Telework And Its Discontents

I know it’s a cultural shift, and maybe it’s not something we can expect people who have been in the workforce as it was for decades to easily pick up; but that’s exactly the sort of thing we use Slack for. What’s more, Slack was how we would often communicate that sort of thing before going remote anyways.

It was definitely something I noticed in-office. For the sub-35 crowd, if you needed to speak to someone on the other side of the office, you’d shoot them a Skype message, have some back and forth, and only go over if things got especially complicated. For us, going over to someone’s desk was usually done if you wanted to smalltalk for a minute or two in addition to discuss work - share vacation photos, or something you heard on the news, etc.

The older crowd would drop by your desk or office unannounced and ask if you were free to discuss something.

Those are precisely the fields I’m talking about. They didn’t need their email outside of the office, yet nearly every one of them, me and my entire command structure included, forwards their emails to their phones anyways. Sometimes it’s because they had work/life separation issues even before going remote. Other times it is because they wanted to be alerted to important emails while at a coworker’s desk so they know if they need to rush back to their own desk and answer the email.

I hated working from home for that year and a half. Hated it! While my wife and I are lucky enough to each have an “office”, that office was our previous recreation rooms. It’s the room with my guitars, amps, soldering iron, bike on a trainer for dreary winter riding, etc. I would get up, go to that room for work and then when done want to get out of there. It was depressing as hell being in that room so much. I’m glad to be back in the office full time. I also hated the non-stop Zoom meetings and am loving in person meetings. I am lucky and have a 15-20 bike commute to work.

I have coworkers that live in apartments with roommates or with their children. That work situation sounded even more hellish than my situation. And so many meetings were interrupted with barking dogs…“oops, the mailman just delivered, I’ll have to mute for a couple minutes”.

All I can say is that you know very different people than I do - and worked in a very different environment than I did. If anyone decided to forward all her work emails to a personal email account on her personal phone, she risked being fired if it was discovered. ( We absolutely could not get access directly to work email on a personal device)

Back before messaging and telework, we’d also just call your extension. What I found frustrating was after widespread introduction of messaging, we’d message someone to ask if they could talk on the phone, then wait for a reply, or shift back to other work, shifting back to the reply after it comes in, ad nauseum.

A quick question that might take literally a 1-2 minute phone call now stretches out. Or, we try to get the answer in the messaging app, which requires a longer back and forth than voice communication.

This is a flaw; Teams should show a person as being available as soon they’ve left a meeting, even if that’s before the scheduled end of the meeting.

Employee retention matters, too. The departure of an employee is disruptive to productivity, and training a replacement employee is expensive. If telework promotes employee retention it may add value, even if teleworking employees aren’t actually getting more work done than on-site employees.

Definitely a generation gap difference here, but there is nothing that enrages me more than when a coworker calls my extension without messaging me first.

But isn’t this also dependent on the employee him/herself as well? I’m in a hybrid situation (to the extent that my employer doesn’t care where or when I work as long as I’m present for meetings) and for the last two years I’ve been working from our dining room table in a small-ish (maybe 1600 sq ft house), literally about five feet from the kitchen. I could be attending a virtual meeting while my wife is in the kitchen doing something. If I’m in our living room I can’t avoid seeing my laptop and two external monitors, so I have no separation at all, but it doesn’t bother me.

And since about a month ago I’ve been going into the office once or twice a week.

@doreen @Cheesesteak @jjakucyk

Thanks for your polite and measured responses. Sometimes I need to be reminded that not everyone is like me (psychologically) or has the same life circumstances.

When we went into lockdown we converted the music room to my daughter’s classroom, the library to my wife’s office and the formal dining room and sunroom to my workspaces.

Some of the people who started going into the office as soon as they were allowed to were trying to escape the chaotic environment at home. And I guess I can see that some people cannot mentally shift from work to home mode without changing location, even though I don’t have any problem with this.

Rage over receiving a work call at work? That seems to be an overreaction, IMHO.

I’m not seeing “rage,” but I have noticed the customs are changing. I’ll often get a message on Teams or email, along the lines of “you free for a quick call?” before someone calls me. I’ve started doing it too.

It’s called “humorous hyperbole”. You are right, it’s a minor annoyance at worst. I suppose I should have spelled that out.

But it IS an annoyance, because if I’m in the middle of some technical work, getting a call makes me respond immediately, even if that is extremely inconvenient. If you message me, I can get to a natural stopping point within a minute or two before responding.

Also, the answer may very well be “no, now is not a good time, let’s talk after lunch when I can set aside 20 minutes” or something. But if you called me, we are already on a call, I’m just going to deal with you now even if it’s incredibly inconvenient.

The funny thing is that goes back to a more old fashioned bit of etiquette. It’s not like we randomly show up at people’s homes unannounced unless we are very familiar with them.

