I’m scripting this from the makeshift quarantine bunker in my dining room — sweatpants on, hand sanitizer nearby, snacking my way through my emergency rations. I’m getting many work done, but I’m beginning to get unnerved by the shortage of stimulation. It’s been hours (days?) since I interacted face to face with a person’s who isn’t associated with me, and cabin fever is setting in.
Among the coronavirus’ many effects may be a boom in people like me: office workers, shooed faraway from the office, trying to acclimate to a work-from-home lifestyle.
While the outbreak has already created inconveniences (and much worse) for many people within the sort of travel restrictions, health scares and stock exchange turmoil, it’s been an exciting time for a few fans of remote work. They argue that quarantined workers are becoming a glimpse of our glorious, office-free future.
“This is not how I imagined understanding the distributed job movement,” wrote Matt Mullenweg, Automattic’s chief executive, the tech company controlling the blogging site for WordPress.
Mullenweg, whose company’s workforce is fully distributed, sees a bright side within the coronavirus. He wrote in his blog post last week that it “could also give many businesses the chance to finally develop a culture that enables long-overdue flexibility in the work.”
I get where he’s coming from. i used to be a foreign worker for 2 years a short time back. for many of that point , i used to be a work-from-home evangelist who told everyone within earshot about the advantages of avoiding the office. No commute! No distracting co-workers! Home-cooked lunch! What’s to not love?
But I’ve been researching the pros and cons of remote work for my upcoming book about human survival within the age of AI and automation. And I’ve now come to a really different conclusion: most of the people should add an office, or near people , and avoid solitary work-from-home arrangements whenever possible.
Don’t get me wrong: performing from house is an honest option for brand spanking new parents, people with disabilities et al. who aren’t well-served by a standard office setup. I don’t think we should always ignore health guidelines and force people to figure in an office during an epidemic . And I’m sympathetic to the many teachers, restaurant workers and other professionals for whom performing from home has never been a viable option.
But for those folks lucky enough to be ready to work from home, coronavirus or no, a couple of words of caution are so as.
Fans of remote work often cite studies showing that folks who work from home are more productive, sort of a 2014 study led by Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom. The study examined remote workers at a Chinese agency and located that they were 13% more efficient than their office-based peers.
But research also shows that when distant workers gain in productivity, they also lose out on harder-to-measure benefits such as innovation and creative thinking. Studies have found that folks working together within the same room tend to unravel problems more quickly than remote collaborators, which team cohesion suffers in remote work arrangements.
Remote employees often appear to take shorter vacations and less sick days than office-based staff, and others report having trouble distinguishing their jobs from their home lives in surveys. That’s an honest thing if you’re a boss looking to squeeze extra efficiency out of your employees, but less ideal if you’re someone trying to realize some work-life balance.
Working in isolation are often lonely, which explains the recognition of coworking spaces like WeWork and therefore the Wing. Even in Silicon Valley , where the tools that leave remote work are being built, many companies are strict about requiring their workers to return into the office.
Steve Jobs, for one, was a famous opponent of remote work, believing that Apple employees’ best work came from accidentally bumping into people , not sitting reception ahead of an email inbox.
I’ll grant that paperwork has its downsides, even in healthy times. Commuting has been shown to form us less happy, and therefore the open-plan office, a very cursed workplace design trend that emphasizes airy spaces with rows of desks and tiny privacy, has made distraction-free focus nearly impossible.
But being near people also allows us to precise our most human qualities, like empathy and collaboration. Those are the talents that can’t be automated. And they’re what produces the type of meaningful interpersonal contact we miss out on when we’re stuck reception.
“There’s a component of social interaction that’s really important,” said Laszlo Bock, the chief executive of Humu, a Silicon Valley human resources startup.
Bock, who was previously Google’s top human resources officer, said that for many people, balancing paperwork with remote work is right. His company’s research has found that the perfect amount of work-from-home time is 1 1/2 days per week — enough to participate in office culture, with a while reserved for deep, focused work.
“The reason tech companies have micro-kitchens and free snacks isn’t because they think people are getting to starve between 9 a.m. and noon,” he said. “And that’s when you have the serendipity experiences.”
In recent years, some companies with sizable remote workforces have experimented with ways to make office culture over a distance.
Automattic, the all-remote organization of Mullenweg, conducts an regular week-long gathering of workers dubbed the “grand conference,” during which staff share an equal position for socializing and collaborating on community ventures. Remote employees are allowed to arrange “internet coffee breaks” at GitLab, an open-source networking site— strictly interactive video conferencing — with coworkers they don’t know well.
If the coronavirus continues preventing people from getting to the office, more companies may have to undertake tactics like these to assist keep their workers happy and connected.
But some citizens could never be happy with simulated water-coolers.
“It’s a really personal decision that works for a few and doesn’t work for others,” said Julia Austin, a former tech executive and professor at Harvard graduate school . “Some people are more productive and happy and find other ways to urge social contact if they work from home. and a few people aren’t happy working alone.”
As a white-collar millennial, I’m alleged to be cheering on the remote work revolution. But I’ve realized that I can’t be my best, most human self in sweatpants, pretending to concentrate on video conferences between trips to the fridge.
I’ll stay home as long as my bosses and therefore the health authorities advise. But honestly, I can’t wait to travel back to figure.