All of this has been enough to make some employers reconsider their future. Much attention has been paid to a small number of influential companies such as Facebook and Twitter, which have announced their elective remote-work policies, as well as to those such as Goldman Sachs, which insisted in February that remote work is a temporary anomaly and not a new normal. But rumors of the office’s death have been greatly exaggerated, as have those of its triumphal return. Most companies are still deciding exactly what their post-pandemic workspaces look like, which means many office-going Americans are about to enter a few months of relative freedom during phased, attendance-capped reopenings. Employers are trying to figure out what they can get away with down the line, and workers are trying to figure out what they can demand.
What would be best for most office workers—and what’s most likely to happen for many of them—is something between the extremes of old-school office work and digital nomadism. What’s right for you might end up being a little further in either direction, depending on how social or siloed your job is, or if you’re a particularly extreme introvert or extrovert. But I’m here to argue for a particular baseline: three days in the office, and two at home.
Working from home certainly can have perks. You can sleep later and sit on your couch. Your boss probably can’t monitor your every move. Even if you have hated remote work during the pandemic, WFH advocates are quick to point out that the experience of the past year is not at all a good barometer of what your remote-work future could be, especially if you’ve had kids at home all day who would otherwise be at school. In a post-pandemic world, even a couple of days a week at home will let people with substantial commutes, for instance, win back a few hours of their time—for sleep, for exercise, for reading a book in the morning, for avoiding after-school child-care fees, for whatever.
Working from home also gives you more control of marginal time in the workday itself. At the office, if you need a break from your computer, that might mean going to stand in line to buy a salad or yet another coffee. At home, it could be washing dishes or folding laundry or doing a grocery run—stuff that would otherwise eat away at personal time. Remote workers can walk their dogs and make sure their packages don’t get snatched off their porch, and they have more flexibility to travel. Working from home can also open up new choices about where to live; even if you’re commuting two or three days a week, you might be able to opt for a more affordable neighborhood, or a town that offers more outdoorsy activities that’s farther away from the office.
But working from home is also not what most people say they want to be doing full-time in the near future. In a 2020 survey from Gensler, an architecture and design firm, more than half of respondents said that they’d ideally split their time between home and the office. (Only 19 percent said that full-time remote work was their ideal setup.) Many people benefit from working and living in separate places. Commutes can have upsides. Last year, I was somewhat embarrassed to realize that I was among the half of American office workers who missed mine; the time I used to spend walking and riding the train every morning provided a psychological in-between, when all I needed to do was let my brain transition into work mode while I listened to a podcast.