I estimate that about 20 percent of every office job is “extra”
May 12, 2021 10:42 AM   Subscribe

Working remotely for the last year has revealed just how much of office culture is accidental, arbitrary, and sexist. Guess what? It’s not their job to buy you cake.
posted by Mchelly (124 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
 
This kid, who I’m assuming does not have dependents, chose to go with the job that said its employees “would be back as soon as it felt safe,” a decision you should definitely feel comfortable having an investment bank make for you.

Heh. Yes.

The tone of that Washingtonian piece was very much "you should be glad I gave you this deal; pray I don't alter it any further." Like she's doing the employees a favor by employing them, and can stop any time if they're insufficiently grateful. This attitude needs to be pushed back on, and severely mocked, every single time it appears.
posted by praemunire at 10:51 AM on May 12 [38 favorites]


The cake thing reminded me of an incident a few years ago at my employer - as a reward for hitting a milestone on a major project,the company got cupcakes for the team. Well, most of the team - the unit I was with had nothing arranged as a reward, as we were in a remote location. This annoyed me, so I went out and got a cake for us. Thankfully, I have decent leadership, so I was reimbursed for the cake, but the lack of awareness sticks to me even today.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:51 AM on May 12 [19 favorites]


As a former office admin, now manager of the office admins, I have made it a point to get all of this stuff in writing in our office staff job descriptions. If there is an expectation that the dishes will be run and the cake will be bought and the flowers for Kyle's dead mother in law will be sent, then it is an enumerated responsibility of your job. It will get recognized at review time, it will be respected by your colleagues, it will be respected by upper management, and it will be financially compensated.

I do not abide unpaid emotional labor.

If you want to have the kind of company with "good office culture," define what that means to you and pay for it.
posted by phunniemee at 11:02 AM on May 12 [192 favorites]


I haven't worked for the private sector in almost 20 years, and God willing I never will again, but when I did any sort of top-down attempt to construct an office/work "culture" was either a kind of trap designed to make you think of the office as a second home you wanted to spend more time at, or a demonstration of power and control by the managerial class on behalf of the ownership class disguised as "fun" "morale-boosting" exerercies (or, as a friend of mine recently put it, "the shit they make people do for minimum wage, man."
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:02 AM on May 12 [33 favorites]


I am firmly convinced that the push to get back into the office is a combination of sunk cost fallacy in office space, and a burning need from managers to see people with their butts in a seat.

Productivity while working from home (during a pandemic and mass death event, let's not forget) hasn't changed. But they can't SEE people chained to their desks so management says "everyone wants to get back into the office."
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:11 AM on May 12 [50 favorites]


Of course CEOs love "office culture," because everyone has to kiss their ass while they're there.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:16 AM on May 12 [61 favorites]


God at this point if my job was like, come back to the office or we're busting you down to independent contractor I would be like go ahead make my day.

Granted this is partly because I was a contractor for so long before this job that I've not gotten used to good/subsidized health insurance or paid vacay (my entire time on staff has been during the pandemic, so I have neither been going to doctors regularly nor taking any vacations). I'm just abstractly pleased to have these things available. I just don't feel like "do what I say or else I'm giving you full autonomy over your hours and workspace" is the threat they think it is.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:21 AM on May 12 [16 favorites]


Productivity while working from home (during a pandemic and mass death event, let's not forget) hasn't changed.

I think this varies by industry and by job. I would be very happy to WFH 2-3 days a week. But being stuck all the time with my makeshift workspace as opposed to a proper office (and I'm not even allowed to print things out, for security reasons!) and losing all of that 15% of time which was informal and semi-impromptu discussions with colleagues about work...I'd be lying if I said that had no impact on the quality of my work. Speaking from experience, it's especially rough for new hires without significant existing office relationships.

In my last job, the deputy boss organized most of the cards. A senior man and a senior woman employee did much of the office party work. The support staff threw their own party they organized themselves, apparently because they like showing off their (excellent) cooking skills to the rest of the office. Bringing in treats after vacation was a pan-gender habit. You have to keep the senior people involved to keep it equitable, or else make it an explicit part of a job description.
posted by praemunire at 11:23 AM on May 12 [25 favorites]


Jobs are an absolute nightmare.

Didn't Star Trek promise us that we could stop all this trash and move on to everyone having everything they need and performing work they find interesting and fulfilling and not being forced to under penalty of homelessness or starvation? When are we getting to that, please?
posted by Quajek at 11:32 AM on May 12 [42 favorites]


We could already have that, or at least a pretty good version of that, because over the last 100 years productivity has skyrocketed. Fewer people can do more in less time right now versus ten, twenty, fifty years ago. Does that mean we all don't have to work as hard? Hell no! It means we all keep working and that extra productivity goes directly to lining the pockets of the 1%.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 11:38 AM on May 12 [32 favorites]


Didn't Star Trek promise us that we could stop all this trash

Star Trek told us many things which were complete rubbish (e.g. the plot of Turnabout Intruder).
posted by Cardinal Fang at 11:39 AM on May 12 [2 favorites]


It wasn’t Star Trek. It was Karl Marx who promised that.
posted by njohnson23 at 11:40 AM on May 12 [9 favorites]


Yeah, and remember that episode where Uhura had to buy the cake for Sulu's birthday?
posted by JanetLand at 11:41 AM on May 12 [21 favorites]


There's no F in team.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 11:42 AM on May 12 [3 favorites]


Hah, for every occasional "tech fixes that" thing, I have at least 5-6 at work that can't be fixed technologically. The workload doesn't go down. What does go down is staffing and funding. What does go up is number of clientele.

I unfortunately work in a unit that will most likely be forced to physically come back to work. Though my boss did point out that since people get back to each other quickly on Slack and don't appear to have magically disappeared for hours during the day, our office doesn't really have an issue with people wanting to do hybrid--if we were AWOL regularly, that's where there'd be a problem. It's just, god help me, customer service and god forbid we deny people the right to come in in person if everything is "back to normal."

Our most recent boss was anti-cake and anti-sweets. I guess we'll see if cake ever comes back whenever we get new management.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:44 AM on May 12 [4 favorites]


I brought in a new member into my department just as COVID was hitting. She has reported to me for a year. I have seen her in person once, in a park, masked and distanced. No one bought anyone cake. She’s really great and doing her job well, learning a lot and fitting in just fine. Do we want to do it again? Hell no. Could we? Sure.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:44 AM on May 12 [6 favorites]


Being able to successfully work from home is easier when you have the resources you need and also the experience/skills that are unique to working from home. For personal reasons, my immediate manager has been primarily working from home for over 25 years (though I always claim that she's either lying or she started working when she was 12). To do this, she has set up everything that she needs to work well from home (including a full personal office), and also made sure that she makes the effort to continue to supervise/mentor remotely just as well as other managers do in person. She was already the master of running an effective telephone meeting; having more audio-video conferencing options has made things easier for us, not harder.

But this does take having the resources (for her, it literally includes a room of one's own) and the experience of how to work with people in multiple locations.

At the other extreme, I have a colleague who is trying to work in the studio apartment he shares with his partner while both of them work from home, and he's going a little batty. But they weren't set up for working at home - he lives around the corner from the office and things were just fine when they both spent 8-10 hours/day out of the house.
posted by jb at 11:46 AM on May 12 [10 favorites]


When are we getting to that, please?

When you vote for it.
posted by mhoye at 11:51 AM on May 12 [9 favorites]


Also for what it's worth Star Trek doesn't get there until after we have global thermonuclear war 40ish years from now, and then spend 200 years crawling out of the dust again, so...we're not really there yet.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:00 PM on May 12 [10 favorites]


being stuck all the time with my makeshift workspace as opposed to a proper office

If I could get it in writing from my work that I could WFH 4 days per week on a permanent basis, I'd invest a decent amount into my home office and make it amazing.

