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The virtual future of work?

April 11, 2020

I was really excited to learn, five weeks ago, that my dream of working from home had come true, despite the less than pleasant circumstances. I love working from home.

For me it’s about comfort. I get to work in an environment that I feel comfortable in.

Comfort is not, however, about what I wear. I still put on work clothes on work days, but then I have generally felt comfortable in my work clothes. It’s also not about flexible hours. I’m ridiculously disciplined so that I still keep office hours. On work days I sit down to work at 9am and I stop at 6pm. I also take carefully spaced breaks for tea and lunch.

For me it’s mostly about working in a place where I am surrounded by colour, pattern and texture. Here, my peripheral vision is filled with interesting fabrics, materials and shapes of my choice. My office, by contrast, has white walls and grey furniture with the odd red chair thrown in. All straight lines and right-angles. It makes me very uncomfortable. It’s also about temperature and light. At home I get to match the temperature of the room with my body and I have a lot more natural light.

Oh and I now have a large monitor at home, courtesy of my employer, which makes computer work much easier on the eyes than my tiny laptop screen.

These things may not matter to you. The point is that we are all individuals. Working at home means that we get to tailor our work environment to our individual preferences and needs. I need colour, pattern and texture like other people need comfortable clothes.

Do I miss my colleagues? A little. I see them twice a week in online meetings and we  exchange messages during the day. I do miss the easy idea-building that comes from face-to-face meetings, but mostly I love getting my work done without interruptions. At work I need headphones and music to stay focused, even though I find audio input tiring. At home I can focus surrounded by blissful silence.

I love that work has transitioned so seamlessly to this model. After a lifetime spent trying to convince employers that I would be more productive, healthier and happier working from home, it’s surprising and actually delightful to have it forced on me. I am still puzzling about how to take workshops that I facilitate online, but that’s an interesting challenge. Besides I really do think that face-to-face training is wasteful and has limited reach.

(And yes, I speak from a position of unspeakable privilege. I have a job, a salary, a comfortable apartment. I am healthy, for now. I know that these conditions cannot be assumed, although I do think that they should be more widespread in an optimistic future.)

So I’m starting to think about what happens after all this is over? Do we just go back to how things were before?

Well as far as the logistics of office work goes, I hope not. I hope that companies will appreciate the benefits of not having to have office space with the associated costs and effort. I hope that the excuses of how difficult it is to set up and supervise remote workers will have been exhausted. I hope that the convenience of a quick electronic exchange will replace many meetings. I hope to see company policies that discourage complicated and exhausting air travel to far-flung places as wasteful and environmentally damaging. I hope that cities free of traffic and parking problems will be valued enough for company car allowances to disappear and cities to impose special taxes on businesses that encourage commuting.

I would like to see a future in which companies ensure that employees have good living, and hence, working conditions. (Imagine the benefits for family members, for education, if employees all had high-speed internet to their homes.) I would like to see more virtual workplaces where we take advantage of technology to keep in touch while working in comfort. I would still like to meet face-to-face with colleagues, but not in an office. I want to work for an organisation that takes these meetings into restaurants, parks or creative co-work spaces, places that support the idea-building stuff that humans do so well when face-to-face.

When this grand, global experiment in living and working differently is over, what changes do you want to see?

From → Living, Management

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