Siren calls are great until you crash into the rocks. They also have a basis in truth – there are many downsides to being chained to your desk, and let’s be honest, Mermaids can be sizzling sexy – in theory.
Speaking of theory, if there is one thing this pandemic has taught us, it’s that it’s more feasible for a greater deal of Australia’s workforce to work from home than previously assumed.
Not convinced? Check out the with many Australians turning their living rooms, dining rooms and bedrooms into makeshift home offices.
For many, there is a good chance their offices will switch to a ‘working from home’ model on a permanent or semi-permanent basis, post-pandemic. The Sydney Morning Herald says “three out of four managers believe their staff will do more remote work after the pandemic than before it.”
This could be music to ears of parents, new dog owners and those who like to slack off, as they can spend more time with their family and reduce household expenses such as childminding, they can relax knowing they’re not under the watchful eye of their manager, or as seems to be the case for most of the ‘wfh’ brigade, the biggest benefit will be to “no longer commute.”
It’s entirely feasible for workers to continue their careers from the comfort of their own home, as the reliance on a digital-first strategy means all we need as a bare necessity to work is a computer, an internet connection and a readily available supply of caffeine.
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A recent The Economist article by Catherine Nixey entitled “Death of the Office” suggests the humble workplace we as a working population have accepted to be the only place where ‘work’ can happen, has always, as a concept, been flawed.
“Even before coronavirus struck, the reign of the office had started to look a little shaky. A combination of rising rents, the digital revolution and increased demands for flexible working meant its population was slowly emigrating to different milieux.”
“Offices have always been profoundly flawed spaces” Catherine continues, “Created to ensure efficiency, offices immediately institutionalised idleness. A genteel arms race arose as managers tried to make their minions work, and the minions tried their damnedest to avoid it.”
She suggests that offices are in fact counterproductive, “Office-work takes up not merely the bulk of our time but the best part of it, the hours when we are alert and alive.”
“Most managers spend at least 20 hours a week in meetings, according to a study by Bain & Company in 2014. Over the course of a lifetime that amounts to nearly five full years. Many of these meetings, in wistful retrospect, might have profitably been skipped.”
This point is backed up by French psychoanalyst Corinne Maier (who Nixey makes reference to) who published a book that “critiqued corporate culture.” Maier argues that we “lose a lot of time going to meetings and speaking the jargon and doing in fact very little work” when in the office and that she could “do everything I had to do in just two hours in the morning” when working from home.
Great, but how realistic is it to have a genuinely fruitful working life when you never need to leave the house? After all, being at home during working hours brings with it a multitude of potential distractions. The children you need to take care of will appreciate having their parents around, reinforced with cries of “Mum! Dad! Look at me!”; the weekly load of washing you need to get done will no doubt take precedence over transcribing a set of minutes from Monday’s meeting, and just how easy is it to take an extended lunch break?
So for all the benefits of being able to remain in your sweats, the grass may not always be greener.
Should we, therefore, pray for a future where we can work from home on a permanent basis? While the ‘working from home’ brigade will be in full support of a life of lounging around on a laptop, we’d wager they haven’t considered all of the cons.
Not only will it bring the distractions mentioned earlier, but as The SMH says in a separate article,
“If your job can be done from anywhere, that doesn’t necessarily mean you get to keep your job with the city salary and have a sea change. It also means you are competing for that job in an international labour market.”
After all, businesses will have had their finances affected in a hugely negative way because of the pandemic, if they can hire a more affordable workforce further away from home but still function as normal, it’s not illogical to assume they’ll at least consider it.
It may not be the case for some time of course, as economist Tim Harcourt, of the UNSW Business School, says the “pandemic is accelerating the decline of outsourcing because coronavirus is a global problem and contact centres in Manila or Bangalore are finding it hard to operate safely.”
But once the “curve” is flattened or a vaccine is introduced, there will be nothing to stop businesses employing offshore workers. An enthusiast army of backpackers and foreign nationals would jump at the chance to gain Australian employment without the hassle of obtaining a visa.
Maybe we shouldn’t wish for a future of working from home, and we should consider ourselves fortunate for having a career that those outside Australia would love. Perhaps instead of petitions in favour of working from home should be substituted with messages encouraging the use of office space.
We certainly champion the office environment, and we’re in full agreement with Catherine when she says further into her article that heading out the door each morning gives “each day its own architecture.”
It also, as Lucy Kellaway of the Financial Times says, “allows us to be a different person. And we’re all so fed up with who we are, the opportunity to be someone else, someone a little bit more impressive, is just so tempting.”