We made an exception for phone calls for decades because there was no good way to check if somebody would be on the other end or if it was a convenient time to call.

Now, we have the technology to unobtrusively (or hardly obtrusively) check with people if it is a convenient time to call somebody over the phone or at home.

And, yes, it does bother me if somebody at work calls without checking first - just because I’m shown as Available on Teams doesn’t mean I’m not busy with somebody else physically in my office or on some other task. Big Brother it ain’t (yet).

ETA: And indeed, phone spammers have been taking advantage of the fact that the last few generations of people have been conditioned to pick up the phone, which has somewhat ironically led to at least younger people to drop that bit of social etiquette.

Totally agree. The only places I’ve been that allow you to get email on a personal device have a BYOD policy. You have to download a specific app(s) to access & only then if you giv

I’m the exact opposite. If I can’t talk, I’ll decline/ignore the call or, at most, tell you I’ll talk to you later just like I won’t respond to your Teams message if I’m in the middle of something but sending a text/Teams to tell me you want to talk to me is a complete & utter waste & now interrupts me twice.

Indeed. I have little spot in the corner of my toddler’s nursery for my “office”. I ended up buying an office chair, pulling down an old monitor, and buying a new keyboard and mouse. And when I close up, I can just forget about my ‘office’. I have a co-worker, who has refused to get anything to make his home working environment more comfortable because he just wants to shut his laptop at the end of the day and put it away somewhere he can’t see it until the next morning. Additional items would just remind him that part of his apartment is a “work space”.

We actually finally go back to the office on Monday. So I’m interested to see how it works. More people will be teleworking I’m sure (our rule is you have to be physically in the office 1 day a week). I anticipate I’ll work in the office more than most. And also the pandemic made me realize the only time I really read books is when I’m on the training going to and fro work… so that’ll be nice to do again.

“Close to the Machine,” published in 1997, hit on issue #1:

(Morty has just responded to the questioner asking why his store is doing so badly- “It’s the modems”)

I peered over at Morty, whom I’d clearly never seen before. This round old man in his empty store, for whom I’d never felt anything but pity, had just told me off in ways he could not imagine. He put it all together: Brian’s networks, the bank vice president’s universe of transactions, the software I write, the systems I install, the sexy bouts of software writing—all that was suddenly and clearly related to the world’s financial center now all emptied of people. It’s the modems: computing as a kind of neutron bomb, making all the people disappear, leaving the buildings.
In my world, it would be so easy to forget the empty downtowns. The whole profession encouraged us: stay here, alone, home by this nifty color monitor. Just click. Everything you want—it’s just a click away. Everything in my world made me want to forget how—as landlord, as programmer, as landlord/programmer helping to unpeople buildings like my very own—I was implicated in the fate of Morty and the bag shop.

“It’s those horseless carriages!” Said the whip maker. “They’ve driven me out of business!”

I feel like my job is very much like George Clooney’s in Up in the Air. Not that I go around firing people, but I’ve spent most of my career working for consulting firms or the consulting arm of tech companies where the expectation used to be that we travel to a client somewhere every Monday through Thursday.

Then Anna Kendrick came along with her Meetup / Zoom / Webex tech and now I’m permanently stuck at the home office in Omaha, Nebraska. Except it’s better because I’m based out of NYC and no longer have to travel to Bubblefuck, USA every week.

But truth is my industry has been moving in this direction for years anyway. It’s expensive to fly consultants around and we are already set up to have people working remotely anyway. I remember a conversation I had with my manager 15 years ago when people started just “working remotely”.

Me: Hello?
Manager: Hey! I’m trying to get ahold of Lisa, is she around?
Me: I don’t know. I’m not in the office.
Manager: What do you mean you’re not in the office?!!
Me: I’m working remotely.
Manager: Why are you working remotely?!!
Me: I don’t know. Because I can I suppose. What does it matter? I’m in New York and you’re in London anyway.
Manager: It matters because I can’t get ahold of Lisa!
Me: Did you try calling her in the office?
Manager: YES!
Me: Well if she’s not in the office, I’m not sure how my being there would help.
Manager: CLICK

Beginning in June my team is going to be back in the office on Mondays, for the first time since March 2020. I’ve read some articles about why people on hybrid schedules should not be allowed to pick their own days in the office or at home, and I’ve grown to think they make sense.

Us all going in on Mondays is probably going to work out much better than if I and Grace go in on Mondays, Keri and Lisa go in on Tuesdays, Sara is in on Wednesday, Sam on Thursdays, and Michelle goes in on Thursdays on even weeks and Fridays on odd weeks.

We’re still working out some details, but it looks like most of the day will be taken up with our planning meetings, which is great in my opinion because I know I’m going to be less productive in the office than at home simply because noisy coworkers make recording and editing lectures more difficult.