All of America is looking forward to a vaccine for the Coronavirus and a return to a semblance of a normal life as we knew it. The toll, both human, economic, social and psychological, has been considerable. However many of us who have been working from home since March of 2020 or so are beginning to have a looming sense of dread because we realize that one day soon; in spite of all the positive things associated with the end of this pandemic; one of our life’s dreams may come to an end. We might have to stop working from home and return to our daily commute, to our offices, and to everything that entails. 

Many of us don’t mind the office; the main issue for me is the 1 hour each way commute each way, one hour of which has become extra sleep, and the other of which has become extra time with my family. Vermont is a commuter state; it’s a rural state with a high cost of living and people as a result live all over, where they can afford to; and drive to where the jobs are (cities.) Skipping this daily migration and enjoying small town life for the past six months, many of us have found we are enjoying this new status quo. 

So what’s wrong with commuting; isn’t it supposed to be a time to recharge and reflect on the day ahead? To sip one’s coffee and listed to talk radio? Well for one commuting is dangerous—38,800 people were killed on American roads in 2019. Commuting is bad for the environment-fossil fuel is consumed and expunged as CO2. It is also unhealthy—the stress of heavy traffic and exhaust toxins breathed in are both known to be bad for your health. Lastly its very expensive to commute. Maintaining a car and commuting means you make car payments, pay insurance, gas, maintenance and depreciation costs which comes to $795 per year per mile. Vehicles expenses are second only to homeownership as a drain on family resources; many Americans expensive cars they don’t need (loans on new cars now average 7 years) and commuting adds considerably to that cost.

Some are introverts and are more productive at home; away from the distractions of the office. Others like the office but have a commute that is intolerable. Others have found being home with their spouse and their children to be so challenging that they long for a return to the office; still many others find that they actually prefer the company of their close family, despite it’s challenges, to that of random co-workers. Whatever the reasoning; many of us don’t want to return to the office…ever. 

We know it can’t last forever; we know that companies want us back in the office. Why would they; though? Think of the housing congestion that could be alleviated in cities if seventy percent of commercial real estate were turned into residential. Maybe it could help bring rents down in countless cities across the USA to a more palatable level? Maybe life could be breathed back into countless small cities and towns and rural areas across the USA if a Software Developer could live and work remotely in South Dakota instead of in an RV parked next to Google headquarters? Why would companies, publicly traded companies with accountability to shareholders not want to trim tens of millions of dollars in real estate, tax and facilities expenses from their balance sheets? 

Maybe it’s the illusion of control of the employee; the old school mentality that “if they are home they can’t be working?” In actuality productivity and work hours have gone up since people began working from home. Meetings with managers are still happening, just on a video screen instead of around a conference table. Monthly and quarterly performance reviews are still taking place. Nothing is missing here; but there are still folks that are just uncomfortable with this “temporary solution” become the new way business is done. What about the all important concept of “Corporate Culture.” Most of us would agree that companies have done just fine maintaining practice and feel of corporate culture while we work remotely The celebrations still take place (for a promotion, or a new baby, or a graduation), they just take place on Slack or Teams instead of in the employee common area. A great deal less bad cake is being eaten by everyone; a fringe benefit. The company parties have gone remote for the time being, and the wins and new initiatives are being shared by leadership just the same. This can continue; or those of us that need to can join remote to future gatherings. 

So please; as many are anxious to get back to the office; many of us are equally anxious never to return. To the point where future job searches may include remote work as a must and as a potential deal-breaker. We like getting eight hours of sleep, not commuting, being with our family, avoiding cold and flu season spreaders, and being away from the drama and the stress of an office space. We love our company, our industries, careers, and roles, but we don’t want to go back to the office, pandemic or no pandemic, now or ever. 

Rick Valenta

St. Albans

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