Why Remote Work Isn’t Everyone’s Dream

Sep 24, 2021
Image of the author by the author

The pandemic lit a fire under those who hate the office. The internet is full of stories calling them dead and how everyone would be happier if they just went away.

I now work for myself from my bedroom 99% of the time and for me, that’s a negative not a positive. I’m tired of people assuming I love remote work because they do. In truth, I’m jealous of the employees returning to their offices. I miss having an atmosphere while I work. And no, a coffee shop isn’t the same.

The voices of those who would like to return to the office have been drowned out and it’s almost become culturally unacceptable to admit it online. But rather than make broad assumptions about what people think, I decided to poll my Instagram following. The question was “Do you actually enjoy going to the office sometimes?” 87% of people answered yes out of a sample of over a hundred people.

Most of the participants were city-dwelling millennials who work in professional careers. You’ve been told these people hate the office but it’s far from the truth. Of course, nobody wanted to be forced to come in five days a week but only 14% never wanted to go back.

We shouldn’t forget the office environment still adds value to many people’s lives.


Learning isn’t the same

“I hate I started my career on Zoom” — Follower

I was useless at the start of my career as the jump from studying to working was vast. I was lucky to have supportive colleagues who were there to guide me whenever I needed them. With the best online tools in the world, you can’t replace the personal touch of someone walking over to your desk to see how you’re doing.

You might keep hearing about how important being a self-starter is from people who’ve already made it. It’s funny how few admit how much support they received especially when they were new. I think the independence mantra is more to do with not caring enough about others to help their development.

I hear senior people talk about how they can do their jobs 100% from home and they will be fine. Yet whenever you’re working in a team, your contribution is about more than just what you deliver. The person who goes to the office and spends half their time teaching juniors whilst getting their work done at the same time is far more valuable.

Several recent graduates reached out to me to tell me how they struggled with getting time from people more senior. They worked long hours to fix issues they weren’t qualified for when a chat across the desk would have resolved it in minutes. Other managers confessed they couldn’t trust the new joiners as much as they could their office-trained predecessors.

Being grounded used to be a punishment

“I love my family but I’m so happy to get to escape to the office again.” — Follower

London social life is back to pre-pandemic levels and everything is packed out all the time. Society is out en masse to take in all the delights.

There’s a reason I didn’t apply for remote jobs when I graduated from university. I wanted the vibrancy and life of the city. I could think of nothing more boring as a 21-year-old than being stuck at home. My days moved so much faster when I had colleagues to chat to and several of them became actual friends.

I’ve had hundreds of Zoom calls in the last year but nothing beats face-to-face interaction. The virtual economy means I need to stare at a screen all day whereas working in the office always provided opportunities for my eyes to rest.

Not everyone lives in their dream home or with their dream people. I’ve lost count of the number of friends who have ended long-term relationships. There’s a huge difference between spending evenings and weekends together and sharing every single second. Going to work can give people the space they need each day to make the heart grow fonder.

For various reasons, staying at home isn’t an enjoyable experience for some people and they may not have the finances to change their situation. For them, the office can be an oasis.

Living at work

“The best thing is now everyone finishes earlier so they can go home rather than working late because they aren’t living at work anymore.” — Follower

“Working from home” and “remote work” are misnomers. In reality, we’ve all been living at work. We were never more than a few meters away from our work areas and all the lines became blurred. You could say my office is in my bedroom but it feels like I sleep in my office.

I never used to think about work after leaving the office. I would put my laptop into my locker and head out on my merry way. If someone emailed me or I remembered I was supposed to do something then it was tough luck. As an entrepreneur now, I’m looking to hire office space so I can recreate this feeling. One of my friends is even buying a desktop in his office so he can’t take his work with him.

Many people have struggled to set these same boundaries when working remotely. Meetings crept into the evenings and dinners were pushed later. Work took priority because of the convenience trap. It’s easier to handle an email request out of hours than to push back so it’s what many people ending up doing. Unfortunately, it sets the precedent for everyone else to trample on your time.

For my friends who’ve gone back to the office, they’ve found the attitudes are much healthier. There’s the obvious visual clue if someone isn't at their desk that they are no longer working for the day. It puts an end to late-night messages starting with “if you’re still working…” and “if you have time…”.

Yes, people should be brave enough to set their boundaries clearly but it’s not so easy in practice.


We can all fight for flexibility

The workplace is changing but it’s important to listen to all voices, not just those who shout the loudest. It’s clear some people don’t want to ever go back to the office but it’s misleading to suggest they are an overwhelming majority. They might not even be the majority anymore as my poll and others are showing.

Some remote work advocates say if we completely get rid of the office then that money could be used to pay them more instead. If anything it looks like people will be taking pay cuts to work at home. But for some workers, there’s more to life than money; going to the office adds more to their lives than the extra income would. Not to mention all the jobs in supporting offices which are on the line.

It’s hard to argue against greater flexibility in the workforce. As long as people are making valuable contributions to their team and company then they can choose how they interact with others. Remote work might be the dream for you but it could be your colleague’s worst nightmare.

Amar's Letter

Real talk on driving impact as an imperfect human.