On to this month, and reaching out in scope a bit:
“Working from home around the world,” by Cevat Giray Aksoy et al. in Brookings on September 7th, offered that “no other episode in modern history involves such a pronounced and widespread shift in working arrangements in such a compressed time frame.” That could stand up even with differing definitions of “modern history.” The authors looked at 27 countries, and found that in all 27, men with children wanted remote work more than that in offices, with women in 25 agreeing. They also opined that working from home would become and stay more common than in the past 18 months. Will the 30-year pendulum track really shorten that much?
Speaking of going back and forth, a day later we also got David Brooks in The New York Times, telling us about “The Immortal Awfulness of Open Plan Workplaces.” After calling such arrangements “exhibit 4,000” of “folly on a grand scale,” he explained that they reduce “face-to-face collaboration” as “people can take only so much social interaction,” with one study showing that not only did not increase but dropped 70%. As well, in such setups “people will create norms that discourage communication,” they often “held back their sincere thoughts on phone calls because they didn’t want their co-workers to overhear them,” they lost “morale and productivity,” and their “health” was worsened outright. As Brooks said, “a lot of the evidence I’m citing here is not new” – I can attest to that, as such office arrangements came and went in my AT&T workplaces almost thirty years ago. In all, this is another case of disregarding lessons of the past being more expensive than extra office space.
Something possibly new, however – at least its misnomer of a name – has appeared lately, for example in Deanna Cuadra’s September 8th Benefit News “’A silent protest’: CPO at Headspace Health explains why workers are ’quiet quitting’.” One definition of this phenomenon, provided by Gallup, is “workers fulfilling their job description, but refusing to go above and beyond or invest themselves emotionally in their work.” It’s a combination of setting personal boundaries and just plain reducing engagement, one positive and one neutral for workers but both negative to their management. Quiet quitting has been a response to blurred lines both in time, with so many people responding to emails and the like around the clock, and in space with remote work, along with the general trend of workers feeling they have more personal and professional choices – it will get other names, some reflecting biases and interests, and will mushroom.
One way, described on the same day and in the same publication, to encourage people to report in person is Natalie Wong’s “Free NFL tickets? It’s the latest attempt to get workers back to the office.” These are actually drawings, provided by a New York City landlord with a rich supply of VIP-suite passes to Giants and Jets games, and follows a similar offering for concerts in the same stadium, along with more pedestrian “ice cream socials, free coffee and donuts.” Sexy ideas for some, but the 238 pairs of football tickets may not be enough to get people thinking of that as a perk instead of just another lottery.
A look at the damage of in-person interruptions was the core of “So You Wanted to Get Work Done at the Office?” (Emma Goldberg, The New York Times, September 11th). The author cited studies showing more done by remotely-located coders and call center workers, not whether non-production workers would improve. One idea she uncovered was practiced in a Washington law firm, in which employees have lights on their desks indicating availability to be approached, a green meaning yes. Reasonable but abusable, and only one facet of this situation.
It may be true that “There’s a Better Way to Reclaim Your Time Than ‘Quiet Quitting’,” (Laura Vanderkam, The New York Times, September 13th), and Vanderkam’s suggestions of getting more fulfilling activities and managing time better out of work is not much of an antidote. Indeed, the times when my work attitude was closest to this new concept was when I had the most happening outside of it, and I needed to severely compartmentalize my job. What energizes people varies as much as the life-structure choices they make, and pushing them indirectly, as the author here might be advocating, has little chance of long-term success. Line workers will decide – and that will guide the theory and execution of both remote and office work.