abandoned city

When the Offices Closed…

So on January 31st, my office will be officially closed and I’ll be in a permanent working-from-home situation. I’ve been working from home since March 2020, but now it’s permanent. Covid was the boost my company needed to go digital-only.

Which makes some sense–it’s a big company but with little offices all over the world. A large percentage of my co-workers are in different places and had to be communicated with over e-mail or phone anyway.

I only had a month in my new job before I was relocated. But I’m surprisingly sad that I won’t be going back to it. All the signs say I shouldn’t miss it. There are two sides to every coin in this slot machine.

There's No Way Around the Commute, But Here Are 5 Ways to Make It Better |  Inc.com

On one hand, I’m not missing that commute. From the far suburbs to downtown took three-quarters of an hour (that’s when driving. Using the bus increases it to a full hour for the ecological peace of mind). True, I enjoyed my solitude and my podcast time. But that was a huge time sink.

In my line of work, as a software engineer, I don’t really interact with many people daily. The reason offices exist is so you can easily and immediately approach the others on your team. But that’s not needed with today’s technology. You’ve got chat and e-mail and video calls. This means co-workers can be anywhere. Most of my jobs have involved some outsourced team in India.

Heck, half the time I feel awkward talking to anyone because I’m afraid I’m interrupting. (Because usually the person I need to talk to is a manager who has a billion things on their plate.) Chat means you can leave them a message, and they can respond at their convenience.

Live Chat Should Create Customer Convenience Not Dissatisfaction

The biggest problem with that online meetings is that everyone has a tendency to talk over each other. There are no visual cues to let you know when someone’s about to speak. So your choices are to stop talking and no one hears you or keep talking and no one hears you. But this was a problem before, just not as severe. Everyone always has a different idea on how to solve an issue, and they always want to say their piece. America.

On the other hand, it also means never getting to leave home. That takes a mental toll. It’s like being stuck in a cave or living in Groundhog Day. There is nowhere nice to eat around here. Just a McDonald’s and a Subway. In downtown, there’s a salad place, a gourmet burger place, a NY style deli, Chinese food, gyros, and in the summer, oh, the food trucks would come out into the mall and there would be meat pies and tacos and Korean street BBQ and all sorts of wonderful things.

“Ooh, they had designers then.”

Working at home is an exercise in avoiding temptation. I work in my home office in the basement (which is more like “the room where we store files and also my computer”), so it would be very easy to jump on and start playing video games. No one comes down here. My webcam’s turned off. No one would know. As it is, I feel guilty about catching up on my Netflix, but I suppose that’s okay. It’s my bandwidth now.

Speaking of bandwidth, I’m eating up more now. I keep reaching the limits of what my ISP will provide. Fortunately, because of Covid, they’ve extended those limits, but that ended last month. And my company said (in corporate-ese) that they’re not going to compensate us for the fact that we’re no longer using their lights, their building, their electricity, their bandwidth, their coffee, their printer.

Only people who make a $30,000 salary or lower will get a monthly stipend of $20-$50. They say that covers 40% of the company but who is making that little? This is a company providing technology solutions for patent and trademark docketing. There must be so few people without a post-high school degree. And those that do wouldn’t be using computers to do their job.

And I’m not the only one unhappy about it. Us employees have gone through a year asking “What does a digital-only company look like? What does that mean?” Well, now I know what it looks like. It means we furnish our own offices while they pocket the change they save. I’m not surprised, just disappointed.

Disappointed, but not surprised! | Reactions meme, Stupid memes, Relatable

Plus this is part of a trend. What happens if all the businesses downtown do this? I know a lot of them can. Every business I’ve worked for since college, all I’ve needed was a computer and a network connection. There’s no reason any company couldn’t go digital. They’re all just waiting for the technology to get cheap enough.

Except… what happens when my laptop breaks? I can’t log in to email the helpdesk. I haven’t had a work phone since 2013. And what are the consequences if nobody goes downtown anymore? What happens to all those businesses? Food, parking, infrastructure. Will it become a ghost town? Will it be like Mad Max with kids and homeless people tearing through Hennepin Avenue and Nicollet Mall on electric scooters and abandoned push-pedal cabs?

Conclusion? On the whole, I think I gained more than I lost. But I did lose something. In any decision, you will have to give up something in order to get something. You just have to figure out if it’s worth it.

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at http://www.ericjuneaubooks.com where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.

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