In-office work has problems too

Catherine Merrill, the CEO of Washingtonian magazine, wrote an opt-ed in The Washington Post about remote work. Her staff at the magazine didn’t like her opinion and went on strike. It seems understandable when your CEO writes: "So although there might be some pains and anxiety going back into the office, the biggest benefit for workers may be simple job security." That sounds like a threat.

Remote work doesn’t fit for every industry and every type of work or worker, but some of the benefits laid out by Merrill about in-person office work seem antiquated.

> "I’ve found a great sense of pride in how well our teams have done during the past year. However, we all started at a place where we and our employees knew one another, which made remote work considerably easier and more productive. We also could rely on office cultures — established practices, unspoken rules and shared values, established over years in large part by people interacting in person."

While an established in-person company culture may have influenced employee behavior in the first few months of remote work, to think it is the same company culture today as it was at the beginning of the pandemic is to not understand how company culture works.

Company culture is not static. It can potentially change for the better or worse with each new hire. It can change when a once highly esteemed employee turns cancerous and infects company culture. It can change with changing with societal attitudes regardless of what company leadership wants (see the recent drama at Basecamp when its leadership wanted to make their company apolitical.)

No doubt that employees have developed new cultural normals brought on by remote work and those cultural norms will return to the office with them and continue to evolve because culture evolves.

> "How will we persuade new employees to come aboard, and, more importantly, stay, if they don’t have leaders they can build solid in-person relationships with?"

The idea that you can’t build a relationship without being in person is ridiculous. My company has been remote since 2014. In that time I’ve only met one out-of-state employee (we’re based in California). Our company is not unique. Look at Automattic the makers of WordPress and Basecamp (even with all its current problems). There are probably more that I don’t know about.

> "The “Do you have three minutes to discuss X?” These encounters will happen. Information will be shared. Decisions will be made. Maybe if you are at home you’ll be Zoomed in, but probably not. As one CEO put it, “There is no such thing as a three-minute Zoom.”

There is no such thing as "three minutes to discuss X." These spontaneous interruptions are the plague of office work. "Serendipitous" collaboration is a euphemism for productivity killer.