RTO and a return to office hostility and micro-aggressions

The office is a hostile environment for a lot of people especially if they don't totally fall into the majority behaviors, culture, appearance, or stereotypes. The Work From Home (WFH) shift, during the pandemic, made these people's lives better. 

Post-pandemic management is calling for a Return to Office (RTO) to foster corporate culture and accidental communicationReturn to Office is sending people back to a place where their work is often less important than other factors more subjective factors. Some communication is strongly negative and unwanted. 

Executives and old line managers are pushing for Return to Office (RTO). They rightly call out the advantages of accidental communication and the higher bandwidth decision-making.  I suspect that we will find that the biggest advocates are older, lighter, and more male than those asking for more flexible working relationships. The people calling for RTO either don't understand the side channel stresses of being in the office or don't see the importance because being in the office works for them and thus should work for everyone. The reality is that an office is a hostile place for a lot of people. The current climate of intolerance makes this even more true than in the past.

Work From Home (WFH) has been a major improvement in work-life balance for people who had long commutes, family responsibilities, or have health or other issues. Recapturing commuting time from the dead zone back into family or the personal time has been a real quality of life improvement.  RTO takes all of that away and may force people out of the workforce, a bad outcome for knowledge companies where people are a company's IP.

The 10 hours per week I got back from WFH lets me plan better and get more done.  It is still a win even if I work longer days sometimes or take messages outside the core hours.  

Work From Home reduced interaction conflict, daily microaggressions, and stress. People's appearance, body shape, gender, culture, introverted nature, skin color, and sexual orientation matter less when working remotely. Those characteristics more background noises when people mostly interact virtually or remotely. 

Return to Office (RTO) means a return of all that. It means an entire group of people will have to put up with harassment and denigration on a regular basis. Add in today's move towards political and cultural intolerance and you get a recipe for people to be under assault when they return to working in the office.  Women often still take on an unequal portion of the family care and WFH has created buffer time to make that easier.

People claim that the conflicts are because others are too sensitive when it is really the fact that others are truly insensitive and can't put themselves in the shoes of others because they don't want to or because they don't care about others or have true bias. People bring their intolerance, bias, and rage into the office even if they hide it while claiming it is the fault of those people.

People are the same at all levels of education and pay scales.  A lot of people aren't surprised when Tesla gets sued for racism on the factory floor or there are internet complaints about Amazon warehouse coworkers. They just assume that the hourly workers are less educated and thus have more bias and are more direct about it.  This is wrong and deliberate blindness. You see the same thing happen in professional organizations.  They may just be more subtle about it.

WFH in many ways supports a more diverse workforce that does the straightjacket of RTO.  Management needs to look at why they want RTO and how they intend to provide the same level of diversity support that comes naturally when people don't have to deal with daily micro or major aggressions from coworkers.

Originally I was going to include examples here but everyone has their own.  Ask your coworkers or friends or family. You'll be surprised at their stories.


Revision History

Created 2023 04


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