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+100

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I'm a single woman in my early 30s. I've never had great luck with online dating, despite being a Very Online person, as there's such a mismatch between what I think I'll like online and what I actually like when I meet them in person. Every guy I've ever truly fallen for has been someone I've met organically, usually by getting to know them over time (and some of them I've seen their dating profiles and I probably wouldn't have swiped right). The last few serious options I met pre-pandemic were through my office's We Work-esque co-working space; hardly anyone is back now.

On my city's subreddit, a woman recently posted a "apps haven't worked out for me; where do single guys in their 30s hang out?" and the vast majority of the answers were "sitting at home playing video games," "at the gym but it's weird to talk to strangers at the gym," "I have given up on women as they all suck," or being aggressively misogynist and insulting towards the OP.

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I used to commute an hour each way daily. I would gladly have given that up although I did listen to a great many audio books.

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founding

I used to commute 45 minutes each way on a filthy urban bus line to an unsafe neighborhood. Don't miss that at all.

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This is sort of a trash take to be honest. If I work from home on a home computer then yes I'm using personal stuff to replicate the stuff my boss would have bought if I were in an office, but that's a sunk cost. I was going to own a computer anyway. It's only transferring a burden onto me if I didn't already own a computer. AND me working from home means I don't need gas for the commute, nor the time for commute, nor in some cases even a car. Your analysis lacks an understanding of opportunity cost.

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I'm not saying that you shouldn't make this bargain. I'm saying that it surprises me that it isn't recognized AS a bargain - that there are costs too.

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I think it's recognized as such a good bargain that there's no reason not to make it, for almost everyone who has an opportunity to make it.

If someone had a manufacturing job and their boss told them they had to buy a CNC machine for home use, that'd be different. If you want to make the real case where this is questionable, look into Uber vs car maintenance costs/etc. That would be where the bargain starts to get sketchy.

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Here in Finland, at least, it's recognized as a bargain by allowing tax deductions for remote work. That might be criticized for shifting costs from management to government, except comparable expenses at the office were probably tax deductible for the business as well.

https://www.vero.fi/en/individuals/tax-cards-and-tax-returns/income-and-deductions/remote-working-and-deductions/

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Jan 23, 2023·edited Jan 23, 2023

He's assuming that people don't own powerful computers, high-speed internet, quality microphones or a comfortable battlestation unless they work from home. You know why?

Yet more gamer erasure from the radical left.

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LOL

..that darn radical left again..

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I had to call in to the help line a while back due to issues with the remote desktop software.

Help desk: "Ok, please reboot your machine."

Me: "It's back up."

Help desk: "...really???"

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I think this is one of those cases where some costs are offloaded onto me but other ones I no longer have to pay - commuting, and the overall rigid structure of office life. To some extent I think open plan offices made this happen. But I really think for the vast majority of people it's worth the tradeoff...you can structure your time in a way that makes sense instead of one that LOOKS like you're working to your bosses or whoever.

Commuting is that bad, and being in the office is a mixed bag - there's a certain panopticon feeling to modern offices that is really oppressive. I've worked from home for ten years and even when I'm at a client office I find it less productive - however I'm with you on the human connection aspect and make sure I have plenty of time with both old and new people outside of work, and spend a lot of time with my coworkers when I do travel to them. It's absurd that people think there's no tradeoff, and I think people are really getting worse at social interaction.

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Jan 23, 2023·edited Jan 23, 2023

I think the commuting costs are the best time and money savings with remote work, with maybe more efficient work-time management as a distant second. For some people, commuting can take up hours of your day. But beyond that, I don't see much benefit to it. I agree with Freddie on a lot of this. Not just with the markedly less human interaction aspect (which is a big one), but especially with all of the random costs of it.

For example, my own job has recently implemented two-factor authentication to access all work activities: clocking in, time sheets, email access, etc. It's great from a security standpoint, but it overwhelmingly relies on a smartphone app in order to do this...your own smartphone. For one thing, I don't think it's right for a company to force you to use your own phone for work...that really shouldn't be a part of the equation. But equally important, a lot of employees on the lower end of the payscale may not own a smartphone for obvious cost reasons. There's a little remote token they give you if you don't want to use your smartphone, but you still need a specific land line in order to use it...which means you have to be around the one land-line phone to finish the authentication. That's not exactly easy for a lot of blue-collar jobs.