The reason why so many of us hate WFH is because we've been discouraged from getting too comfortable.
posted by explosion at 12:02 PM on May 12 [20 favorites]


Oh, the bloody greeting cards. I lasted about a year and a half as an admin assistant in a college dean's office. Every time a card circulated, the process was supposed to be:
  • Sign card; check whether happy or sad occasion, customize greeting accordingly;
  • See who else in this eight-person department hasn't signed it yet, other than the intended recipient;
  • Hand off the card to one of those people;
  • Repeat until everybody has scribbled a lukewarm pleasantry on the card, other than the intended recipient.
  • Card collects all possible autographs in the course of two business days and last person delivers it to intended recipient, who reads it and throws it away.
In practice, it went like this:
  • Sign card; check whether happy or sad occasion, customize greeting if you notice in time;
  • Drop card on armeowda's desk so she can chase down each person individually over the course of the next week;
  • repeat
  • repeat
  • repeat
  • repeat
  • repeat
  • and God forbid armeowda leave it on the second-to-last person's desk in their absence, or it will never see the light of day again.
Don't get me started on the small-name bigshots who always left their used, moist k-cup behind in the Keurig so it could moulder all weekend and greet us plebes on Monday morning.
posted by armeowda at 12:06 PM on May 12 [21 favorites]


Thanks to Covid, shared desserts ( always a situation that forced you to ponder: who has rifled through these cookies after sneezing on their hand?) have become a less good idea in general.
posted by emjaybee at 12:18 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]


If I could get it in writing from my work that I could WFH 4 days per week on a permanent basis, I'd invest a decent amount into my home office and make it amazing. The reason why so many of us hate WFH is because we've been discouraged from getting too comfortable.


Eh the reason a lot of other people hate WFH is because they don't earn enough to live in a place that can accommodate an "amazing" home office.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:19 PM on May 12 [30 favorites]


Our card signing process is a bureaucratic work of art. The departmental secretary grabs a manila folder and clips a listing of all the employees to the front. When you sign the card, you sign the list, and hand it to someone who has not signed yet. The recipient's name is highlighted in yellow, so you know not to give it to them. It is exactly how you would expect a government office to operate, and is more efficient than half of my work processes.
posted by gwydapllew at 12:32 PM on May 12 [100 favorites]


If the employee is rarely around to participate in those extras, management has a strong incentive to change their status to “contractor.”

Contract labor is not exempt from "extras"

Sincerely yours,

JustSomebody
contract faculty / dishwasher
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:34 PM on May 12 [8 favorites]


If I could get it in writing from my work that I could WFH 4 days per week on a permanent basis, I'd invest a decent amount into my home office and make it amazing.

If I could magically make my apartment more than ~515 sq ft, I'm sure I would.
posted by praemunire at 12:40 PM on May 12 [28 favorites]


Didn't Star Trek promise us that we could stop all this trash

Not to derail too hard but that's always bugged me. Kirk has a swank place in downtown San Francisco. How did he get that, instead of some little bungalow 10 miles inland? Do officers get paid? I thought we were in a post-scarcity, post-money society here.
posted by nushustu at 12:44 PM on May 12


I so don't miss the forced culture stuff of working in an office. No, I don't really want cake today and no I don't want to give money for a present for someone I barely know. Just let me do my job and leave me alone.
posted by octothorpe at 12:46 PM on May 12 [23 favorites]


My favorite thing like this to talk about was the time we had a Christmas party, in the office to save money, and people had their wives etc come. But also we had a production deploy too and guess what didn't go well and people got weirdly upset that after I spent 2 hours fixing it, I went home and didn't continue with the party.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 12:48 PM on May 12 [6 favorites]


...I'd invest a decent amount into my home office and make it amazing.

My employer determined that times were tight a few years ago and took away the coffee -- and then they took away the goddamn water the year after that.

It doesn't take too much to make this corner of my house "amazing" by comparison.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:53 PM on May 12 [30 favorites]


Oh and potluck lunches? I hope I retire before I have to deal with one of those again. It's always "optional" but it never looks good if you bail on it.
posted by octothorpe at 1:05 PM on May 12 [17 favorites]


I miss my state agency's breakroom. It was in Honolulu, so there was almost always a box of something harvested from someone's tree -- avocado, passion fruit, the much beloved mango season. This seemed to be across genders/pay grades.

I get the point of the article (I think) on the uneven burden and benefits of office culture and to whom falls the labor of creating camraderie.

But I'm also someone who desperately misses even the cramped lecturers' office because I am someone who needs a commute and a clear spatial separation between home and work (and the printer... god when the public library closed then I had to beg my friend to print out things for me). I can probably be happy with a 50/50 split of teach from home and commute to campus, but the continuation of endless working from home will break me. I've been contemplating commuting to the backseat of my car in the mornings just so I can have a routine of leaving the house. Otherwise I get sucked into house chores. And I also miss the unplanned interactions with other people and the ability to wander down to the coffee kiosk and run into someone I haven't seen last semester.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:09 PM on May 12 [10 favorites]


I like a lot of my current coworkers (although due to circumstances in late Jan/early Feb, all but about 3 are people I worked with before & I barely work with them) but I don't feel like I need to be in an office to work well.

I also never need to eat another store-bought sheet cake, attend questionable pot luck, sign a birthday card for someone who I barely know.

I have close friends. I have a long-term relationship. I have family. I am happy to be friendly with my coworkers (and a former one has been a long-time friend). I even care about them. But they're my coworkers for the most part.

"But you spend like a fourth of your life at work!" Yeah, I work so I can have shelter and food and clothes and I really enjoy those things. My job is a job. I like it (well, I like parts of it) but it's not who I am.

(Maybe slightly different, but about 10ish years ago, my father died. I had a difficult relationship with him & I hadn't spoken to him in years when he died. I was pretty messed up about it because of so many complicated emotions and while I was nearly literally the only person who could do my job, I needed to take the next day off. I didn't explain any of this to the people at work -- just that my father had died. When I came back, there were several well-meaning sympathy cards signed by a lot of people I didn't know and didn't know me. I understood the intention but honestly, it just made me feel even weirder about all of it.)

(Another time, right before my birthday -- a period when I was going to have time off -- a coworker came by and said "Happy birthday!" quietly and then added "I didn't really tell anyone else because I know you're the sort of person who doesn't want us to make a big deal." And I sincerely appreciated that. It's cool if people want their office to celebrate their birthdays but I never did.)
posted by edencosmic at 1:29 PM on May 12 [14 favorites]


Interesting, wow, my experience is very different from so many others on this thread. I've worked for a company with a pretty liberal WFH policy, no top-down expectation of office culture and it was just...isolated. It was really hard to establish relationships with anyone other than your immediate team. It was easy in the day-to-day sense, but hard to get a sense of where the larger company was going, find opportunities for collaboration, mentorship, etc.

I've also worked somewhere with a lot more focus on office culture, but as a part of that the company did have a whole team of of great, enthusiastic people that did had planning, prep, logistics, cleaning, etc. as a part of their job description. In that office, there was no unspoken expectation to do any activity-planning oneself, although there was an unspoken expectation to participate in those activities at least some of the time. Over time, some volunteer-run activities did also evolve naturally as people wanted to do them (a weekly Friday potluck that about 1/4 of the office participated in comes to mind) but they have always been very much optional. I have much stronger relationships with people in that office, and I think it's made me much better at my job. I'm still there during COVID, and WFH is going okay, but I'm still benefitting from the relationships I formed while we were in person - and not forming new ones nearly as easily.

(Of note - the second office was full of contractors, myself included. We contractors were always invited to everything, given a full-time desk in the office, etc - they made a point of it. The first one was pretty much all full-time w2 employees. So it wasn't just that.)
posted by mosst at 1:30 PM on May 12 [5 favorites]


We used to have monthly "cake day" for all the birthdays that month. I'd never go cause I don't really like cake or forced office mingling. And once a month they'd also used to buy pizza for everyone or something like that. But after working from home and calculating how much of my life was taking up by commuting back and forth? I'd rather they just pay me for that time or not make me go to an office. Little food perks don't work on everyone and despite my company's best efforts I'd rather not mingle with most of my co-workers unless I choose to with the ones I actually like. We're not a family business. We're a company with over 100 employees owned by a private equity firm.
posted by downtohisturtles at 1:48 PM on May 12 [7 favorites]


I had a an office job for two and a half years which required little or no collaboration or even contact with my fellow employees; I could go entire weeks without having a conversation longer than "morning" with anyone, which in some ways was okay (I'm not exactly a fan of office small talk) but over the long haul it fostered what I would call an oppressive, depressing atmosphere (it didn't help that the job was in a windowless basement room). The get-togethers for Christmas and other holidays were bad enough, but even worse than those were the farewell parties for people leaving, where we were all forced to interact with people we sat in close proximity to for 35 hours a week but rarely if ever spoke to, and where the lucky soul who was leaving had to give a speech and try to pretend they were sad about it. When I finally got another job, I politely requested that I be allowed to quietly slip out on my last day...no card, no pizza party*, none of that; there was *no god damn way* I was going to give that fake-ass speech. My boss said that would be fine, but as it turned out she was on vacation that week and either she forgot to pass the message along or it was maliciously ignored, and shortly before lunch I could tell that my farewell party was being readied. I went over to the second-in-charge person and explained that I had specifically requested that none of this happen, and when they told me it was too late to cancel I told them I was going to take an early lunch and not come back, and that I hoped everyone enjoyed the pizza in my absence. This person gave me a card, which I did not open and threw into the trash on my way out of the building. I sometimes wonder what the vibe was during the party.

