Nobody Has Thought About What Happens if Going Into the Office Gets Cancelled For Good


As governments and corporations alike cast caution to the winds and roll away pandemic precautions, people are worried companies will force workers to come into the office again.

This would suck. The option to WFH is beneficial to just about everyone at every level of society — it’s more inclusive, we’re more productive, and it reduces congestion and pollution.

I save money on commuting and lunches. I get to spend quality time with my cats. I enjoy 3 pm runs flexible schedules and bunking off work early because I’m done for the day.

Forcing employees to come back would be terrible. But what’s concerning to me is nobody has considered the opposite end of the spectrum: what if they kill the office entirely?

The privilege of the home office

When I was a typical 9–5 employee, I spent about $3,000 on my home office, including a laptop, headphones, a desk, a chair, an external monitor, and stationery.

Beyond that, I chose to spend an additional $400 a month on rent on a house that included a home office room. I’m not alone. Research conducted in 2020 found that the average out-of-pocket spend for new WFH-ers was $572. While my company covered up to $1000 of office expenses and the cost of a coworking membership up to $400/month, they did not cover rent or any expenses beyond that.

Luckily, I could afford that expense, and it came in handy once I went freelance. But not everyone can. People are working on couches, squinting at crappy laptop screens, and suffering from backaches because they can’t afford the right office chair with lumbar support.

If companies saw the increases in costs and ponied up, that would be OK. But they haven’t. Some have even suggested the opposite: Deutsche Bank issued a report considering that workers should be taxed 5% for each day they choose to work remotely.

Working from home remains a privilege in two ways. First, only a few can afford to do it comfortably. Second, companies view it as a concession they should get to pay you less for.

Don’t forget WFH can be exploited, too

Many CEOs have posted publically about dragging their employees back, and most are going about it the wrong way — thinly veiled threats and faux concern about “office culture,” typically. This reveals that many companies don’t care about productivity, the environment, or worker happiness. If they did, WFH would be a no-brainer. They simply want someone to control them, even if it’s against their worst interests.

The management conundrum is the issue. Modern offices are made up of people who work and people who manage those workers. The pandemic revealed that those positions are obsolete and can typically accomplish their work without needing to be managed.

“This type of ‘hall monitor’ management, as a practice, is extremely difficult to execute remotely, and thus the coming shift toward permanent all- or part-remote work will lead to a dramatic rethinking of corporate structure…” writes Ed Zitron in the Atlantic.

Corporation leaders and their managerial minions rightly fear that fate. To date, most of their attempts to avoid it have been to reinstate office work.

But other tools at their disposal could become the norm, too. For example, Kerry Krutchik’s experience with a remote law firm: “To get paid, she’d have to comply with a company-mandated facial recognition system for every minute of her contract. If she looked away for too many seconds or shifted in her chair, she’d have to scan her face back in from three separate angles, a process she ended up doing several times a day.”

That’s terrifying, and it’s just one of several instances of corporate surveillance in this article. Corporations have the means to make WFH miserable. Don’t let them make it the only option.

Pressure companies to offer WFH, not commit to it

The danger of the WFH era is that companies realize how foolish they are to force employees to come back into the office. The real risk is that they then weaponize WFH, introducing more surveillance measures and forcing employees to spend their own money on a liveable, workable home office.

As Emil Protalinski wrote in Venture Beat, “Do we want a world where if you don’t have internet, employment is not available to you?”

My nightmare scenario isn’t that I have to go back into the office one day. It’s that the office ceases to exist, and corporations simply pass on the financial burden to their employees while continuing to demand unrealistic productivity standards. Instead, employees should continue to pressure their employers to pay more for working from home or subsidize the costs.

The precedent for exploitation is there: most companies neither subsidize employees for working in higher-rent areas nor compensate them for time lost to lengthy commutes.

To rely on a WFH future means relying on the goodwill and fairness of companies. And I’ll never be sold on that.

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