It took returning to the office to realize how working from home changed me

·3 min read

I can't work the way I used to before the pandemic.

The hustle and bustle of the newsroom, like many shared office spaces, never used to bother me. I prided myself on being able to deftly juggle duties despite myriad distractions.

Returning to the office after more than two years surprised me. After working from the relative quiet of home for so long, suddenly all the background noise became... noisy.

It's not like my home is a fortress of solitude. My children pepper me with a litany of requests before and after school. My husband, who works from home several days a week, takes calls for meetings. My dog barks boisterously at delivery workers and passersby on the street, and my computer dings an endless stream of notifications.

All those pale in comparison to the volume –  in size and sound – of going back to an open office space with multiple colleagues. Add to that the excitement of seeing people in person again, and it was nearly impossible for me to focus.

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Returning to the office for the first time in more than two years, I found this March 12, 2020 issue of USA TODAY lying on a table. Seeing it was like stumbling onto a time capsule.
Returning to the office for the first time in more than two years, I found this March 12, 2020 issue of USA TODAY lying on a table. Seeing it was like stumbling onto a time capsule.

There was so much to catch up on, and it was way more natural casually swinging by people's desks than hitting them up in Microsoft Teams. I reveled in the opportunity to step out with dear colleagues for Starbucks instead of taking the usual 13 steps from my dining room turned home office to my Keurig machine. That could not have helped with my productivity.

Roughly 60% of workers whose jobs can be done from home choose to go in to work primarily because they feel more productive there, according to Pew Research Center findings from February.

Not me. Other than attending a few meetings and a fleeting attempt at writing, I got very little done and wound up finishing up at home later.

USA TODAY travel reporter Eve Chen works from her home office in May 2022.
USA TODAY travel reporter Eve Chen works from her home office in May 2022.

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Thankfully, I have the privilege of choosing whether to work from home or go to the office. Sixty percent of U.S. workers don't have that choice, according to the same Pew survey.

Perhaps I could get back into the swing of things with time and as the thrill of seeing so many familiar faces in the flesh wears off, but there are two other big factors keeping me at home.

Most notable is the 1.5-hour roundtrip commute I'm no longer willing to make every weekday. That's half an hour longer than the average American's commute, according to the U.S. Census, and it eats into time that I treasure with family.

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The second factor is the gas money all that driving would take, especially with the national average now at $4.42 per gallon, according to AAA. It's less where I live, but it's still not cheap.

It's all too much to make going to the office worth it for me, at least regularly. Count me as part of the 78% of workers currently working from home who plan to continue doing so after the pandemic, according to Pew.

You can follow USA TODAY reporter Eve Chen on Twitter @chenwilliams and subscribe to our free Daily Money newsletter here for personal finance tips and business news every Monday through Friday morning.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Return to office 2022 brings back commute, more distractions than home

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