I went into my office yesterday for the first time in a few months to pick some stuff up. We got notified a couple of days ago to get any personal property out of the office before Thanksgiving or else it'd be thrown out, so I guess we're moving out of the office1. It was a pretty eerie place to be; even now, 8 months later, most people haven't been back and it kind of looks like the entire office was abducted by aliens in early March.
Despite how weird it is, I still miss working out of the office.
I miss having a clean delineation between "work" and "home".
I miss having copious desk space and a big monitor3.
I miss the 48" TVs on the wall showing Grafana dashboards with key metrics so there was always ambient knowledge of what was going on with the product.
I miss having meetings in conference rooms where you can see other people and have a giant whiteboard to sketch on.
I miss casual collaboration. Video chat is a poor substitute and Slack is a deeply irritating tool that combines the worst aspects of synchronous and asynchronous communication.
I miss productivity! I think our4 engineering productivity has fallen through the floor since COVID despite everyone working longer and harder; I fundamentally do not think remote teams can ever be as productive as in-person teams.
I miss having my employer pay for electricity and heat and fast symmetric multi-gigabit Internet access instead of shifting those costs to me.
I miss having a plethora of convenient and delicious options for take-out lunch! I miss the gyros and french fries at Ayola. I miss the chicken pesto sandwich at Working Girls' Cafe. I miss the chow mein and pork buns from Yank Sing. I miss the katsu curry from Muracci's. I miss the curry burritos from Curry Up Now. I miss the croque monsieur from Cafe Madeline. I miss the $5 lunch specials from Mehfil.
I miss the succession of friendly baristas at our favorite coffee shop who always knew our orders and put up with our banter.
I miss occasional after-work drinks at the sky bar with the $18 well drinks that we always convinced management to pay for.
Hell, I miss BART in all its loud and smelly glory.
Look, I know, it's not all bad. It's a lot easier taking care of a baby while working from home than it would be if I were commuting 45 minutes each way every day. I'm spending a lot less money on food and coffee and BART. And I'm not arguing that we should be in the office now; not a single one of those things I listed above is worth the health risk of jamming 150 people5 into an open-plan office with a quasi-functional ventilation system6. But I really hope that office-work isn't a permanent victim of this pandemic, that all the companies pushing for permanent WFH to save a few bucks on rent reconsider their stances, and that there comes a time when I can go back to work again.
I see that someone decided to share this widely with the world and I've gotten quite a lot of feedback. Some notes: first and foremost, yes, obviously both working from home and working from the office are immensely better than being unemployed or, of course, better than living somewhere that one has to "walk kilometers to fetch some drinking water". I guess if you are unemployed or fighting for your life in a COVID ward, it might seem pretty foolish for someone to care about whether their industry is going to move to permanent WFH; alas such is human nature that I am more focused on the choices directly in front of me than the suffering of people who don't have those choices at all. Mea culpa. I'm not trying to invalidate or ridicule your pain if you're in that situation, and I apologize if it seemed like I was.
And to the many, many of you (some of whom have directly responded to me very... aggressively...) who feel that offices are inherently bad and would like everyone to WFH forever — I recognize your opinions and do not share them. That's the Internet for you! You should write a blog post about how offices are terrible and everybody should live in the sticks and work out of their backyard! I wish you many upvotes in doing so. I also hope you have an experience some day working in an office that you don't hate. Either way, please stop sending me hate mail.
Finally, I want to emphasize the point I made in my last paragraph: I absolutely know that we're in a pandemic and I'm not asking anyone (nor volunteering myself) to go back to offices right now. That would be absurd! I'm very glad that my employer has been able to have folks work from home during the pandemic! I have no qualms with calling my employers out when they do dumb things, but my current employer handled going into lockdown with aplomb and sent us all home before the city mandated it and hasn't done the silly thing of waffling back and forth as the city has teetered between "purple" and "red" the way some other companies have. Thankfully, though, we're looking at a future maybe as little as a year from now where widespread vaccination will have taken place and life can start returning to normal, and this opinion article was written after the flood of articles from tech executives and pundits talking about the supposed benefits of permanent mandatory work-from-home after the pandemic ends.
The above article is left as-written (except some typo fixes, one extra "I think" at the behest of someone who didn't think it was clear enough what was opinion [it's all opinion], and two extra footnotes) because I still stand by it. Agree with it, disagree with it, let it inspire your spirited response blog post; just stop sending me hate-mail.
To be clear, I don't know. I stay as far away as possible from facilities management ↩
I'm lucky I have any desk at all; if we still lived in the apartment in SF I'd be working with my laptop on my lap every day and probably have a permanent crick in my neck. The "Work From Home" requirement strongly favors people rich enough to own spacious houses. ↩
Both our as in "the people I immediately observe at work", and our as in "the tech industry at large" ↩
An unfortunately non-zero-number of whom are statistically likely to be COVID deniers, sigh, thanks US politics ↩
It turned off at 5:30pm ↩