En español | The pandemic changed the nature of some work in ways we previously may never have thought were possible. Virtually overnight, professionals and office workers were sent home to turn their dining room tables into workstations and laptops into conference rooms. And some even had to share part of that space with a makeshift school.
Now that vaccines are becoming more widely available, more offices are opening their doors to their employees. Companies like Microsoft and Tesla already called at least some workers back. Other organizations are making plans to return to in-office operations this summer or in the fall — even as a recent study by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that more than half of employees would prefer to work from home permanently, even after the pandemic largely subsides in the U.S.
Working from home can be challenging, but it also has its advantages. If your employer is preparing to open the office again, here are seven things you might find yourself missing about working remote.
1. Wardrobe confidential
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 has been working from home for more than a year and is making plans to go back to the office, says that she'll miss not having to deal with hair and makeup, too. “Daily grooming has been very relaxed in the last year,” she says.
2. Work/life blending
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 some 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. A few months ago, she landed a job as senior public relations account manager with PR firm Burdette Ketchum. At first, she worked from home, but she's been back at her company's office for more than two months and she finds that it's tougher to get 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 says. Whether you wanted to get in a quick run during some down time, have lunch with your family members who were also at home, or start dinner a little early, being at home often makes it easier, Elton agrees.
3. 'Down the hall’ commute
Taylor is also not looking forward to restarting her commute, which is at least 40 minutes to and from the office. She has appreciated having that extra time back in her day, she says, time that also 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 — safety issues has been a big relief for many remote workers over the past year.
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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 work-from-home professionals will miss. But he also 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 at work 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 some boundaries between work and home.
4. Disruption control
Even though there are interruptions at home, Taylor feels they're more manageable and that she's more productive overall outside the company office. 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, she says.
"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. (No) home office policies — or politics
Melvin misses the mask-free existence of working from home. Even as the guidance from federal and state authorities shifts, many 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. She doesn't have to wear her mask in her own office but needs to put it on if others stop by. She finds that masks hinder her ability to see expressions, which can help her better understand what's going on in meetings. Her small office has just 15 people, many over age 50 and roughly half of whom have been vaccinated, she says.
She also misses the escape from office politics that working from home can provide.
"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. Increased independence
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 says. She has Zoom meetings, but she keeps the camera off and can also take advantage of downtime more easily to finish up what she has to get done. All the tools and information she needs are right there at home.
Even if you have busy workdays, working remotely 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. Expecting the unexpected
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 so in an office full of people, especially with safety protocols in place, he says. “People are a lot more genuine,” he adds. Whether that shift remains after more people head back to the office remains to be seen, he says.
Gwen Moran is a writer and author specializing 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.