Minimum Viable Office

Is getting people back in the office just a boomer power play?

Quote of the Moment

If you think you’re burned out, you’re burned out, and if you don’t think you’re burned out, you’re burned out.

Jill Lepore, Burnout: Modern Affliction or Human Condition?


In Return to Office: Employees Are Quitting Instead of Giving Up Work From Home, Anders Melin and Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou report on recent research showing that many would quit their jobs if forced to return to the office, especially younger workers:

Only about 28% of U.S. office workers are back at their buildings, according to an index of 10 metro areas compiled by security company Kastle Systems. Many employers are still being lenient with policies as the virus lingers, vaccinations continue to roll out and childcare situations remain erratic.

But as office returns accelerate, some employees may want different options. A May survey of 1,000 U.S. adults showed that 39% would consider quitting if their employers weren’t flexible about remote work. The generational difference is clear: Among millennials and Gen Z, that figure was 49%, according to the poll by Morning Consult on behalf of Bloomberg News.

I guess they didn’t ask about office politics, performative meetings, and endless interruptions.

It appears that senior execs don't want to adopt minimum viable office policies, which I define as one to two days in the office per week (or equivalent).

[Prior to today, I was using the term ‘minimum office’ for ‘minimum viable office’. I will be updating those older posts with MVO.]

The tension between employees’ reluctance to return to the office and employers’ wish to get asses back in seats is going to define the fabric of the workplace — both real and virtual — for quite some time.

I love this quote, from Portia Twidt, who quit her job after being compelled to come to the office for a 360-second meeting:

If anything, the past year has proved that lots of work can be done from anywhere, sans lengthy commutes on crowded trains or highways. Some people have moved. Others have lingering worries about the virus and vaccine-hesitant colleagues.

And for Twidt, there’s also the notion that some bosses, particularly those of a generation less familiar to remote work, are eager to regain tight control of their minions.

“They feel like we’re not working if they can’t see us,” she said. “It’s a boomer power-play.”

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I read about developing a ‘rest ethic’ in How to Take a Break by Rob Walker, which is, of course, positioned as a way to be more productive. Personally, I like the idea of rest for its own sake. But, he makes good points:

The point isn’t just that it’s nice to goof off every so often — it’s that it’s necessary. And that’s true even if your ultimate goal is doing better work: Downtime allows the brain to make new connections and better decisions. Multiple studies have found that sustained mental attention without breaks is depleting, leading to inferior performance and decision-making.

In short, the prefrontal cortex — where goal-oriented and executive-function thinking goes on — can get worn down, potentially resulting in “decision fatigue.” A variety of research finds that even simple remedies like a walk in nature or a nap can replenish the brain and ultimately improve mental performance.

Walker obviously had a long talk with John Fitch, the co-author with Max Frenzel of Time Off.

For some, the advice to simply unplug or “do nothing” feels like a dead end; you need something to fill that space, or you just end up ruminating about work all over again. Mr. Fitch recommends an exercise called “More of, less of” — periodically taking a chunk of time to list both what you want more of and less of in your life. It’s a “higher altitude” analysis to pull you out of the day-to-day rut of reacting to other people’s stimuli and help you focus on what you need to create, and get rid of, in your life.

Similarly, if you add to your routine a simple walk around the block to clear your head, make sure you really clear it. Spending the whole time checking social media and monitoring your step count is not a quality break. Leave your phone behind, and make a point to notice something new and different on every walk. Turning the walk into a game ensures that your mind is engaged with the world rather than brooding about the work you’re supposedly taking a break from.

But wait — don’t such ideas sound kind of like another form of work? More goal-oriented tasks intended to boost productivity in the long run? Is developing a rest ethic ultimately another job? Perhaps so. But then again, maybe that’s the only language the unhealthily work-obsessed really understand.

I really clicked with the ‘more of, less of’ exercise. I wonder if Work Futures readers are doing something along those lines, now? If so, please share in the comments if you are.