Why we need our offices

Nury Vittachi

Hong Kong’s humorist on why, at the end of the day, we’ll all need to return to the office

Accountants like their offices. They are far more likely than most other workers to get back to working at their desks despite the pandemic, according to a study by Arizent, a business information company.

Although the survey was taken in the United States, the results partly echo what I saw in Hong Kong. My friends at big finance firms did get back to the office as soon as they could, and very few firms gave up their premises.

Staff at big finance firms hated how remote working issues interrupted their work-hard-to-get-ahead culture. One told me about her ultimate nightmare moment when she had to work from home. “The chairman’s audio kept cutting out and I couldn’t ask him to repeat his instructions a fourth time,” she said. “I just had to guess.”

Yet, a number of business people at smaller firms told me they preferred working at home – despite the fact that Hong Kong flats are tiny – and some are making it permanent.

Eight good things about remote working:

1) In humid Hong Kong, being able to work without trousers is actually a huge deal. Just stretch out your legs and feel the freedom!

2) Remember those random interruptions by co-workers who stop you in the corridor to tell you boring stories? Gone.

3) You have two extra hours in the day from not commuting, so you can get everything done and finish early.

4) Noting down your “working hours” is a creative exercise for your imagination, normally reserved for lawyers writing their “billable hours.”

5) In the office, you don’t dare to cough because everyone else will run for the door. At home you can splutter and hawk to your heart’s content.

6) Your kids can teach you some interesting multitasking tricks, like how to appear to be paying attention during a virtual meeting, all while watching a movie using a picture-in-picture function.

7) You do get some good laughs. There’s always an embarrassing moment when someone on the Zoom call has to say to someone else: “Uh, you’re still sharing.”

8) People who enjoy “casual Friday” can now enjoy the whole week. You can even grade meetings by their level of formality. Level three: Wear a suit. Level two: Smart casual. Level one: Pajamas. Level zero: Zoom-ing from your actual bed.

But there are downsides. Eight bad things about remote working:

1) At least once, you’ll be in a delicate work conversation when the kids arrive home from school screaming something distinctly un-corporate, such as: “Daddy, guess who pooped his pants!”

2) Since most of us live in high-rise blocks, you can guarantee that at least one neighbour a day will be doing noisy renovation work.

3) The cat will push things off your desk.

4) The dog will stare at you until you fetch him a snack.

5) Let’s be honest, there’s at least one co-worker who you find attractive, and you may not see him or her for weeks or months.

6) If your job is selling or negotiating, remote working gives the other party a whole new list of excuses for rejecting you. “Signal’s bad, talk another time, bye.”

7) You can’t end a boring discussion with “well, gotta run” since you have nowhere to go.

8) People don’t take home-workers seriously. Every day or two, your spouse will head for the door, saying: “I’m stepping out, just watch the kids for a while, will you?” Grrrr.

Final verdict?

The present writer, being a freelance journalist, has done long spells of having a desk in an office, and equally long spells of being free of offices.

Ultimately, having an office wins – and not just because you get more done, but for a different reason. Working at home adds kilos. A LOT of kilos.

Nury Vittachi is a bestselling author, columnist, lecturer and TV host. He wrote three storybooks for the Institute, May Moon and the Secrets of the CPAs, May Moon Rescues the World Economy and May Moon’s Book of Choices

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