I did not like that job.

* on top of everything else, the company always ordered from 3 For 1 Pizza and Wings! Not even 2 For 1, or Pizza Pizza!
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:49 PM on May 12 [12 favorites]


Personally one thing I've really enjoyed about WFH is the utter lack of coworkers talking about food, what I'm eating, what they're eating, what I'm not eating. It's one of the biggest reasons to never be in an office again despite my lackluster setup in my apartment, honestly.
posted by threementholsandafuneral at 1:52 PM on May 12 [30 favorites]


the unit I was with had nothing arranged as a reward, as we were in a remote location. This annoyed me, so I went out and got a cake for us.

For a long time, I was the only employee in one of the offices of the company where I worked. There were frequent all-staff emails about cookies and cake and whatever in the break room of a building six hours' drive from me.

When we hired a second person into my office, and it turned out he was a spectacular home baker, he and I started sending all-staff emails about the delicious foods he would bring into our office until we were scolded about it.
posted by gauche at 1:57 PM on May 12 [89 favorites]


I super agree with Laura Hazard Owen about how the anecdote about the one struggling employee ("Professional development is hard to do remotely.") reflects that the management is not doing fairly obvious/basic things, or at least that we don't get any reassurance that they were doing those things.

From Charlie Warzel's newsletter:
Merrill’s op-ed is infuriating and a potential labor law violation — but it’s also a valuable document. Merrill is not alone — plenty of executives are reticent to change their ways, no matter how much evidence is presented to the benefits of abandoning them. Just this week, Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, said that come October, his office will be back to normal. “You know people don’t like commuting, but so what,” he said. “I’m about to cancel all my Zoom meetings… I’m done with it.” The head of Goldman Sachs called remote work “an aberration that we are going to correct as quickly as possible.”

This posture is understandable, but it’s also a mistake — one that will make formerly vaunted executives flatfooted in the economy to come. As economic historian Dror Poleg put it, “forcing everyone to work in a certain way seems dated in a world where talented employees have more choice than ever.”
Management is a set of skills. Sometimes new situations crop up and managers need to learn new skills to manage well in those situations. And managing people remotely is one of those skills. When I hear a manager say that they want to stop doing remote work, I wonder: what did you try, to learn and execute those skills?

I am 100% willing to believe that there are workplaces and sets of people who have to work in person, every workday or nearly every workday. But my default belief for knowledge-work-typing-into-screens is that it is possible to do mostly-remote, and the person who says "no, it needs to be default in-person" will have some work to do to persuade me.
posted by brainwane at 2:30 PM on May 12 [16 favorites]


Where I work, we have none of the things mentioned in the article, even before the pandemic. No cake on birthdays (not that anyone even knows when my birthday is), and no get-well cards. We have coffee hours, lunches, and happy hours that either no one goes to, or the people who do go clearly only do so to show their face. People don't seem to hang out outside of work, which would be fine if I had family or friends in the area, but I moved here specifically for this job. There is a minimal amount of mentorship, and I barely get responses to e-mails.

Overall, it's very depressing and lonely. I constantly have to talk myself into doing anything, because it's so easy to convince myself that no one cares about me and that my work doesn't really matter. The only reason why I haven't quit is that I do like the work I do, and jobs in my field are scarce. But I often think about switching to a field I don't like as much, just so I can be in an environment where people will actually notice me.
posted by chernoffhoeffding at 2:35 PM on May 12 [6 favorites]


If you don't like the episode where Uhura has to buy cake for Sulu, you're gonna hate the episode where McCoy has to babysit Spock's brain.
posted by wittgenstein at 2:36 PM on May 12 [4 favorites]


It was really hard to establish relationships with anyone other than your immediate team. It was easy in the day-to-day sense, but hard to get a sense of where the larger company was going, find opportunities for collaboration, mentorship, etc.

Right? The perks of WFH are virtually endless! I mean I am happy for anyone who is actually invested in their job on any level, but like...I don't want those things. I don't want to mentor anyone or take on "opportunities for collaboration" or know "where the larger company is going," I just want to do my little job on my little team and then most importantly, to stop doing that as soon as possible.

It can be hard to draw the "sign off at 5" line when you work from home, to be sure, but it is so much easier to draw the boundary around how much you are obligated to pretend to give a shit.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:39 PM on May 12 [30 favorites]




We put our faith..., I think that the person is talking about the work that's often needed to move forward in one's career; I can certainly feel any sort of visibility to the people who have the ability to promote/reward me slipping away.
posted by sagc at 2:43 PM on May 12 [3 favorites]


stocked the snacks, circulated the get well cards, made the coffee, bought the birthday cakes?

Dishwasher: There's an entire system of people for this at the cafeteria. I assume they get paid because it doesn't seem like they're just on break from answering phones, and I did pay for the lunch after all. But most of our corporate cafes have moved to compostable dishware it seems. 'Saves water!'

Get well cards: I can't recall seeing one of those in some time, but maybe I did one sign one once? I don't recall who was circulating it.

Coffee: There's a machine in the break room that pours it for us, and a vendor who comes in to replenish the cannisters (a popular person in part because it seems spent coffee kegs are something of a sought after novelty), and baristas in the lobby if you want to pay for fancy coffee.

Bought the birthday cakes: Well, we're not seven so this isn't a thing. Larger events get corporate catering. Smaller team events we just go to one of the many places in town that serves food and expense it. If there's a social event with wine / beer, this is something the admin staff handles it seems.
posted by pwnguin at 2:45 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


My job plays loud pop music on repeat. 'nuff said. Never again, please. Applying for jobs now!
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 3:02 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]


Like most things, the quality of the WFH situation is sculpted almost entirely by the organizational effort made to make it so. As someone noted above, I think one of the big differences is a firm commitment, rather than a policy or permission or allowance, to reliably-ongoing WFH status so that people can make lifestyle/workstyle decisions for real combined with actual corporate enthusiasm for people doing so.

I have worked from home for the better part of 20 years, including truly full-time "there is no office in this state" situations for the past 7ish, but there were offices somewhere that some people were in and we were managed at the upper end by people who definitely privately would have rather everyone was in an office and "remote" was a benefit - a favor - we were receiving in return for being a person they wanted to hire despite the downside of not being local. The last place truly only had like 4 out of 45 people in our business unit in an office somewhere (not the same 1 office) but everyone was assigned to some physical office (like I routinely got emails about the parking lot situation at a Salt Lake City office I have never seen) and the culture still operated like an in-office culture doing a B+ job of inclusivity to the remote workers, including just not doing much in the way of group stuff including things that I think are important like regular all-hands meetings for communication and training, and no time on the clock allowed for even the vaguest socialization. I suspect that kind of vibe is what a lot of people are dealing with right now.

I now work at a company that has no office. Was designed to be this way from the start. All our IT systems are designed to accommodate it - and we operate at a fairly high cybersecurity standard without it being especially annoying - and we have a social culture and internal communication culture that is most of the upsides of office culture without the really intrusive Enforced Fun.

Because WFH is the only deal on offer, people can make plans around it and that is okay. It's not taboo, you're not "taking advantage", as long as you are still doing your work and are accessible during your stated work hours and have reliable internet, nobody gives a shit where you are (unless it's pretty or cool, and then please post pictures because we wanna see). People use the flexibility to travel, to do custody situations that would be much harder under other circumstances, extended visits (or caretaking) with family, snowbirding. People move to where they actually want to live, and I notice a number of my younger colleagues just go try different places out to figure out where that might be.

It does require that everybody do their part for the culture. That's big stuff like being pretty explicit with your managers about opportunities to level up or career development, and also some very soft stuff like making some effort to let people know at least the Work You because you're never going to bump into them in the halls. It's remembering to loop people in, it's sometimes having meetings that could have been emails because the cross-chatter itself has value, it's participating a least a little on the off-topic Slack channels in lieu of watercooler. I notice that we operate at a high level of immediate communication - like if you ask me to do something or get you some information, I'm at least going to acknowledge with an emoji (there is a LOT of emoji and gifs) within a couple of minutes that I got the request and understand it and will get back to you by X. Nobody emails for internal communication, it's always Slack or meetings. That was a learning curve for me, as an introvert from email cultures, but I don't hate it and my gif game is getting pretty good.

