En español | As businesses make plans to return to the office, employees who have been working remotely need to prepare for their lives to change again. While working from home can be challenging, it has some significant advantages.
If your employer is preparing to reopen the office, here are 10 things you may find yourself missing about working from home.
1. The comfy wardrobe
When you work from home almost anything goes for the clothes you wear, as long as you have a nice top at the ready for impromptu Zoom calls. So-called hard pants — anything with structure, like jeans or trousers — were out. Sweats, joggers, yoga pants, shorts and anything stretchy became the clothes of comfort.
"Your wardrobe choices are so simple and easy. When you're going back to work, you actually do care about, ‘Do these shoes work with this outfit?’ When you're on Zoom, you can wear the same thing every day for a month and no one would really notice,” says workplace expert Chester Elton, coauthor of Anxiety at Work: 8 Strategies to Help Teams Build Resilience, Handle Uncertainty, and Get Stuff Done.
Banking professional Tanya Taylor, a 50-something who worked from home for more than a year before going back to the office, says she misses not having to deal with hair and makeup. “Daily grooming has been very relaxed in the last year,” she says.
2. The work/life blend
Becky Melvin, 59, did gig work during the pandemic, after she left her job as director of book publicity at a major publisher. She delivered groceries to earn money while she figured out what was next. And she loved the ability to make her own schedule and blend personal demands with those of her job. Last year she landed a job as senior public relations account manager with a midsize PR firm. In the early days she found the transition tricky, especially getting personal tasks done.
"It's nice to be able to throw in a load of laundry in between Zoom calls. You could still get your life done on a day-to-day basis while you were working,” she notes. Whether you wanted to get in a quick run during down time, have lunch with your family members who were also present or start dinner a little early, being at home often makes it easier, Elton agrees.
3. The down-the-hall commute
Taylor also dreaded restarting her 80-minute round-trip commute. She has appreciated having that extra time back in her day, she says, time that helped her work on her part-time personal project, a blog called Travels and Treasures. Elton adds that not worrying about traffic, weather, being late to the office and — most of all — health and safety issues has been a big relief for many remote workers over the past year.
Robert Glazer, CEO of marketing firm Acceleration Partners and author of How to Thrive in the Virtual Workplace, says that the lack of a commute is something many remote professionals will miss. But he adds that it's a good idea to develop a “virtual commute,” even when you're working from home, to make the mental shift between being on the job and being on your own time. Take a few minutes to straighten your desk, plan your next day or otherwise close down your home office, to create boundaries between work and home.
4. The escape from interruptions
Even though there are interruptions at home, Taylor says they're more manageable and she's more productive overall working remotely. The conversations around her or people dropping by her workstation to ask questions can be distracting. “It's all work-related, but still, it's an interruption,” she says. At home, she can find times where she can focus and get more done and doesn't have to spend time figuring out where she left off on her last project. "I think one of the biggest things people don't realize is how much they were distracted during the day [but] didn't realize it before,” Glazer says. Of course, the difference depends on individual circumstances, but for many people, it can be easier to find quiet time to focus at home.
5. The absence of office politics
Melvin says working remotely also offers an escape from office politics. Gossip and infighting are easier to avoid when you’re communicating mostly through email, instant messaging or scheduled videoconferences, Elton adds.
"I've done remote, work-from-home jobs in the past and really do prefer it so much better,” Melvin says. “I forgot about all of the office politics that continues to take place. You are so much more productive when working from home."
6. The flexibility
Taylor, a self-described morning person, used to be at her office desk at 7:30 a.m. and work through lunch most days. Now she can get the same work done with a later start because she has more flexibility over how she structures her days. She has Zoom meetings but keeps the camera off and can also take advantage of downtime more easily to finish up projects. All the tools and information she needs are right at home.
Even if you have busy workdays, telecommuting does typically offer more flexibility, Elton says. We also know that more autonomy on the job can lead to greater productivity, according to a 2020 study published in Frontiers in Psychology.
7. The personalized infection protection
At home, you can be as careful as you want to be when it comes to protecting yourself against COVID. But when you’re back in the office, you may have to interact with people who have different opinions about appropriate measures. Elton says it’s important to check with your employer about policies on vaccinations, masks and other measures. Then, if anyone has an issue with you following the protocols, you can simply point them to company policy.
When she first returned to in-office work, Melvin missed the mask-free existence of home. Even as many states and communities are lifting mask mandates, some companies are requiring additional safety measures in the office to protect employees and clients. “It is tough wearing masks in meetings, and whenever [I'm] walking around the office,” she says. Melvin points out that masks hinder the ability to see expressions, which can help people better understand what's going on in meetings.
8. The distance from coworkers you dislike
One of the challenging parts of returning to the office is dealing with coworkers whom you may consider either mildly irritating or downright mean. Difficult colleagues exist in virtually every office. You can try to minimize interactions with them, but, Elton says, there’s another way you might cope with them: Assume good intent. “Look, [most] people that come to work are good people and want to do a good job,” he says. “So, I'm going to assume that they're just trying to live their best life, as I am.” That attitude is freeing, Elton explains, because you don’t get mired in negativity or trying to figure out what the other person is thinking. “Maybe I don't agree with the way you're doing it, but I'm just going to give you a little bit of grace. And then that gives you a little bit of space to not worry about it too much.”
9. The privacy
At home, if you need to send a few texts during a videoconference, or if you spent a half hour looking up cat videos on your lunch break, chances are that no one was the wiser. Being back in the office means having people look over your shoulder again.
But Elton says you may be surprised. Social distancing measures mean that some offices have given employees more space. And a recent survey from Gallup estimates that the adoption of hybrid workplaces — where employees will work part-time in the office and part-time at home — means that roughly 4 in 10 desks will be empty at any given time. So you may have more privacy when you return to the office than you were expecting.
10. The unexpected amusements
Let's face it: There were some strange and even funny moments in the remote-work world. Who can forget the attorney who couldn't figure out how to turn off his cat filter on Zoom during a legal proceeding, for example? It may be harder to have those moments of humanity or vulnerability in the office, Elton says. “People are going to miss a little bit of whimsy.”
Elton was on a Zoom call when his grandson ran into the room, which, he says, the other callers found amusing. That might be less the case in an office full of people, especially with safety protocols in place, he says. “People are a lot more genuine.” Whether that shift remains after more people head back to the office remains to be seen, he adds.
Gwen Moran is a contributing writer for AARP who specializes in business and finance. Her work has appeared in many leading business publications and websites, including Entrepreneur, Kiplinger.com, Newsweek.com and The Los Angeles Times Magazine.
Editor's note: A previous version of this originally was published on May 20, 2021. It has been updated with more recent information.