The Four Most Popular Bungles and Four Very Straightforward Alternatives
I think this all makes sense and agree completely that companies need to figure out what is the office for.
I feel like an oddity in this time we are in as I know many people (who have the privilege to work from home) are absolutely thriving in it, and I don’t feel like I am thriving. I miss seeing people in real life. I had a baby and moved and got a new job during the pandemic, and without going into work, I don’t know how to make new friends and connections in my new city. I feel isolated and honestly I mourn the fun and friendships I used to have in the office.
I think I am probably an anomaly because I don’t see much discussion about the isolation of WFH, and so I just wanted to put it out there in the hopes of feeling a bit less alone.
To be clear, I don’t miss commuting and I’m so grateful for the extra time with my kid. I know there are many benefits to WFH. I’m really glad it’s making life better for so many people. I also know it’s probably kind of effed up that the only way I know how to make connection and establish friendships as an adult is in the workplace.
But I’m pretty introverted and it takes me time to feel comfortable, so I need a lot of time around people to build connections. And I’m a working mom, so I don’t have much free time for time intensive activities outside of work.
Anyways, it’s a strange new world and maybe I just need more time to get used to it all. But I agree if companies could better articulate what the office is for, maybe it would help everyone, no matter where you sit on the WFH preference spectrum.
I feel like most of the excuses for staying in office really boil down to: "We are afraid of losing our work community which was not really a true community to begin with but we sure did like to delude ourselves that it was and we'd really like to continue with that delusion. Thanks!"
When Covid hit, my company said "hey you can work from anywhere!" and then come to find out the CEO hadn't actually signed off on that (but in the meantime I'd sold my house in NC and moved home to Maine) and they backtracked it. (None of us that moved during that window were expected to come back though, thankfully.) And now they seem to have the mentality that our HQ is where everyone works (they call our 6 other locations around the country "remote locations" [! like they aren't real offices because they aren't at HQ?]) - but because we have so many folks who are truly remote *and* have so many teammates in our non-HQ offices, even if you are in the HQ building, you're just sitting at your desk on a Teams meeting because everyone you're meeting with is somewhere else.
Some teams are required to be in office 3 days a week, some teams are 1 day a week, and some teams aren't ever in office because their manager doesn't care. But every time this discussion comes back up, about having all teammates near an office required to come back in, nobody can articulate the WHY - except that our CEO wants it that way. They were bribing people with free lunch for a while but that stopped, so now there's even less of a reason for people to want to be there.
I moved from Charlotte NC to a very rural town in Maine, an hour from where I grew up, so I definitely understand the isolation feeling mentioned in another comment. If I'm not trekking the 20 mins to the grocery store once a week, I don't really have anywhere to go. I recently joined a yoga studio and attend a class once a week after work, and joined a gym two weeks ago just to have *somewhere* to go / get out of my house. I've gotten involved in our town's solar power ordinance committee and stopped by the farmer's market and have struck up a friendship with one of our local farmers, so I'm slowly becoming ingrained in our (very small) community, but its definitely not an overnight thing. Very tough to make friends as a (single, child-free) adult - especially when you work from home. That built-in office community doesn't exist outside of your laptop.
AHP, the fact that you can analyze what I have to imagine were hundreds of IG DMs, comments in Discord, conversations, articles, etc. and distill them into these Bungle Themes that feel completely on point amazes me. Oh, and then provide thoughtful commentary on alternatives. I mean, come on. This is why we all love you.
I work at a large University (I'm staff, not faculty) and remote vs. in-office is entirely department dependent. So everyone in my unit has been full-time on campus for the past year, there are other units that are still fully remote. We are siloed enough that there isn't a feeling of inequity in our team (why does Unit X get to WFH when we have to come in?), which is nice. But the hard work of figuring out a hybrid approach for our team just hasn't been a priority, when it feels like it probably should be. Personally, while I don't like the time I lose in a day (getting ready, commuting, etc.), I do prefer working at the office for the most part. I was fully productive during the 2 years of WFH, but I don't think I'd do well with a hybrid approach...I think I would find that I'm less productive at home in that circumstance.
