Q: Unlike almost every person writing about this subject on the internet these days, it seems, I hate working from home. This has nothing to do with monitoring my co-workers’ behavior. I’m a project manager, so my job involves talking to people all day, and I find video and phone calls mentally and emotionally draining.
I recently returned to school. But before that, I worked at a company where the default expectation was that everyone would come to the office five days a week. If you needed to work from home occasionally or even semi-regularly, it was fine as long as you communicated this to your team. We had office locations on the East and West coasts, as well as a handful of remote employees in other cities. Our teams gathered at one of our office locations four times per year, which helped us build camaraderie without feeling like we were constantly on the road.
Ideally, I would return to an environment like this after I graduate. But how do I find it? My soul shrivels at the thought of ending up by myself in an office building on video calls all day, but I also don’t relish the idea of working among colleagues who have been forced back to the office against their inclination. Do I have to resign myself to this?
A: If it seems everyone wants to be a digital nomad, it’s probably because the people you see writing about it most on the internet (like, er, me) are people who are comfortable doing digital work in a virtual environment. For such people, the prospect of a video meeting is less soul-crushing than a commute that lasts longer than the meeting for which they’re traveling.
But for all the pro-remote discourse out there, the data indicate that the majority of jobs are still anchored to an employer’s workplace. And even in jobs that can be performed remotely, many workers have found that going to the office works better for them.
Some workers need a change of scenery and a defined schedule to cue their brains to enter work mode. Some may be new hires struggling to establish themselves. Some might not have a functional office setup at home. And, let’s not forget, “Zoom fatigue” is a documented phenomenon.
The point of this whole debate isn’t to find the One True Work Model. It’s to consider and acknowledge that different models can be equally effective for different people, and to find ways for employers to hear and accommodate what their employees say they need. What we’ve been calling the “Great Resignation” is actually more of a Great Realignment or Great Reassessment. People aren’t just quitting jobs; they’re moving to jobs and employers that suit them better. And you can, too. Here are a few ways to do that:
Target the fields that need in-person workers. Assuming your project management skills are broadly transferrable, there are industries where client demand, security, or other occupational requirements mean jobs must be performed in a central location or conducted offline. Faculty at your school could probably help you brainstorm some fields and companies where that would be the case.
Rethink the concept of “work site.” You might consider whether full-time employment at central headquarters is your only option for face-to-face interaction. Working as a freelance consultant would give you the flexibility to meet clients and colleagues where they are, whether that’s in their homes or local meeting spots.
Market your preferences as an asset. Even in industries where remote work is gaining ground, some employers are firm about retaining the traditional office-default model, and will be explicit about expressing that preference in job listings and interviews. For employers like these, your preference for in-person work could be a selling point: “I find nothing really beats in-person interactions. I was excited to see your ad describing your company as a hands-on, collaborative environment, because that’s where I do my best work.” If the Great Realignment works as expected, others who prefer in-person work will flock to those same employers, meaning you’ll work among people who are there by choice, not coercion.