It’s Going to Take People Power to Make Working from Home Work for Us.
Yesterday The New York Times published an opinion piece by Charlie Warzel that had the headline “You are Not Working from Home.” Warzel argues that what millions of Americans are doing right now is not working from home. Rather, it’s coping, as best as possible, during a stressful situation. “Laboring under confinement,” he calls it – a valid point. But it’s his larger point that I want to discuss. He points out that tech companies that have announced that much of their workforce will able to work from home permanently are not making these decision from a place of genuine care for their employees’ wellbeing. Rather, CEOS like Mark Zuckerberg are simply responding to data that shows that workers are more productive at home. In other words, working from home makes you work more. Thus, widespread remote work, according to Warzel, could lead massive worker burnout and “the total collapse of work-life balance.”
Warzel’s conclusion is rather inconclusive. We “should demand to aim higher than just ‘getting by,'” he argues. Again, a fair point, but what would this look like?
Tech companies are certainly not known for having their employees’ best interests at heart. Ample research suggests that they offer plush campuses and extensive benefits like good maternity leave and unlimited vacation time because extending these perks cunningly results in workers putting in more hours, rather than fewer. Why leave the office if you can get breakfast, lunch, and dinner there for free?
Even with good work-from-home policies, tech companies aren’t going to right the wrongs of a culture built on stress, overwork, and the relentless over-valuation of “productivity” (not to mention production). In fact, tech companies are part of what got us into this mess in the first place.
But instead of assuming that working from home will lead to a “total collapse of work-life balance,” I’d like to think of this shift to remote work as a moment to reclaim our time, our space, and our bodies.
While Zuckerberg points to studies that show that employees are more “productive” while working from home, another body of research also shows that the majority of employees are happier working from home than they are working from an office. Yesterday, the same day that Warzel’s piece was published online, CNBC published results of their workplace survey:
“In the latest CNBC|SurveyMonkey Workforce Survey, remote workers have a Workforce Happiness Index score of 75 out of a possible 100, topping the 71 among those who have continued to show up at workplaces. On nearly every question related to work satisfaction, those staying home report more positive measurements.”
Ensuring that the corporate world doesn’t allow widespread remote work to capture every last drop of our free time requires a concerted, powerful, people-driven movement. We need to use our energy to set boundaries, to value relationships and human connection, to spend time preparing the food we feed ourselves and our loved ones. We need to actively reject the notion that we must always be “productive.”
For this to work, we all need to take part. Dads, not just moms, need to take parental leave. Co-workers should collectively reject the assumption that they should be available by email around the clock. (Regardless of what time your typical work hours are, we all deserve a break from our phones). And adopting healthy rhythms for yourself as you work from home is as important to this effort as negotiating directly with employers.
Without taking an active stand to make remote work work for us, tech companies will absorb as much of our free time and our homes as they can. So let’s not respond with fear or complacence. This is a time to harness people power to demand workplace norms that work for us, not the other way around.
I hope I can use this blog to harness some of this power. Right now I imagine doing that in three ways:
Offering strategies to make work from home healthier, happier, and pro-relationship
Giving voice to different groups of people who benefit from flexible work arrangements and exploring different aspects of human lives that are improved when we have the flexibility to work from home
Rejecting the premise that the main advantage of working from home is that it makes workers more “productive” and “effective”
If you want to add to or adapt this list, chime in, please!