There's just a huge range of what WFH reality is for people, and I absolutely see this "it'll nevah work, I'm tellin' ya!" stuff as a really specific type of capitalist narrative that wants to keep people micromanaged, surveilled (for profit), and anxious and spending money on things to make the anxiety go away for a minute. It's worth asking for more details when you interview for new jobs, or pushing if you have any say in the WFH culture where you work.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:07 PM on May 12 [19 favorites]


I have been watching this debate with a great deal of frustration because I feel like folks on both sides completely fail to get the point. I am one of the people left in the office while my co-workers telework, because my job doesn't allow for telework. And my phone rings all day. "Can you check this file?" Can you scan this document; I don't have it in digital." Can you fix the printer, Sally says she's not getting the doc coming out." It will only take a minute. It will only take a minute. It will only take a minute. I am so FUCKING SICK of it will only take a minute. And just to be clear, this work is falling equally on all of us who are left behind in the great telework migration, regardless of gender. It's work that is clearly NOT in our job description, but we have to do it anyway now - new pandemic work that is now falling on our shoulders. If you have recently moved home to work, I expect that you do not realize the harm that you are doing. You do not realize the harm that you are doing.
posted by backwards compatible at 3:07 PM on May 12 [16 favorites]


"Didn't Star Trek promise us that we could stop all this trash and move on to everyone having everything they need..."
It was Karl Marx promising it louder and we know how that ended.
posted by TRAJAN at 3:12 PM on May 12


the continuation of endless working from home will break me.

Yes, this. Please, State, please - make my spouse go back to work!
posted by Rash at 3:29 PM on May 12


My employer determined that times were tight a few years ago and took away the coffee -- and then they took away the goddamn water the year after that.

Water is for closers only.
posted by thelonius at 3:37 PM on May 12 [11 favorites]


It's work that is clearly NOT in our job description, but we have to do it anyway now - new pandemic work that is now falling on our shoulders.

Have you tried saying no? Or just not doing it?
posted by thelonius at 3:38 PM on May 12 [3 favorites]


I didn't explain any of this to the people at work -- just that my father had died. When I came back, there were several well-meaning sympathy cards signed by a lot of people I didn't know and didn't know me. I understood the intention but honestly, it just made me feel even weirder about all of it.

I had a similar complicated-grief situation at my last job. I felt very awkward fielding well-meant sympathy when I wasn't experiencing the loss in the way people would assume one would experience that loss. But, you know, they sent me a little gift basket (this is a very middle-class office, not Biglaw where they could just expense it) and, in retrospect, it was more comforting than weird to have this bizarre milestone acknowledged by the people who I saw every day. Also when I had to miss about a month of work for surgery. Maybe it's because my little division was only about 40 people, all working on similar projects, in a fairly flat structure, but it was humanizing, rather than intrusive in the "sign the card for someone whose face you barely remember" way.

Don't get me wrong, as an extreme night-owl just not having to get up earlier for the commute has been a big plus to my QOL, but modest, professional, organic sociability at work isn't the worst thing.
posted by praemunire at 3:40 PM on May 12 [5 favorites]


one thing I've really enjoyed about WFH is the utter lack of coworkers talking about food, what I'm eating, what they're eating, what I'm not eating.

That's four things, but you left out the most enjoyable: the utter lack of hearing those co-workers eating. As well as smelling their food.
posted by Rash at 3:48 PM on May 12 [18 favorites]


We put our faith..., I think that the person is talking about the work that's often needed to move forward in one's career; I can certainly feel any sort of visibility to the people who have the ability to promote/reward me slipping away.

Right I'm just saying that for some of us, being able to duck out on the obligatory march of Increasing Titles and Responsibility and Forward Career Motion is a feature, rather than a bug.

(Or maybe other industries don't bully and shoehorn people into nightmare promotions that are always always always a trap like mine does?)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:49 PM on May 12 [8 favorites]


It feels promising that CEOs are getting scared enough of employees insisting on WFH policies that they're writing hit pieces in newspapers about it. I personally like having the option of working from an office occasionally (air conditioning is expensive) but I wouldn't want to work somewhere that doesn't allow WFH as an option. Especially given how beneficial WFH can be to parents and caregivers, it seems out-of-touch to talk about how remote work hurts the workplace "family" - as if that's what's important.
posted by Emily's Fist at 3:51 PM on May 12 [10 favorites]


It was Karl Marx promising it louder and we know how that ended.

Uhura had to bring Marx a cake?
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:52 PM on May 12 [6 favorites]


All I'm trying to say is that I'm losing very real earning power the longer I'm working from home; I'm not in a position where I could just turn down more money.
posted by sagc at 3:53 PM on May 12 [3 favorites]


Yeah, and remember that episode where Uhura had to buy the cake for Sulu's birthday?

They were very understanding after she got turned into a human vegetable though.
posted by biffa at 3:56 PM on May 12


If you have recently moved home to work, I expect that you do not realize the harm that you are doing. You do not realize the harm that you are doing.

It sounds more accurate to say, "if you constantly call your coworkers who are in the office to request them to print stuff for you, you're being really inconsiderate." I work from home and haven't requested my coworkers do anything on my behalf at the office so I'm not sure what harm I'm apparently doing.
posted by Emily's Fist at 3:56 PM on May 12 [37 favorites]


All I'm trying to say is that I'm losing very real earning power the longer I'm working from home; I'm not in a position where I could just turn down more money.

OHHHH right. I forgot, in other industries promotions come with money instead of just 24 new meetings every week plus your old workload.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:57 PM on May 12 [15 favorites]


In the early days of the pandemic, I would cue up a zoom meeting every morning from 8:30-9. Anyone who wanted to could log in, and we’d just talk about life and what was happening to us, our families, etc. it wasn’t mandatory, but people liked it, and it helped our department maintain its “sense of community.” We eventually cut it back to one day a week, and we’re still doing it. One person keeps trying to return them into mini work meetings, but I can usually shut that down. I realize it’s not for everyone, but it works for us.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:00 PM on May 12 [10 favorites]


It's been so long, I forgot that free coffee at work was a thing. Currently, we have a shared electric teakettle and several people have personal Keurigs / hot water dispensers. Free terrible coffee was for bribing us to attend staff meetings (in the before times). At my last job, we put cash in a jar to buy the big tub of generic coffee and a bottle of coffee whitener as needed, complete with our poor admin having to badger people via email, which of course cost more than the coffee in time spent. Both are in rural areas, so the nearest coffee shop is/was several miles away.

They threatened to take away our water cooler, despite the fact that we have dozens of people working outside all day in the summer, and one sink in the kitchen where they eat lunch. The rationale was that we didn't need it because they installed a water fountain with a bottle filler in an inconvenient spot in another building, next to the conference room so visitors can see how eco-friendly we are. The bottle filler also only dispenses about 10 oz at a time, very slowly.
posted by momus_window at 4:34 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]


I thought Cathy Merrill was very explicit in her original article that she clearly understood preference for working from home to be a good proxy for age, and that she was strongly considering using that as a justification for firing people. I had a hard time understanding the article as anything but a strangely explicit declaration of intent to engage in age discrimination.
posted by dsword at 4:36 PM on May 12 [14 favorites]


So much has to do with whether you like your coworkers. Mine are a nice bunch, smart and hardworking. I miss them. But if I get to see them 2-3 days a week and work at home the rest so I see my kid come home from school, that's nice too.
posted by emjaybee at 4:44 PM on May 12 [5 favorites]


It's all the early pandemic WFH hype in reverse. Early pandemic: do we even need offices anymore? It's a new day! It's the Zoom revolution! Late pandemic: OK, time to get all your lazy, untrustworthy butts back in the office!

In my view, it was 100% predictable that the hype would follow this course. The business world at large has no long-term memory and is high on a permanent drip of hype and executive narcissism, and it's been this way for the 2+ decades I've been a part of it.
posted by treepour at 4:47 PM on May 12 [9 favorites]


My company has given up the idea of going back to the office full time completely. They've hired more people over the last year than can fit in the offices and have been hiring all over the country so we're never going back in full time.
posted by octothorpe at 4:53 PM on May 12 [8 favorites]


This thread is remarkably anti-cake.
posted by meese at 4:54 PM on May 12 [23 favorites]


Yersh, the more I think about it, the more I realize how much of my social energy had depended on the low-level interactions at work or on my commute if I was using public transit (solo driving is terrible for my morale and morals). Especially when I worked in downtown Honolulu, going into the office meant being able to try a new restaurant, going out for pau hana drinks with a friend who worked two blocks over, meet my auntie for lunch since she lived on the edge of downtown, hit up the art gallery for a documentary screening, etc etc.

