Before the pandemic, there were plenty of reasons to be in the office. Scheduled collaboration, and chance meetings that sometimes proved fruitful. The opportunity to socialize with colleagues, for a casual five minutes or an extended lunch break. Some modicum of distance, however long the commute might be, enforced between work life and personal time.
But in truth, a lot of us came to the office because our employers treated it as the main “proof” that we were working. We were paid to show up and so we did, even as the shift from an industrial to a post-industrial era meant that, for many jobs, there was no longer a physical reason to gather: No machines to work, other than the laptop and the coffee maker. No physical product to create or pack or manipulate. Sometimes that demand for face time was policed by companies unwilling to allow for home-working. Sometimes it was cultural: We felt watched by and responsible to our colleagues, even if they were never in fact judging us.
As a result, many of us resented the office to at least some degree—it was too hot or too cold, too noisy, too far from home. Many pushed back against the imperative to be there all the time, nudging resistant bosses and norms in an attempt to make life more flexible and the non-work parts of it—like picking up kids from school—more manageable. Now the tables have dramatically turned. Forced to work from home suddenly and in vast numbers by the global Covid-19 pandemic, many former office workers are realizing that there are truly things they miss about that space.