Tuesday, October 19, 2021
HomeCOVID-19Shall I return to the office or not?

Shall I return to the office or not?

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SINCE I began working from home there have been many evenings when I end up passing out on the leather couch in my sitting room in the wee small hours only to wake up disoriented a few hours later and move to the bedroom. Though I start my day at a respectable time (around 9am) I’ll often not bother to brush my hair or change out of my pyjamas until the afternoon.

This is not going to go down well with the PC brigade, but it’s my female friends who prefer to work from home whereas the men I know generally like being in the office. Maybe the married ones need to escape from domesticity to work. But for women, styling the hair, putting on the makeup and finding the right outfit – one that doesn’t cling so much that it’s more suitable for a burlesque show – can all be a bit of a challenge.

The BBC tells us that as lockdown eased many workers have pushed back against returning to the office. So what are the pros and cons? I am more productive at home on tasks like contract drafting and research, but I think of a lot more things to do when I am in the office. Strategic ideas come best in a group setting with flesh and blood people. Certain conversations with the person sitting next to you just wouldn’t happen if you had to reach out over a phone or computer.  

A useful book on working efficiently is Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport. It emphasises losing oneself in focused concentration, without interruptions, avoiding multitasking and finishing the day with a ‘shutdown ritual’. But how does that work when relaxation occurs in the very same room as that all-dominating workstation? 

It might be difficult to concentrate in the office with the inevitable banter, searching for pens, distracting musical playlists and interacting with colleagues. But this is the basis of the cohesion on which companies can thrive. That’s not to mention the associated mental health benefits – being on one’s own all day can be incredibly lonely. At the height of the pandemic I developed such a bad online shopping habit that I had daily visits from a UPS driver. He never wore a mask and his boy-next-door good looks would cheer me up on an otherwise dismal day. Only he gave me a reason to get up and make myself presentable, instead of looking like the Bride of Frankenstein stuck in front of the computer. 

One friend bought a Peloton at the start of the pandemic when she realised in a state of panic that the gyms were going to close and that she’d be stuck at home for months. But not everyone has the luxury of an at-home gym and when the weather turns chillier it will not be easy to motivate oneself to go out for a run. 

Surely telling people to work from home is short-sighted. It can’t be a strategy to improve mental or physical health, or productivity. Along with the rise in depression and alcoholism, it will increase susceptibility to disease. Maybe the game plan is to make people sicker from lack of fresh air so that the past year and a half of pointless policies can be justified. 

My lucky friend balances out her Peloton routines with what she calls ‘soft training’. For those unaware of the term, this refers to drinking on a regular daily basis in moderation so as to stay ‘fit’ for parties. The last thing anyone wants to suddenly discover is, having finally secured an invitation somewhere lovely with a generous serving of champagne, a detox effect has kicked in from a period of ‘flattening the curve’. The only thing that would be flattened in such case is one’s social life after getting shamefully drunk from three glasses.

Like a man who accessorises a tartan shirt with jewellery, I feel a certain kind of cognitive dissonance in my views toward returning to the office. I know I am privileged to have the WFH option but the question is would I be better off without it?

I’ve noticed from my own experience and that of my friends that certain employers are using alcohol-fuelled after-work events to lure reluctant employees back into the office. So, rather than allow my tolerance levels to be depleted, perhaps I had better go ahead and undertake some more employer-sponsored ‘soft training’.

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Bridget Jones 2021
Bridget Jones 2021 is a commercial lawyer with a keen interest in defending civil liberties.

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