Office are places to be productive, right? Well, focusing on productive aspects of the office misses key elements of the human experience that make going to work worth it. This list isn’t a financial, operational, or organizational argument for the sanctity of the office. Work and the productivity tied to it are only part of what happens during a workday. Entering year three of the pandemic, the absence of the office has left us longing for little graces and perks that can only accrue in person. Here are some of the non-productivity related things that people miss about the office.
Like most of corporate America, I love coffee. A day doesn’t start till I have my first cup, it’s the fuel and focus. The coffee I make at home is good but the coffee at the office is better. Providing workers with coffee is a productivity hack as old as brewing itself. Companies lean into coffee’s magic by providing lots of it. Buying in bulk on the company dime means the quality is better than what most make for themselves at home. Some companies even pay for coffee services. I could better beans and a better brewing set-up but that seems silly if I’m only having 3 or 4 cups a day. Plus, the best coffee is the one you don’t have to make. Seeing quality coffee already made when you enter the break room is a blessing not to be taken for granted. Getting coffee at the office is a ritual sorely missed, depriving us of deliciousness and the conversation with coworkers that often accompanies it.
What’s better than seeing coffee already made in the break room? Free food. Seeing donuts or bagels out to help get your day started is a small joy. It’s not just that it’s free, though that is nice. Rather, the delight of free food is in the surprise. Even Jeff Bezos must enjoy seeing a nice lunch spread of whatever it is he eats. Snacks are a big part of the free food conversation. Sometimes when that 3 pm crash hits, grabbing some fresh fruit, a Clif bar or a string cheese can help you power through. Don’t worry about figuring out lunch, it’s being provided. Every office has its favorite places, seeing the menu of your favorite place circulate is like seeing the school lunch staff serving up square pizza. When you see a box from the best bakery in town sitting in the break room, you can’t help but smile. Unless, of course, you’re dieting.
Are your co-workers your friends? At lunch, the answer is almost always yes. Our school systems instilled within us a deep reverence for lunch, one of the few times during a busty weekday when you get to shed the mantle of responsibility and take care of yourself and, maybe for a brief moment, even have a little fun. A good lunch is as much about taking a break as it is about food. Corporate America has turned lunch into its own ritual. Lunches to welcome co-workers, lunches to celebrate birthdays, and lunches to say goodbye. I may not love all my co-workers, but eating a sandwich I made myself as I silently scroll Instagram is simply not as fun as spontaneous lunch with them.
I’m not saying you should date your co-workers, I’m just saying it does happen. Love is complicated, in the workplace, doubly so. Attraction is often a natural consequence of spending lots of time with people and working closely together, as long as you’re staying away from your boss and any direct reports. We fall for people similar to ourselves, having the same job is a major similarity that can act as a solid foundation. There’s actually evidence to suggest relationships that start at work are more likely to end in marriage if both parties understand the risks. Casual dating in the office is not recommended but if the attraction is serious, mutual and dating co-workers is permitted by workplace policy, then it can be an important part of office culture. Dating during the pandemic has been a nightmare, missing out on potential office romances isn’t helping.
Like with coffee and food, the office had a bigger budget for furniture than most of us do at home. I’m not a cheapskate by any means but there’s no way I’m purchasing a Herman Miller chair for myself at home. My work-from-home setup is nice but it’s nothing compared to what I could have at the office. A sturdy desk, plenty of storage, a comfortable chair, and multiple monitors are luxuries of the office most are not able or willing to replicate in their own space. Better furniture is no small thing, especially considering how long people stay at their desks. There’s a reason the pandemic is pushing lower back and neck issues to all-time highs and it’s directly tied to the furniture we’ve been stuck using.
We spend a lot of time working, creating messes along the way. Spilled coffee, snack wrappers, a messy bathroom. At home, these are your problems to deal with. At work, the diligent custodial staff makes sure your office is like new every morning. Living and working from home feels like being stuck in a loop of vacuuming, taking the trash out, doing dishes, and other menial chores. One of the advantages of working from home is being able to handle those chores when convenient throughout the workday. But at the office, you don’t have to deal with some of those chores at all. A clean and tidy office helps create clean and tidy work and sanitary restrooms are universally appreciated now-a-days.
There’s more to the office than the work we do when we are there. Working from home allows us to avoid the bad part of office work but we’re also missing the good. The daily patterns of modern life cannot be upended without some of the rituals and graces we’ve come to love and expect falling by the wayside. When talking about the value of the office, the conversation must be deeper than productivity