I'm all for WFH flexibility and options, I just really really couldn't handle work from home all the time. I am in slight awe of those who have thrived while working full-time from home before pandemic and during pandemic.

And this is not even considering how much I miss teaching in person. Virtual class is exhausting and disorienting. I close the Zoom window and then immediately forget what I talked about with students. I used to have boundless energy after teaching because I was so energized by the collective vibes and discussion. I still adore my students, but I am not nearly as attuned to the class. I can't see their look of 'ah-ha!' or utter bafflement. And I have students who are graduating this month who I've only seen via Zoom, and will never (most likely) meet in person.
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:57 PM on May 12 [11 favorites]


I think that a lot of the things that I don't like about working away from home are kind of incidental to the actual work. I don't like commuting. I don't like eating lunch at my desk, and I have to eat lunch at my desk, because there's no other place to eat. I don't like the fact that there's nowhere near work to buy anything healthy for lunch, so if I'm running late and don't pack lunch then I'm either going to skip lunch or eat chips and candy. I like most of my co-workers and like socializing with them when it's organic, but I kind of hate the forced-march "festive" cake-eating occasions. (And if we never have another potluck, I will not complain.) I also find that it's easier to focus on projects when I'm at home, because I'm more likely to be interrupted at work. I realize that's really situational: if I had kids at home, then it might be easier to focus at work.

I think that my ideal set-up would probably be to work from home in the mornings, eat lunch at home, and then go in for the afternoons. My bosses are still figuring out what they're going to allow, and I have no idea whether that will fly. I do know that the people making those decisions at my workplace seem about 100,000 more competent and decent than Cathy Merrill.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:14 PM on May 12 [8 favorites]


Hah I predict in a few years time WFO (Work From Office?) will be the new hot "perk" that firms use to differentiate themselves and attract extraverts.

My company announced WFH globally on a permanent basis as the default: reduced capacity offices will remain available, but working one day in the office will be approved on an exception basis rather than the reverse. So teams will have to justify why they want to a spend a day in the office (networking, face to face time, socializing) and get approval for it.

I've been working in this field (basically the financial aspect of project management) for nearly 10 years, half of that as the manager and half of that as an analysts: this Covid work from home period was the best team productivity and lowest stress of those 10 years.

But emotional health / happiness, I think may have suffered. One of the catchphrases we've had is that people need to protect their mental health during WFH because if you're not careful, it's not working from home, you are living at work.
posted by xdvesper at 5:15 PM on May 12 [8 favorites]


This thread is remarkably anti-cake.

(Tastes the cake, makes a face)

Eww, a bit sweet innit, too rich.

I prefer a flan.
posted by FJT at 5:16 PM on May 12


It's cheap cake from the supermarket and the frosting is way too sweet.
posted by octothorpe at 5:28 PM on May 12 [7 favorites]


Social media has been a great equalizer in that it has given so many more people the opportunity to out themselves as assholes. In the old days you had to write an Op-Ed in the Washington Post to get that sort of notice, but now we he rest of us can learn that about somebody on Twitter or Facebook and decide if that's something we're willing to deal with or just move on. But by wealth and status Cathy Merrill did it the old fashioned way, in a newspaper.

I guess you don't have to be an asshole to be a bad manager (you could be a nice person and just lack training or tools), but you can definitely be both. I don't think Cathy Merrill thinks of herself as an asshole but she outed herself nonetheless as both an asshole and a bad manager. One problem with people like Cathy Merrill and Jamie Dimon is that they don't ever have to get out of their CEO bubble to find out that the world is moving on without them. They're surrounded by sycophants who won't tell them they're being assholes and that they could be better managers, and there's enough cushion and momentum there they won't usually face direct consequences. They won't ever know how much better their companies could be if they modernized themselves.
posted by fedward at 5:40 PM on May 12 [9 favorites]


So much has to do with whether you like your coworkers.

The way my office is set up (open plan, desks lined up right next to each other, and lousy acoustics) meant that pre-Covid, I either had to ignore coworkers talking about stuff that didn't concern me all day, or play music on my headphones until my ears hurt. I like my co-workers a lot more when I don't have to hear their tech support calls/arguments with each other over projects I don't work on/phone arguments with their family members all day.

I am not looking forward to going back to all that, plus having to wear a mask for 8 hours a day plus my commute on public transit. The people who will decide whether my group can work from home all the time, are, I suspect, Cathy Merrill types. I think it will not be decided on productivity numbers but on some nebulous "benefits of working at the office." Or some office politics thing where WFH can only be given as a perk to designate certain groups that are in favor. And the decision-makers all have their own offices, so they're allowed to close the door to get a little peace and quiet, and take off their masks during the day.
posted by creepygirl at 5:55 PM on May 12 [13 favorites]


"It's only when the tide goes out that you see who is swimming naked." Bad management exposed again.

And note the metric in the original article - "you do 20% more work, but it only costs us 15%"

Part of the PC (post-Covid) analysis should recognise that some jobs are better as in person events - teaching is a pretty obvious example. Then there are some tasks which are better as in person events - strategy discussions, staff inductions. And then there is EVERYTHING else - which if you are a good manager you sort out with your staff how to do most conveniently and efficiently.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 5:57 PM on May 12 [4 favorites]


Have you tried saying no? Or just not doing it?

Maybe you'd need some management backup to do this. Maybe they don't care, but maybe they just don't know? I feel bad for your situation - that sounds terrible.
posted by thelonius at 5:59 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


I like my co-workers a lot more when I don't have to hear their tech support calls/arguments with each other over projects I don't work on/phone arguments with their family members all day.

Yeah, I had (and have? I don't even know yet) a proper office. Good office doors make good colleagues, or something.
posted by praemunire at 6:25 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]


I like my co-workers a lot more when I don't have to hear their tech support calls/arguments with each other over projects I don't work on/phone arguments with their family members all day.

I really don't miss the constant headaches I used to get trying to concentrate on my work while blocking out five other cross conversations in the shared open office.
posted by octothorpe at 6:27 PM on May 12 [12 favorites]


I suspect a lot of the backlash to it is a lot of managers realizing they have a bullshit job and with productivity staying about the same, corporate might finally realize that paying someone to wander around and look managerial could be cut and create quite the savings.

And yeah, a lot of people just like making other people show up and look at them. Christ, my meeting schedule went to virtually nonexistent once people had to work to set up a meeting, but the work still gets done. It's almost like they just enjoy sitting in a room making people listen to them talk.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:31 PM on May 12 [13 favorites]


I'm bracing to be told I need to be back in the office to "interact with the team we're trying to build." This will be done by a boss who worked from home pre-pandemic, as did a sizable portion of this team.

I intend to take that up with HR.

Longtime readers know: I hate my job.
posted by MrGuilt at 8:44 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]


I don't know who these managers are who are doing nothing, I am putting out fires every damn day. And trying to hire new people, train them, correct problems, be a counselor, deal with complaints...I mean the work is there if you want to do it.
posted by emjaybee at 8:53 PM on May 12 [7 favorites]


one of the things i like about my current job is when the company hits its goals, they don't buy us cake or pizza -- they give us money

company-wide $500 bonus last month :D
posted by Jacqueline at 11:50 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


Ugh do I hate the coworker birthday card. Every place I've worked where that was a thing it was of the informal unpaid labour sort and that has turned it into a popularity perk. I must have signed hundreds of the things over 20+ years of work in those environments and have never once received a card. Including one time where I was asked to sign someone else's card on my birthday. And then the card person took offense when I commented on the irony.

As an introvert I much prefer the sort of trade work I do now where we come to work, put our hours in, and then go home. And no one is trying to recruit me into their cult work "family".
posted by Mitheral at 12:09 AM on May 13 [9 favorites]


Oh god, the birthday card thing. Throughout most of my career I've been the person saddled with taking care of that. Most of my work is admin-based, so for some reason the cards, cakes, flowers for someone's relative's funeral has fallen to me. One year, a funny co-worker gave me a tear-off page from a one-a-day calendar that said:
April 26
Administrative Assistant's Day
Buy yourself some flowers from me

Early in my corporate career in the 1990s, I worked for a major luxury retailer. Corporate offices had 800 employees. On Admin Assistant's Day, the admins for the corporate HR department (of which I was one) had to arrange for flowers for all of the Admins and Exec Secretaries in the company. It was insane.
posted by sundrop at 5:46 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


Getting back to the office for "company culture" and "20% overhead for 'success'" are mealy-mouthed corporate double-speak lies.

