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Opinion – the remote working model is worth fighting for

As companies begin to welcome a more hybrid working model, and some scrap working from home altogether, it’s worth remembering what the remote professional lifestyle has changed for the better. 

Perhaps the biggest sign-post of a post-Covid era is the steady return to the office.

Working from home defined the better part of 2020, and remains fundamental to much of the corporate world two years later. For millions of people, it was the best thing to come out of an otherwise gruelling pandemic.

But as companies start pulling their employees from their tracksuits and dining tables, people are weighing up the pros and cons of different ways of working.

While it seems a majority of workers are keen to remain at home at least a few days a week, the mainstream media has been – on the whole – staunchly pro-office.

Common reasons are the lack of camaraderie and networking opportunities that come with joining meetings from our bedrooms. Another is a detriment to learning, with a virtual model making it harder to grab a quick chat, or ask for help when needed.

The biggest debate in the home vs office discussion has revolved around young people. For people in their early 20s, the pandemic has underpinned their professional careers from the moment they started.

‘Generation Work-From-Home’ as they were dubbed by The Atlantic, have purportedly been left to fend for themselves, having to establish structure, routine, and socialisation without the order of an office.

Asia Pietrzyk has compared this lifestyle with her own experience of pre-covid remote work, during a stint as a blog writer in 2009.

‘It took two years for me to meet my co-workers in person, and I often fantasised about eating lunch with a live human being, or even just bumping into one on the way to the bathroom’.

This solitary work structure has certainly become a reality for many young people. But Pietrzyk’s tales of lonely toilet trips aren’t always as bleak as corporations would have you believe.

It’s true that networking is integral to career growth. And certainly, a remote working model can be a detriment to this corporate social climbing.

But for those of us who feel anxious about forging new professional relationships – particularly young people who are just entering this environment for the first time – working from home offers a comfortable ‘easing-in’ to their first career.

When I left university in 2021, I was leaps and bounds from the socially anxious introvert I had been in my teens. Having moved away to study a masters while all my friends went in different directions, I established a comfortability with entering new and unknown environments, and got used to being by myself.

This was a different story, however, when it came to entering the workforce. Besides the fear of the unknown (I had been used to education, the solitary ‘at home’ style of working, and the collaborative structure of seminars) Covid had made it harder than ever to find a job.

Knowing you’re up against millions of other young people, many more qualified and charismatic than yourself, the competitive aspect of entering the workplace can be overwhelming.

Sure, applying for university is riddled with its own obstacles, but having spent upwards of three years studying in pursuit of your dream job, the pressure placed on graduates to jump into stellar careers intensifies year on year.

Covid certainly upended my academic journey, forcing me to miss out on vital social milestones in my final years of university. But when starting my first job, it allowed me to adapt to my new chapter from the comfort of my own home.

Being able to carry a pocket of familiarity with you through a period of profound change was, for me, incredibly beneficial to my performance. It allowed me to establish relationships at my own pace, and gave me more time to focus on my workload.

Also, having studied from my bedroom or alone in a library for the past four years, the solitary aspect of working from home only worked in my favour.

Journalists like Sam Blum have suggested that remote work makes it harder to connect and maintain long-term relationships with your co-workers – in turn impacting young people’s mental health.

I certainly agree that a purely remote model for those living alone would only be a detriment in the long run. But it’s rare to find a company that offers a full-time ‘wfh’ model without the option of coming into the office at least once a week.

And besides, young people are the most sociable demographic on average. We’re more inclined to spend weekends out partying and weeknights with friends than our older co-workers.

Having the option to sit in our pyjamas and spend a few extra hours in bed – in addition to saving on a commute during a time when most of us are scraping by on entry level salaries – is hardly a bad thing. And it certainly doesn’t impact our capacity to work hard or perform well.

If anything, the extra time spent on projects and away from the proverbial water-cooler ensures we complete tasks in ample time to spend a few hours going on walks, sunbathing, or spending time doing things we love.

Surely that’s just as beneficial for our mental health as a fleeting interaction with a co-worker on the way to the bathroom?


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