A couple of weeks ago I sat in a room with objectively speaking the world's experts on loneliness at work. The session talked about the skyrocketing levels of loneliness at work. I have --as many-- been lonely for a while due to this pandemic and coming to the room I had a question: Is the emergence of loneliness at work really only bad? Or has the extra time allowed us to have time to breathe and get to meet the stranger in the mirror?
My question was built on the idea that avoiding loneliness has an opportunity cost. Being alone is not always bad. If I am alone but do not need to drive ten hours a week. What will I do with those extra 500 hours a year? Introspect?
Second, being at home might be good for work. You can avoid loads of microaggressions and people speaking over you and undermining your efforts. You avoid overly cold and noisy rooms and the need to use headphones all day. And yes I would miss my family as well.
I am quite arrogant sometimes. And this time I was. I felt that it was an important question to ask. To look at working from home and the loneliness it makes as a tension, something you trade-off. For some, it will be bad. For some less so.
Yet, back then I was given a syllogism:
People who work from home are alone more often than in the office
People who are alone feel lonely
Loneliness feels bad
Therefore people who work from home feel bad. Q.E.D.
But is it? Is it really? Are all the people who quit their jobs for being asked to go back to their commutes and cold offices dumb? I mean their productivity had not declined in the past years. They are choosing to go into a more precarious existence to avoid going to the office. It does not get higher in the salience measure than that. So, should we really just see these people as mistakes? Should these people just go back pollute, stop becoming better people, and drive back to the office? Yes, unequivocally because decades ago there was an RCT done by someone --not in the room-- that showed being lonely at work is bad. Ergo please go to your cubicle!
Funnily enough, after I tried to argue that people might not be dumb, I felt envious. I envied the confidence these people had. I literally cannot imagine how much evidence I would need to accumulate to tell the hundreds of thousands of people who choose to vote with their feet and wallets and leave their offices that they are wrong because my evidence shows it. I cannot fathom how. I really admire this somehow. I will never try to emulate it clearly but it is somehow fun to see them operate.