With the pandemic in hindsight, the city’s rhetoric for those of us who have been fortunate enough not to be on the front lines is to return to work.
“Most remote employees do not want to return to their workplace” trumpeted a recent poll. He revealed that barely 5% of workers, forced to return home by the coronavirus a year ago, now wish to return to the office full-time even if the virus is defeated.
I have a friend who is in that 5%. As soon as he was vaccinated, he returned to his office in a mostly abandoned downtown Seattle tower. Why, I asked him?
âThe pandemic started with working from home,â he said. “But it has become life at work.”
That is exactly what I feel. At first, when the pandemic hit, I was ecstatic that I was out of work at all. Then, for months, I felt lucky that I could do it, for the most part, without hiding in overcrowded confined spaces, like grocery store checkers and unsung bus drivers.
But over time something happened – work and home seemed to merge into one. I don’t work harder now. But for some reason I work longer.
People say they like working from home because they can wear loose pants and avoid the commute. But it turns out there is a cost involved in inviting your business to your spare bedroom that you’ve converted into a home office.
Microsoft, to its credit, recognized early on that “we are all participating in a giant, natural and uncontrolled remote working experience.” So they tasked researchers with keeping track of everything from the pitfalls of multitasking at Zoom meetings to worker morale to the unique telecommuting experiences of people with disabilities. The company put nearly 30 research articles on the phenomenon of teleworking since the first confinements last March.
The results are varied, with pros and cons, but one takeaway jumped out at me: The work week has lengthened, by about three to four hours per week.
A new ânight shiftâ has emerged, as communication at work via instant messaging skyrocketed between 6 p.m. and midnight. Remote work also meant more meetings. The researchers monitored the brain waves of some employees during these video meetings and found that “dramatic changes in brain wave patterns, consistent with overwork or stress, began to set in after about two hours.” . (I’m not making this up – they’ve really all become mad scientists at Microsoft and workers attached to electroencephalographic skullcaps).
While work and home became one, “all of those meetings and messages spanned a longer work day,” a summary technological site. âWeekends were no longer off limits when it came to collaboration and work, and more and more people were spending their ‘lunch hours’ sending instant messages with co-workers, suggesting an endless workflow. “
A software developers study found that productivity was on the rise – but listen to some of the reasons why.
âSometimes an idea clicks in the middle of the night, and with working from home, implementing that idea literally takes 2 seconds,â said a Microsoft engineer.
âI feel like I can solve problems more easily since I don’t feel constrained by a clock. I can start a job and cook dinner, then come back to check the results of the job while I leave something in the oven or when I’m done cooking, âanother developer said.
A third said: “Sometimes I feel like I just sit all day and take very little steps to the toilet and the coffee machine.”
The reality of remote working seems to me a bit like when people got smart home devices like Alexa to access the internet, but it turned out to be the device that accessed it. Who does it really benefit?
Now there are some positive results in the research as well, such asâ¦ well, I don’t know, I walked away from the toilet and missed it. But the company just released a 65-page summary report titled “The New Future of Work: Microsoft Research on the Impact of the Pandemic on Work Practices” which I recommend for its frankness and depth.
Is this really the new future of work? I find it strange that after a year of pandemic our society has come to two compelling conclusions: that distance education is a disaster and must be stopped immediately, while remote working is fantastic and must be continued indefinitely. They aren’t really different, are they, with human relationships and connection being crucial for both?
I know, I’ll lose that argument. Remote work is just too practical, the technology too powerful, the soft pants too comfortable.
It may be the pandemic, and working from home in normal times will be less greedy. I am wary though because there are remote work evangelists cropping up now, consultants who hail the power of ‘asynchronous’ work and offer bromides of future work such as’ if productivity was a place, it wouldn’t. would not be an office â.
Here is one that caught my eye, from a remote working “provisioning platform” called Firstbase: âOffices are factories of instant gratification distraction where synchronous work makes it impossible to complete tasks. “
I can’t think of what my soul needs more of right now than to go synchronously to a distraction factory and be surrounded by instant gratification, that is, people, who give back. impossible to accomplish tasks.
In the Before Times, in my company, we called it a ânewsroomâ.