I have worked on two different product teams in my current job. In both of them, the engineering team (developers) have been remote: in another state, or in Romania. So even if I was forced to return to the office (I haven’t been), the result would be that instead of having Zoom meetings from the comfort of my home office, I could have them from the discomfort of a desk or conference room in an overly brightly lit office an hour’s commute away.

Even when we were all “in the office” back in 2019, when I started at this job, the designers in my silo, including my direct manager, were squeezed into cubicles cheek-by-jowl, leading to everyone except me having their headphones on all the time to cut out distractions. So we communicated via Slack. Same as we do now, working from home.

The staff is spread out over 6 floors. The teams I actually work with, as a UX designer, are not in proximity to me, not even on the same floor. So any notion of “spontaneous innovation combustion” via hallway chats is ridiculous on its face, just for that reason alone. That’s not mentioning that most of my coworkers ate lunch at their desks, while I took a genuine break, went to the lunchroom, and read the newspaper. I didn’t want to use my lunch break as a time to continue in the “work” mental space. It’s called a “break” for a reason.

Now that we've been working remotely for 2+ years, I have MORE spontaneous interaction with coworkers, because we have Slack channels for books, art, and just random stuff. Conversations start there, and I've “met” more people than I did in my cubicle.

I have no doubt that upper management wants to have a sense of “control” by having everyone physically with butts in seats. But my direct manager hasn’t been in the office for 2 years and even as we’ve shifted to hybrid, he still hasn’t gone in. We have our one-on-ones via video calls.

I do think if you’re in your first professional job, that being in physical proximity to coworkers helps you get tuned in to the job and the “culture.” But what happens if a portion of your team is remote or only comes in a few days a week, not the same as yours?

I agree with you that the cost of the office space is a huge factor in the push to come back. But I also wonder if part of the resistance is having to learn different ways of collaborating and interacting, other than bringing people into a conference room to all sit watching a slide presentation?

It has to have occurred to “management” at some level that meetings without purpose don’t make sense in a remote environment. And that, gosh, they aren’t all that excited about learning new technologies to facilitate true collaboration. Sure, when making strategic decisions about the company’s budget and the like, gathering in a meeting room is super important. To design wireframes? Not so much.

To me, no meeting should be held that isn’t going to result in “action items.” But my company sure has a lot of meetings that are nothing more than presentations; they don’t require physical presence, and actually shouldn’t even be held. Make a deck, send us the link.

In any event, in a week, I will be retired. The younger generations can figure it out, 😉

😜 Best curmudgeon in my age class (aspiring). Point guard (retired), artist, designer, snark lover. Often-cynical takes on life as a senior. chrisaraymond.net

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Chris Raymond

😜 Best curmudgeon in my age class (aspiring). Point guard (retired), artist, designer, snark lover. Often-cynical takes on life as a senior. chrisaraymond.net