Opinion | Federal workers aren’t the solution to real estate problems

The headline on Michael R. Bloomberg’s Aug. 2 op-ed, “Get federal workers back to work,” was simply wrong. We have never stopped working. This headline probably meant “back to the office,” but the federal government’s real estate issue is not our problem. Nor should federal employees be the solution to D.C.’s commercial real estate problem.

Many federal employees do not have public-facing jobs for which we need to be physically present in a particular building to do our work. Before the pandemic, I commuted more than two hours a day to a government building and then had a full day of calls with agency colleagues in other parts of the country. Now, as a remote worker, I can do the same work without the commute, which means those hours I used to commute I now work. And so do my colleagues. Most nights, I work beyond my “duty hours.” Sometimes I give advice to a colleague on how to handle something tomorrow. SometimesI respond to emails about a new regulatory package. When I was commuting to an office every day, most evenings my laptop would stay in my docking station, because it is too heavy to carry back and forth on the Metro.

And, Mr. Bloomberg, as a government employee, I don’t use a car service.

Donna M. Simonek, Rehoboth Beach, Del.

Though I don’t always find myself agreeing with Michael R. Bloomberg, I wholeheartedly endorse his call for federal workers to return to the office. I’d broaden that to all workers.

On the surface, this could appear to be a curmudgeonly conservative position, but I view it from a liberal and pragmatic perspective — and through the lens of a retired national nonprofit executive with more than 45 years of working experience. Not all workers have the option of working from home — those who work in hotels, restaurants, retail, hospitals, airports, etc. This raises a fairness question, but that’s not my main argument. The workplace, if executed properly, can inspire purpose and build and motivate talent. Trusting relationships built in the workplace lead to culture-building and innovation. New employees, particularly young people new to the workplace, can be thoughtfully nurtured. This is not to say that some of this can’t happen remotely, but the importance of in-person, face-to-face relationships cannot be overlooked.

Three or four days as a minimum in-office requirement seems reasonable to build a strong work culture and meet important personal needs. We should all support a shift from work obsession and for finding an appropriate work-life balance — but working from home a majority of the time isn’t the right solution for employers, employees, the people they serve or the vitality of our cities.

Kudos to Mr. Bloomberg for recognizing this.

Greg Coble, Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Michael R. Bloomberg missed the core reasons people are reluctant to trudge back to an office. Who wants to give up their home office for a cubicle or, worse, 24 inches of table space? Who wants to leave their home desk and chair that are set for their body height and weight to ones that cause back and neck pain? Who wants to go from their home with the temperature set at a comfortable level to an over-air-conditioned building where they shiver all day? Who wants to go from a quiet environment that fosters thinking and problem-solving to sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with a colleague who incessantly pops gum or yaps on Zoom for a good part of the day, or, worse, to a place that pipes in lousy music or turns on white-noise fans — the “noise” in the name is exactly that?

Who wants to leave a well-lit home office with a window that can be opened for a windowless room with no fresh air? Who prefers paying $15 for a workday lunch instead of making a sandwich in his or her own kitchen? Who wants to spend time and money commuting to a workplace that is uncomfortable, distracting and annoying?

If employers want employees to return to the office, they should provide a workspace that is conducive to productivity and one in which workers can do their best.

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