When the IT peeps were presenting this change a few years ago, I remember asking them why doesn't our business simply issue every employee company smartphones? It makes sense on almost every level; I mean it's WORK, not play. The answer was basically, "yeah that would be awesome, but [business] is not prepared to spend that much money on something like this." Okay...so we need to spend personal money on certain type of phone in order to do our job.

Almost everyone above a certain salary thought this was no big deal at all, of course. Lower-end employees fussed about it at first, but unfortunately it has since sort of become normal.

I suppose I'm biased because I'm one of those people who purposely won't buy a smartphone (just hate the idea of always being connected to everything, and don't want to constantly tweak a smartphone in order to stay that way). And during Covid, when we had to work from home for awhile, I absolutely hated it. Not only was I really bad at it (my boss was ready to issue formal disciplinary proceedings), I just plain do not like mixing work life with home life. My home is my personal refuge and sanctuary, work has no business being there (pun intended).

However I was lucky that my job requires me to be in one building that is relatively vacant except for me - little Covid worries, the commute is minimal, and I use the land-line there to authenticate anything. But not nearly everyone at my place of employment has that option.

I can't help but feel like this whole remote framework, while positive on some levels, is a net negative for humanity. Especially for economic and social reasons. And I worry that conducting most of your existence behind a screen will slowly become normalized over the years.

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In most states, making an employee use their personal phone for work is actually illegal. Not a whole lot of litigation on it, yet. I advised my clients to provide cell phones if they want their workers to use a cell phone for work.

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Removed (Banned)Jan 23, 2023
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Right. If an employer compensates an employee for use of the phone in some way, it is legal. But merely forcing an employee to have and use their own cell phone for work without compensation explicitly for that is illegal.

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I must be in one of those states where it's not a law then. :-/

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No. It just has not been challenged, yet.

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I'm guessing it's because they also offer the remote token in place of the phone app. It's basically a little device you can put on your keychain a little bigger than a thumb drive. You use it to bring up a randomly generated number, then enter that number on computer screen. Annoying to have another thing to stuff in your pocket and carry with you, but it does the job I guess.

The "old-school" alternative is the landline call.

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Yes, this. Our company is encouraging people to come back into the office with free food, social promotions, etc., and there is a large group of people who really don't want to. Freddie's focused on the costs of a home office, but commutes were also a significant cost that workers were bearing - hours a week of unpaid time.

(In both cases, it's a bit mixed. Workers have some control over their commute to the extent they can live closer to work, and they have some control over their home office expenses depending on how much space they need and whether they can task a space for multiple uses.)

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“Panopticon feeling” - perfectly conveyed. This is exactly it. Perhaps it’s not everyone who feels this way, but two points related to your comment: 1. At work, there’s always this feeling of being compelled to be “on”. Saying the right things, making the right movements. The judges are always watching; and 2. Unless you’re supervising, a lot of office work is down time until you’re “activated” on a project by an rising need; yet when you’re working in person, instead of, say, doing yoga next to your computer waiting for an assignment, you have to *look* like you’re engaged at work. Another form of being “on” - I find this all very emotionally and psychologically taxing.

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Removed (Banned)Jan 24, 2023·edited Jan 24, 2023
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Jan 24, 2023·edited Jan 24, 2023

You’re absolutely correct. Very good point.

I don’t think that we’re speaking of eliciting sympathy though - although this goes to highlight interclass resentment, which can be a problem in and of itself, especially given that someone working for, say, those positions within the government is not any more/less the architecture of the system than those blue collar workers. We’re speaking of what makes sense. If indeed employers are saving themselves money by having workers work remotely, and remote workers’ output is the same as on-site’s while accepting the additional expenses because of my above explanation, then there’s no reason, except the psychological ones listed by Freddie, to go back to the office.

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That makes sense. Although having worked within the same industry - absolutely it’s government - in person and remote, it’s not uncommon to have only a few people doing most of the work in person also. What data are you looking at? Do you mind sharing?

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Tech, at least high-level software development, has a different kind of waiting where you sometimes have to think about a problem for a while before coding it, or submitting the design for it, and it's difficult to make this look like working even though it's genuinely crucial to the process. Working from home is great for this kind of thing.