(Not to derail, this 'office labor' expectation is horrible and disgusting)

The real reasons we have started to see these articles, opinion-pieces and propaganda about "return to the office" since last August is a combination of the ancient "if you cannot see them, you cannot control them, and they must be easily replaced, and/or are not actually working" management serfdom view of workplace productivity...

... and the second reason is... ultimately "return to the office", is about money... trillions of dollars are invested in corporate real-estate - and prestigious corporate campuses. If those buildings sit empty and/or do not get rented or turned-over, investment return portfolios will shrink dramatically.

Having been a contractor for most of my career - I don't want the birthday card or the cake, I want to do my work - and yes, sometimes socialize with my co-workers, after hours - at a pub - or even a volunteer event where everyone from the office who can, attends (Habitat for Humanity builds, civic/community cleanup, etc) - but even those are a nightmare for single-parents - or caregivers who cannot give-up that after-hours time, and then have the stigma of "not being a team player" - and inevitably this falls on women the most.

OTOH - I have seen tons of articles and reports that WFH during the pandemic is even more labor for women, because not only do they have their work responsibilities, but now they also have to provide full-time educational support for school-age children, or for younger children can no longer put them in daycare/pre-school. And, even if both parents are WFH, it disproportionally falls onto women to do it all.
posted by rozcakj at 8:41 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


xdvesper: ...people need to protect their mental health during WFH because if you're not careful, it's not working from home, you are living at work.”

Thanks for this -- it's a very vivid notion!

I read it to all my direct reports in our Thursday Morning Chat video meeting this morning, and every (visible) face lit up at once.We work in IT and I was reminding them that they need to be careful about disconnecting at night, because without the downtime of driving home from the office, they never really leave their workstation.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:09 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Re: the card thing.

One positive development of everyone WFH is that the hellish scramble around getting everyone to sign the card (and trying to figure out where circulation stopped) is no more. Instead, someone sets up a Kudoboard & sends the link around. That person is on the hook for a few dollars' worth of e-card (so that more than x people can add to it), but the convenience factor is incredible. I also don't feel like I have to:
a) feel terrible for my awful handwriting
b) worry about where my scrawl will go & whether I should be reserving this nice clear space for someone more important than me to make their mark

And, it's possible to circulate these things widely. I've heard of retirement cards being circulated around the world for people to pay their respects.

The other thing I don't miss is the constant fight over meeting room space. Now, you can have as many people as you want in a virtual meeting. (The snag is that, due to bandwidth issues, everyone who isn't speaking turns off their cameras and mutes, meaning that there's been a growth in an invisible workforce.)
posted by The Outsider at 9:12 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


If companies are truly concerned about missing opportunities for coworkers to bond in absence of mandatory in-person office attendance, why don't they just incentivize coworkers to meet for small, regular social gatherings? My coworkers and I have taken to meeting up every couple weeks for happy hour(*), even though we're all working remotely. Maybe the company should pick up the tab? Group bonding is important, but doesn't have to happen in an office.

(*) We do happy hour because we're all drinkers, but you could easily replace "happy hour" here with some other fun, optional activity
posted by panama joe at 10:21 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


For a number of reasons:

* First, these activities punish team members who are unable or unwilling to participate for a number of reasons - have obligations at home, don't enjoy the activity (for example, I don't drink, and thus find team happy hours draining because of social attitudes around drinking), etc.

* Second, I find these activities start blurring the line between work and non-work socialization.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:27 AM on May 13 [6 favorites]


My dept runs a voluntary cake scheme. When you join you get a few weeks of free cake before making the decision to (a) join the cake list (b) not. If you want to be on cake list you get a randomly assigned week sometime in the next 5-6 months and have to bring in a cake at the regular time. Homemade for preference but shop bought is acceptable since there are a lot of busy people. Swaps are fine.

There was a bit of dick swinging when we started, with a couple of blokes doing ridiculously over-the-top efforts, but that was settled down by a few weeks of people keeping it basic. We are quite an international bunch so we get a good variety, plus a fair amount of brownies. Its been interesting in getting people who have never baked a cake to produce something.

You're expected to wash your own plate.
posted by biffa at 10:31 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


> I suspect a lot of the backlash to it is a lot of managers realizing they have a bullshit job and with productivity staying about the same, corporate might finally realize that paying someone to wander around and look managerial could be cut and create quite the savings.

I have only the barest inkling of what my manager actually does, and if you put a gun to my head I could not tell you what her manger - who manages a cluster of managers, I guess? - does.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:01 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


This problem is solved at my office (pre-covid) because the engineers LOVE. FOOD. The joy they show in getting free food makes it all worth it. Bring/buy a cake even once, and they will say "remember in 2019 when Melismata brought the chocolate cake with the whipped cream?" when they can't remember what they just said an hour ago. Too many apples from apple picking? Other leftovers? Bring them to work, they're gone in an hour, with lots of gratitude. Food is love, in a good way.
posted by Melismata at 11:50 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


I think at my job it's the account people who are desperate to appear necessary as all I can discern them doing is passing messages from the client to people with absolutely no filtering or interpretation. If I ask a question, they mumble or say they'll check. They never know. Not even basic things.

No surprise, they have been in the office the entire pandemic mostly complaining about how busy they are (heh) and wandering from all reports.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:39 PM on May 13


No more masks for the vaccinated! Oh wait, that means my office is going to open back up any second, huh. Sigh.
posted by tiny frying pan at 2:12 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


My office is both unmasked and mostly unvaccinated, I'm pretty sure.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 2:20 PM on May 13


I estimate that about 20 percent of every office job is outside one’s core responsibilities — “extra.” It involves helping a colleague, mentoring more junior people,
fuck this lady. The single best thing I can do for my company is help a colleague be 1% smarter. if everyone does this, it adds up.

The second single best thing I can do is take thirty seconds to answer a question and moot hours of research.

or we can bank the fast answer, say we needed the research anyway and spend the bonus time on a nice lunch, that happens too
posted by Sauce Trough at 2:28 PM on May 13 [5 favorites]


also, I am a senior guy in my office and I do enjoy greeting cards and like bullshit, so I organize them myself, to model senior dudes doing that kind of thing.
posted by Sauce Trough at 2:30 PM on May 13 [5 favorites]


The second single best thing I can do is take thirty seconds to answer a question and moot hours of research.

Not being able to do this for others, and have it done for me, is seriously the aspect of WFH that has most dragged down my work quality this year. If I have to figure out some procedure on my own, I'm going to spend hours reading the relevant rules, looking up the case law, checking the practice guides--and I still may not be able to discern some opaque actual practice, say, a clerk's office uses in implementing the procedure, because it's not explicitly written down anywhere (or there are four different reasonable interpretations of what's written). This is how I was trained, because in law the unknown unknowns are your worst enemy. If someone else has already done this work, though, I can content myself with making sure it chimes with the top-level text(s) and get on with the actual work.
posted by praemunire at 2:57 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


> I suspect a lot of the backlash to it is a lot of managers realizing they have a bullshit job and with productivity staying about the same

>I have only the barest inkling of what my manager actually does, and if you put a gun to my head I could not tell you what her manger - who manages a cluster of managers, I guess? - does.

That's because the job description of "manager" varies wildly between organizations.

You might be like a fireman / fire inspector rolled up into one job: the better you are at your job, the less work you need to do, and a manager who appears to do very little is actually the one excelling at their job. The worse you are at your job, the more often you have to roll up your sleeves and do an all-nighter to fix some disaster that happened.

You might be like "a general worker, but super experienced" where you do the exact same work as the team who works under you, but because of your knowledge and experience you do things way faster and everyone looks to you for guidance and support,

You might be a specialist "people manager" who isn't a technical expert at all - you might manage 15 people who have the necessary professional qualifications and experience, but you don't have those skills, instead you are an expert at HR stuff (coaching) and also project management (setting up timelines, getting people to commit to tasks, obtaining resources for your team)
posted by xdvesper at 4:38 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


The second single best thing I can do is take thirty seconds to answer a question and moot hours of research.
Not being able to do this for others, and have it done for me, is seriously the aspect of WFH that has most dragged down my work quality this year.

That's been the biggest downside of WFH this past year.
I've been with my employer for a long time and have a lot of institutional knowledge.
I can't begin to count the number of times pre-lockdown that I'd catch part of a conversation in the hallways and was able to contribute useful information.

I definitely miss that kind of serendipitous encounter, and I'm not sure how to recreate it in the remote workplace.
posted by cheshyre at 7:05 PM on May 13 [4 favorites]


It is exactly how you would expect a government office to operate, and is more efficient

... *blink blink blink* ...
posted by metabaroque at 7:32 PM on May 13


I wonder if the strong anti-proximity-to-people bias in this thread is because there's a lot of introverts here on MeFi? It's so weird, though.

