How Your Dishwasher can Settle the Return-to-Office Debate

November 3, 2022 by Gregory Offner

Right now (and I can’t even believe I’m saying this) the debate about whether employees should return to the office is still raging.

Despite mountains of data proving that productivity and work-life balance rose while working from home, some leaders say they’re just not convinced.

They know that people just get more done when they’re in an actual office.

Years of experience and hundreds of hours on the golf course have given them a keen sense of what’s really going on in the business; even when they themselves aren’t there.

Executives know that when it comes to numbers regarding productivity and working from home just don’t add up. But an unlikely source might be able to settle this debate without using any numbers, once and for all.

Your dishwasher.

If you were lucky to grow up in a house with a dishwasher, you probably remember that leaving dishes in the sink was – perhaps – one of the great annoyances your parents had with you.

Sure, the dishwasher was right there, but so was the sink.

And what if you did attempt to put your dishes – trying to be a helpful family member – in the dishwasher only to find that (gasp) it was full of clean dishes?

As much as I loved playing the “how many mugs I could hold on one hand?” game (my record is12)…I didn’t have that kind of time.

I’m now supposed to unload the dishwasher and load dishes in when I’m done?

While they both expected compliance with the “no dishes in the sink” rule, my Father added another interesting layer to the task.

He was convinced that there was a proper way to load the dishwasher, too.

I have many memories of walking down the hall into the kitchen, only to see my father standing over a semi-full dishwasher, muttering something about “see you can fit more in here if you just…” and rearranging the positioning of the coffee mugs, spatulas and what not.

It didn’t seem like a very zen or soothing experience for him, but he was insistent that it was important. After years of living in that household, or perhaps just as a coping strategy, I too began to believe that there was a proper way to load the dishwasher.

And then, something changed me forever.

In 2013 I started dating the woman who would later become my wife, and she grew up in a home without a dishwasher. As such, she had never learned where and how dishes were supposed to be placed in a dishwasher.

Despite my excellent attempts to teach her, and despite her compliance with putting the dishes in the dishwasher…she never did it the right way.

So I began – unintentionally – doing a fantastic impression of my father while standing in my own kitchen, muttering “see, if you just move these over here you can fit…” to myself as I rearranged the positioning of the cups and plates in our dishwasher.

But the event that changed me forever happened in 2020.

That same woman (by then my wife, and pregnant with our first child) was seated at our kitchen counter, enjoying her day.

I walked into the kitchen with a dirty plate and silverware from lunch, intending to put it in the dishwasher and take a quick walk outside for some fresh air.

But when I opened the dishwasher door, I just snapped.

Maybe it was the stress of trying to reboot a speaking business in the midst of a pandemic.

Maybe it was the “Groundhogs Day” feel of life at the moment.

All I know for sure is that, in that moment, I saw a lifetime of “this isn’t how we load the mugs” flashing before my eyes and knew it had to stop.

I spun around and said “Look, honey I love you but…” which is never a smart way to start a conversation with a pregnant woman who’s done nothing wrong to you in that moment.

She said “I know what you’re going to say and while this might surprise you, those dishes are going to get clean no matter how you arrange them in the dishwasher. If you want to rearrange them, nobody is going to stop you; but they’ll be clean when they come out either way”

Despite the long term leases, and decisions made pre-pandemic about spending and resource allocation the fact of the matter is that people want to get work done and move on with their life.

Before the pandemic the greatest single source of stress for the average American worker, after money, was the commute.

Commute creep has been increasing steadily since we started tracking these numbers, and as of April 2022 the average commute time in the US was a whopping 52 minutes a day. That’s the average.

Childcare costs are through the roof, up nearly 20% from 2019-2021, with no signs of slowing down.

In fact, the only thing moving too slow these days are the real earnings of the average worker.

Juxtapose that with the perpetually predictable, outsized increase of executive wages (224:1) and we’ve got a set of full-fledged crises on our hands.

But the return-to-work decision isn’t one of them.

Because much like the lesson I’ve learned about loading the dishwasher, it doesn’t matter where the work gets done…just that it gets done.


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