In a recent Atlantic article, The Hidden Toll of Remote Work, author Arthur Brooks argues that “going fully remote forever could exacerbate one of the worst happiness disasters of the pandemic.” He quotes statistics from Buffer’s 2020 survey (which uses data from 2019) to show that remote workers struggle with loneliness and collaboration.
It seems like a pretty grim picture. The only problem is that this tale is incomplete. If you look at Buffer’s 2020 survey (which isn’t the most recent one), 98% of respondents want to work remotely, at least some of the time, for the rest of their career. If you look at the latest survey, 96% of all respondents, and 99% of workers who started to work remotely due to COVID, wish to continue doing so, in some capacity, going forward. Ninety-eight percent would recommend remote work to others.
Your Job Isn’t Your Mother
It’s undeniable that remote workers can struggle with loneliness. It’s also true that working in a traditional office is an important component of some employees’ mental health. But recommending that all workers resist transitioning to permanent remote work is a step too far: “If the office permanently closes, consider whether your employer has your best interests at heart, and if you can, think about moving to another company.”
That last quote, in particular, gets under my skin. Office buildings weren’t invented because someone asked themselves, “Hey, how can we make our workers happy?” They did it to increase productivity and control the working environment. A company isn’t a family. It’s a unit designed to make money. A company should be ethical, and the best ones hope you’re happy, but they aren’t your mother.
Let’s Put Down the Pitchforks
Before we ask folks to join a back-to-the-office revolution, let’s first consider pointing people toward the tools they need to ward off loneliness no matter where or how they work. That information is out there. I know because I’ve written some of it. But I’m not the only one. There is a veritable army of people waiting to help you make the jump. Working from home isn’t synonymous with isolation. If you like working remotely and are motivated to make connections with people, you can learn how to do so.
Someday the pandemic will be over, and those of us who love to work remotely will once again spend time with the people we met in our communities because we weren’t chained to an office.
In the end, we need workplace choice. If Mr. Brooks wants to work from his pre-COVID office, I hope he gets the opportunity to do so. But I don’t want to be forced back into a traditional office because someone else doesn’t like working from home. That would be as ridiculous as insisting everyone should raise children because some people enjoy doing so. Instead, let’s respect each other’s differences and work together to create humane workplaces, no matter where we sit.
What’s That Douglas Up To?
The big news is that we’re moving this summer. My husband is finishing up his PhD, and so we’re moving away from campus. The Vancouver housing market is pretty insane. And oh my goodness, the applications! It was like applying to college. We had to write a personal essay, talk about our extra curricular activities, and submit references. I wish I were kidding. I’m surprised they didn’t ask for a lock of hair and a vial of blood.
In between looking for places to live, I wrote stories for the book of essays about my family’s pandemic year. I also did a voice-over for my micro-fiction piece Spores, which will be appearing in the audio-lit mag Micro at some point in the near future. I found them while researching audio literary magazines as part of an upcoming project. More on that later. Meantime, check out Micro. They’re doing some fun things.
I hope you and yours are coping as best as you can. I’m rooting for you!