I rarely feel compelled to take a screen grab on my iPhone — much less when it comes to anything about work. But when I read the below on Twitter recently, I couldn’t help myself. I grabbed it for future reference since it encapsulates perfectly my beliefs about home and remote working.

Screenshot by Author from Twitter (original article from The Atlantic)

Many long-term remote workers (a label I wear proudly) know that you don’t have to be loud, visible and present in an office in order to appear or feel important. Significance and impact aren’t the preserve of those who are always at their desks. Productivity doesn’t rely upon being overseen by a manager sitting in the next cubicle.

Some of us simply get on with things quietly, and we like it that way.

Now that thoughts are turning to offices reopening, many are shuddering at the notion that we may be forced back rather than being given the option. We fear that employers will conveniently forget the last 18 or so months when many businesses coped very nicely, thank you. This happened in spite of their workforce not showing up en-masse for 8 or 9 hours each day, and it should be remembered and appreciated.

Many of us aren’t nostalgic for the return to spontaneous brainstorming around the whiteboard. We don’t buy into the notion that great ideas come from conversations around the coffee machine. We don’t need to roll from one meeting to the next to feel valued or to portray the illusion of productivity.

No — all things considered, if they want me back in the office they’ll have to drag me kicking and screaming.

It suits some, but not all

Remote working has become the norm for many since the pandemic. In my own case I was already an enthusiastic home worker before the bat-virus transitioned to humans; for much of the last 10 years as an IT project manager I’ve worked from home as much as I could.

Trips into the office pre-Covid were reserved for meetings that didn’t offer a dial-in option. I’d plan a spontaneous visit at least once every 28 days to ensure that my security pass wasn’t deactivated (true story). But otherwise I worked in my shorts at home and listened to the radio while working, without fear of offending others.

I shared my love of home-working back in 2019, long before it was a forced reality for many. Hopefully you get that I’m not a Johnny-come-lately..

What worries me right now is that governments and employers seem intent on pulling people into the office. My employer’s approach is distinctly softly-softly but there’s a definite sense that they’d like people back where they can see them.

Well I’m here to give you an advanced preview of what I’ll tell them if they force my hand; they’ll have to drag me in, or provide some very compelling reasons why I should return. It may seem phoney-tough right now but I think I’d start looking for a new job it it was mandated without good reason.

The sentiments summarised so perfectly about remote work in The Atlantic have added a little ammunition to my armoury in case things get ugly. One of the cornerstones of my argument is that I’ve demonstrated more than adequately throughout the pandemic (and for years before) is that I can work effectively and to the required standard without being in the office.

What’s more, the types of people that are likely to return voluntarily and willingly will be queueing up to do so anyway as The Atlantic story quite rightly nailed. They’re the ones that businesses should probably be keen to have there too, to keep them focused and, let’s be honest, to keep an eye on too.

Here’s how I see it.

Home working is a blessing

I’m lucky that my job allows home-working, for sure. When Covid struck there was almost zero adaptation required,other than having to deal with my furloughed wife and reluctantly home-schooled kids being around too.

Now that they’re all back in their respective places of work and education I’m enjoying blissful quiet once again. There’s no commute to waste my time, no risk of catching Covid (or any other minor ailment) from someone convinced they’re a hero for coming into work in spite of being sick, and I’m able to fit in exercise and healthy eating around my work.

I bookend my working day with writing so my side-hustle can be progressed in parallel too. That makes me more fulfilled, happy and I think, more rounded as an employee.

I have plentiful interaction with my coworkers via Zoom, Teams, Skype and all the other tools of the trade. Not a day goes by without speaking with other people and I’m more than happy with the level of interaction.

More importantly from my employers perspective, I continue to deliver.

I’ve never needed micromanagement and I’ve never required public praise or recognition to feel motivated. I’m content knowing that I’m putting in the required hours of work and know that if I was underperforming or not delivering then I’d get called out for it. That’s good enough for me.

My team feels motivated and empowered (as far as I can tell at least) and they seem loyal to me and determined to do their best for me and for the company. That wouldn’t be altered by us all sitting within arms reach in an office — not that it would be possible anyway given that we’re spread around four offices on two continents.

In the parlance of The Atlantic — I produce. And I do it willingly, diligently and conscientiously. But also, quietly — I don’t shout about it, and I don’t need to be seen or heard in order to feel good or to feel motivated. I just produce. That’s what I’m paid for, isn’t it?

The people that are likely itching to return see it differently, and they’re the ones described so aptly in The Atlantic. Their way of working is about making sure they’re seen, heard and witnessed — it’s about presenting an illusion or at the very least, an image.

If I’m producing quietly then their preference is to do so (or to appear to do so) very loudly.

I hate noise.

The noisy professional

I’m not judging, for we all have our own ways of getting things done. I can only imagine though that for this segment of my coworkers and others like them, forced home working has been the worst form of purgatory.

  • Their ego demands that they’re seen, heard, noted and recognised — by their managers, their manager’s-manager and their co-workers, not by their kids and their cat.
  • No meeting, call or document is complete until they’ve been seen, heard or noted within it — it’s hard to achieve the same impact when you’re competing via a glitchy Zoom call.
  • To quietly get on with things in the background is anathema to them — if they’re stressed, the world must know about it. If they’ve had a win, they need to tell everyone. If they know the answer, an idea or have a question, they’re the first to shout it out whether anyone else is speaking or not.

These traits aren’t inherently bad necessarily —some just need to feel like they’re seen and heard to feel part of things or to feel motivated. But these aren’t traits that I sympathise with or share.

During enforced remote working they’ve had to find new ways to get what they want and need from work. They’ve gone above and beyond to find new ways to be noticed.

They’re the ones speaking out on every conference call and video chat, regardless of whether they’ve got anything useful, sensible or constructive to add.

They’re the ones showing up on Zoom calls with the most outrageous fancy dress costume for the Virtual Easter Bonnet Parade and the Virtual Christmas Party (yeah — those happened).

They’re the ones competing with grim determination to win the weekly Zoom quiz, seemingly in desperate need of the $10 Amazon voucher (or desperate need of the recognition from having their win announced in a group email afterwards).

I’m more than happy to opt-out of returning to the office environment so that once things are back to normal they have less competition for the attention. Consider it my gift.

Am I missing something?

My parents have been known to use the expression “the squeeky wheel gets the oil” — a nod to the need to speak up and be heard if you want to receive the just rewards. Well, I remain convinced that in work at least I can get more than enough oil by simply doing my job to the best of my ability — quietly.

In the case of having to be present, seen and heard in the workplace in order to feel valued and motivated to work effectively, to feel important — that’s just not me.

I’m happy to keep working away in the background — to keep producing, remotely. I don’t need public plaudits or recognition. I don’t need to tell everyone how busy, stressed or important I am to feel significant. I don’t need to be overseen or micro-managed.

Just keep paying me an honest wage and I’ll keep doing honest days of work in return — from home.

Seem fair?