The REAL Reason We (or at least I) Prefer To Work From Home

My brother was on Twitter earlier today talking about remote work, and employers' hilariously blinkered attempts to get folks working in offices again. Now, I have a lot to say on this, so I figured it best to divide this whole thing up into logical parts.

The REAL Reason We (or at least I) Prefer To Work From Home
Photo by Chris Montgomery / Unsplash

My brother was on Twitter earlier today talking about remote work, and employers' hilariously blinkered attempts to get folks working in offices again. Now, I have a lot to say on this, so I figured it best to divide this whole thing up into logical parts. That's probably horrifically pompous or pretentious of me, but hey, it's better than a gigantic wall of text? Chalk it up to having to write exceedingly dry technical documentation so often. Don't read it if you don't want to. I'm not your mom. Anyway, without further ado:

Part 1: The Disgruntled, Somewhat Sarcastic Intro

Okay, listen. The Pandemic fucking sucked. We can all agree on this. It still sucks now, because it's not REALLY over (but that's another discussion). Point is, we've all started to come out of hiding, and act like social creatures again. But if there was one net-positive to come from the sturm und drang of a global health catastrophe, it's that all of us office-bound cubicle monkeys realized that we no longer have to be chained to our desks. We can work entirely from home.

To be fair, I think those of us in the tech sphere kinda already knew this on some level, but psychologically we remained trapped in the same prisons of anyone else who's ever had to clock in at an office for 40 hours a week.

But now we're free. And it's frustrating and confusing the everliving HELL out of employers.

They hate it so much, for so many reasons that I won't go into here. But their response to our newfound freedom has been to either deal with it, and start pivoting to a remote-first (or even remote-only) workforce, or dream up bracingly clueless schemes to coax us back into their iron grip loving arms. Schemes like the one in this article from Fortune, which sees employers designing "resimercial" (sweet shades of capitalist dystopia, what a fucking term that is...) workplace layouts to resemble a home office:

If Wile E. Coyote were a corporate/HR executive, I can imagine him dreaming something like this up.

<Le fucking SIGH>. It's precisely this sort of brainless, design-by-committee, positively GOLGAFRINCHAN nonsense like this that makes the average office drone GLAD for the salve of our modern, remote workplace.

Gone are the days of pointless office banter with people whom you may not even enjoy sharing physical space with in the first place.

Gone are the days where you need to shlep from home to work in traffic or on crowded public transit, wasting hours of precious time in which you could be preparing tonight's dinner, or getting some chores done around the house.


Part 2: A Brief Pandemic Autobiographical Thing

Gather round children, and let me tell you my personal experience of almost two decades spent working from an office, and what I did to make such an arrangement less inconvenient.

Like many office drones, I live in the suburbs. Before the pandemic, I would take a multitude of trains, buses, and streetcars to get to work every day, and doing so would eat up, on average, about 3-4 hours of my day. At one point, my partner and I decided, in the interest of convenience, to move downtown. We found a place in a nice-ish neighbourhood in Toronto's midtown area; it was expensive, but it cut MY commute time by several hours. However, it made my partner's life a living hell, because for her profession at the time, it was impossible to find gainful employment INSIDE the city, so she was forced to drive an hour and a half either way every day to get to and from work, which isn't even taking into consideration that her work involved driving from one client's house to another constantly; she likely spent more time in her car than out of it back then.

Once we got engaged, and wedding planning was underway, we quickly realized that the wildly expensive rent of our modest, one-bedroom, midtown apartment was going to seriously hinder wedding expenditures. We stressed over this for some time, but her parents (who at the time had just dropped a not-inconsequential amount of money on a basement reno, with the plans to turn it into a full apartment) graciously invited us to move in with them so that we could save a boatload of money and have the wedding we wanted. We accepted, and moved back to the suburban town we both grew up in. The wedding was wonderful and everything was great.

And then the pandemic hit.

I'll never forget the day things went sideways. I was already off sick from a flu which had been going around the office (which to this day, I still wonder if it was in fact COVID). The news about COVID had been spreading, and so my then employers started soft-testing their BCP (that's "business continuity plan" for those unaware) by having us work a few extra days from home. On what was supposed to be the last day of the BCP test, I got a call from my manager:

"Hey Ryan, it's [REDACTED]. Listen, you've probably been following the news, so this shouldn't come as too much of a shock. We're executing the BCP plan starting today, don't come into the office, the office will be closed until further notice. There will be an emergency call on Slack this morning with further instructions."

It felt like that scene from the start of 28 Days Later, where Cillian Murphy is wandering through an abandoned London while Godspeed, You Black Emperor! plays in the background.

Still a great movie. And still far too relevant.

