Today, marks two years since New York City first went on lockdown. I remember when lockdown first started and I thought at best it would last for a couple of weeks. I never imagined the ways in which Covid would completely change almost every aspect of our lives. I also remember when in June 2020, my boss began to talk about coming back into the office, because it was time to get back to work. I was confused because (1) Covid was still very much an issue (we didn’t even have a vaccine yet) (2) But more importantly, I had been working. For the entire year of 2020, I took off 2 vacation days. I opened my sanctuary, my home, to zoom calls, and work phone calls. I answered the phone while feeling ill, while dealing with grief, while in the bathroom. I literally kept my headphones in my ears until my ears started to hurt. So, the implication that I needed to get back to work was insulting, to say the least.
As the world continues to understand and process the next phase of moving out of the pandemic, there is a strong push for companies to bring their employees back into the office. No one really has a good reason as to why people should come back into the office, if they’ve been successfully working remotely for two years. The only reason is that companies want their employees back into the office because it’s what they know. Many people are pointing out that the industries such as restaurants, coffee shops, and other eateries are suffering because employees are not returning and bringing revenue into these areas. And while many places have closed due to the lack of business, I’m not sure that’s the real reason why we want employees back.
Towards the end of 2020, my boss somehow got the idea that I was not answering the phones. We had a whole conversation to make sure that I could be heard by any potential or current clients. It was a waste of time, but something she said to me really stuck with me. The phone system that we used in the office, tracks how many calls are answered, missed, and many other ways to monitor the phone usage. She congratulated me because the phones were answered let’s say 93% of the time. I said thank you because I was the one who had the system app on my phone and would track in real time the missed calls that came in during off hours. But more importantly, it was a way to let me know that my work was being monitored.
Companies want employees back into the office because they want to monitor their employees because the system that we have built is not built off trust, but control. I can tell if someone is not doing their work, because their work will not be done. I don’t need to physically be in the space with them to see that. Our current system favors employers, not employees. And that is why we are trying to “go back” to what we had before. There is no going back. We can only move forward. Any company that refuses to acknowledge this will be left in the past. Recent surveys have shown that as little as 3% of office workers want to return to the office. This pandemic though painful and heartbreaking has given us the chance to imagine and create new systems and new processes that work for everyone, not just the select few who are at the top.
The past two years have shown us the ways in which our world is broken, and how we as people are struggling in this broken system. Since I’ve been working from home, I have saved over $3,000 dollars not taking mass transit to and from work. I have been able to pay off around $4,000 dollars in debt, and have lost about 40 pounds. This does not take into consideration the money I saved not having to replace my clothes as often because I haven’t been wearing them, and the thousands of dollars I’ve saved on breakfast and lunch over the past two years. I know I am not the only one who has benefited in numerous ways since they’ve been working remotely.
When my former boss and my former COO started the discussion about going back into the office, one of the arguments was that no one was there to use our beautiful office space and we were wasting thousands of dollars on rent a month. Honestly as an employee, this is not my problem. Companies are putting their responsibilities of overheard on their employees while refusing to acknowledge the ways in which restructuring their workforce and workflow would be beneficial to them in the long run. They would save on rent, office supplies, cleaning services, and food services among other things. This money could then be allocated to their workforce that has kept working amid a pandemic.
What we have before us is a crossroads. And companies who choose to move forward will find themselves leading the way into innovation and new growth. Companies who choose to look to the past will find themselves as relics of a time that we once knew. It’s time for us to reframe out thinking about the concept of “going back”. Life moves forward not back.