Telework And Its Discontents

One technique I found useful for maintaining separation for the first few weeks working from home was to dress for the office during the workday and change to casual clothes afterward. After a while, the symbolism became less important, and I just wore casual outfits (unless I was going to be on Candid Webcam for a meeting).

This is an example of how the pandemic didn’t so much change things as it accelerated existing trends. The advantages of electronic documents (easy to send to people who need access, easy to make backups, etc) were already pretty clear.

That said, I was initially skeptical of the concept of “signing” a document by typing my name on it with a specified format ("/" before and after) – couldn’t any schmuck do that? I assume that the “schmuck” would need access to the secure VPN, so there’s that.

That’s not the point. The point is that being at home the whole time also makes it feel like you’re still at work. Yes taking care of the baby during work is home life intruding on work life. But so is catching up on that work while trying to cook dinner, and not being able to “leave the office.”

I never said we should abandon it, but I also want to push back on the narrative that because remote work is great for some people it must mean it’s great for everyone. The reclusive computer programmers and engineers who love not having to interact with other humans seem to dominate the discussion about remote work and parrot the idea that returning to the office is only to stroke the egos of useless middle managers.

I don’t get the issue. Just DON’T catch up on work while cooking dinner, since presumably you’re cooking after your work hours.

If you need catch up time, use the time you’re not commuting. Here in SoCal that’s 2 hours a day.


Yes, everyone who disagrees with you is a reclusive freak.

You are forgetting that there is a whole group of people who pre-pandemic couldn’t answer work calls or reply to emails when they weren’t physically in the office.

That’s easier said than done for a lot of people.

It just depends on the person. My wife needs a very separate spot for her home office so she can set it aside at the end of the day and not feel it looming over her while she’s doing other things. I have a much easier time compartmentalizing my work time and so don’t feel pressed even with my work laptop next to me after hours. There’s no telling my wife “Just don’t feel that way, duh” because that’s how she (and many people) are wired and it’s a legitimate issue for a lot of people. The sort of separation that comes with walking out the door and driving away is much harder for some people to obtain when their work station is in the living room next to the entertainment center and I assume it takes a real toll on some people.

I retired before this hit, but teleworking would have been possible, tho not ideal, for my job. I was a mechanical drafter for a government contractor. Apart from needing a few reference books (with info that could be found on line anyway) I just needed a good connection into the company network to access the software and the models that the engineers designed. Even when working on site, I didn’t always have immediate access to the engineers if I had questions or concerns, so that wouldn’t have been a big deal.

On the other hand, I may not have benefitted from the coworker who’d pop in and say “Hey, did you know you can do < whatever > now” when we’d have software updates. I wasn’t particularly social, but having worked as an engineer for 26 years before sliding into the post-retirement drafting gig, I know how important it is to have someone to bounce ideas off or to have another set of eyes on your design to catch what you might have missed. Yeah, it could be done remotely, but the personal interaction would still be missing.

In fact, the reason I went back to work after the first retirement is that I missed that personal interaction. But I think I’d have liked to split my time between the office and home, if only for the bennie of working in my bathrobe some days.

Who are they? Aside from entry level hourly folks, most people I know who work in the sorts of jobs that can done remotely in the first place already route their email, Skype, Slack, etc to their smartphones (company provided or otherwise).

Yeah, work/life separation is a known problem with telework. It’s not insurmountable, but some folks accumulate bad habits and need to actively manage this issue.

So because some people cannot excercise this self control if they work from home with a company laptop, but magically can if they work from the office and have a smartphone that can access those same emails anyways, we all have to hold back society?

No, but there is a lot of “remote work is great” and “there’s no reason to go back to the office” from people who don’t seem to realize that just because it’s great for them, in their situation with their personality doesn’t mean it’s great for everybody. My nephew worked from home for months, because his job could be done remotely - but his mental health deteriorated.

Nobody (well, probably somebody somewhere, but nobody here) is suggesting that “we all” have to hold back society.

That said, I can see a problem in that the ideal (maximum flexibility with individual choice of working at the office or working at home) might be impractical because of commercial real estate issues: renting just the right amount of space, or even knowing what the right amount of space is, would be more difficult than just committing to one option or the other and requiring everybody to deal with it.

