In a survey this summer by The New York Times, the newspaper found that an overwhelming majority of people were “satisfied” with working from home, and with 47 percent saying they were “very satisfied” with it.
I have been working at home since the summer of 2011, when I started writing for The American Conservative from my apartment in Philadelphia. That fall, we made the decision, generously supported by my TAC bosses, to relocate to south Louisiana so I could help take care of my aging parents in the wake of my sister’s death. I have not worked in an office in almost a decade. It is hard to imagine doing it again. Mostly, I like it, but it does have down sides. Here’s my short list of the pros and cons:
- Easier to set your own hours
- Can work in t-shirts and sweatpants, which is far more comfortable, and saves real money on dry cleaning
- Commute is from bedroom to kitchen table
- Insulation from an era of ideologically-induced office-culture neurosis. You don’t have to worry as much about being accused of some potentially career-ending offense against woke colleagues if you don’t have to see them
- No jerky bosses or obnoxious colleagues to deal with
- Easier to manage a busy family’s schedules. For example, I’ve been able to do things like take a kid to music lessons and work from a nearby coffeeshop, while my wife is at meetings at the school where she teaches
- There are some businesses that really can’t provide an adequate substitute for face-to-face collaboration — and for them, the cons are obvious. But if the kind of work you do doesn’t require that, then I can only think of one con, and it’s a big one: loneliness and isolation. I did not realize until I began living the workplace eremetic life how much I enjoyed seeing people in the office. I didn’t often socialize outside the workplace with co-workers, but just seeing them every day (well, the ones I liked) was a greater pleasure than I realized at the time. You might not have to see jerky bosses and obnoxious colleagues, but you miss the kind, fun, personable people.
For me, this has been exacerbated by the fact that after leaving Philly, I lived in places where it wasn’t possible to walk out the front door and go to coffee shops, pubs, or any other gathering place. It’s not like it’s impossible to have a social life this way, but you do have to work a bit harder to, you know, see people, other than your family. I’m not very good at that, and I find that it has been way, way too easy to drift into isolation … and to be okay with that.
Fred Hiatt, from the op-ed page of the Washington Post, makes an important point about the difficulty of passing on a workplace culture via remote working. Excerpt:
But in at least two other ways, both of them I think applicable to many workplaces besides our own, working remotely forever seems unsustainable.
First, we’re managing now because we know each other. We’ve been colleagues, in many cases for years. Without giving it much thought, we’ve chit-chatted about each other’s families and favorite television shows, adapted to each other’s quirks, come to share in a workplace culture.
Now we’re drawing on that social capital, in a sense, without a good way to replenish it. Over time we will begin to lose track of each other’s children, pets and interests. We’ll have fewer points of common reference. Inevitably, some of us will leave, others will be hired — and how will the workplace culture be passed down then?
If we have to, we will find ways to answer that question. But they won’t be as satisfactory as sharing physical space.
Even today, when we still know each other well, we’re losing a lot by being apart. Some of our best ideas grew out of casual, accidental conversations as we waited for coffee to brew or watched side-by-side out our eighth-floor windows as a thunderstorm approached.
Similarly, there’s no way at all that education can be accomplished equally well remotely than it can in person. There is absolutely no way that church can be done this way, either.
But overall, I think that the “work from home” model is for most of us a real improvement — especially in the age of wokeness. Having worked in an office where I had to learn to be afraid of a certain employee, and to work around him, after a groundless “hostile work environment” accusation, it is a massive relief to work in an environment free of that kind of thing, and free from the social pressure to conform to whatever the company’s woke office culture demands. At home, nobody knows if you’re posting the “Workers of the world, unite” sign on your cubicle wall, or not. All they care about is whether or not you’re getting your work done. As it should be.
What do you think? Have you been working from home during Covidtide? Do you prefer it? What are the good parts, what are the bad parts?