Look, I mean, it's absolutely true that a job is just a job, our workplaces are not "just like family", and it's dangerous to confuse coworkers for community. But it's equally true that the people we work with are still... people. And it feels to me like we are dehumanizing these real people when we say things like "ugh, the stupid small talk, the eating noises, the smell someone left in the microwave, the constant annoying cards to be signed, ugh."

Again, I'm absolutely agreeing that working from home relieves us of MANY indignities and unfairnesses, small and large. I have disabled friends who are legitimately crowing in vindication and weeping in relief that the pandemic has made it possible for them to become part of ~life~ at large in ways they were deliberately denied before. But see, here's the thing: their jubilation comes from having gained opportunities to connect with other people. And a lot of us on this thread seem to be celebrating the diminishment of connection, the increase in our isolation.

I can't bring myself to see it as a positive that many of us have fallen off the radars of the big shots in C-suites.... and the only people who can jeer at my desire to stay on their radar are people with enough privilege not to care about career advancement. I can't bring myself to see anything positive in congratulating ourselves that we no longer need to tolerate the sound of our co-workers eating in the cubicle beside us... IMO such extreme aloofness and distaste for merely being reminded of the existence of other human beings is verging on toxic.

It makes me very uncomfortable to read through a whole thread where something very close to misanthropy is being normalized and celebrated. Even for us introverts, connection is a good thing. To me there is no higher value than recognizing that no human is an island, we are all part of a whole... which, on an everyday level, means reacting to a co-worker making annoying small talk at us by rolling our eyes at some other better co-worker as we walk past, not by deciding that the ideal life is when we isolate in order to protect ourselves from the dire threat of annoying small talk. That really is throwing the baby out with the bathwater!

Because think about it: the problem with the cake is NOT that there should be no cake, it's that cake-labor isn't counted or compensated. Emotional labor is not bad! Emotional labor is what keeps the world going round. Relationships and community are built one cupcake at a time. I think we would do well to remember a much-repeated refrain from MeFi's emotional labor thread many years ago: the guys who came into that thread saying, "Who even cares about birthday cards? Life would be so much easier if nobody cared about sending birthday cards!" --- those guys were WRONG. Birthday cards, annoying as they may seem in the moment, are the building blocks of connection, community, and life. It's about treating one another as human beings even if we have met each other in the context of the capitalist machine that wants to kill us. The annoying birthday card would be the best thing about the workplace, if only it was counted and compensated as the labor it is.
posted by MiraK at 8:21 AM on May 14 [9 favorites]


And it feels to me like we are dehumanizing these real people when we say things like "ugh, the stupid small talk, the eating noises, the smell someone left in the microwave, the constant annoying cards to be signed, ugh.

See, now I read all of this as a recognition of the way offices themselves exist to dehumanize us. It's so much easier to see your colleagues as people when you are not subjected to them within the context of the nightmare office.

Admittedly, I haven't spent much time in offices over the last decade, like, at all. My last full-time office gig was probably in 20...12? I legitimately don't even remember. But what I do remember about offices was:
-everyone was exhausted from their lengthy predawn commutes
-"open office" desk arrangements providing zero privacy and almost zero personal space
-ambient temperatures that seemed almost designed to be unpleasant for EVERYone; air con cranked to the max but blazing hot sun pouring in through glass windows with no perceptible ventilation
-lighting that was irritating and unpleasant at best, actively migraine-triggering at worst.

In such a profoundly hostile environment is it at all surprising that we fail largely to appreciate our coworkers' imperfect humanity? I'm not even an introvert! Given enough sleep, enough light and air, a little space to oneself, schedules that are feasible...I'll happily chat away with someone at the coffee machine. But being in an office, the way most of the United States defines "an office," just fully drains all of my reserves and leaves me with nothing left over for humankind.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:46 AM on May 14 [8 favorites]


> But what I do remember about offices was:
-everyone was exhausted from their lengthy predawn commutes
"open office" desk arrangements .....


That's not what people have been complaining about on this thread, though. I count exactly one comment on this very long thread that even mentions a commute in support of their argument against going back to offices, and only one other commenter who mentions an open plan office as the reason why they hate working in offices. Zero mentions of temperature or lighting. In contrast I count at least eight comments complaining about hearing coworkers, smelling coworkers, having to speak to coworkers, having to do birthday cards for coworkers, etc. And that doesn't even count the comments which dismiss out of hand that there could possibly be any value in making human connections in a physical workplace face-to-face.

So I'm glad that you're now articulating that there's this other underlying reason for all the loathing being expressed towards people simply being people at work. The people-hate on this thread has really been dispiriting to read. I hope your comment helps to direct our frustration towards whatever actually deserves it.
posted by MiraK at 10:05 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


I find being forced to spend 8 hours a day with people I didn't choose to be around sometimes IS quite stressful, besides low pay, overwork, and uncomfortable conditions. I like some of my coworkers fine; others not so much. That's a normal way to feel, I reckon.
posted by tiny frying pan at 10:14 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


Not to belabor the point, but the reason I'm speaking up here is not because I think everyone should be besties with their coworkers, but because there's a lot of hate being expressed towards the concept of having physically-present coworkers due to really normal basic human things like *eating* or *chatting* or *signing a birthday card*. I guess it's possible that all of these people have "bitch eating crackers" syndrome, where normal human shit that their coworkers do drives them nuts because they hate their coworkers for other bigger legitimate reasons. But the comments don't come across that way. They come across as a blanket hatred of proximity to other humans, a total disavowal of the value of human contact in the workplace.

The attitude is, in a nutshell, "Ewwwwww, people-sounds! Ewwwwww, people-smells!" I think that's pretty dehumanizing. If that's not you, then you're not who I'm talking about.
posted by MiraK at 10:24 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


As an autistic person, yes, I am absolutely saying "Ewwwwww, people-sounds! Ewwwwww, people-smells!" Working in an office environment around other people is literally so difficult and draining for me that I have a letter from my doctor on file with our HR department requesting they allow me to WFH at least one day a week (this was in pre-pandemic times, obviously).

Thanks for the empathy and compassion for those of us with differing needs.
posted by Lexica at 10:36 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


I'm sorry, that was ableist of me. I apologize for not noting disabilities or other special needs as exceptions to the point I was making.
posted by MiraK at 10:39 AM on May 14


I'm asking myself why this thread is reading so strange to me, and I think I know:

1. I grew up as an immigrant from India in a racist south-east asian country. I was frequently the target of "ewww, you smell" and "ewwww, you sound weird". It's hard not to hear echoes of it even when people aren't talking about me,

2. I grew up in an upper caste Hindu family, and the refrain of "ewwww, let's stay away from these loud and smelly people who are doing gross things like *eating* in our viscinity" was a common one expressed by my family towards lower caste people on a daily basis. It's jarring to hear similar sentiments expressed even in a different context... again, hard not to hear echoes.

3. I grew up in big, crowded cities whose throngs are described with a sick horror and aversion by non-NYC America and the west in general. Yes, it feels racist, but it ALSO is a cultural difference. Y'all have never had to share a mass transit train car with 300 other people... and there's a certain expectation of personal space that you possess because of never having done that. Definitely not saying this is your fault! but as someone who didn't grow up with ~space~ around me, as someone who has been habituated to other human bodies in close proximity from a young age, I'm very aware of how different I am from many people here. Things that you think are normal stick out at me.

4. Sometimes it goes beyond cultural difference into unreasonable expectations stemming from privilege. Someone upthread just said it stresses them out to be in a workplace for eight hours a day in the company of people not of their choosing... and it's blowing my mind. Is it really a "cultural difference" when someone expects to be able to choose who inhabits the same public or semi-public space as them? I don't think so. I think it's ... hoity. (As Lexica pointed out above, this doesn't apply to people with special needs.)

Anyway - that's where I'm coming from, mainly a lot of cultural differences making some of the things being said in this thread strike me in a way it's probably not striking all of you. IDK who's right or wrong, but I think there's value in sussing this out.
posted by MiraK at 11:00 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


Hey! Don't call me "hoity" please, for my very mild expression that I don't like being around everyone I work with. It's fine. It's normal. I am not stuck up or weird because I don't like every human being I've ever met.
posted by tiny frying pan at 11:05 AM on May 14 [4 favorites]


It's not about the people. It's about the way controlling, border-line abusive managers set up low-walled cubicles to give people no privacy and no refuge from noise.

