Why return to office is actually good for you

In the last three years there has been a torrent of people telling us how life-changing work from home has been and there is no turning back. A lot of these conversations start by someone claiming that they saved 3-4 hours a day on commute, and are actually 10 times more productive at home while cuddling with pets and having tea with the wife, all at the same time.

Let’s break down why it’s an exception or a temporary arbitrage at best, and a death spell to all of these jobs at worst, and why these myopic people may need to actually embrace some of the RTO even if it ends up negatively affecting their personal idyllic bubble.

We will set aside such trivial facts that 1. not everyone is good at WFH (or likes it), 2. not every manager/org is good at managing WFH, and 3. not every job or project type is suitable for WFH. Let’s just wave a magic wand and say all these and lack of socializing/fighting for promotions/brainstorming in person are non-issues, and work from home is extremely efficient for all parties involved.

Then we run into an immediate problem: your cozy WFH job can be done not from your home, but from a home in Ahmedabad.

Your WFH job could even possibly be done by an English-native expat beach-bumming it in some tropical paradise like Koh Phangan for like a $1000/month.

Why not? There are plenty of engineering (in my case) graduates in Southeast Asia and anywhere else that’s 10x cheaper than the US. We’ve had plenty of precedents where manufacturing jobs were moved overseas, and during COVID progressive-looking tech companies claimed it’s only fair to pay the same salary anywhere in the US.

Well guess what? That Reddit move hurts everyone who lives in the high cost of living (HCOL) areas, because now they get the same salary as people working from Kentucky but have to spend a ton more on basic necessities.

You could say, screw the HCOL people, they are spoiled anyway, who cares, let them migrate or otherwise fizzle away, the future is everyone WFH from Kentucky and there is no turning back. But why Kentucky and not Bangladesh, Thailand or Guadalajara? If WFH was so efficient, why should the company pay you even a Kentucky salary, when they can pay you a Pakistan salary? The typical hurdles like remoteness, time zones, language barrier and lower-quality education are slowly being removed, with education improving, current remote and asynchronous tools getting better (and Latam being in the same time zone anyway), countries churning out more and more hundreds of thousands of Computer Science (and other engineering) grads.

The fact that for the last 20 years despite having all the modern work tools we’ve only been moderately successful at outsourcing – and many companies are still willing to shell out top bucks for salaries in the US cities – indicates that WFH is probably not going to take over in a massive way. Something still doesn’t fully click with remote, and if you care about your US salary, that’s probably for the better.

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