In June 2020, two and a half months after COVID forced the world as we knew it to a grinding halt and the words “quarantine” and “social distancing” suddenly entered our vernacular, Susy Chandler found herself crying inside of her Asheville, NC home. The mother of two, who’s worked as the Associate Director of Community Engagement at Lenoir-Rhyne University Asheville for the last five years, is a self-described extrovert. The sudden change in her work structure had left her feeling isolated and alone, and the uncertainty was taking a toll.
“I missed people, I missed feeling normal,” she says.
When Chandler was first instructed to work from home in mid March 2020, she’d imagined it being a two-week stint. But that’s not how things unfolded. Like millions of others, Chandler was forced to adapt to a new world that involved meeting with colleagues via video, responding to emails while prepping dinner, and generally grappling with increasingly blurred lines between work and personal life. She picked up new hobbies to cope, including jogging, and started clocking 30 miles per week alongside a few neighbors.
Today, Chandler is back in the office working full-time and is thrilled to be there.
Working remotely is often glamorized by freelancers and digital nomads typing part-time on their laptops from exotic locales—and many full-time employees joined the WFH ranks during the pandemic and haven’t looked back. But 100% remote work isn’t for everyone. There are workers who not only struggle, but also outright lament having to perform their jobs away from the office.
We spoke with some professionals who are openly excited to be back on-site. Here are four reasons why they’re celebrating the return.
1. The boundaries between work and life are easier to see.
Being back in the office “delineates the weekends again,” Chandler says. When she was working from home, “Weekdays ran into weekends and there was nothing to look forward to or enjoy on Saturday and Sunday. Everything was blurred together.”
Now, Chandler says she’s making more family plans on the weekends and sticking to them. Most recently, she took her son to get his first library card, which was a “big hit.” It’s a simple and seemingly mundane task, but one that Chandler is afraid she’d have pushed to the backburner had she been keeping an eye on her email over the weekend as she often did while working remotely.
When you leave the office at the end of the day, it signals a pause in work until the following morning, but when the computer is sitting open in the middle of a personal living space it can be hard to ignore. While it’s completely possible to establish work-life boundaries when working from home, for some people, Chandler included, physically going into a designated office setting is what’s needed to draw a definitive line between these two worlds.
“Perhaps it’s the evolution of living in a pandemic,” says Chandler. Returning to the office “has helped me savor the time with my kids so much more.”
2. Collaboration happens more fluidly.
For others, it’s that elevated level of collaboration that occurs when you’re in the same physical space.
“At the Library of Congress, we have a true ‘hallway’ culture,” says Phoebe Coleman, a program manager for visitor experience at the Washington, D.C. cultural institution. “Some of the best collaborations are started by coworkers running into each other in the underground tunnels.”
There’s a lot of sharing of information in this casual setting, she explains, and the same fluid manner of communication didn’t happen when run through the filter of Zoom or Teams. For Coleman, this format of face-to-face collaboration in a more informal ‘hallway’ setting has helped to inspire new projects and aid in the evolution of current ones in a way that she doesn’t think would’ve happened otherwise.
3. Socializing IRL with your coworkers just feels good.
Humans are inherently social creatures. When the pandemic hit, people were forced to spend much of their time at home, limiting social interactions. Those subtle side-eye exchanges with a work bestie during a meeting or casual coffee catch-ups with a few colleagues disappeared overnight. And some people really miss these interactions.
As an extrovert, Kyle MacDonald, Director of Operations at San Jose-based Force by Mojio, echoes this sentiment. “The thing I missed most about working in the office during the pandemic was just being around all of my coworkers,” says MacDonald, who’s been with the GPS vehicle tracking software company for eight years. “Simply being around them gives me a lot of energy.”
MacDonald notes that his productivity levels wavered during his time working from home and he suspects it had to do with the lack of interaction. According to the Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, employee satisfaction is strongly linked to friendships at work. Though the study didn’t specifically take into account remote work friendships versus in person ones, for MacDonald, the latter are essential to his well-being.
4. The workday goes by so much faster.
The 9-to-5 in-office experience has a way of feeling more dynamic—with perks that break up, and liven up, the workday and make it go by faster.
The campus that Paige Kuhn works at, for example, is pet-friendly—meaning furry friends are welcome at work and there’s even a dog park. Getting to see her coworkers’ pets since going back to the office has been a big draw for both her and her colleagues. “[We] lighten our days with morning greetings from excited four legged coworkers and [take] afternoon strolls around campus with our pups to beat the 2 PM post-lunch fatigue,” says Kuhn, a Senior Marketing Manager at PetSmart in Phoenix, Arizona.
Fragmenting the work day with a variety of breaks is a proven way to stay focused and, as research has shown, being focused and engaged in something you enjoy plays a big part in how quickly time feels like it’s going by.
The fun breaks have been a welcome change of pace for Kuhn and she’s noticed a positive shift in energy around the campus. Ultimately, she says, it has reinvigorated a sense of purpose in her role. “Going back to the office isn’t for everyone, but I think that as it all shakes out we will be left with a great group of people who are happy to be back,” she says.