I'm going to start today by asking you all a question- what is the point of in-person working?
I've been reading recently about the "pivot" back to working in offices. For example this from the Guardian on a resurgence of traffic back to offices, which quotes a Uni of Sydney Academic Prof David Hensher, who said:
[...] the surprising uptick was partly linked to the “command and control” styles of a small number of companies that are requiring full-time or near full-time office attendance.
He went on to say that:
I‘m really worried that we could end up back into this pre-Covid office environment, which was more stressful, less satisfying and really made no difference to productivity gains.
Errr, "command and control", that doesn't sound good. What about "'trusting our people' or any of the other shibboleths that we all hear in the course of our employment? To many of us the one positive thing that came out of Covid was the realisation that we could do our work, to a higher standard (quality, intensity, or other) while also actively managing our wellbeing. My dogs were happier and, in the context of a worldwide pandemic, I was happier because the work my colleagues and I performed was excellent (happy dogs pictured having weekend breakfast below).
So when suggestions are made that we should all be back in the office to make campuses "vibrant", or because local cafe owners are doing it tough, I see only downside. I have to spend 4 hours a day commuting, it costs more to be at work, I get less work done, and my dogs are lonely (lonely and starving dog pictured). And what makes a campus vibrant? Probably not my presence.
So now that we've developed all of these skills, this ability to work very effectively digitally, to a high standard, what's the argument for going back to campus? Basically there isn't one.
The best piece of read I've read on the topic didn't just note the phenomenon, but rather pointed to why it's happening. Basically, remote working shows the less useful people up as less than useful. Nude emperors, if you will. In the piece the author states:
And these people are fuckin’ cops, man! Many managers take the idea that a manager is meant to evaluate and foster talent and read it as policing their every action, assuming that their manager status makes them perfect. They police your attendance, your output, if you “look productive,” all things that are so much less tangible in a remote world.
As many of academics would know, the outputs of your work are usually tangible, able to be turned into metrics. But what about the time to think, and the time to learn? Obviously when managing is about being seen to manage only, it makes one question the value of managers.
I will note that many people both want and need office space! Historians appear to take the greatest offence at threats to office space. As a man with four bookshelves at home, I get this. If going back suits some people, great! The point is that people have different ways of working, and employers should probably consider their entire body of employees as a flexible beast.
Now, I will say that my boss does none of the things in the Ed Zitron article. She states very clearly that she doesn't want to hang over our shoulders, and supports us to be our best selves at work. I'd like to think I'm the same. But I've also had the opposite type of boss in the not-too-distant past. So when someone says "I want you back in the office", maybe it's time to start asking what value they bring before they reduce the value you bring.
Until next time,