The other part of it is work-life balance; I happily work for 12h on a day where nothing is happening, but if say there's a social event that lasts long into the night I can be tired or hungover the next morning without consequence as long as there's no big meetings instead of sitting bleary-eyed at a computer. More ability to choose where work and life go according to my preferences - I'm not someone who wants a hard separation between the two.

And of course, in terms of 'other half' perks, if I feel like working remotely from a beach somewhere, I can do that and don't even have to tell anyone.

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Yep, definitely, that’s the case with a lot of problem-solving jobs. I work in a high level position that requires a lot of creativity, so being by the beach or in the mountains helps me be in a good state of mind. I can’t say I wouldn’t come up with these ideas in a sterile government building, but having done this in one prior, I can at least say that I don’t like the pressure (real or imagined) of having to *look* busy. Of course I appreciate that Freddie is highlighting the transferring of expenses because it can be important to note this, it’s just that the environment I create for myself is so nourishing that I don’t think they could offer me an even trade.

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This probably has a lot to do with the peculiarities of my workplace and experience, etc., but.....

.....I personally get more of a "panopticon" experience when I worked from home early during the pandemic. I felt like I had to almost always be at my computer (during work hours), ready to prove I'm working by very promptly responding to any email that might pop up. Communication by email and instant message (and in the chat feature of Zoom) meant that I might more likely say something that seems wrong or worse, and that a record of what I said could last for a long time. Not that there was ever a problem, but we all (or most of us) sometimes say things we regret, and when I do, I prefer to do it without writing a record of it. Add to all that the fact that home was no longer a refuge from work, but a place that was now work.

Again, that might have more to do with the peculiarities of my job. And I can't deny that onsite work has its own panoptic traits.

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Totally agree about open offices. This was my biggest issue in the world before Covid. I still go in once a week or so and open offices still suck just as much. I like going in and seeing people, and if employers made it easy to work I’d happily commute. But coding in the middle of a giant bright room all day with a million distractions is miserable

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Right, in some cases it also cuts down on childcare costs; when I don’t commute, I need fewer hours of care.

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Remote work has been a godsend for me for two reasons. We have young children, and if one is sick they can stay home with me with less disruption compared to the old days of losing a full day of work.

Also since our children are now established in school and daycare, we are loathe to move. Remote work opens up a national job market for me that pays better than the local market.

And yeah, commuting is really bad especially when you have to make pitstops at daycare and school.

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I don't think we can overstate how much better remote work is for many parents with younger kids. The amount of stress I used to deal with to get out of the house on time in order to drop them off, the disaster of missing work due to having a sick kid at home, having all joy sucked from a snow day since it meant scrambling to find childcare, the frustration of missing early and late meetings/work outings due to kids' schedules, the manic rush to get out of the office in order to make it to pick up on time. All of that worked against parents advancing in their careers, let alone feeling like they had any sort of work/life balance.

I don't love every part of remote work, and there are trade offs. But, overall, it has improved my quality of life immensely.

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Same here. Two months ago I took a new job to go full WFH because my wife and I adopted an 18 month old and it was no longer tenable for me to commute close to an hour each way. I would rarely be home before 6:15 p.m. (Yes, I made the choice to live in the suburbs but how we ended up there is a whole separate thing.)

I know anecdotal experiences are not the core point of the post, but for me it's led to much greater social engagement. I can take my toddler to a daytime library reading, where I've met some other parents who live nearby that I wouldn't have otherwise met. I can hang out at daycare when I pick up my son and chit chat with others as I no longer feel harried. I've learned about some things available in my area that I probably wouldn't have thought of. Before WFH, my wife had to do all that and her sole goal was--understandably--going in and picking up our kid as quickly as possible so she could get home after her own long day.

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100% agree. I have a young child, and he gets sick every couple of weeks. I catch it 90% of the time. I have no idea how I would have managed this without WFH.

Like most Americans, I have a 40-hour work week and insufficient PTO. It's completely incompatible with raising young children. The "costs" of WFH (I work on the couch and use the internet I'd pay for anyway) are nothing compared to the costs of commuting and paid childcare.

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"Imagine if the boss had come to them and said, in generic terms, “there’s an expense that we’ve happily paid for longer than you’ve been employed here, but now we’re going to shift that cost directly onto your shoulders, to the extent that your total effective compensation has taken a major hit.”

