Missing the Meerkats

I’m losing track of articles flying in my direction about the legalities of forcing people to go back to work. From ‘Bosses Face Tough Job Convincing Office Staff To Return To Work’ to ‘Families Dread Return to Life As They Knew It’ it seems that the media, at least, believe that the transition back to the workplace will be a challenge.

If a CultureAmp survey in Australia is to be believed, about 4 in 5 workers feel confident that they now have the resources and equipment (and one presumes, the self-discipline) to keep working from home. Around 84% of those surveyed felt that they work as effectively at home as they do at the office.  In their survey of 32,000 workers in Australia, only 37% felt safe to return to work because of their commute. And it would seem from early surveys and anecdotal evidence, that a very small number of workers wish to return to a five-day week in an office.  

But is this really a surprise? Is it any wonder that people started to enjoy working in casual clothes every day? Was there anyone who missed standing on a crowded train with their face in someone else’s armpit? In the world of cubicle prairies, where people need to label their food in the communal fridge to save it from being stolen, are we surprised employees report that they like making lunch each day in their own kitchen.

I did a very quick and dirty survey of people I know who have been working from home, and they revealed some interesting responses to two questions; What have you missed and what haven’t you missed?

Maureen said she missed the meerkats. What are the meerkats? I had to ask. “Those people who pop up from their cubicles for a quick chat or stretch, look around to see what’s going on and then sit down again.”  I now have a name for this behaviour.  Also appearing on missed lists were the general camaraderie, communal cakes and the daily decision about what to go out and get for lunch.  Simon missed the clear boundary between work and home.

What didn’t you miss at all? Another colleague came back with an email that simply said; ‘absolutely nothing.’ It had been a long time since his office was remotely sociable or happy, and he could barely recall the last lunch or coffee he had with anyone before Covid. 

Also appearing high on the ‘not missed’ category: having to shave; having to dress; having to wash (an interesting response); the commute; and the inevitable calories from take-away lunches.  Stronger responses included forced socialisation with people one would not choose to mix with, loud, thoughtless people, bad air-conditioning, dirty kitchens, and smelly lunches.  

I have taken some long breaks from full time work over my career. If someone ever asked me what I missed most of all besides the money and some laughs, then I’m afraid the honest answer was the printer. It is so nice to have access to a big expensive printer, when the alternative at home is a little chugalug thing that eats expensive cartridges.  Also never missed – office politics and uncomfortable shoes.  

If you have left work or retired or taken breaks – what did you miss? What didn’t you miss?

I’d love to know.