This may all seem like a massive digression, and perhaps it is, but there's a point here, I promise.

My employer always had a somewhat loose policy regarding remote work, I guess at the risk of sounding pretentious, you could say they had already gone hybrid before that term really became fashionable.

(I want to preface the following with this statement: I enjoyed my time working for my former employers. I bear them no ill will, nor anyone I worked with. They're wonderful people who taught me a ton, and they really are one of the better companies to work for in their space. I left because I needed a change of scenery and a different set of problems to solve. Which is a polite way of saying I was burnt out, and I'll explain more on that later.)

See, my employers spared no expense where office space was concerned. They constructed an office which very much fits the model of these new-fangled "resimercial" (god I just can't stomach that term) office plans. We had everything: a cafeteria with a lounge space, complete with the aforementioned fireplace, staffed by gourmet chefs, a full gym complete with "wellness coaches", we even had a BOWLING ALLEY. When I first started there, all these perks seemed amazing, and entirely incongruous with the industry the company operated in.

Fast-forward a few years, the pandemic hits, the company is in BCP mode, and we're all working from home. At first, I vascillated between revelling in the freedom of working from home, and missing my coworkers and the aforementioned tricked-out office we occupied. However, the longer I remained at home, the less I missed the office. I missed the people, but not the actual office. I felt guilty about this for a long time, as if not missing a place was somehow a form of betrayal.

A funny thing happened though. As us humans are wont to do, I adapted. What more, I realized that it was okay to not miss my physical office. And in time, I finally saw all the "perks" of my tricked-out office for what they were: window dressing.

I realized that I could count on one hand the number of times I made use of the majority of what we had in that office. It instantly made me recall an old Star Trek episode: the one where Harry Mudd tries to strand the Enterprise crew on a planet of well-meaning androids who just want to "take care" of humans. There's a scene where Captain Kirk is monologuing about being "trapped in a gilded cage", to which Chekov replies, "But it's a werry nice gilded cage". I realized then, I was Chekov. I'd been rationalizing the need for all these trappings for literal years. Even before I worked for my then present employer, every employer I'd worked for before them, I placed an inordinate amount value in the physical surroundings, in the window dressing, and I realized that not only did I not need any of it, but that working from an office was a massive hindrance on my life outside of work. I realized that while I had always believed in the notion that we are not our jobs, I had slipped into the complete opposite mindset. How's that for some cognitive dissonance?

So what do you do when you discover this? When you have a revelation like I, and very likely many, many others, had? I don't know about you, but I ran with it. I realized that all my defence of the office drone lifestyle had been a form of burnout. And I went into survival mode. Which is to say I went job hunting.

In my case, with my employers, I knew that the centre wouldn't hold on this remote work thing. But I also knew that us tech nerds had already been making moves LONG before anyone had ever heard of COVID to make remote-first work a thing. Hell, I'd had a couple of remote jobs in the past, and worked with many other folks who were remote-only as well. Basically, I got out while the getting was good. As I said, I needed a change of scenery anyway, and I figured five years was a pretty good run.

So I switched jobs. I work for a remote-only employer now, and I couldn't be happier. The reasons why though, that's the interesting part, and honestly the entire point of this ridiculously long blog entry.

Part 3: Finally, The Actual Point Of All This.

I've been (officially) remote-only since March 2022, and it's been glorious. And sure, we can all joke about being able to work in your underwear, or roll out of bed five minutes before you start work, but honestly, do you want to know what I love most? I'm HOME.

I'm home. I can accept packages and deliveries pretty much any time.

I'm home. My cat is here, and he's a wonderful work companion.

Loki is never afraid to get right in my face when he thinks I've been working too hard. Or at least, that's what I tell myself when he barges into my office and jumps on my lap.

I'm home. I can go on lunch break and use the time to prep dinner or quickly do the dishes, or do my laundry, or any number of household chores.

I'm home. I don't have to worry about being assaulted on public transit.

I'm home. I can make decent meals for myself instead of getting takeout or going to an office cafeteria.

These are MY reasons, and I'm certain you have your own as well. And its these reasons that clueless HR drones and executives are missing entirely. Sure, I have an office stacked to the brim with all my retro gaming gear, a TV, and whatever else, but that's STUFF. Nice stuff, sure, but it's just STUFF.

I suppose it's unsurprising that companies, the aegis and agents of a capitalist society, would completely miss the boat on this; that the comfort of working from home is due to MATERIAL comfort.

I guess, at the end of the day, my final point is that the nature of work is changing, and it's changing at a breakneck pace. With that said, companies who aren't able to recognize this, or even if perhaps they do, but aren't able to grasp what it is we all enjoy about working from home, these companies are the ones who will suffer most.