My gf has been working from home since the start of the pandemic. She’ll drive in to the city maybe once a month now. During this time she has received several bonuses as well as several pay raises because she’s really good at her job and can work better without the distractions that occur having others around.

She is saving a small fortune in gas now. Then again maybe one day every two weeks she’ll be in her home office until after midnight.

When I first started working from home, I used an extra bedroom as an office, and did all my work there. My personal computer was set up somewhere else.

When we had a baby, I had to condense. One desk, one pair of monitors (that I can switch the source on. Same with the mouse and keyboard, one button switches from my computer to my work laptop).

I thought separation would be an issue, but so far it hasn’t been.

That’s most people you know - but it’s not nearly everybody. Why would most people in payroll or customer service or HR or accounting , who worked on site pre-pandemic have needed access to email when they weren’t working (and therefore in the office)? And that’s assuming they even could have routed their email to their own smartphone ( which at my employer they couldn’t have). At my job, even when those people worked at home, they only had access to their email once they remotely connected to my employer’s network, not on a phone.

But you probably dismiss all these people as “entry level hourly”, even if they aren’t actually entry level.

However, unless it’s coordinated it’s the worst of both worlds. If we all come into the office on the same two days, that’s great; however, if everyone chooses their own two days to be in the office then why am I getting up earlier, purtifying, packing lunch, driving in to then be on a Teams call while still not getting that water cooler interaction?

Having started a new job while being remote I can say it’s much harder to get training, as one can’t just turn around & say, “How do I do ___?” Teams shows one busy for the entire scheduled time of a meeting, even of that ½ hour meeting ends after 10 mins.

One thing to remember is that the company is not in the business of making employees happy. They are concerned about employee happiness in as much as it increases productivity, but they are not going to sacrifice profits for employee happiness. If it’s more profitable for employees to be in the office, that’s what the businesses will favor. Telework may make the employees happy, but if the business can make more profit with employees in the office, the business will make employees come back to the office.

Right now there is major pushback by employees for working in the office. This means businesses don’t have the leverage to force employees back since they can’t just get replacement employees as easily. But over time, the businesses will shift to hiring employees who agree to work in the office over those who don’t. They will use telework employees only if they don’t have any other options. Only if telework is truly more profitable will a business go down that route.

This article was just on CNN:

In general, I would agree with that. I don’t like having remote design meetings. In person meetings are much more productive when interaction of the group is needed. But regardless, many global companies have remote meetings all the time since the team members are global. It’s not ideal, but may be necessary if the skilled people are not in the same location. It’s still possible to design stuff, but it’s not nearly as productive as having a kick-off meeting where everyone is all in one place.

Sure, you’re like me there. Other people aren’t. Telling my wife “Just don’t feel that way” is like telling someone “I’m not scared of spiders so just don’t be scared of spiders” or “I don’t care if people say I’m fat so just don’t care if people say you’re fat”. Works great for me but other people don’t work that way.

Off that topic, I also feel that my work can be a lot slower when it’s remote. Questions that could have been answered immediately in person now require emails or meetings and, as mentioned, there’s no listening in on a phone call and saying “Hey, I have the plans for that, hold on”. Even a question asked to me might take longer to answer because I need to pull stuff off a network drive or look for files and trawl around in Adobe versus just having a stack of plans on the table next to me. I still prefer it on balance but it’s not all a change for the better.

My job involves working w/ some people I find unpleasant. At first it really surprised me how much it bothered me to have these people in my home via phone - video was even worse.

But my job is the kind where no matter how hard you work or how many hours you put in, you can never “get ahead” and the sole reward is more work. And NOTHING happens that can’t be handled first thing the next work day. So even when I was in the office, I signed out at quitting time, didn’t bring my laptop home, and didn’t THINK abut work until I arrived at work the next morning. No problem doing the same now working at home every day.

I’m not sure I (and others in my office) are doing a “worse” job by any objective measure. But I do feel that when we are not seeing co-workers and the “customers” we serve, it is easier to not “go the extra step.” I feel like I am putting less effort into nearly every aspect of my job - and I perceive the same from my coworkers. Heck - you just have to put SOME effort into APPEARING to listen to someone in the room with you. Far easier to just check out to a voice on the phone.

But I’m not sure the end-product that comes out of the end of the pipe is materially worse. (It sure ain’t better!)