There are people you've actively chosen to be with: those are partners and friends.

There are people you're born into knowing: those are family.

There are people you're paid to be around: those are coworkers and customers.

If you're lucky, you may actually like people from the latter two categories, but I don't think it's unreasonable for people to be glad to be able to spend more time with their partners, friends, and family than with their coworkers and customers.
posted by explosion at 11:12 AM on May 14 [5 favorites]


if not wanting to be subjected to the lingering smell someone's microwaved bowl of eggbeaters and tinned salmon while I'm forced to perform labor makes me a misanthrope, then where do I sign up
posted by phunniemee at 11:14 AM on May 14 [6 favorites]


And, like, I live in a city: Boston. The train was an everyday part of my life, but you couldn't pay me enough to ride the T for 8 hours straight. You pass tons of people as you walk, but that's just it, you pass them. There are parks and greenspace and plenty of refuges from the crowds and the noise.

The claustrophobic, irritating environment of the office is nothing like the wonderous bustle of living in a city.
posted by explosion at 11:15 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


I picked up some of the vibes you're describe MiraK, but I just chalked it up to like-minded people commiserating, which is fine. Personally, I'm looking forward to working in the office again, although I plan to WFH at least one day a week indefinitely. I like being around people, chatting in the hallway, getting quick feedback, and the occasional work social event. That said, my workplace is blandly corporate and in general people respect one another's space (and I like it that way). I've signed one or two "congratulations on your new baby" cards over the last few years, but zero birthday cards.

I also like being able to concentrate on work when I'm at work (which isn't always possible with the kids around), and a non-stressful commute can be a good way to transition between work and home. I used to read a lot on the bus.

But that's me. I would like it companies let employees choose the right balance for themselves.
posted by jomato at 11:28 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


I thought the relevant complaint in this thread about birthday cards and cakes was that it's unpaid and unrewarded labor. For every company where there's a corporate/social expectation of that kind of thing, but not a corresponding item in somebody's job description, it's just unpaid emotional labor. Taking the framing of Cathy Merrill's original opinion piece, where she argued that 20% of what she expects her employees to do is not in their job descriptions, that's a lot of unpaid and unrewarded labor, and it's rightly called out.

As for being human in an office, well, for every other person who microwaved fish or whatever, I was the guy loudly grinding fresh coffee for a couple minutes every day. I relied on other people's patience as much as they needed mine for that whole communal atmosphere to work. And that was fine.

I have the usual complaints about forced office attendance and how it doesn't correlate with productivity, but I don't need to rehash them here.
posted by fedward at 12:31 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]


While we're at it, I don't love the implication that anyone who wants to continue working from home is a privileged asshole who can just afford to throw away money and promotions. There are so many reasons for any given person why being on the radar for career advancement might not be appealing, or at any rate not appealing enough to outweigh the negatives of that.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:34 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]


Blast Hard cheese, I went back over this thread to try to figure out what negatives you might be referring to and it has just dawned on me like a cartoon lightbulb that you might be talking about academia. Oof, I'm sorry for even venturing in the territory of labeling your aversion to career advancement as privilege. It's easy to get tunnel vision on topics like this one and forget everything I know about other work-lives.

I'm still here ranting about my almost-certainly-never-gonna-happen promotion this year that would have come with a 10% raise, all because my team got moved to a new department during Covid and my new overboss literally doesn't even know my name... grrr/sob/grrrrr...

But for you and folks in similar situations I can only say: May every single work-related entity leave you the fuck alone, amen. It's a travesty how much free mentoring and "off the books" relationship work y'all are forced to do... The unpaid mandatory work y'all do is orders of magnitude grater than cake.

Btw if it's not academia/teaching you're talking about, do you mind sharing what it is? There must be more industries where working oneself to the bone in hope of winning the career advancement lottery is just considered normal... Sigh.
posted by MiraK at 1:22 PM on May 14


Ok, I'll add a little context to my comment.

I'm expected to do extremely detail-oriented and accurate analysis at breakneck speed.

I'm also expected to also watch my email for new questions. If the question comes from someone of sufficient importance, I have to drop everything to answer, sometimes on the phone if the person is still confused. My bandwidth for interruptions is almost entirely taken up by things I need to do the work requested of me, and it frustrates me to be interrupted by something that is unrelated to the work I need to do.

I find it difficult to filter out other people talking, and not just in a work setting -- gatherings in noisy bars and restaurants in the Before Times were awful because I couldn't focus on conversations with the people I came with. Maybe it's an auditory processing thing, or maybe I'm just on the low end of normal on this skill.

For Reasons, I find it particularly difficult to filter out people arguing, and people who are speaking in a stressed out or angry tone. All of the examples I mentioned in my previous comment fall into those categories. Tech support in particular ticks all the boxes here. Our tech support people are useless for our particular computer setups, and we are forced to go through first level support and let them flail around uselessly before they escalate to someone more competent. So my coworkers get understandably stressed when they're talking to tech support, and you can hear it in their voice. Also, (probably because tech support is in the same open office hell environment) we have to bellow into the phone to be heard, and a lot of people's bellowing sounds angry to my ears.

Our practice manager has asked everyone if they prefer working at home. Everyone in the group (which includes a lot of people with kids) has said they want to work from home. Maybe my firm managed to hire 30-40 misanthropic introverts in the same practice group. Or maybe it's that the open office atmosphere is honestly toxic for trying to get the kind of work product that's expected at my firm, and we all learned we can work more efficiently at home.
posted by creepygirl at 1:35 PM on May 14 [9 favorites]


I have zero hope of advancement, and actually, given how often I manage to inadvertently piss people off, I want to be seen and heard as LITTLE as I can get away with. Not being seen and heard is an advantage when one is just trying to hold on to employment and not set off another bomb of upset in someone. (Sorry you didn't get your promotion, MiraK. Different fields, and all that.)

I don't hate people being around me in general, I just want to be able to continue to sleep more and actually feel functional at the 8 a.m. meeting (online) rather than getting new holes ripped in me for being obviously tired and not perky at the 8 a.m. in person meeting, the way I always was. That extra 45 minutes of not having to be up and at 'em and moving around has really helped. I don't tend to lose it upon hearing people make people noises, but I did spend 2 years sharing an office with people who hated me AND lost it upon me for making people noises, so I've dealt with that before. That is probably either misophobia or "bitch eating crackers" right there.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:36 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Career advancement? I like my job. Moving up would remove the parts of my job I like. But my job doesn't pay well compared to the private sector similar position. Oh well! Hope it keeps pace with inflation and rent so I can ride out my next 15 years, at which point I'll be retiring happily. Not everyone wants to move up and up and up and keep striving for more their whole life with their job. I have other things I want to do instead.
posted by tiny frying pan at 2:49 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]


No, not academia, though I hear the same thing often from folks in that industry as well. I work in the unglamorous side of publishing, where:
1. every promotion means you move further and further from doing ANYTHING you got into this industry to do. (Oh I'm sorry did you like editing? Well once you're a Senior Editor you'll never see another printed page again. Were you hired as a writer? HAHAHAHAHA.)
2. few promotions come with any kind of significant pay increase. I mean, sure, maybe you'll get a percentage or two above the COL increase, but it's almost never enough to make up for just how many more hours per week you will be expected to work.
3. your prior title will almost never be backfilled, so you'll just have to do all your old position's work in addition to all your new position's work
4. you will be just visible enough to take the hit for anything that goes wrong in any of the big muckety-mucks' lives, and just expensive enough to be first on the chopping block in any round of layoffs.

In short: Career advancement is a land of contrasts.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:50 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]


My job is perfectly do-able from home. I do need occasional meetings, but those can held online.

My last two onsite gigs were 25 miles and 35 miles away from my home. One way. I've gone from filling up my gas tank every week to every 5-6 weeks. Not to mention the delightful process of sitting in traffic for an hour each day, if I was lucky.

Now, I'm home all day. No more takeout food and wrappers. Lunch is a stroll into the kitchen, as is really good coffee that I make myself. I can unload the dishwasher or start a load of laundry in less the amount of time it took me to go from one meeting to the other. No more fretting about making it there on time or wondering how long it's going to take me to get home. If a meeting runs over, well, I'm in my home office and it will take about seven seconds to shut everything down and go for a stress-reducing walk when it's over.

I will find other ways to meet my need for face time with people if it means I don't have to do that any more.
posted by dancing_angel at 11:22 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


Widespread wfh has been a beautiful thing for introverts. I won’t lie, the schadenfreude from watching the extroverts suffer though has been part of it.
posted by clark at 8:29 AM on May 16


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