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After Two Years of Remote Work, Workers Question Office Life


But now some executives are throwing open their office doors, propelled by loosening Covid restrictions and declining cases. Office occupancy across the country reached a pandemic peak of 40 percent in December, dipped because of the Omicron variant and then began to rise again, reaching 38 percent this month, according to data from the security firm Kastle. Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, American Express, Meta, Microsoft, Ford Motor and Citigroup are just a handful of the companies starting to bring some workers back.

When over 700 people responded to The Times’ recent questions about returning to their offices, as well as in interviews with more than two dozen of them, there were myriad reasons people listed for preferring work from home, on top of concerns about Covid safety. They mentioned sunlight, sweatpants, quality time with kids, quality time with cats, more hours to read and run, space to hide the angst of a crummy day or year. But the most strongly argued was about workplace culture.

“There’s not much point in returning to the office if we’re just going back to the old boys’ club,” said Keren Gifford, 37, an information technology worker in Pittsburgh who has not yet been required to return to her office. “What a relief not to have to go in day after day, week after week, and fail at making friends and having fun.”

Many, like Ms. Gifford, realized they felt like they’d spent their careers in spaces built for somebody else. Take something as simple as temperature. Most building thermostats follow a model developed in the 1960s that takes into account, among other factors, the resting metabolic rate of a 40-year-old man weighing 154 pounds, according to a study published in Nature Climate Change. That left women to spend their prepandemic years filling cubicles with shawls, space heaters and blankets they could burrow into “like a burrito.”

Some even kept their desks stocked with fingerless gloves, like Marissa Stein, 37, a staffer at an environmental nonprofit. Once Ms. Stein started working remotely, she could set her home temperature to 68 degrees, a compromise between her husband’s chillier preferences and her own.

“Sometimes I will sneak it up to 70 when my husband isn’t paying attention,” she said.

But that’s just the smallest example of how the office was physically designed to fit the needs of a very specific type of worker.



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