Yet commentators and politicians keep missing it
Fully agree. If I may, I'd like to share a bit about my own situation, and why the whole remote-work discussion feels very bittersweet to me.
I'm a weld inspector. I work for a company that produces structural steel for bridges and skyscrapers. I'm very happy with my current position, and I've been promised my boss' job when he retires in a few years, so I feel like I'm all set career-wise. The problem is that, as my kids get older, I feel an increasing need to spend more time with them. Sometimes it feels like leaving for work in the morning is a parenting choice. And I know for certain that I will NEVER be able to do my job remotely.
Part of this might be a modernity / corporatization issue. If I had been alive two hundred years ago, I would have been a master blacksmith, supervising a few apprentices, and probably working out of a shop on the ground floor of my house. I would have been completely free to, as you say, change the laundry or put a toddler to bed; I could even just close the shop for the day and goof off with the family if I wanted to.
My point is, there are some jobs—vital, necessary jobs—that I can’t ever see transitioning to remote. And I’m saddened by that, because although your observations are quite correct, they are unfortunately not applicable to a good number of families who would love to have the opportunity to spend more time together.
Working remotely has probably saved my mental health to be brutally honest with you.
Looking back I was slave to commuting five days a week and returning so late that I probably wouldn’t see my kids each night.
Now, I get to see them in the morning and take them to school some days. I see them when they get home and ask them how their day has been. We then have dinner together. I’m less tired and less grumpy (usually) and have energy to play with them.
So yeah, absolutely life changing and my work has similarly benefited from having a better work life balance.
I am certain that most white-collar work is close to or even greater than 80% bullshit, and part of the pushback on remote work comes from bullshitters who realize on some level (consciously or unconsciously) just how much of their perceived value is bullshit.
Anecdotally, I’m way more productive working from home. I get my stuff done on my terms. I don’t have to worry about my environment or being interrupted. I save time on getting ready and commuting and getting food. But more importantly, it seems to me, I’m much *happier*. I’m more likely to look forward to the day’s work and do it with enthusiasm. I have taken great care to build an awesome workstation (custom mechanical keyboard, 4k monitor, standing desk, ergonomic chair, etc etc) and it makes work so much more pleasant. I shudder at the thought of returning to an office desk.
When it comes to relationships, I think you’re a little delusional if you think the most important relationships are the workplace ones. Sure, sometimes you make meaningful connections, but a lot of times you don’t, and your coworkers are just your coworkers. On the other hand, at my previous company we were fully remote following the pandemic but of course we all still lived in the same town, so we would get together every so often for completely non-work-related activities. That seems like the best case scenario to me, if you do happen to have meaningful relationships with your coworkers.
Meetings just aren’t meaningful. They aren’t an important social or productivity tool. When I was in office, meetings felt great, and I think this is because it felt like a break. Now, meetings feel like an interruption, and a waste of time. I think remote work will be a lot more harmonious once we realize that we don’t need to treat zoom meetings as a drop-in replacement for in-person meetings, and in fact that most meetings are a waste of time.
Maybe it's exactly because the point works for both republicans and democrats that it hasn't been picked up. The hot topics all have to be something you can fight over.
1) I don't unstand why that "day in the life" video was considered evidence that the woman didn't actually do any work. She mentions "then I had a meeting" or "where I did some work" several times. She didn't show those meetings or that work, likely because it want that interesting for a TikTok and because it would have arguably been considered corporate espionage to record and post a meeting.
2) I suspect a related benefit to work from home is that it will do some to bring up the birth rate. As you point out, it makes having a kid, or an additional kid significantly easier to handle. If stricter car seat rules can push down the birth rate, not having to have day care set up for when your elementary school kid gets off the bus must certainly help. (Also, lunch breaks when both partners are working from home may help).
Understand the arguments on both sides. One thing I want to drop into the discussion, though, is that I think WFH works in part because many WFHers have a foundation of tacit knowledge gained from being in the office previously. My crude hypothesis is, WFH works but it only works once, and for a limited time before the social capital and knowledge accrued in WF office runs out. Five years? Ten years? On a related note I am worried about incubating the next generation of young professionals. In my case in architecture, which really sucks from home w/o in person collaboration and large drawings and all sorts of heavy and expensive physical stuff best gathered *in an office*.
But maybe I’m wrong and it’s fine. The point about families is a good one, and, it’s actually a great counter balance to the utterly horrific “in our company we’re all family!”
People seem to forget as well that remote work (at scale) is just too new to draw any strong conclusions about work performance or effects on social life, etc., and the fact that performance doesn't seem *too* degraded is supportive of it really working out in the long run. Like, you'd definitely expect productivity to improve over the years as companies and people start to figure it out. I get Freddie's fears about the social de-cohesion, but what if in 10 years it turns out everyone just moved to a farm with all their best friends because none of them have to go in to an office? It seems like we don't even really know yet how things could change, and it feels to me as if the potential for an increase in social cohesion is actually much higher as time goes on.
"I may, self-admittedly, be an extreme case in that my preferred aesthetic could be described as “high-tech pastoral,”
The solarpunk community isn't large, but I don't think it's small enough to make you an extreme case.
Strongly agree, except the only downside is that it kind of makes people need bigger houses.
Like now my husband and I feel we BOTH need our own home office, plus the kid’s bedroom, plus our bedroom, plus a guest bedroom for my mom to stay occasionally.
So it’s suddenly like we need a five bedroom house... I’m not sure how manageable it would be if we were in a city like NYC or SF where homes are more expensive.
It’s like shifting the cost of private space/property onto the employee vs the company.
First of all, "high-tech pastoral" -- into it.
Whether remote work is more productive depends largely on types of work and work styles. I spend much of my time writing content for clients. Remote work is perfect for me. I used to work in an open-plan environment that was not conducive to the level of concentration I need (headphones can only help so much). But my wife's job requires her to constantly mediate between different stakeholders. Remote work has been a challenge for her.
As to striking a better work-life balance, that depends on work culture. My wife's work-life balance has deteriorated during the remote-work era. She works longer hours, attends meetings earlier and later, and there is a weaker demarcation between professional and personal.
I do agree that overall remote work is a social good, but its application is necessarily context-sensitive. There will be a long period of rebalancing.
Thank. My exact thoughts when I read Freddie's piece! I wonder if having/not having children is a big gap here?
Yes of course. I’ve been working at home for 20 years, always thanked the universe for it, and never missed the “office.” In my next life I’ll work either at home or outdoors close to nature.
I'm with you on that aesthetic. My fiancé and I are planning on starting a family soon so we both transitioned to remote work. Now we've moved to Pennsylvania so we can buy a big enough house on a good chunk of land, surrounded by trees, while still being ~30 minutes from Pittsburgh... for the same cost as the median outhouse in California or Massachusetts. We're planning on homeschooling our future kids with all this newfound flexibility, so please keep writing those aristocratic tutoring articles! It feels like the right mix of ingredients is coming together where we could be approaching a tipping point for education in the US.
Working at home for the past 6 years (and mostly remote for the 6 years before that) has been amazing. My relationships with my family improved, I get to see them every day, I work out every day, we eat dinner together every day, etc.
Why would I ever return to an office?
This is so refreshing and reassuring to read after the negativity and pessimism I just browsed on the moms working from home subreddit. (I’m hoping remote work makes having a kid easier in the next 1-2 years...)
I can’t imagine ever taking a non-remote job again.