I think it’s fairly well known that I’m in a different station of life than either Adam or Anthony. Where they either have their foot very firmly in the door to academia, or are still rather politely knocking, I have opted for a desk by the window, my foot aching from being both crushed by the door in which it was lodged and unmercifully kicked by people I could never get a good look at. For now, I’ve opted for a kind of labor that is neither manual, managerial, or executive (and yes, this post is going to myopically concern itself only with a certain type of worker, and fails to consider those whose workplace is non-negotiable on every conceivable level — sadly, these workers are usually also the ones too exhausted to blog), and as a result regularly wonder who really gains from me showing up at my workspace in the northwest corner of the eighth floor of a building whose inspiration is most roughly akin to that evoked by reading (or, depending on your disposition, writing) an obituary?
The societal benefits of working from home are overwhelming. Most key, though, is that we’d (or, let’s be truthful, I’d) be freed from the tyranny (if not necessarily the existence) of full-time work — as if time itself wasn’t oppressive enough. For worker-bees like me, workday tasks usually don’t take the full eight or nine hours we’re allotted to accomplish them. The tyranny of full-time employment, though, dictates that I spread things out throughout the day, and sometimes week, in order to keep up the pretense of having enough “on my plate.” This is the most pernicious part about office jobs: the dual-threat of (a) not having enough to do and (b) the promise/threat that there is always something else to be done. (Even my articulation of the problem, particularly the use of the word “pernicious,” is indicative of how childishly dramatic these jobs make you. They are luxurious damnations, and deserve all the contempt they receive.)
One of the main hurdles to a working-from-home system, it’s been suggested, is Management’s unwillingness to release their employees from this tyranny. It’s not simply a power-trip on their part, though. Most of the time, I’d say it is the far more banal ignorance of what their employees actually do and how long it takes them to do it. As a result, employees, too, have a vested economic interest in maintaining the workplace status quo. Working from home could have the unintentional consequence of exposing how little time it takes to accomplish what is expected of you as a worker; which, because Management is programmed to pay you for your time, not for the value of your work, would likely result in an unwelcome pay cut. Of course, and more likely, you could work to prevent this unfortunate disclosure by coming up with ways to disguise your efficiency — not submitting work “too quickly,” staggering your output, etc. This is not altogether different from the current set-up, whereupon an office worker is paid both for his time and creative deployment of deception, so as not to upset the well-established charade — but at least at home he is given the opportunity to do it from the comfort of his couch in his tattered sleep clothes.
The ultimate hurdle, though, cannot be so easily dismissed. That is, the tendency of so many to treat their workplace as a social environment — the cesspool in which breeds the dreaded “assumed friendships,” those painfully awkward relationships coaxed out of the unsuspecting by those who feel compelled to tell you more than you’d like to know and inquire about more than you’re prone to offer. I often forget that some people actually thrive on this, and indeed sometimes even develop REAL friendships at work. Even if you were, like me, relieved to no longer have to suffer the indignaties of the office as daily workplace, one wonders if the benefit to their mental & emotional health (such as they are) would really last all that long. (Would even I, I wonder, last all that long without being able to rail against this? Yeah, probably, I’d be just fine.)
I thought of this recently while I sat stewing in the car, staring in disbelief at the line of cars ahead of me, reflecting on an unfulfilled story idea that I once described elsewhere.
A not-so-distant not-quite dystopian future, in which the middle class has not so much revolted as gone insane. Their employers, recognizing the high cost of fuel, and succumbing to governmental pressure to “Go Green,” have granted their employees a wish: work from home. The only problem, these same employees, who are no longer able to afford the appearance of luxury promised to them by the late-20th/early-21st century, have become slaves to their suburban homes and the gadgets they’ve amassed. With no refuge from what they’ve gathered for themselves, one couple systematically destroys their possessions in increasingly creative ways — discussing the beauty of burning HDTVs, cooking IPods while they play in their portable Bose players, and disassembling SUVs and using the parts to create a totem commemorating Mammon’s death.