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On the podcast "The Diary of a CEO," Malcolm Gladwell recently lectured the American workforce about the importance of returning to the office. Two and half years into a pandemic, working from home is not, he said, in people's best interest.

"If you're just sitting in your pajamas in your bedroom, is that the work life you wanna live? We want you to have a feeling of belonging, and to feel necessary. And if you're not here, it's really hard to do that."

Many people were quick to point out that this was pretty rich coming from an author who does not work in an office. But Gladwell is not alone in his insistence that people need to return to the office to experience the psychological and emotional benefits of in-person contact with colleagues and supervisors. As companies attempt to return the pre-pandemic "normal," it's an argument that has been made in many quarters.

It seems important to point out that the office, and all the congregational workplaces that term stands for, was not created to benefit anyone psychologically or emotionally. It was created for people to do work in the most efficient and least expensive way possible — most efficient and least expensive for employers, that is.

The personal costs of things like commuting, child care, elder care, or figuring out how you're going to get the dog to the vet or yourself to the dentist have almost always been considered, you know, personal. None of the company's business, or responsibility.

Obviously, employers are entitled to make things efficient and inexpensive — and once upon a time, not that long ago, that usually meant keeping the majority of their staff in one place. Initially, even advanced technology demanded congregation. Early computers existed on closed systems; phones had to be dialed; work was often still done on paper with pens and pencils; and blah blah blah I am old and have been working for a long time.

And there has never been anything like a universal office experience. Some employers offered free snacks and cultivated a home-away-from-home atmosphere. Others frowned on even the display of family photographs. More than a few were filled with abusers.

But no employer in the history of work ever thought: "Let's require people to come to offices because offices are so beneficial to their psyches."

Even when technology increasingly made it possible for people to do work off-site, the argument was not "you should come into the office because you will feel better about yourself and your place in the universe" but "you should come into the office because it is more efficient for your boss to know exactly where you are during the work day."

The pandemic forced change. Office-based businesses had to come up with ways to operate remotely or die. These new skills came at a cost, and often involved layoffs, but the argument that the once office-bound masses cannot do their work remotely is now ridiculous.

Which explains management's sudden concern with the psychological damage remote work must be inflicting on their workers. "Honestly, dear workers, we are only thinking of you and your emotional needs. We are concerned that working in your pajamas, with your dog at your feet, is taking a toll on you psychically in ways you may not know."

Give me a break.

I say this as someone who deeply misses being in the office, surrounded by my colleagues and the chattering energy of the newsroom. I recently went in for a few hours and the silence was heavenly. (My house was, at the time, filled with two kids, two dogs, a husband who can't remember passcodes and people doing work on our floors.) It was also deeply sad. I missed, and continue to miss, my coworkers and all the urgent, idle, inspirational, gossipy, irritating, informative conversations I had with them in meetings and in passing.

When I walked into the building, I felt the exquisite reminder that I belonged someplace other than my home, that I was part of something larger than myself. It was wonderful.

It also took me 60 minutes to get there and 90 minutes to get home, which reminded me of the years of frenzied day care drop-offs and pickups, and later days when I left the house before my youngest went to school and got home when she was going to bed.

And as much as I miss all those in-person conversations, I also remember many evenings when my husband would try to speak to me and I would hold up my hand, explaining that if one more adult said one more word to me, I would shatter into a million pieces.

So I both long for the days when everyone was in the office and realize that it is, at best, not always ideal and, at worst, unsustainable. I have put in nine-hour days at the office during which I accomplished very little and six-hour days at home when I accomplished a lot.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer here. Which is precisely the point. Figuring out what work will look like now that we've proved the office is not an absolute necessity will be messy and full of compromise.

After years of being forced by a pandemic to abandon their offices, some people do feel unmoored and lonely, exhausted by attempts to balance work and family literally every five minutes in a limited space. Others cannot imagine returning to a life that requires them to be boxed away for eight-plus of their waking hours five or more days a week, or forced to engage in lengthy meetings or conversations about problems that could be solved with a two-sentence e-mail.

If Gladwell and others are truly concerned about the psychological state of the workforce, they would do well to remember that everyone's needs are different, and those needs often change.

If anything, we should all be rejoicing. Never before has this country's work culture been given such a chance to hit a full-on form-follows-function reset. Never before have we been able to acknowledge that there are days when you are killing it from the comfort of your sofa and days when it really is best to put on clothes with a waistband and sit in a conference room.

Either way, no one needs to be lectured on how dropping our kids at day care the moment it opens or making an hour commute so the boss can find us at a glance is going to make us feel "necessary."

Frankly, it's a little late in the day for employers to be expressing concern about people's existential state. Worry more about providing day care, health care and a living wage, employers. If we miss our colleagues, or the comfort of the office environment, we'll come in.