I’m 90% convinced that most tech workers are going to be working remotely for the duration of 2022. Omicron has pushed out much-fanfare returns to the office, and there’s nothing to say that there won’t be another wave after that. It’s simply not safe, and it won’t be safe for some time.
Rather than playing that by ear and seeing how we go, which has resulted in an announcement about returning to the office followed by a retraction roughly every quarter, I think companies should go ahead and make the assumption. It’ll help the companies themselves make better financial decisions. For example, Google can save the $6.3M it spends on food each year and direct it elsewhere (for example, to help parents, carers, and other people who need it). But more importantly, the certainty will help employees plan their lives.
There’s a lot to be gained from being remote. Within certain parameters, I vastly prefer it: I do better work, I waste less time traveling, I eat better food and do more exercise, and feel less tired at the end of each day. Those parameters and boundaries are important, though: if work bleeds into every hour of the day because there’s no set home-time from the office, it’s a much worse experience (and everyone does worse work because they’re wiped out).
But more than that, there’s a lot to be gained from not being wishy-washy about it. Burnout happens, in part, when you work really hard but feel like you don’t have control. Left unchecked, the uncertainty and powerlessness of our covid situation can be a huge contributor to it. Removing that psychic overhead could, I think, reduce one of the most important stressful overheads of this era.
There’s a lot to work out. The pandemic has disproportionately affected people from vulnerable communities, and remote working can exacerbate those effects. We can’t ignore the equity issues with remote working - but that means leaning into them and finding real solutions that make for more equitable workplaces, rather than pretending that remote work is going away any time soon.
The best workplaces are kind, inclusive, empathetic, and responsive to their workers’ needs. That doesn’t have to mean in-person - particularly when being in-person carries the risk of contracting a disease that could affect your entire life. Let’s take that out of the equation and focus on how to make things better in our new reality. There’s no going back to normal. Not for a long time yet.