Friday, October 20, 2023

Remote Work: The Con Side, From Writers This Summer

The issue of employees doing their tasks from the office or elsewhere keeps rolling on.  I won’t say it’s evolving, as I have maintained that its favor has been a pendulum, but it’s still oscillating.  Here is some input from commentators taking the negative view, which management mostly has now.

A remote-work effect adverse but not quite the responsibility of those causing it is the subject of “Middle America’s ‘doom loop,’” subtitled “Work from home is crushing Midwestern downtowns,” by Eliza Relman in Insider on June 22nd.  The author blamed less activity there on civic decisions made to emphasize businesses, and called on those administering such areas to adapt to this change, as “economists and urban planners say many Midwestern cities need to get serious about improving amenities and boosting quality of life in their downtowns.”

Could it be that “In the war over remote work, companies are turning full-time jobs into low-paying gigs” (Aki Ito, Insider, June 27th)?  Ito claimed that “employers are quiet quitting on the whole idea of traditional full-time employment,” as, per recent research, “businesses said remote work had led them to stock up on part-time employees, temps, independent contractors, and outsourced positions both at home and abroad.”  That trend was getting press late last decade, and has a certain justification, as, since worker’s performance issues are less important or drop out entirely when they are not conventional employees, working from home is especially compatible with such agreements.  These arrangements, as Ito points out, are not always negative, so this piece may not qualify as being against non-office work at all.

“For remote workers, time to get out of the house” by Isabella Aldrete on June 30th in Benefit News, deals with a problem people may not even know they have.  “About a third of employees say they struggle to leave the house enough when working remotely,” meaning that “work-life balance” is not only for those going to offices.  Per one interviewee, it would help them to realize “it can be important to really find time to just kind of completely unplug, leave… and focus on life outside of work,” as “it is really important to set and maintain those boundaries.”  Yes, that’s important.

The July 15th Economist had an article titled “The WFH showdown,” as “the fight over remote working goes global.”  “With bosses clamping down on the practice, the pandemic-era days of mutual agreement on the desirability of remote work seem to be over” – and, after naming various international examples, “the gap between the two sides of the work-from-home battle may yet narrow.  The question is whether the bosses or the bossed will yield the most.”

Finally, related to the second piece above, is “Remote workers are treating their jobs like gig-work, and it’s turning them into the most disconnected employees” (Jane Thier, Fortune, August 26th).  The author recommended “a hybrid plan,” and largely attributed the problem to modern work issues in general, with special concerns about “engagement and empowerment.”

Although I am still broadly bearish on remote work, these pieces, given that they were the most pertinent over the past four months, offered little new.  That probably means that not much has changed.  Since the Clinton administration, the pendulum has swung and the sides have disagreed.  Until businesses find an antidote, the issue of where to work will not be resolved. 

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