Another day away from the office

A man is sitting by a window on the first floor of the house that is on the other side of the fence behind me. It’s early August, the weather is sticky and the windows are wide open. He was on the phone “hands free” and was laughing in an interesting way, which showed that a high salary was at stake. He speaks in modern conversations that sound like real conversations but are uncritical and actually carry the terrain into the environment. WTF? I want to scream, but I already know the answer: WFH.

With the exception of Covid-19 itself, working from home is a big story in 2020. I was at home for over 20 years, and most of the time I was before my neighbor started promoting his WFH status on the Exclusion site which remains in silent isolation on my own device. No one cares much about the emotional dynamics of my daily routine. But when the castle vacates the state offices, it becomes national talk.

Even though the government tries to encourage workers to return to work, the house remains at home. Last month it was reported that only 34% of UK employees returned to the office, compared with 83% in France and an average of 68% for key European colleagues. Schools reopened this month, but so far there has been no parental pressure at work.

This resistance was due in part to concerns about the virus and the confusion of conflicting government reports. If seeing more than five friends is no good, how good is it to be around 20 coworkers? But he also focused on the general dissatisfaction with the grind from nine to five. Many people have realized they came to travel for work, office politics, open office banality, and the tyranny of crab and rocket sandwiches. This raises the belief that something deeper and more permanent is happening and raises important questions about how we see work and where we do it.

For example, if you can work from home, does it matter where your home is? Heather Trainer (not her real name) takes remote work to its logical conclusion. As a 57-year-old university administrator, he spends the castle in the apartment he shares with two of his friends – neither of whom exist. Instead, he enjoys the freedom and space that isolation gives him.

Then the friends came back and things got a little tight and tough. So he decided to visit a friend in Crete, where he lived for a few months, with lots of space and a beach nearby.

“You have to control the heat,” he said, noting that it was 32 ° C. “But I’m not complaining.” He didn’t want to evoke bad feelings among his peers and didn’t “advertise” his existence. Only his closest team knows where he is.

“When I met a large group of people,” he explained. “I blur the background or use photos. I feel with Covid-19 I need to have more bunkers.” “

Her boss was “a little reluctant” when she presented her plan, but raised no obstructive objections. Her employer’s concern, she said, was in her case acceptable, “what would it mean if everyone else was doing it?” “This is definitely something to remember,” he admitted.

Remote working has not only changed our understanding of the work community and company ethos, it has also changed our concept of physical reality. Suddenly, to get to Gertrude Stein, he wasn’t around anymore. But if there is no shared space, what can stop employers from following the example of many customer service centers and hiring staff much cheaper in developing countries?

Right now, on a difficult day due to distant social insecurity, few have thought so far. Just as experts have predicted viral pandemics for years, other experts predict a shift to teleworking.

In 1973, a former NASA engineer named Jack Niels wrote a book advocating remote work to reduce traffic congestion. Titled The Telecommunications-Transportation Tradeoff, it was not a bestseller. But he did raise the flag to disperse the staff despite technological limitations at the time.

It was two more years before the term “personal computer” was introduced and another decade before affordable, easy-to-use home computers arrived. Even then, the necessary technology infrastructure – Internet, email, cell phones – is still in its infancy. In the 1990s, working from home was a much more applicable goal for a growing workforce.

Even so, WFH only has a small percentage. In 2001, 678,000 people worked from home. Last year the number increased from around 32.6 million employees to 1.7 million (around 4 million sometimes work from home). Come on lock and over 46% of workers take WFH. In London the number is more than 57%. The telework era has finally arrived.

One of the remote workers is William McCarthy (not his real name), a 40-year-old civil servant employed by a large London liaison group, as he puts it vaguely “with a number of other public bodies”.

For McCarthy, remote work isn’t the great personal freedom he sometimes squeezes out. She’s another person who lives in a shared apartment, which means she’s had some cramped up in her bedroom. This is also the room where he spends his free time online.

