9 Things You Don’t Want to Admit You Miss About the Office

By Aurora Almalvez June 2nd, 2014

I used to go into an office every day, in a massive building in midtown Manhattan. The daily grind wore me down, so instead of playing out some miserable Dilbert nightmare, I moved to Morocco and became a freelance journalist. After a few years of working from home, it turns out some of the things that seemed so quietly infuriating inside my cubicle are the very things I now miss most.

1. The commute

I miss walking through the weather, getting out my subway card, getting on the train, getting off, and walking to work. It’s the kind of trip that helped my brain transition from bedtime to work mode. The effect is not the same when your commute involves turning over, pulling your laptop from under your bed, and working. But let’s not get carried away. The ideal commute is still less than 15 minutes.

2. The illusion of people judging your work ethic

When you’re a freelancer, your editor will actually judge your work ethic, like your boss does at the office. But there’s something about colleagues possibly catching you checking Facebook that keeps you from checking Facebook. Let’s call it a competitive deterrent to procrastination.

3. Ritual

Most freelancers have an independent streak, and that’s part of what makes the lifestyle work. Every once in a while, though, I could go for a collaborative ritual: weekly status meetings, rounding up money for office birthday parties, and even the daily argument over whether the shared office snack should be a cornflake Ritter Sport or a strawberry cream one. These tasks seemed insanely trivial back then, but it turns out, these little activities reinforce the idea that you’re part of something collective.

4. Office food

Working in an office turns people into hostile, hungry beasts whenever food comes around. Regardless of anyone’s hunger, free donuts and cupcakes are gone within minutes. Splatter homemade stew on the walls of the communal microwave, and get ready for the passive-aggressive emails about how to clean up after yourself. Eating divides people, and it also bonds them. Eating leftover chicken on my couch just doesn’t have the same flare.

5. Technology perks

Good Internet, landlines, printers, scanners, pneumatic tubes, mail chutes, fax and Xerox machines—I miss all office infrastructure. Even if I never had a reason to use a fax machine, I just liked knowing it was there. And free printer paper isn’t free when you stop working in an office. Remember that.

6. Getting dressed

When a friend of mine went freelance, he yielded fully into the temptation of never changing out of his pajamas. Seems harmless and very comfortable if you’re working from your bed, but it went too far too quickly. Eventually, he slid into anti-social behavior like wearing sweats to brunch and neglecting to cut his increasingly long and greasy hair. Getting dressed not only puts you in the right state of mind to work, it also reminds you of the more important social norms that come in handy when you have to venture out of your home office.

As I write this, I am bathed, fully clothed, with makeup and shoes on. No one knows besides me, but it still makes a difference.

7. Separation of work and life

Eventually the need to get out of the place where you eat, sleep, and write is going to be so overwhelming you will have to work in a coffee shop. I hate being this person, but the non-existent line between work and life drives me out of my bedroom and into a Starbucks. Sitting there staring deep into my laptop, mooching electricity and WiFi, taking up precious space that could be filled by many thirstier, hungrier, richer patrons, all while ruining the mood for anyone who’s there to hang out with their friends by giving off a somber library vibe. On top of that, there’s the guilt of inflicting all this for the measly, inconsiderate, low price of a two-dollar coffee-drip. It would be nice not to have to be this person.

8. Office crushes

I used to love turning the corner into the elevator bay and seeing this Italian political analyst standing there, looking rakish in a form-fitting suit with one hand in his pocket. That moment had the potential to make my day, and in my slowest desk-bound doldrums, the anticipation of running into him was enough to entertain me until my next break. Office crushes aren’t really about finding love—they’re about overcoming the mundane with an unexpected human spark during the day.

9. Time

Time is socially defined. When you’re sitting alone at home, there’s no difference between what happens at 9 AM and 5 PM. Walk into an empty office at 7 AM and you will feel like some kind of productivity hero. You’ll shame each person who arrives after you, and that always feels great. At 5 PM, you will feel the office wind down, people will start packing up, letting your brain know the work day is ending. That easy segue into after-work socializing and rehashing the day’s gossip over a beer with your co-workers is pretty nice, too. When time is nothing but a number on a clock, it makes it easy to wake up at noon and throw-off your internal clock.

This is a long list with a lot of longing. But would I trade the freelance life to go back to the office grind? Not a chance, and certainly not if it meant leaving this job. I’d rather just work harder, earn more, and find another Italian political analyst on my own.

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