Reworking Remote Work

Dec 16, 2021

I read a very interesting article recently. Published in Vox, it featured conversations with two writers and culture experts about how the remote-work revolution hasn’t actually happened yet. Rather, they argue, our current work-from-home setup is the result of a “panicked compromise forged under the chaos of a national emergency.” In other words: We’re all just getting by. And it’s not sustainable.

This really resonated with me. The pandemic may have been the catalyst for sweeping remote-work policies and setups across the nation—and the globe—but there hasn’t been time, or structures in place, to properly support it. That means legions of people have been merely treading water, trying to balance their work with their obligations at home, without any clear lines to distinguish them. Emails get sent at 10 p.m. Calls get made before the kids are awake in the morning. Companies try ever harder to hang on to a sense of camaraderie and loyalty by being “present” in their employees’ lives through multiple virtual touchpoints, while employees feel they are being pulled in a thousand directions at once, and experience angst and guilt no matter which activities they prioritize at any given moment.

The article called to mind recent “right to disconnect” policies passed by other countries’ governments. In France, for example, if you work for a company with 50 or more employees, you can’t send emails after traditional working hours. It’s literally illegal. Other countries such as Italy, Spain and Ireland, have similar policies. Meanwhile, in Ontario, Canada, the government recently introduced legislation that would place limits on the ability of companies with more than 25 people to request employees perform work outside of traditional working hours.

One of the greatest advantages of remote-work is the freedom it affords the worker: She can work wherever she wants, at nearly any time she wants, thus giving her a flexible schedule and better work-life balance. But, the article argues, we’re not actually there yet. Because in this pandemic-fueled craziness, we haven’t been able to set limits for ourselves—and our employers. But now, with the pandemic raging on but with scientific developments helping us manage it better than in the past, setting those limits is what many of us are trying to do.

And simply defining our work hours is just one path to this boundary-setting. One of the interviewed experts in the Vox piece, Charlie Warzel, even mentioned a tech company called Gumroad, which reorganized its structure so that all employees are contractors and rebranded its culture to be purely transactional in nature: “The ethos of the company is ‘You don’t owe us anything but the work. You come in and you do this thing. We are not going to be friends. We’re not going to talk,’” Warzel explains. This “decentered environment means that we’re not telling people that they have to labor in this job and also get all of their social interactions out of their job. That you don’t have to be friends with everyone in your company. And it really demarcates your life outside of work from your life inside it.”

While Warzel believes this particular example is extreme, he points out that the transactional nature of this kind of environment can be refreshing to workers, because they are immediately freed from the guilt or sense of familial commitment that many experience with their companies these days.

What about you? Do you think the work-from-home revolution is just starting? What are some ways you’ve been able to balance your work and your personal life in a way that doesn’t leave you breathless, but rather fulfilled and at peace?


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