The return to work dilemma many of us are facing

By contrast, there are those for whom working at home was neither practicable nor enjoyable. Flexibility is meaningless if it’s really a substitute for working in an environment that’s not fit for purpose. Good mental health isn’t always about the flexibility to stay home but also the choice not to be at home.

Younger members of our team were particularly frustrated because they were confined to bedrooms in share houses for hours at a time. They, quite reasonably, want to meet their colleagues socially. They want to be in the CBD for after-work drinks, not shut away in the suburbs remarking on the thrill of doing a load of washing at midday.

There are also people for whom staying home to stay safe is an impossibility. For women who live with violent partners, being trapped in the house day in and day out during lockdowns often meant an escalation of trauma and risk. As we emerge from the Pandemic, home is the last place those women wish to remain.

Data shows that in the great Retreat home of 2020, we didn’t necessarily lose productivity. In many cases, productivity is soared. One Harvard Business School Professor found that allowing employees to work Wherever they liked – the office, at home, in a cafe, in the local library – led to a 4.4 per cent increase in output. It turns out grown-ups will do the job they’re paid for without someone watching over their shoulder.

I won if it’s not so much that our relationship with the office has changed but that our relationship with the work itself has shifted in a more fundamental way. Are we collectively rejecting pre-Pandemic hustle culture?

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For some, insisting on maintaining the flexibility we’ve enjoyed means leaning in to family and community. Others are seeking to return to the office not to boost output or “be seen” by the boss but because they miss co-workers and the Serendipity of conversation with colleagues.

Given the multitude of competing predilections, I expect to become Universally unpopular within my own team. As the “back to the office” decision-maker, I am resigned to my fate. We’ve each had a taste of the alternative to cubicles, shared fridge space and the tip-tapping of a colleague’s too-loud keyboard. Remarkably, more than a few of us still pine for it. No doubt, everyone will have to compromise.

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