Return to office | Notes on the Valley | Monith Ilavarasan | |

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By Monith Ilavarasan

Return to office

Uploaded: Jun 29, 2022

When remote work first started, I remember I promised myself that I would never be one of those guys who showed up to a meeting in pajamas. Two years later I found myself on a video call at seven in the morning with a button down on top and basketball shorts on bottom. At least it wasn’t pajamas. My promise to myself was kept alive for one more meeting.

A few months ago I got a new full time gig with a company down in the south bay. As some folks in the Tri-Valley know, the commute to the south bay is a brutal and unforgiving affair. When I first started everybody was still working fully remote, but the offices finally officially reopened a couple months ago. Guidance was handed down that folks need to work with their own teams to figure out a return to office schedule.

Working from home offers an immense amount of advantages for those lucky enough to have that option. The absolute biggest one is saving time and money on commuting. In my prior jobs I worked in San Francisco, and would commute by bus and BART every day. This would amount to three hours total every single day being spent just traveling to and from work.

Working from home my morning commute entails walking to the kitchen to make some breakfast and coffee.

I also was able to enjoy a healthy amount of time flexibility. Appointments around town could finally be scheduled on weekdays and it was much easier to block out one hour to quickly attend to them and come back.

The saved time on the commute and the flexible lunch time allowed me to spend time planning menus, prepping ingredients, and making home cooked meals. It supercharged my love of cooking and allowed me to get in practice every day.

The biggest downside to working from home for me was the loneliness. I loved the impromptu conversations that I was able to have with coworkers when I went into the office. Some of my best work was done walking around the block to the nearest hipster coffee shop while talking through ideas with a coworker.

While you still have meetings constantly with people over virtual calls, the lack of face to face interaction makes building deeper connections hard. Some of my best friends are those who I had met early in my career. We bonded over tough times at work, went out for drinks, and played pick-up basketball. Those relationships and experiences wouldn’t have existed if I had started out my career working from home.

My partner works as a speech language pathologist directly with young kids. There was a brief few months in the heart of the pandemic where remote work was green-lit for her department. Once the first vaccine was rolled out remote work was reduced then phased out all together. Appointments quickly shifted to fully in person.

My partner goes into work every day and at times I actually get envious. She’s able to work directly with her patients and have shared moments with her coworkers. Going in person also helped her to be active in the unionization efforts at Kaiser and play a leading role in her department.

The irony is that as return to office is slowly unrolling, my current team is almost fully distributed across North America. I work directly with folks who work in Austin, Florida, Nova Scotia, and Los Angeles. However I have a few friends and old co-workers who now work in the south bay.

My current schedule is making it down to the office a couple times a week. This allows me to take advantage of working from home on packed days, and arranging times to meet with people in person to build relationships.

It’s a happy medium that I’m thankful I have.