Nobody is necessarily thinking on this level, because the perceived freedom gained from working from home (or hybrid) feels like such a massive concession compared to the old way. It's less about the hard economic truth and more about no longer being forced to be at a particular location for a particular period of time every day.

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Commuting really is that bad, unreliable, and also expensive. Lots of commuters were sitting on trains knowing that their children were eating breakfast without them. Plus the cost of having a home office means that you actually have an office instead of being in an open plan cattle pen. I take the point about a reduction in human contact but I've worked in a bunch of offices for years at a time and I'm not still in contact with anyone I met there. Working from home might make the alienation more obvious but it was there already.

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I'd leave a place where I worked alongside other people with no contact. That sounds absolutely horrible and I'm sorry you had to endure it.

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Is not a lack of context so much as the assumption that everyone will be moving on in 6 months to 5 years. No one is invested in the relationships

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Open plan offices are near universally reviled and probably one of the first things a knowledge worker union would take up, if there were one. I would prefer to have seen this resolved with better offices, but I’ll take WFH.

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Yes, either private offices or else team offices would be worth traveling in for. Being unable to look away from your screen without making eye contact with a stranger is closer to the panopticon than it is to socialising

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Feel like a lot of people are just working from home without having upgraded property or the need to make any changes? That's my anecdotal experience and that of my friends.

I work hard and enjoy my job. My work is mapped and visible at all stages to my boss or the rest of my team. Yet sometimes pieces of work get stuck despite me doing all I can with other bits of the organisation to expedite them.

The single greatest benefit of working from home is that when this happens I can just do something else, read or cook or clean my flat or whatever.

My office is near my home and I go in very occasionally, I do miss seeing people sometimes and it can be isolating being at home. But most visits to the office I find there's an hour of my life wasted having to sit upright under unpleasant office lighting pretending I'm busy, or reading the papers as if I'm working, and that's even true in an organisation with an incredibly relaxed culture.

I'm single and don't have kids, but I suspect for others it's all the above plus the flexibility to look after family or not always be at your desk. It's a radical shift in what work is, making it about what you do and the quality of that, not where you are. For some that's very appealing. For others, less so.

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There are really people out there who have to sit around and *look busy*? This seems crazy to me. There is always a list of tasks to do that's longer than both of my legs. Even back when I had a job where my "standard" tasks didn't fill up my time, or I had to compile a large documentation set that would take 45 minutes, there were many things I could do to improve our products. I can think of few things more demoralizing and alienating than twiddling my thumbs in a way that makes it look like I'm working.

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Ah, the vain hope to find a happy medium: a job that doesn't require make-work, but that doesn't require 70-hour weeks.

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My guess is that twiddling their thumbs is what more than 60% of the white collar population does at work.

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That's not true where I work (at least among the teams I work with), but naturally I can't speak for anywhere else.

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I think you could make an argument that a lot of white collar jobs are essentially welfare for the college educated set. Wasn't it just last week that the discussion here centered on so-called "bullshit jobs"?

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It did. And I argued at the time that most "bullshit jobs" exist for a reason (sometimes multiple reasons) that are not clear without understanding history. I suppose that such jobs *do* lend themselves to being less efficient though, because they don't really *need* to be efficient to accomplish their function (usually taking less specialized work away from people with harder-to-find or more expensive skillsets, or sometimes taking more specialized work away from people who are not necessarily suited to it).

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Whenever I've proposed that always working from home might have some negative consequences to people and society people lose their shit. They get incredibly defensive and tell me why they love working from home. It's annoying because I agree that there should be a lot more opportunity to do work at home, and it's not like I don't know about the benefits of WFH because everyone yells at me about them.

I think it really is a case by case basis. I worked from home most of the pandemic and the isolation began to really wear on me and I was extremely lonely. Now I'm back in the office more and the forced social interaction does make me feel better and I even was able to make a friend or two. I have a hard time getting comfortable around I know I just need to be forced to interact with people or I'd be a hermit.

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"Whenever I've proposed that always working from home might have some negative consequences to people and society people lose their shit. They get incredibly defensive and tell me why they love working from home. It's annoying because I agree that there should be a lot more opportunity to do work at home"

I've had a similar experience (minus the "lose their shit" part); when I express that I both personally hate working from home, and that I think there are significant challenges to doing our collective job well when everyone is remote, I get the litany of reasons why working from home is more productive.

