The Only Black Guy in the Office

My Neighbors Are the Worst Thing About WFH

When the challenges of remote work are all around you

Illustration: Michael Kennedy

The remote work revolution has changed life as we know it for corporate folks like myself. And while I’m on the record singing the praises of working from home, I’d like to set the record straight: It’s not without its faults.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed my weekday afternoon naps and time away from co-workers. But I’ve also come to realize that before the pandemic, we were putting a little bit too much gas on working from home. Is WFH convenient? You bet your ass it is. Waking up and not having to get out of bed — or get in the shower or get dressed because I’m taking all my meetings with the camera off — is a lifestyle I’ve come to appreciate.

But what has actually depreciated is my personal satisfaction with my apartment, my building, and my neighbors.

Let’s start with my own pad, a modest one-bedroom with a nice view. It’s one of those places that often garner compliments from first-time guests after they return from the bathroom. You know what I’m talking about. They walk out, still drying their hands with a paper towel, look around, and say, “Wow, you’ve got a nice place here.” I’ve always appreciated that because I felt the same way. But about three months into the pandemic, I started to realize that what I had is not enough. When my lease is up in a few months, I’m going to be looking like I’m a client on Selling Sunset because I need something different.

Specifically, I need a building that can help a brother out when it comes to maintenance. I may not live in The PJs, but our super, Randy, has the apathy of Thurgood Stubbs. Which I wouldn’t care about if it didn’t infringe on my own work performance. Dude almost never comes to the building, and when he does, he tries to get everything done in one day. It’s inefficient as hell. While I’ve successfully plunged a toilet back in my day, I’m no Black Tim “The Toolman” Taylor, which usually leaves me at Randy’s mercy when things go haywire at home.

The true value in remote work isn’t necessarily the fact that it’s happening from your own residence; it’s that it’s not happening at the office.

A month ago, my kitchen sink randomly started leaking. And while Randy promised to come take a look as soon as possible, I knew that could take days. So I rolled up my sleeves and aimlessly poked around under the sink, losing track of time and logging in a few minutes late for a Zoom meeting as a result. Ugh.

(Speaking of video conferences, due to my apartment’s ancient infrastructure, we’re apparently not equipped to receive Fios service, which means our internet connectivity is more than seldom subpar. With the number of times I’ve been told I’m frozen on calls, you’d think I lived in Antarctica. Burr!)

There are other obstacles that WFH has presented. Since my name is the first in my building’s intercom directory, I’m the default buzzer for delivery workers who are too lazy to find the appropriate resident receiving a package or food order. All due respect to essential workers, but with an average of damn near four rings a day — for deliveries that are rarely my own — I just want to tell them to buzz off.

Last but not least, my neighbors have replaced my former officemates as daily distractions of choice. An opera singer lives in the apartment directly below mine, which means her practice sessions can sound less like music and more like cries for help. There’s just so much drama in whatever she’s singing that on several occasions while I’ve been speaking in a meeting, I’m concerned that my co-workers think a murder or violent sex is happening somewhere in my background.

There are other offenders: the neighbor with a dog whose barks are so loud that you’d think it was living in my unit; the grunting fitness buff who racked up on free weights last year and slams them on the floor during workouts like he’s at the damn gym; the new parents across the hall whose bundle of joy gets to crying for hours at a time at approximately 1 a.m. and 1 p.m. daily.

The list of grievances can go on, but honestly, after more than a year of working from home, I’m sure lots of folks have their own issues, whether tending to their own households during work hours or simply being thirsty for a change of scenery. My solution to the WFH woes is to get an escape by popping out to a cafe for a few hours a couple of times a week. Because let’s be real — the true value in remote work isn’t necessarily the fact that it’s happening from your own residence; it’s that it’s not happening at the office.

Do you know him? Is it you? The trials and tribulations of a Black man navigating corporate life.

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