“What I do during working hours is very similar to what I do outside of work in front of a laptop. The activities may be different, but it is quite difficult to achieve a psychological separation because the physical activities are almost identical. “”

Of course, work had invaded the supposed sanctuary of the house for quite some time. Many companies expect their employees to respond to emergency emails outside of working hours, especially if they are from a different time zone. McCarthy said he knew people who had access to business email at 2am.

Sometimes she feels that the world on her laptop screen has been reduced to 10 “by 7” and the barrier between work and home has disappeared.

“It’s very easy to let work invade your imagination,” he said. “I have very strict working hours. I don’t come in before 9 am and go out at the end of the day.”

But when he entered he was expected to do a lot more. He toured the city for various meetings. Now all of them are enlarged one by one. “So you can go from meeting to meeting all day long without thinking about what you just heard,” he said. “I thought it was very challenging.”

Efficiency gains are difficult to measure in these circumstances – as many of us may confirm, more meetings does not necessarily mean more productivity. And like many aspects of our work life, productivity is a major business concern. This is also the reason remote work is spreading while the coronavirus is moving so slowly.

Suspicion has long held that working from home is indeed a euphemism to relieve, or rather, breastfeeding after a hangover. Many industries and companies prefer to have employees where they can see them.

In 1999 I decided to work from home. At that time I couldn’t do it and remained an employee, so I became a contract employee. Maybe not the smartest move as the newspapers are getting closer to the flow of the economy, but I’m a new dad and happily released from office. Then there was a brutal turnaround – years later the rules changed and employees could work from home.

However, as the old media became more flexible, some of the new media organizations took a more assertive stance. In 2013, Yahoo CEO Marisa Meyer banned teleworking for the internet giant. To be “the best place to work,” he said, “communication and collaboration will be important, so we have to work side by side.” That is why it is so important that we are all present at our office. “

Apparently, the Yahoo blog suggests that remote workers spend more time off company servers than in the office. The organization McCarthy works for has efficiency initiatives. The traffic light system shows if he or one of his colleagues is busy – red light for busy, green free. If he doesn’t touch the keyboard for a few minutes, the light will turn yellow, signaling his possible absence. After a while it will turn gray which means its location is unknown.

“The aim is to allow for faster communication,” he said, but he added, “the pressure to see it succeed is even greater than the results, which show you are on your side in this case. . “Work at home is a deal. This can feel really sad in a more criminal environment.” “

Research shows that people work differently when they are alone. At first glance, it seems unlikely that emailing co-workers will be. This may not seem as intuitive as you feel there is more reason to communicate via email when you are not in the same building. However, one study found that engineers who share physical space are 20 percent more likely to stay digitally connected than those who work alone.

Again, staying connected doesn’t necessarily mean more productivity. Sean Murray lost his job as insurance at the start of the blockade and later found a bill for a Cardiff company that had been transferred to the government. To get it, she had to go through two zoom interviews and then a phone interview.

“Obviously that’s a little weird,” he said, “because you’re very aware of what you’re saying, but it’s reinforced because you can see yourself in the corner of the screen, almost like feedback.”

The second week he was busy doing work he had never done before.

“I’ve shared the screen with my manager and we’ll see how the bills are processed. But when there’s no one sitting next to you, it’s hard. They miss the nuance of things.”

There is also a community of coworkers. “I found him very lonely and isolated,” he said. Even though there was a group chat on WhatsApp, he didn’t know his peers or their jokes and that only made him feel even more alienated. Then the manager said he had to take 400 bills a day.

Is that possible? He asked himself. “Does that make sense?” I don’t want them to think I’m relaxing. If I were in the office, someone would probably say 300 would be enough. I made 560. When you don’t have distractions, you work all the time. What the boss might want. But then you feel a little tired because there is no natural break. “”

So far, studies on WFH’s performance after the blockade are inconclusive. According to the UK self-reporting survey, 18% of respondents felt more productive and 22% less productive.

