I hate working from home. I’m based in a big city, and I live in a small one-bedroom apartment. My office has always let people work from home when they needed to, but during the pandemic, we’ve been 100 percent remote. Many of my co-workers have embraced it, in some cases moving to country homes or other cities. But for me, working from home has been extremely isolating. Our jobs don’t lend themselves to a lot of group projects, so now I can go days without talking to any co-workers. When we do have Zoom calls, everyone keeps their cameras off. I usually turn my camera on, just to see if that will motivate others to do the same, but it’s rare that anyone else does.
Pre-pandemic, we were problem-solvers, and there’s an important aspect of our work that happens when someone walks into your office and spontaneously asks if you can talk through a problem with them. That’s completely evaporated. Some people take hours to respond to emails or phone calls, and management doesn’t have any interest in making it happen faster. All the work is getting done, so they don’t care. I’m a very social person, and I really miss the camaraderie of the office and the ability to walk around and bounce ideas off other people. I have expressed concern to my manager about not having enough contact with my co-workers, and she’s tried to help by calling me once a week to check in.
Even now, there’s no urgency to go back to work, and it’s really concerning me. I suspect my office will have a really flexible work-from-home policy and I may be one of only a handful of people who end up going into the office regularly. I fear that when I do go in, I’ll be one of two people in the office. I didn’t sign up to work from home or in an empty office all by myself. It feels selfish to say, but work has changed completely and I’m not okay with the transition to so much remote work. Everyone else loves it, and I hate it. It’s incredibly lonely and isolating, and it has sapped my motivation to work.
How do I communicate this without sounding like the person who wants to ruin everyone’s work-from-home fun? Or am I just stuck and have to accept it and maybe find a new job?
Yeah, it sounds like this is the job now and — like with any other big culture change at work — you have to decide if you can live with it reasonably happily or not.
You’re not alone, though! For some reason, the national narrative about working from home has largely been that everyone loves it, but lots of people feel like you do and can’t stand it. While some of us love working in sweatpants with no one else around and are thrilled by the lack of commute and fewer interruptions, others are lonely or have trouble focusing at home, or feel less efficient or disconnected from colleagues. Or they hate the operational changes that came with the shift to remote work, like having to schedule a call every time they have a quick question for someone, or being on endless Zooms, or no longer getting the sort of “mentoring by osmosis” that can come from overhearing colleagues’ conversations and watching how other people do things. And some people live in spaces that simply aren’t conducive to working from home — they’re stuck working at the dining-room table with housemates’ distracting activity around them or crammed into a tiny bedroom without any room for a real desk. There are lots of legitimate reasons for preferring not to work from home!
But people who love it also have legitimate reasons for loving it. For many people, it’s a dramatic quality-of-life boost — they have more time with their families because they’re not commuting, they’re eating better and saving money on food because their own kitchens are right down the hall, they’re happier not dressing up or wearing shoes, and they can focus better and are more productive without colleagues popping in all the time. I’ve heard from people who are happier working from home than they’ve ever been in their work lives previously and who can’t imagine going back.
Neither of these viewpoints is right or wrong. They’re both legitimate.
The problem in your case sounds like you’ve found yourself at a company where the vast majority of people feel differently than you do. Giving you what you need to be happy would mean taking away something that’s making everyone else happy. That’s very unlikely to happen, at least not without a compelling business need for it. And while you might argue that there is a compelling business need, like being able to do the spontaneous collaborating you mentioned, or being able to reach people more easily when you need them, it sounds like your company’s management doesn’t see it that way. Since all the work is getting done, that’s not an unreasonable stance for them to take! (If the work was done better when more people were in the office — faster, cheaper, higher quality, or with better outcomes — there would be a stronger case for in-person work, but it sounds like they’re happy with how things currently stand.)
Now, if you can point to real problems with the current model — things with a concrete impact on the work itself — you can certainly raise those with your boss. For example, if your colleagues aren’t as accessible now that they’re working at home and that’s causing problems for your workflow, you can raise that. Your manager might need to set better expectations around how quickly your team is expected to respond to messages or otherwise adjust how things work now.
But if it’s mostly about missing the camaraderie of the office and the ability to have spontaneous conversations … that’s probably not going to change if everyone else is happy. (Some of your co-workers would probably tell you that what you see as spontaneous conversations, they see as disruptions to their focus. Others would agree it’s a loss but think it’s trumped by the benefits of getting to work remotely.) That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with what you want, just that it depends on other people wanting it too, and it sounds like they don’t.
Of course, wait to make sure that’s really the case! Right now, it sounds like you’re guessing that almost no one but you will end up going back. But if that does turn out to be correct and your company culture has indeed changed, at that point you’d need to decide if you want to stay in the company as it is rather than as it used to be. I’m sorry for that; I know it’s not what you wanted to hear! But the good news, at least for you, is that there are plenty of companies that are bringing people back to the office, and your preference for being on-site would be a plus to a lot of them. It’s worth looking around at some of those other options and weighing them against your current situation so that you don’t feel as stuck in a situation that isn’t working well for you anymore.
Order Alison Green’s book Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work here. Got a question for her? Email email@example.com. Her advice column appears here every Tuesday.