I recently quit my job with a publicly funded college (I was on staff, not faculty and I am working as a freelance contractor for them still) partly because they ticked off multiple bungles on this list (#1 and #2). It was endlessly frustrating, and anytime there was an internal forum or "listening session" it was obvious leaders weren't really interested in listening, so much as taking the opportunity to reiterate why everyone* needed to be in-person again (our students need us, some workers must be on campus, and it's not fair to them if other workers are permanently remote/hybrid).
*But not really everyone, of course. The lack of transparency felt so toxic to me.
All of this. My small office of 8 had to start coming back a couple of days a week in September 2020 (!) because the CEO was an extrovert who felt like we should be there, but refused to explain her reasoning or articulate what wasn't working about being home. Then we actually moved offices in Jan 2021 - going from individual offices to cubes for most of us, huge offices for 2 people and an inexplicable number of file rooms. But guess who was almost never there? That's right, the CEO. Oh and our admin coordinator found out she was supposed to be in the office everyday when it was announced during a staff meeting. She quit shortly after. By summer of 2021, I was starting to get my resume together after working there for more than a decade. Then our CEO found out she had a serious illness and didn't set foot in the office from July until she finally went out on disability in January and officially retired in March. Since then we've been working as more of collective with me nominally in charge. My theory is that there are no children working in our office and if you're getting your work done we're cool. It helps that most of the staff has worked together for many years. We've had a couple of days where I have asked everyone to come in, and people have done so willingly because those days had an explicit purpose. We're in the process of searching for a new CEO so I'm sure things will change again then, but for now this is working pretty well.
I work for a national nonprofit with multiple offices that I think has figured this out — and is letting employees slot themselves (in collaboration with their supervisors) into one of four options: fully remote, fully in-office (this allows the folks who want to marry their desks to have what they want), hybrid with a set schedule, or an ad hoc hybrid arrangement. (With the understanding that there will be some degree of hotdesking/hoteling necessary for the folks that choose one of the latter two options.)
And the follow-through is there, as is the understanding of what the physical office spaces are for: collaboration/connection. No one is being forced to do anything — the “butts in seats” mentality is nowhere to be found — and there is the flexibility to shift to a different model if circumstances/risk tolerance levels change. I’m fully remote because we don’t have a physical office in my area, but even those who do live near one of our offices still have fully remote as an option. The plan has been well-received by employees so far.
A variation to #1 and 2 is this: the CEO and executives want to have some employees in the office or lab, but they themselves do not want to come into the office and rarely if ever show up. So much for leading by example!
My company is requiring us to go into the office (return to WORK, the department head keeps saying!) three days a week, and it's turned into a mashup of Nos. 1, 2 and 4. We've become an increasingly global-oriented unit since the pandemic hit, so collaboration will always involve Zoom no matter what. The in-house gym and medical clinic are the only two things that make me want to go in.
One of the more ridiculous elements of our return to office is the persistence of the clean-desk policy. We still have assigned seating, but we're still required to clear off our desks at the end of the day so they can "clean." Except that I have *purposefully* left some Cheetos crumbs on my desk several times (yes, I know that's gross) to see how clean that clean really is. Guess what, they're always still there no matter how much time elapses between my office visits. Part of this clean desk policy includes not being allowed to have garbage cans at our desks, which means I have to get up and walk past a bunch of desks with people who don't have to be vaccinated or masked in order to throw my Cheetos bag and crumbs away. And then I have to schlep my wireless keyboard, mouse and charger (because they won't give me one for the office AND one for home) along with my computer, lunch and workout gear if I've brought that.
Somebody make it make sense.
This is so timely because my husband told me that he's expected to start going back to the office 2 weeks from now -- mainly, he believes, because the company needs to justify paying rent on its office space. Meanwhile, during the pandemic, he got a new boss, who lives in Texas (we're in the SF Bay Area). So meetings will continue to be on Zoom basically forever even if part of the team is working in the office. Plus the building is located in a fairly remote office park, and the company has closed its cafeteria permanently, so either you have to brown bag it or drive somewhere to get lunch. I feel like his situation is ticking all 4 boxes in this article.
I work for a state agency and we've opted to allow for a lot of freedom, so most people are on hybrid schedules and a few are in the office all the time and a larger number are 100% telework. I think my frustration is that while we can do 95% of our work remotely, there are some things that we just don't do as efficiently (co-creating a letter for example took the better part of three hours working remotely when it could have taken 15 minutes in the office) and we are super limited in our ability to use the software that makes hybrid work better. We aren't allowed to have Zoom or Google docs, for example, so that makes it hard.