Someone who truly believes he is underproductive is Nicola Palmer, a law professor at King’s College, London. She and her husband, a professor of international politics, have three children – aged four and twins who are nearly two.

“Working from home is a very different experience when you have kids, especially around castles,” he said. It’s no coincidence that women with early and middle careers have experienced a notable drop in magazine appearances.

Palmer and her husband share strict and fair parenting, but it doesn’t matter. “The ability to have this space for reflection is very limited,” he said. “The possibility of long-term intellectual work has been excluded. Studying or writing is very difficult.”

Without the responsibilities of university life, his academic friends without children have spoken of an outpouring of writing. In return, Palmer and her husband offer anecdotes about parenting.

One of the things that attracted them to academic life at first was their flexibility as it made it possible to move jobs smoothly between work and home. And he believes the pandemic has accelerated an already underway trend. There will continue to be more online classes, he said, as he campaigns for the benefits of face-to-face teaching and face-to-face meetings.

“We would lose a lot if we lost the physical space of the university,” he warned. “One of the things that needs to change radically is the size of international travel. I don’t think we as an elite can travel the world and attend conferences again. ” Then the webinars will still be around.

There are other important developments in work culture that are likely to accelerate movement. With the advent of personal computers, employee jobs have become more and more similar, as everyone ends up staring at the same computer screen. And because most of the homes are similar and very private, WFH has even removed the quality of the office that differentiates and further obscures professional and personal identities.

Anthropologist James Susman points out in his new book “Work: A Story of How We Spend Our Time” that the work we did in the 19th and 20th centuries is the foundation of our identity. We are what we do.

There is a clear social and imitative element to our work identity and the people we build that are sure to weaken when people are not seen at home. If the professional philosophy that led the Victorian era was this: The more we work, the more aware we become of our personal “potential.” The next question is, how does a less visible identity affect our taste for work?

Although a radically shortened workweek is expected to emerge within a century or so, the time we spend working, including going to work, remains around 45 hours per week. Susman estimated that the work of our predecessor hunters and gatherers was no more than a third of what made our history seem idyllic before the round.

The castle awakens a longing to return to a less busy time, and for many it turns out to be a mass exodus of rats, an escape to the ideal past, despite death and health problems.

In this romantic past, landscapes – historic sights of the collapse of farm work – symbolize freedom and leisure. Likewise, the city was seen as malfunctioning and unhealthy in recent months. In the history of the city in Metropolis, Ben Wilson wrote that in the early 20th century “the traditional city is a place of pessimism, not hope”.

As he claims, this changed towards the end of the last century when cities came back into fashion. All of the most important recent infrastructure initiatives – Crossrail, HS2, “Nordkraftwerk” – are based on urban expansion. In the urban business model, urban centers are revitalized and made more attractive to skilled workers. It is a principle of a coffee culture whereby the destroyed industrial estates have undergone artisanal transformation, followed by gentrification and intensive commercialization.

But now, with all the pressure and social distancing recently, that model is risky. As the coach said: “Under normal circumstances, I really enjoy living in London, but there are less things I like about in London.” A coffee culture cannot succeed without a cafe, and cafes need customers. A recent study found that 88% of those who worked at home during the lockout wanted to retain some capacity to do so: these customers are in no rush to return.

Otherwise, something is missing that is less real but more significant than a cafe. In an article for the New York Times last month, comedian Jerry Seinfeld questioned the idea of ​​remote work: “Everyone hates doing this. Everyone. He hates. You know why? No energy. Energy, posture and personality can’t be” let go “. of the best optical lines though.

No matter how hard I make it without my neighbors moving, Seinfeld is right about energy. It is the life force of great quotes. But the WFH spirit is out of the bottle, and the early signs are that everything Boris Johnson and his cabinet colleagues say is not coming back.

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