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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Help! I’m Sneaking Into My Office. Is This So Wrong?

Dear OOO,

I'm sneaking into my office—which isn't illegal or anything; I'm following company protocol and doing it safely. But most of my colleagues aren't approved to go in, and I know some of them would love to. The secret is, I'm pretty happy to be away from everything else. I tell my family members that I'm going in to use the "better" equipment. I could try to advocate for my colleagues to be allowed in the office too, but I like being here alone, and I am afraid that if I draw attention to the fact that I'm going in, the company will cut off my access too. Should I feel bad about this?


As much as I do enjoy judging people’s life choices, I am pretty poorly equipped to tell you what to feel bad about, Anonymous. I toss and turn at night regretting all sorts of things I’ve done or not done, or just contemplated doing; the vast majority of those things are ones my friends have already told me are too trivial to merit further consideration. Humans as a species are very bad at applying rationality to their own emotions. So not to undercut my own authority, but I am skeptical about how much effect I can have on your guilt.


And you clearly have guilt here. You don’t mention particular colleagues, but I’m guessing you have one or two in mind who you know could really use a break from their own families. Perhaps you even feel that some of these folks deserve the escape more than you do—because their homes are smaller or their kids are louder.

That feeling, I can tell you conclusively, is a lie. I don’t care how much you love your job — work should never be your escape, and any suggestion to the contrary is a trick of pandemic-era capitalism. People don’t need to “deserve” a break from work or home or anything that’s weighing on them. Covid-era suffering is not a competition, and literally everyone needs time away from even the family members they love very much (not to mention the rest of them).

So let me suggest that your sense of shame over hoarding office privileges for yourself is less about the office itself and more about you not having an actual escape, one with no responsibilities or bosses or corporate rulebooks. Can you take a week’s vacation and rent a cabin in the woods by yourself? Can you take an afternoon off and go for a long walk, then indulge in a nap and a delicious meal? Taking time for yourself is more fraught than ever these days, but I’d argue it’s also more important.


But back to the actual content of your question: You don’t need to feel badly about wanting time alone, but slamming the office door behind you isn’t very sporting. As with so many aspects of life under a pandemic, this problem is, however, actually about the system, not individual choices. Shaming you for being a little (understandably!) selfish is pointless; the true issue is that your employer doesn’t have good procedures in place. Tell someone involved in your company’s Covid task force (or whatever they have) that you’re not sure the rules are being equally applied, and that you suspect people on your team may want to work from the office sometimes. This is their problem to solve or at least explain. You could even suggest a system where people can reserve time to come in solo. Then file for a week off.

Dear OOO,

I need a definitive ruling on whether it’s acceptable to eat on Zoom calls. I feel weird about doing it, but none of my coworkers seem to, and I really hate having to push my lunch back when I have a meeting at noon. Should I brave chewing on video?

–James, Oakland, California

I am thrilled to present the Official Rules of Eating on Zooms. Please note that these rules are immutable and nonnegotiable. (Obviously this excludes people who need to eat at a certain time for medical or religious reasons.)

  1. Avoid if possible.
  2. If unavoidable, only eat when your camera is off or you are muted.
  3. If the meeting is with one or two coworkers you know well, eat away. If it’s a larger meeting and/or involves people much more senior to you or that you don’t often talk to, avoid.
  4. Will you be doing a lot of talking in the meeting? If you’re a core participant, you may not eat. If you’re a silent observer, mute (or turn off your video) and carry on.
  5. Choose non-crunchy, non-drippy, non-sloppy foods. No strands of pasta! No salad! No gloriously messy sub sandwiches! No Cheetos! (What are you going to do, lick the dust off your fingers?)
  6. If you need to eat, play it cool—no apologizing for eating on the Zoom, no mention of what you’re eating.

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