I worry also about the fact that we are hiring new employees into this model and it is an election year. I would be 0% surprised if our freedom to allow remote work was rescinded if we have a shift in governor or legislature next year, so I feel obligated to tell new employees "hey, this is where we are now but it could change, so don't get too attached" which feels like an unwelcoming message (but I want to be honest).
The other thing that we need to change (and I wonder if this is true at other places as well) is that our performance evaluation sheets are not designed for evaluating remote workers. There are questions on our sheet that I feel like, as a manager, I can't answer. I don't have as strong of a sense of people's interpersonal and communication skills. I don't have as good of a sense of how collaborative people are or how they approach problem solving in the same way that I did when I worked in a 100% in-office setting. As a newer person to this agency, I just don't feel like I know my team as well as I wish I did. I know that is on me to figure out how to build those relationships but it is a lot harder in this model.
I feel like my company was very, very slow to announce the return to office plans, which was frustrating in the moment but actually ended up being a good thing because they were extremely deliberate and thoughtful about it. The end result is that now that our offices have officially reopened, all employees can choose to be 100% in-office, 100% remote, or hybrid. Of course the remote option isn't viable for employees who HAVE to be onsite sometimes (for example, we have large manufacturing testing labs that obviously can't be replicated from home). All employees receive a cell phone stipend, which has since been increased for remote employees to help offset some of our internet cost as well. We also received a one-time stipend when offices were still closed to help us equip our home offices.
I was technically hired for a "remote" role in late 2018, but by happenstance there is a sizeable office where I live, so they gave me an office that I worked from about four days a week. None of my team were situated in that office, but it was good to have a place to go and interact with others from my company, being new and all.
During pandemic, we were one of the very first companies to shut down and go 100% remote (we are Seattle-based), and I haven't gone back since. I built out a gorgeous home office and love the additional flexibility and free time (and let's be real, work time) in my day, and don't plan to go back into an office. I'm grateful that I have a boss who didn't care where I was before March of 2020, and definitely doesn't care now, as long as I'm getting my job done. I can take a quick hop over to HQ as needed, which I did pre-pandemic and have since resumed doing about once a quarter, just to stay connected with my colleagues there.
The company has encouraged teams to adopt a "one Zoom, all Zoom" policy: if one participant in a meeting is present via Zoom, all participants log in individually as well. I absolutely love this, because pre-pandemic, meetings were often a conference room full of people plus me and a smattering of other remote folks as little boxes, which was a bit isolating. Now, as it was when we were all remote, everyone is a box on the screen, which makes me feel way more included, connected, and present in meetings than in the Before Times.
All in all, I have nothing but good things to say about how my company took a human-first approach during pandemic, and how it has handled the return to office (or not) now that we've reopened.
Ours has bungled it every step of the way. Astronomical turnover didn’t change their mind. Everyone getting Covid ( now for the second and third time) made them double down on “we just have to learn to live with it”. Even though productivity was higher when people worked from home, they forced everyone back to the office at the earliest legal moment and took away flexibility people had pre pandemic. I only still work from home because I actually quit and the negotiated to keep me. We have one HR person for a company of 500 people which I kind of think says it all.
The thought I keep coming back to is, are we about to have another wave of the big quit (I want that) or are we going to just further break down our last remaining boundaries with our jobs also the infinite loop of limited sick time / getting sick at the office 🤡
Agree with all of this, but I will add that a benefit of an office is the compartmentalization of work and home. I have ADHD, and the physical space I'm in while I'm working makes a difference in how well I'm able to focus. I was working remotely for about a year, and it was difficult for me to make my home feel like a work space. I like the separation that a commute and office desk provide. (However, I admit I have the privilege of a 10-minute walk commute and my own office with a door! There have been no reported Covid cases transmitted in my office so far *knocks on wood*)
I worked remotely or hybrid for a couple of different companies pre-pandemic, and this could not be more spot-on. #2 was especially egregious, i.e. SOME employees have the right to full flexibility but there’s not much rhyme or reason as to why others do not. It was a recipe for terrible passive-aggressive hostility between some co-workers. All of these points resonate though; there are a lot of people in management who need to see this post. I’m happily fully remote now, and have no plans to return to any other arrangement.