Open thread time
First off: yes, subscribe to House of Strauss. I can't praise Ethan's writing enough. I'm not a sports guy, at all, but I still look forward to his columns. He could make bird watching interesting.
I worked from home for two years straight. I'm still working from home at least two days a week, and often three, four, or even five. I could talk about it at length, but my take boils down to three general points:
(1) It is a huge step backwards for productivity and personal investment in jobs, companies and careers. I'm very skeptical of people who say that they don't see a drop off in performance for themselves or their teams. I'm an (in-house) attorney and have 13 lawyers under me. I used to be surrounded by my team all day five days a week (not entirely true; some of them have always been remote). Now I can send an email and not get a response for a full day. Plus I have no illusions about myself: I don't MEAN to not be sitting at my desk eight hours a day, it's just so easy to run off to the dentist, or take my kids out to lunch, or run any of a thousand errands that I no longer remember how I ever got done when I was doing 50 a week in the office.
(2) We are in for a giant come to Jesus moment. If my job can be done from home it can be done from any home. They don't need to pay a Manhattan salary to get someone like me. They can find plenty of guys like me in Ohio for half the price. And if they can find someone in Ohio for half my salary, they can find someone in India for 10%. Sure, they could only do 70% of my job, but you do the math.
(3) The last three years have been the greatest three years of my life, pandemic or no pandemic. I have three kids; the oldest is 7, the youngest was born four months before lockdown. My relationship with them (and my wife) is functionally entirely different (and better) than it could possibly have been if I were absent from the house between 7 AM and 7 PM, Monday through Friday. There's just no comparison. I'm involved in their lives in a way so different than I could ever have been otherwise that we shouldn't use the same word to describe it. They aren't two different points on a scale. It's an entirely different animal, a different state of matter.
I could go back to the office more regularly and be OK with it. I expect I'll have to, eventually; this isn't going to last. But I could never COMMUTE three hours a day, five days a week to work in the city again. That's just over: we'll move, leave the State if we have to rather than live that way again.
I've been working at home since the start of lockdowns in March 2020. I like it. I'm free to work whatever hours I want, take breaks whenever I want, I have a really short commute (one end of the house to the other), and I'm not away from my wife all day.
Whether working from home is "good or bad for America" strikes me as the wrong question. I can see that for some lines of work that depend on more in-person socializing, it wouldn't work. But there have been people who worked at home for a long time: artists, writers, some doctors and lawyers who work out of their homes (mostly in small towns or long ago, I suppose). It's not a new thing, it's just become a much bigger thing than it used to be. I suspect things would have trended in that direction even without the pandemic, since modern technology, just within the last several years, has finally made it more practical for many office-oriented jobs to be performed remotely. But the pandemic certainly accelerated the transition.
I only recently started working from home these past 6 months and I agree with Lasagna below. There is clearly a drop in productivity and a loss of some general "intangibles" one gets being surrounded by co-workers. All of my (limited) career advancements to date have come about because of proximity to people within an office and learning about jobs/roles/aspects I would have never encountered had I been secluded to home.
Video meetings are incredibly inefficient compared to in-person meetings.
People are remarkably bad at expressing themselves well in writing (emails and instant messages) and this in turn causes a cascade of confusion that takes more time to clarify. Also lots of instances of two ships passing in the night --Person A says "X" but Person B only hears/reads "Not Y".
There is something to be said for getting dressed and socializing with coworkers throughout the day. Clearly it was very easy for lots of people to devolve into couch-potatoes.
I have been working from home for most of my working career, but I'm also freelance. I grew up on a farm and even before I worked at home, I worked at the college as an adjunct English teacher and as head of the writing lab. All this means, that I've had a lot of autonomy and grew up in an environment where work was never pointless. I tried working a "regular" job, which was producing the evening news at a local TV station, and for a while I worked at an insurance agency and at the local Barnes & Noble. I lasted the longest at the TV station because there seemed to be a point to what I did.
I think when we talk "working from home," we're confusing two things: location and autonomy, and it's really the second that is the clincher. My husband does not "work form home," but he does work for himself. He trims houses and does remodeling and has his own business. In other words, he might not be "at home," but he has autonomy.
And that is what "working from home" has given back to people, a certain level of autonomy. That's why I work for ridiculously low wages given my educational level. I don't do well with being a warm body somewhere. If there's work to do, then I'm happy doing it. But I'm not going to spend time just watching a clock. That's my definition of hell. I know people do it, but I am eternally thankful that I don't have to be one of them and I wish we could find ways to make their shift work more fulfilling and freer.
On the flip side, it can be hard to separate home and work when you work out of your house, and my greater fear is that companies will exploit people and expect them to be on call 24/7, so boundaries need to be set.
Firstly, it sounds like you moved from the city to the suburbs during the pandemic, and part of what you like is living in a place where the ratio between friends and strangers is much higher, which is in general a characteristic of suburbs and small towns versus cities. But I do agree that WFH encouraged more social interaction between neighbors generally, and so if you like your neighbors better than your work colleagues, then, yes, that's an upgrade!