Office sweet office
My Independence Day was the 1st of July. Yes, I know plenty of independence celebrations in July, but this one was different. It was the first day I could opt to go and work behind the desk in the Flux building.
You might say, a desk is a desk and a laptop is a laptop. What’s the big deal? But for me it was a huge difference. Taking my bike to the office and going up the stairs to the ninth floor somehow felt liberating (taking the elevator still felt a little bit like an unnecessary risk). Maybe it was the freedom to choose and maybe it was the fact that I saw colleagues again and could interact with them from a safe distance. Regardless, I know that compared to the months of working from home, I was more focused, more productive and at the end of the day less tired and much happier. Office sweet office indeed!
I can imagine that people, who need to commute using a car or the public transportation system, are very happy to work from home. There is little to enjoy about traffic jams or standing in a crowded train. Working from home offers seemingly more flexibility and potentially shorter working days as commuting is reduced to zero, which for some translates to additional hours of working time. In the first couple of corona months, children were still at home, and so, parents still had to balance family and work. Now that we are 'back to normal' school routine, isn’t it better just to work from home?
An exhaustive list of pros and cons of working from home is beyond the word limit of this column. An interesting study about the impact of working from home was published by professor Nicholas Bloom from Stanford. While his paper showed a significant growth in productivity for employees working from home, the lack of social interaction was eventually seen by many participants in the experiment as a reason to prefer the office environment to working from home. Above all, Bloom fears for a drop in innovation and creativity. According to him, face to face meetings are essential for the creation of new ideas.
The TU/e is where innovation starts. I think we all want to make sure that this motto remains valid even in corona time.
For me, being able to return to my familiar working environment was a true blessing and I dread the possibility that a second wave of corona will force us to move back to working only from home. I am planning to spend every possible working day I can in the office. However, as I share this office with three colleagues, I know that this will have to be limited to one or two days a week.
As far as I am concerned working from the office, while adhering to all the safety regulations that are still in force, should be optional to anyone. I call on the Executive Board to create more flexibility in the policy around access to offices so that those who prefer, can resume working from campus.