‘Work will never be the same again.’ But what about those of us aching for a return to life in the before times. With all this talk of workspaces changing and the need for offices becoming somewhat obsolete, I worry that those of us desperate to work anywhere but home are being overlooked.
Throughout the pandemic I’ve seen countless social media polls on LinkedIn asking users to vote on whether they would like to return to the office or continue working from home (WFH) after this is all over. And while many have called for either a 50/50 split between working in an office and WFH, with some even opting for an 80/20 split in favour of WFH, the idea of spending any more time away from an office environment is one that fills me with dread.
Aside from the mental health implications and burnout effects of the always-on work culture which has been exacerbated by working from home, along with the lack of clear distinctions between work life and home life, there’s also the undeniable monotony of it all. I can’t be the only person going stir crazy?
The morning commute has been replaced by the short walk from the bedroom to the front room, and it’s the exact same route every morning, without fail. No bearing witness to uncomfortable morning drama between commuters as they push each other aside scrambling to get on the tube, no wishing the couple stood unbearably close to you would stop sucking each other’s faces off at eight in the morning, no having to contend with mundane chatter between colleagues who are talking unreasonably loudly, basically no people. No one. Just you and your wearisome shuffle every morning to the other room before opening your laptop or switching on your PC to do it all over again. Don’t get me wrong, commuting is usually horrendous (see reasons above), but it’s different. Each day an opportunity to see something so horrific it’s almost entertaining. There’s a novelty to it at least.
Then there’s lunch or rather a lack of it in my case when working from home. With back to back Zoom meetings and video calls making it near impossible to find time to go to the loo let alone time to cook and eat lunch, as well as take that daily walk we’ve all been encouraged to go for, the lunch hour has become somewhat non-existent. And this is coming from someone who used to regularly pop to the closest food stall or cafe and eat my meal at my desk while working, also not an ideal scenario but one which at least allowed for a 15-20 minute short respite from work, something that now seems like a luxury. Because you know, ‘regular breaks are important’ but clearly not quite as much as the hourly check-ins or traffic meetings that seem to have populated our daily calendars, undeniably causing Zoom fatigue. These endless video meetings almost seem to have been adopted as some sort of panicked reaction to managing employees remotely whereby constant surveillance has replaced trust in staff members to do their jobs.
And while many companies are still attempting to adapt to the use of new communication platforms (be it Slack or Microsoft Teams), new project management tools (be it Trello or dreaded endless Excel spreadsheets) and generally new ways of working in a post-office world, some have already pledged that they will allow their employees to choose to work from home for a certain number of days per week once this is all over. Though I wholeheartedly support giving staff more agency (something, ironically, I feel is lacking in the current WFH set-up), personally I’d like to see a move towards more access to co-working spaces for staff rather than a return to a traditional office set-up, with the flexibility for employees to choose where they work.
These spaces, which allow for hot-desking and working alongside other companies, perhaps even from different sectors, are ones that I feel breed creativity. You get to meet a variety of people working in entirely different jobs. There’s that key word again. People. And with people comes community. Forgive my sentimentality but as someone who highly values collaboration and teamwork, I like to think of workforces as communities, be it a community of marketers, journalists, writers, creatives, etc. I have often come across work opportunities because of my community (or network as others may call it) and I believe co-working spaces allow these communities to flourish.
Though co-working spaces aren’t necessarily the answer or solution to some of the WFH issues I’ve raised above, and granted some of the experiences I’ve highlighted may be attributed to company culture rather than the work location itself, I don’t believe that the current WFH practices that have been widely adopted by many companies are ones that provide a healthy work-life balance. Part of that may be due to employees feeling micromanaged and overworked but part of it may also be linked to feeling isolated and co-working spaces could at least help lessen this feeling. And while work doesn’t need to be the same, some form of return to a collaborative work environment is something I’m truly looking forward to.