Why some telecommuters miss working from the office

While working from home is hyped as the future, there's a psychological reason why so many miss the office life

By Nicole Karlis

Senior Writer

Published December 9, 2021 3:00PM (EST)

Woman working from home, feeling angry (Getty Images/stock_colors)
Woman working from home, feeling angry (Getty Images/stock_colors)

It's been nearly two years since many office workers have actually worked in an office.

Long perceived as a luxury of a specific caste of office workers, working from home has become the norm for many during the coronavirus pandemic. At the beginning of 2021, an estimated one in four Americans worked remotely; compare that to 2019, when only 5% of all workers said they regularly worked from home.

Yet while many American workers have fallen in love with telecommuting, others feel that working from home isn't all it's cracked up to be. Indeed, certain aspects of commutation and office life are actually enjoyable to many. This manifests sometimes as nostalgia: In April 2020, TikTok videos surfaced of workers walking on a treadmill with their luggage, pretending to be walking on a tarmac at the airport. According to a survey by Indeed, 50 percent of people surveyed said they missed their commute, and 45 percent said they missed in-person meetings with their co-workers.

As 2022 nears, and many offices are finally gearing up to re-open, not everyone is sad to see their work-from-home life end. In fact, many are looking forward to it. According to a survey by Workhuman for Fortune, more than half of the workers surveyed who are returning to the office say they're "excited" or "happy" for the change. Moreover, there is a psychological explanation as to why some miss the office while others loathe it. 

Laura Rippeon, a licensed clinical social worker providing psychotherapy in Wilmington, North Carolina, tells Salon that socializing is the one, big reason that many miss the office environment.

Many workers, Rippeon said, "might miss having social connections and getting those social needs met."

But if you are one of many office workers who became full-time remote during the pandemic and dreads going back to an office, that isn't unusual. Clinical psychologist Michael Alcee, Ph.D, said one's disposition towards the office depends on whether the office worker in question is an extrovert or an introvert.

"For extroverts, or those who work best under conditions of more structure, working from home can be a nightmare," Alcee says. "There's not enough stimulation and outside energy getting the work momentum going, it's lonely, and there's little room for recharging by chatting with others in and between meetings."

But for introverts, who typically need less social interaction, working from home has been a blessing.

"For the introverts amongst us, it's been a joy and boon to be working from home," Alcee says. "There's less need to have to deal with the in-person energy drain that comes from being around large groups of people and a unique opportunity to carve out time and space in a way that is much more introvert-friendly, especially if we have the option of turning off our Zoom cameras."

In addition to meeting social needs for extroverted people, some people might miss working from an office because it was a physical barrier for work. Rebecca Tolbert, a therapist in Washington DC, tells Salon that the boundaries between some life and work life are now blurred. As a result, some people are finding it difficult to work outside of an office.

"All of your work stress is now associated with your bedroom, a desk in your kitchen, or your home office," Tolbert said. "Before, work stress was associated with your work place."

Tolbert added that working in an office space can, surprisingly, lead to an experience an increase in dopamine levels, a type of neurotransmitter that affects how we feel pleasure.

Want more health and science stories in your inbox? Subscribe to Salon's weekly newsletter The Vulgar Scientist.

"So many studies point to people with close friendships living longer, happier lives . . . when we aren't in a place to build relationships, the loneliness can be emotionally and physically painful," Tolbert said. "Working around other people can increase dopamine, the brain's reward chemical. This can help us focus on tasks."

While this may be true, some people who have already returned to work have a warning to those who will return in 2022: it's not the same. In fact, some people who missed the office now miss working from home after returning to the office— like Saskia Ketz, CEO of Mojomox, a branding company.

"I really miss working from home now that I've gone back to the office," Ketz says. "I found it much more than just the bonus of working in my pajamas, my self-motivation, self-discipline, focus, and concentration seemed to increase with the freedom I had."

Ketz says she longs for the work-from-home life again.

"I feel resentful and wish I was at home in my pajamas with a homemade hot chocolate and a cookie," Ketz says.

Indeed, some people who used to yearn for office life have come around to enjoying the work-from-home one.

"I used to be a proponent of working from my office, but since I set up my own home office, I don't want to change it," says Cathy Mills, director of strategy for Net Influencer. "One of the reasons I no longer miss working from the office is time and mobility; now I feel that I am more productive since I do more activities such as sports, meditation, yoga, and exercises for my mental health."

"All these practices allow me to work much more efficiently and have a balance between my work and professional life," Mills continued.

By Nicole Karlis

Nicole Karlis is a senior writer at Salon, specializing in health and science. Tweet her @nicolekarlis.

MORE FROM Nicole Karlis

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Covid-19 Office Psychology Reporting Working From Home