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I think the defensiveness of people who work from home comes from fear of being forced back to the office against their will.

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Where they hired as WTH? If not, they aren't being forced back against their will, they are being told to report back for the job they signed on for.

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This is where I land on much of this. Although I am retired, medically, at this point, the idea of working from home sounds like hell for a large group of workers (socialization of ideas is one of the great benifits for workers), hell for a business (reapping the benefits of that socialization), and, frankly, it makes every worker a temp, in essence.

If you aren't showing your worth in more than your basic job description, then you aren't promotable, and will have a hard time proving your basic worth as an employee. A career isn't a description, and good workers will show this. And there really isn't a way to show it as a remote employee.

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Sometimes things can be win-win. In purely financial terms, the employer has stopped paying your office expense, but you've stopped paying your commuting expense. It's a rare person whose commuting expenses are less than thousands a year, plus substantially more than that in terms of time.

Now I'm still concerned about the remote work future. But I don't think that in all cases a benefit for an employer must be a cost for an employee.

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Eh I dunno I don't really buy it.

I think capitalism will solve this in that it will allow people to be less concentrated around expensive metro areas, repopulating smaller cities and suburban and rural areas, offsetting costs.

There's an initial increase in demand for housing that drives the cost of everything up because everyone wants the same thing all at once, but the market should be able to address the demand.

I think the real division is between those with families and those without.

Working remotely is a huge win if you have a family, especially with young children, which is a zero sum game in terms of time.

Very nice to save time from not commuting and do tasks around the house in downtime instead of wasting time in an office.

For younger people, older people, and single people I think there is a loss in socializing, face to face mentorship, and being out the house. I think it would be gross and weird, for example, to be a 25 year old in the house all day.

Hopefully there will be social and cultural developments that will offset the losers in this equation who may be more socially isolated as a result.

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I'm single and I've definitely found the last few years of working from home a bit more isolating at times. But the benefits are so clear that I think the onus is on myself/ourselves to change our social lives accordingly.

As has been mentioned in another response, the atmosphere in offices can vary. Even in a very friendly office it can still be intense or alien, or the people are nothing like who you choose to hang out with, conversations about stuff you don't care about etc.

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I will say, “conversations you don’t care about” are possibly one of the biggest things people have lost by working remotely.

When I worked in an office, I did not like all of my co-workers. I did not find every conversation engaging. There were LOTS of times when I wished I could be at home, away from the meaningless conversations with annoying people.

But also, those conversations are essential in their own right.

Part of being a well-socialized person in a functioning society is having a certain comfort level with boring people, and boring conversations.

Having to deal tactfully with a guy who chews with his mouth open and spouts off about weird conspiracy theories is good practice for family Thanksgiving celebrations. Spending all week hearing a woman complain about her husband and kids puts one’s own complaints into perspective, if only out of a desire not to sound like her. Hearing about Jonathan’s sixth divorce is a reminder that not all people live life in quite the same way. And so on.

That’s not to discount truly toxic office environments, and that’s certainly not to discount the benefits of working from home. But I do think it’s vital that people remember both sides of the discussion, and recognize that the office DOES serve some crucial social benefits, even if those “benefits” are less than enjoyable at times.

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It's a fair point. I agree with a lot of what you say and what Freddie said in the original post about the general atomisation.

I've definitely felt more frustrated or uncomfortable in the increasingly few situations where I have to be around people I don't know, like the post office or the doctor's waiting room or whatever. I don't enjoy that feeling and it seems pernicious.

That said, I'm not sure the office, even a nice office, is the bulwark we should demand against the creep of life towards the online.

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I tend to agree with this. I think social isolation is bad, and I think most of our working culture is bad, so it doesn't make sense to me to say that we should fix our social isolation problem by making people spend more time at work. They seem like different problems that warrant different solutions, and I tend to believe that work has very very very little to offer us by way of fixing our social problems (just look at how badly it solves our problem of healthcare access, our problem of finding meaning in a complicated world, our various racism, sexism and ableism problems, etc)

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Jan 23, 2023·edited Jan 23, 2023

I've been working remotely for over 6 years so I have thoughts on this.

Yes, commuting really is that bad--in an economic time sense alone I would be throwing away 10 hours of my life a week if I had to commute. I have a dog so my heating and cooling costs would be the same regardless. I never increased my housing costs because I wanted more room to work. I already had a desk and chair. My company pays for my office supplies.

