When I returned to my desk at George Washington University last week, the calendar on my wall – curled and faded with age – read March 2020.
Many Americans are facing a similar experience this fall, and are faced with these questions: What is the future of work? What have we learned during the pandemic about the virtues – and the downsides – of working online?
In other words: how do we redefine the term “work-life balance”? Traditionally, this idea involved calibrating the time spent at work against the hours spent on family and leisure. More and more, this means not only when we work, but how and where we pursue paid employment.
The key word here is “balance”. We are not faced with a binary choice between working at home and going to the office, between Zoom shirts and work clothes. The goal should be to maximize the virtues of both experiences and minimize the disadvantages.
A recent Washington Post headline captured both the ambivalence and the opportunity that many of us now face: “We hate the office. We love the office. Do we want to go back? Writer Roxanne Roberts cleverly concluded, “The post-pandemic takeaway: one desktop size doesn’t fit everyone anymore.”
Let’s be clear: only certain workers have a choice. A Gallup survey found that while 72% of white-collar workers were working remotely during the pandemic, only 14% of blue-collar workers did. It is difficult to pour concrete or empty ponds from the house.
For those with a choice, the past 18 months have taught a clear lesson. As Adam Ozimek, chief economist at freelance platform Upwork, told Vox: “A lot of people have had a taste for remote work this year and they see the flexibility that comes with it, and they want more. .
But “flexibility” means new thinking; it does not mean “one size fits all” or the same size all the time. A survey by Wakefield Research for Eden Workplace found that 62% of employees want to both stay at home and commute to work. Only 23% prefer to work full time in the office and barely 15% never want to travel.
The joys of working remotely are obvious and tangible. I save two hours a day by not driving, shaving, or avoiding the distractions of office life. It’s time to walk my dog, run errands and even, I admit, take an occasional nap.
The Post introduced Zenita Wickham Hurley, a senior government official in Maryland, who has been working remotely since March 2020. “There hasn’t been a day that I said, ‘Dude, I’m missing the commutes’,” Hurley said. “I almost feel like a different person.”
“The money saved on gasoline and parking during the pandemic was used to pay off his student loans,” the Post reports. “Lunch breaks at home during the summer have brought extra time with her 10-year-old, and she often starts making dinner while finishing a work call.”
But there is another side to this balance. Back at the office, I had lunch with an old friend. We discussed the death of her father and the birth of her first grandchild. He asked me how I was dealing with the tragedy in my own family. The bonds were strong, the hugs and handshakes irreplaceable.
More than half of those interviewed by recruitment agency Randstad said the main thing they lack in the office is interaction with their colleagues. This was especially true for younger employees, who are more likely to live alone and lack family support systems.
“The repercussions on mental health could be severe, with not only productivity at stake, but the well-being of young employees themselves,” reports Tech.Co.
A smart businessman who runs a financial services firm told me that while his senior executives work well remotely, it is much more difficult for new hires who don’t understand the culture or values of the company. business.
Another executive pointed out that while he could maintain connections with existing customers online, initiating new business relationships and building a level of trust required face-to-face contact.
As Apple CEO Tim Cook said, “Video conferencing has reduced the distance between us, but there are things it just can’t duplicate.”
Yes, we hate the office – and love it too. We despise travel, but also desire companionship. The pajamas are both comforting and insulating.
In the future, work must offer both independence and interaction – personal choice and personal connection. This is what we humans need.
(Steven Roberts teaches politics and journalism at George Washington University. He can be contacted by email at [email protected])