are just noticing the hassle of the office, even if they’re going in way less than they did pre-pandemic. This is what’s known as the hybrid model, and even though people like the remote work aspect of it, for many it’s still unclear what the office part of it is for.

“If I go into the office and there are people but none of them are on my team, I don’t gain anything besides a commute,” Mathew, who works at a large payroll company in New Jersey, said. “Instead of sitting at my own desk, I’m sitting at a desk in Roseland.”

Mathew’s company is asking people to come in three days a week, but he says people are mostly showing up two.

Further complicating things is that, while the main reason hybrid workers cite for wanting to go into the office is to see colleagues, they also don’t want to be told when to go in, according to Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford professor who, along with other academics, has been conducting a large, ongoing study of remote workers called WFH Research.

Then there’s the problem of culture. You know, that thing leaders say people want and can only get from seeing each other’s happy faces in a commercially-leased office building. It all sounds great on paper — and I say this as an extrovert who does actually enjoy the company of other human beings sometimes, there’s something pleasant about in-person collaborating when it happens — but so far return to office is striking out in that regard, too. People are staggering in and out like a bunch of hobos rather than warmly collaborating like the imaginary teams of stock photos.

Colleagues Shaking each other's Hands
There isn’t even anything written on those post-it notes! Phonies. I bet that guy isn’t even typing anything on his laptop either.

People are starting to notice that real life isn’t like stock photos, we’ve seen the Wizard behind the curtain, blah blah some other movie reference about finding out things aren’t as they appear I could make here if I watched more movies.

Those who want to be remote are upset because they enjoyed working from home and don’t understand why, after two years of doing good work there, they have to return to the office. People who couldn’t wait to go back are not finding the same situation they enjoyed before the pandemic, with empty offices and fewer amenities. Those who said they prefer hybrid — 60 percent of office workers — are not always getting the interactions with colleagues they’d hoped for.

So even people who like the office don’t like the office. We took the red pill and can’t get shoved back into The Matrix again.

There’s also a disconnect between why employees think they’re being called in. Employees cite their company’s sunk real estate investments, their bosses’ need for control, and their middle managers’ raison d’etre. Employers, meanwhile, think going into the office is good for creativity, innovation, and culture building. Nearly 80 percent of employees think they’ve been just as or more productive than they were before the pandemic, while less than half of leaders think so, according to Microsoft’s Work Trends Index.

The Recode piece recognizes that there is a small segment of hybrid workers who both prefer WFH and crave office interaction, specifically those early-career Gen Zers who graduated into the pandemic and have been struggling to learn the ropes without the same in-person support their predecessors had pre-2020. We’ll talk about that on another day.

For now, the office is clearly losing the hybrid work war. With employers scared to run people off in this workers’ market it would be in their best interest not to stir up the hornets’ nest on return to office. Or, you know, whatever, keep forcing people who owe you nothing to do things they don’t want to do for no reason when there are tons of other places they could work for instead who aren’t so eager to shove people back into glittering downtown prison cells.

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1 Comment

  1. My employer is pushing hybrid because they want to encourage collaboration. I work on a team that’s distributed across six offices in two states, with only one other team member in my office. We work different days in the office, so we never see each other anyway. I never see anybody from my team so I never collaborate with them in the office anyway.

    The real reason for requiring hybrid is justifying the cost of an office with 30 desks and a conference room when we have 13 employees based there and are in year three of a ten-year lease.

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