Hearing Rainfall

Reflections on working from home and why I don't want to go back to onsite work.

Wed, 1 Sep 2021

I can't speak for anybody else, but remote work since March 2020 has been good for me. I haven't spent as much money on gasoline, fast food, snacks, or soft drinks. I've lost almost a hundred pounds. I've improved my diet. I get more exercise. I sleep better. I'm still productive at my day job. Why would I give up a good thing?

I have no reason to go back to onsite work, despite the demands from executives (chronicled by Ed Zitron) that workers fortunate enough to escape the office return. Never mind that COVID-19 and its variants are not likely to be eradicated any time soon. Never mind that vaccines only offer 95% protection at best. Never mind that many people still refuse to get vaccinated and also refuse to wear masks. Management wants people back on-site, pronto.

I am fortunate to work for a firm that has thus far treated the eventual return to onsite work as a decision individuals can and should make for themselves at their own pace. They seem to recognize that while some people miss the bustle of office life and are impatient to dive back in, others might be more reluctant because of health concerns or responsibilities at home that they can't handle from the office.

My reluctance has nothing to do with health or family responsibilities. I am vaccinated, though I still wear a mask in public for other reasons that are none of your concern. I don't have children who need my presence at home. I could return to on-site work if I wanted to, which I don't.

I have a hard time suppressing the urge to laugh when people talk about going "back to the office" because in my case I'd be leaving my office to return to half a desk in a half-height cubicle in the middle of an open-plan hellscape where I can't crank up the headphones high enough to drown out everybody else's "spontaneous conversations" because I'd be risking both hearing loss and a reprimand for disturbing others. I also have a hard time laughing when people talk about being lonely while working at home, especially when they talk to me. As somebody who's introverted being around people is generally a stressful and draining experience. As somebody who's also on the autistic spectrum and thus feels obligated to mask, navigating a world not made for people like me is even more tiresome.

You might be lonely for lack of social interaction in an office, but I was lonelier at the office than I've ever been at home. Having other people around is no good when they aren't your people, and my coworkers aren't my people. They were generally kind enough, but unless they needed or wanted something from me I was part of the scenery.

One might think that I am reluctant to return to on-site work because of the negatives I associate with such working conditions. This is not the whole story. As I write this, the storm formerly known as Hurricane Ida is passing over my house. My windows are open, and I can feel the wind from the southwest and hear the rainfall. It soothes me. I have my cats coming upstairs to visit. My wife is downstairs, and I can visit her for a quick chat and a hug when I want it. Or, if she wants, she can come up and see me. Rather than having headphones clamped to my head, I can play music over a nice pair of speakers; today's a good day for Black Sabbath, Opeth, Gene Loves Jezebel, Joy Division, The Cure, and The Sisters of Mercy.

I have comfortable seating in my office. I have a nice big pedestal fan I can fire up when it gets too warm—and I can take off my shirt in the summer unless I've got to do a video call. I have a bunch of reference manuals in case I need them. With south-facing windows I usually have natural light, and when I don't I can turn on a lamp that gives me enough light. I've got photos of my wife and artwork instead of blank white walls. I get a little exercise every time I walk downstairs to fill my water bottle. I've got kettlebells I can lift if I'm on a conference call and have already said my piece. If I need to put a complicated problem on the back burner, I can go wash the dishes or take care of some other household chore.

Nobody notices how many times I leave my desk to fill my water bottle. Nobody notices if I take a break to write down an idea for a story or an observation about a character. Nobody is pressuring me to have my ass in the seat for 8-10 hours a day. Nobody comes over and leans on the cubicle, staring at me until I finally take off my headphones, look up from my work, and ask them what they want. Nobody seems to care how I go about working as long as I get things done, and my performance reviews suggest that management sees me despite my not being on-site—and they are pleased with what they see.

Why would I go back to on-site work when my current situation works so well for me? I'm not saying you have to be like me, so don't demand that I be like you. Let me bask in the sun before bending down to give my cat a belly rub as he warms himself. Let me listen to the rainfall under melancholy rock and feel the breeze when I'm working.