I’ve been working from home for well over two years now. Some companies and public figures are railing against working from home, but it doesn’t appear to be going away. Let’s do some evaluating.
A personal experience
I would have liked to say that as a writer I’ve been working from home for a long time. But writing doesn’t allow me to pay my bills, so I have a day job. And for that job, I’ve been working mostly from home ever since the start of the pandemic. The company I work for had already decided they wanted more people to work from home to save on building costs, and for the environment — yes, that is actually a thing for some companies.
But it took a pandemic to actually kickstart this, and push everybody to actually do it. When our government sent out the general work from home order, my internal IT department had to scramble to get video conferencing software pushed out, and we all had to adjust, but that was it. Of course, I’m in IT, and a lot of my work was already digital.
And it turned out that something I’d always suspected was true: I love working from home. That said, there are some advantages to work from home, but also disadvantages.
Some good things
Working from home means no travel time to the office. I already live relatively close to where I work, but it was still a half hour commute in an overcrowded train. I have a car, but I try not to use it too much, because we all have to do our part. But I hate trains. I’m very tall and I hate crowds. That means I hate bumping my head in a train, only to be pressed into a mass of people sweating their Covid at me. And that’s not even mentioning the times the train just doesn’t run.
Working from home also means no open offices. Remember the movie Office Space? I actually envied those people’s cubicles. I used to sit at a six-desk island amidst a sea of other islands, on a badly climate-controlled floor. And there were several meeting rooms next to those islands, badly sound-proofed in case the noise of fifty people was not enough to break your spirit. Thinking back, it was amazing we could all stand it.
Now I have a nice roomy desk, with a chair that actually matches my height, and I have good coffee. And, third advantage: I have no people coming to my desk. It’s hard to send people away when they’re standing next to you. At a minimum, they distract you and you have to tell them to f*ck off. When at home, I can just ignore their calls when I’m busy.
Finally, I can much more easily schedule around work things. I’ve managed to improve my exercise regime, so I’m now more fit than when the pandemic started. Also, I get to take my daughter to school without having to stress about train schedules.
All in all, a win for me.
Some bad things
Of course, working from home has some downsides, even if I love the upsides.
The first thing is extra costs. I redecorated my office, something I already wanted to do, but expedited during the pandemic. That was not cheap. There’s also the added cost of heating and — these days — air conditioning, and the water and coffee I drink. It’s not much, but it adds up. I get some compensation from my employer, but I doubt that covers it all.
The second problem is that it can be hard to power through boring chores at certain times of day. It’s easy to get distracted after having two hours of online meetings. Or when you have to do some heavy Excel. Not that the office was much better, that would be the times I would get some coffee, hang around the coffee machine for a chat, and get distracted by one of my fifty colleagues discussing random stuff.
Then there are negative things that don’t apply to me. My wife and I love doing stuff at home, so we bought a house with separate offices for both of us. We also have only a single child. We lucked out with that: buying a house has become prohibitively expensive the past ten years, and some people deliberately have smaller homes because they love being out. Working from home is a lot less fun when you have no room.
Finally, I have the temperament for working at home. I’m good at concentrating and keeping myself motivated. That doesn’t apply to everyone. I also have an active social life. I have a wife and a lot of friends, meaning I don’t need my office life be social, and don’t get lonely working from home. That isn’t true for everyone either.
So, working from home is great for me, but I get it isn’t great for everyone.
The manager’s perspective
Now that we’ve entered a new phase of the pandemic — no, I know it ain’t over — people are started to discuss the choices we made these past years. Some are demanding the return to the office. Elon Musk literally said he wanted people back at the office or they could ‘pretend to work elsewhere’.
The idea is that people can easily do jack-shit at home, and claim they’re working. But, news flash, they can do that at the office too. More so, working from home actually improves productivity. So, even if people are slacking off, it’s not hurting their employers.
It does shine a painful light on something we’ve all suspected. Managers were not doing the right things. Now, mind you, I could have said ‘they are useless’ but that isn’t true. What is true, is that managers used to look at what happened on the open office floor. They tried to pick out the slackers and we all got performance reviews which were partially based on how ‘visible’ we were. Open office floors are really just a panopticon for managers.
However, as it turns out, you don’t need a panopticon to get people to work. And managers have to do other things. They have to seek you out, and actually talk to you. They have to look at your output, which they often don’t understand. That’s leading to changes. Good changes, I feel. Because now we start to see the difference between managers actually good at their jobs, and those that were just pretending to manage — and those last ones are the ones most loudly calling for the return to offices.
Another reason to want workers back at the office, is to physically control and subjugate them, which is probably a strong reason that many US companies are trying to draw people back in. It’s no accident that the country which has turned union-busting and exploiting workers into an art form, forces people back to the office.
Working from home is here to stay
So, as far as I can see, working from home is here to stay in the Netherlands. It will evolve, and some companies will back-track, but it will be a new staple of the working world. And given that research shows it leads to higher productivity, it’s likely that companies supporting work-from-home culture will start out-competing others. With the access to a larger labor pool (working from home means a home can be anywhere), and lower housing costs (work from home means smaller office), this will only make them more efficient. I could be wrong, of course, but I hope not.
However, some adjustment will probably follow. We need to do something for those who do not like to work from home. I see the benefits of seeing my colleagues face to face, so I go to the office once a week, now, and I like that. Others will be there more, probably, and over time rules and social conventions will appear.
I also suspect we’ll see a rise in remote working offices. You see, you don’t have to work remotely from home, or from your local Starbucks. You could work from an office building near you. Heck, you could even make friends there with like-minded people in your home town. Finally, a chance to meet people at work without the troubles of them being your boss, or having to switch jobs when things sour.
All in all, working from home is one of the only good things to come out of this pandemic. Now we just need to keep doing it.