When WFH came into force in March, most of us assumed it would be a temporary situation; a sort of staycation in our living rooms with added work calls on a new thing called Zoom.
Last year, only 5% of us worked from home in the UK, now that number has skyrocketed to 60% of the UK population and WFH is increasingly looking like it may be the new norm as, even after lockdown eases; many organisations and businesses will be radically rethinking how they operate.
This can be great news for the many workers – particularly parents and carers – who have urged their companies to consider flexible working arrangements. But what did office life give us that we won’t be able to replicate? Will we miss office life, or is WFH the natural next step for a truly modern workforce?
“I miss the snacks,” says Anna Lewes, 27, a communications director from Durham, “We had an epic snack table at my office and there’s no way to replicate that in my home without looking seriously gluttonous!”
“But on a more serious note?” she adds, “High speed internet and having an actual IT team on call when things go wrong. Half my current work life is me calling up my internet provider to complain. It’s really causing problems.”
However, snacks were a common theme from the millennials I asked. It seems nothing can really beat a good old office snack table. But what about making your own at home?
“It’s just not the same,” says Brandise Manfield, 32, an advertising executive from London, “Having a snack table at home just feels weird, because it’s sharing it with colleagues and the conversations that take place around that table that I really miss.”
That’s the thing. What most of us have missed during lockdown is human contact – actually being around people. Whilst friends may have been top of that list of dearly-missed people, it’s the day to day company of our colleagues that we all seem to be starting to yearn for- the unique IRL relationships we have with our desk buddies.
Abigail Vims, 30, is a freelance graphic designer from London, who is used to working from home, often broken up with up to three month stints in offices for project based work. She thought she would handle WFH just fine, but the lack of contact with people, and the creativity that camaraderie brings her work, has been sorely missed.
“I miss human energy!” she says, “That connection and direct communication- you just can’t replicate that at home. I have really missed that and can’t wait to go back at some point.”
What she hasn’t missed? “Other people’s lunch smells.”
Others miss the office for more stressful reasons.
Charlotte Anderson*, 27, is a management consultant in Leeds. She thought she would love working from home- staying in her PJs, not having to commute. But she has found herself working longer and longer hours and under increased pressure.
“I don’t think my boss understands that normal working hours still apply, even if we’re working from home,” she says, “He calls later and later at night, on weekends, it’s really wearing me down. I think I’m working harder than I ever have- and have no outlet to blow off steam as there are no pubs or bars. All that happens is I feel like I live in my office now. I’m burning out.”
Some, of course, are back in the office already.
Clare Cartwright, 31, works in fashion and recently relocated to Paris. Starting a new job out there was tough when everyone was WFH. Now, many offices are open again in France, she realises how much she missed office life.
“Humans! It’s literally humans that I have missed the most,” she says, “Was so nice to start going back to the office again. I’m doing two days a week and I’m so thrilled. Having a change of scene and seeing colleagues was so great.”
Of course, many millennials have taken to WFH exceptionally well. Many of my friends- wary at first of making that shift- have found they prefer it. They like the flexibility, the time you get back from no commute and the lifestyle.
“I also think I’m more productive,” says a friend, also 31, who works as a lawyer in London, “It sounds bad, but without people bothering me in the office- I get way more done. I want to WFH from now on.”
Rosalyn White, 31, a consultant from Bath, loves the death of ‘presenteeism.’
“Yes I miss ‘office lolz’ but I don’t miss the whole ‘always look like you’re working’ thing,” she says, “I like the level of trust involved in WFH as it actually makes you work harder!”
Nicole Lucas, 25, a PR from London, agrees.
“I much prefer WFH,” she says, “It makes you feel way more in control of your own work. I miss face to face, but I feel like this could happen maybe once a week- maybe a group coffee hang or something in a hired space or cafe. Not really sure why we would need to be in the office everyday now.”
Jo Taylor, 32, who works in finance in London, tells me she wants that perfect mix of both.
“I think the dream is 2 days in the office and 3 days at home,” she says, “That way, I get the social interaction, but I also get my time at home- during which I get so much more done, with no distractions.”
As for me? I have long been a WFH fanatic. Call me antisocial, but I have always found offices incredibly counter productive and distracting, Yes, I miss work parties and the chatter you can only really get from colleagues you sit near. I miss the collaborative, creativity of working IRL with people – something that is often hard to recreate with Zoom.
But, if this is our new normal? Long live the home office I say. I’ll even build my own snack table.
*some names have been changed.