August 2, 2020

WFH Is the New Fidget Spinner

Internet Thought Leaders have been declaring the start of a new paradigm all over the web: according to them we are now entering the work from home age. They might be on to something, but I think it’s more likely they are not.

I’ll try to keep most of opinions to myself, and instead focus on the facts of human behaviour, because that is something that hasn’t changed (and will probably not change drastically in our lifetimes, unless something drastically changes like widespread implementation of UBI or legalization of psychedelics).

First of all, working from home is hardly a new thing. In fact, it’s something that’s become pretty popular of late in the tech community. Many developers–for example–would prefer to be able to work remotely for a variety of reasons. Some might cite their preference for being able to work in quiet comfortable spaces (as opposed to awful open offices), some might say they’re introverts and this is how they work best, others might want to take advantage of the opportunity to travel or live as a nomad.

What is new, thanks to corona, is people who’ve never tried to do remote work for whatever reason were forced for a few months to try remote work. And perhaps they discovered that remote work isn’t as scary or bad as they thought. Let me try to think about a few WFH personas and why they might be motivated to encourage remote work:

The Business Leader Genius

  • Commercial leases are expensive. What if we could save money by downsizing our office footprint?
  • Employees outside coastal cities are less expensive! Hooray! We can pay people less to do the same job
  • We can cut back on some of the office perks and benefits like free meals, snacks, desk and office equipment

The Office Woorker

  • Don’t need to wake up early every morning and go through a 1 hour morning hygiene routine
  • Don’t need to wear pants anymore
  • Can listen to music without headphones
  • Can watch Netflix all day in the background
  • Can dip out midday for a walk/whatever without management getting mad

The Bullshitter

  • The average bullshitter only works 1-2 hours a week, so WFH is ideal for them, all they need to do is make sure they occasionally check slack/email/whatever and reply as necessary to make it look like they’re still working
  • If you’re really good at bullshitting, you could stack your bullshit jobs on top of each other, and maybe work at 5-6 different companies simultaneously

Back to Reality

Okay so that’s all interesting stuff, but my opinion on the matter is nothing is new and human behaviour hasn’t changed. Remote work has been studied at great length already, and I still think most (but certainly not all) people would rather work in an office, for the following reasons:

  • Humans are incredibly social creatures, and we need human interaction
  • I’d guess at least 30-40% of all white-collar jobs are bullshit, and the only thing that makes them tolerable is being able to go into an office and interact with other people
  • This has been tried before, and even though productivity goes up when people work from home, productivity is not the most important thing to most people (hint: it’s human interaction)
  • The highest paying jobs tend to be the most bullshit jobs, and if bullshit jobs become doubly extra pointless, those jobs could disappear. The people highest up on the corporate ladder won’t want this to happen because they would be out of a job. Imagine if Tesla shareholders realized they didn’t need Elon Musk anymore (literally the highest paid Twitter celebrity ever)

What’s this post about anyway?

I think the point I’m trying to make is that no, we’re not in a “new paradigm”. Some people will try out remote work for a while, but eventually they’ll realize that it’s not a magical solution to making everything better. I hope the one thing that does stick is the realization that open office plans are absolutely terrible, but working with awesome people (in meatspace) is great.

© 2021 Brenden Matthews, some rights reserved.