Back to Office, aka latent conflict in society.

We are experiencing quite a paradox. There is a broad consensus in society that children must go back to school and not be left at home for another year. However, as far as we parents are concerned, there is no longer such a consensus and many of us would like to enjoy that combined regime where we are almost always at home and only occasionally pop into the office. If only to pick up more staples. But what would a Lidl shop assistant say? Has anyone asked her what she thinks about flexible working?

Over the past two years, virtual collaboration has become the standard. All offices have become orphaned, Zoom and Microsoft Teams have become the applications that usually run first on a company laptop. We ditched the suits, and just shirts and boxers became enough. We got used to the idea that we should also show up at the office every day and have real interactions with our colleagues. There are pros and cons to this.

We automatically assumed that online learning wasn’t right for the kids. That over time they got lazy, lost focus, missed their friends, and generally sucked, at least from a parent’s perspective. Any effort to get kids back into school was appreciated. And hopefully it’ll stay that way.

We all suspect that over the year the kids have learned somehow less, that they won’t be as socially adept at dealing with others, and often the kids have gained a lot of weight too. And being a parent for the first time in a long time was a big chore because the care couldn’t be thrown at the school.

But none of that applies to us adults in offices. We are totally responsible and work from home just as intensely as we would in an office. Contact with our colleagues via webcam and a projected backdrop of a Caribbean island is quite enough for us. We are happy to read and respond to emails.

Is there something wrong with that? With the kids, we know that staying home hasn’t done them any good. For us adults, on the other hand, we think we are more productive and creative and faster at home than we are in the office. Of course, I understand the transportation arguments, but I don’t really buy the other ones.

Try a little experiment at home. Pick a slightly conflicting topic like your next vacation. When will it be, where will it be, what will be done, what will be the budget, and what are the mandatory joint activities. And do it by video conference. You’ll definitely come to an agreement, it’s just that everyone will perceive the agreement in their own way. As you don’t see yourself in the whole and don’t know what other people’s reactions are, it’s hard to read people.

And we expect that to sort of work itself out at work. Yes, we have heaps of agreements, but often that lacks follow-up and action. Time will tell which companies caught a better breath - whether those in offices or those that left employees at home.

And what about the social conflict? Can you imagine the look on the face of, say, a Lidl shop assistant when discussing working from home. That’s the person on the front line who looked after us all during the pandemic. She probably had kids at home too. She just had the misfortune to have a Plexiglas window in front of her and be told that working all day in a hood was great.

Nobody cared how she took care of the kids, she had to work as expected. And the rest of us don’t realize how rakish our debates and return to the office can be. And how deep the invisible ditches in our society we dig by forgetting the large groups of people in our society that no one asks how they would like it.

And one day we could pay dearly for that.