In exchange for a slightly higher electric bill, I get a lot of benefits. No commute (as noted above). I'm here all my day for my dog. I save money by not having to buy lunch and I get to eat a wider variety of home-cooked foods than I could ever pack (omelettes don't travel well.) I can throw a load of laundry in. Also, I don't spend 8 hours a day in an unpleasant overly bright too cold or too hot office where I constantly have to deal with noise, interruptions, and a general feeling of being a zoo animal on display.

Perhaps most importantly, I'm more inclined to go out after work and be social or engage in volunteer activities, etc. because I'm not super drained from being out all day and commuting.

You're vastly overstating the financial effects of remote work and vastly understating the quality-of-life benefits.

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Jan 23, 2023·edited Jan 23, 2023

I'm not sure how home office costs could add up to $1,000 monthly. Most people who need more room keep their rent the same by moving to a cheaper area when they no longer have to commute. And the small perks like free coffee are going to be wiped out by expensive takeout or a $6 latte on the commute in. Even if work doesn't cover high-speed internet, that's not going to add up to $1,000.

I don't work from home, but had a ~6 week transition period where I did online training and planning. I didn't incur any extra costs using zoom all day and didn't want for anything I could buy.

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Well, moving away from an expensive area also has cultural costs for many people, though some value the expensive area literally only for commute reduction, and indeed some value it negatively in itself.

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Some might say it has cultural benefits...

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I'm 8.5 years into a 100 percent remote job, and I can't fathom why I would ever want to go back to working outside of my home, largely for the reasons you mention. The dietary and pet-related benefits (cat, in my case) alone are huge. To your list I would add:

-- I can go exercise during the day. Usually that means after my morning coffee and before I start working. Having a gym in my building certainly makes this more convenient, but before we moved here, I'd still walk or drive to the gym every day. Because I could.

-- I can schedule doctor appointments for basically whenever the hell I want. I don't have to "ask for time off." I'm not penalized for being gone for an hour in the middle of the day because I need to get my eyes examined or whatever.

-- It's easier to coordinate with contractors. This is blessedly far less of an issue in a condo than it was in a 115-year-old house, but when there's a plumbing issue or I need my dryer fixed or my HVAC serviced, I don't have to restructure my entire life around trying to get it scheduled.

-- I can go grocery shopping and run other random errands. I don't eat up precious weekend or weeknight hours on this stuff unless I absolutely have to.

-- If work is light, I'm not stuck someplace wasting my time.

-- It's a lot easier to live with one car when you can truly share that car because one of you works from home and the other works close enough to walk.

I suppose I should note that my employer is a very small company, and absolutely no one is micro-managing me at any time. I'm pretty free to structure my day how I want. If I'm leaving my building, I put up a little note on Slack. No one cares, no one is inconvenienced.

It did take me a while to adjust to working from home, and I can definitely see how being sent home in March 2020 was probably VERY disruptive to a lot of people with office jobs. I imagine that was a difficult transition and a lot of folks probably never figured out how to make it work for themselves. But I wouldn't trade this for anything (aside from not working at all).

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My first (and only) job after undergrad has been working remotely as a software engineer for the last 23 years. I second every one of your points.

I get plenty of social interaction at clubs I’m a member of and from my friends.

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Not just for pets, but for kids. Kids get sick frequently, younger kids have frequent well child doctor visits, any extracurriculars, etc. The commute can really become a big issue for all of that, whereas if you're already at home and not being observed constantly, you're freer with time and scheduling. Work flexibility is a highly valuable asset for a parent.

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I wouldn't worry too much about workers "absorbing the extra cost". When our company examined everything, we found that our actual productivity plummeted compared to when people were coming into the offices at least 3 times a week. So much so, that the move (during the height of C19 lockdowns) was to hire even more, less productive, workers just to try and keep up, and productivity still was way below normal, with an enormous amount of cost added to the company.

Far from absorbing cost, people were giving themselves a generous raise by working far, few real hours compared to before. Most workers are not on Zoom calls 8+ hours a day. Even in well established tech companies (like mine), there were, and still are, so many ways to game the remote work system to work even less than the most dogged slackers could get away with in an actual office. There is a reason a whole lot of remote workers didn't want to go back to the office, and it had nothing to do with being afraid of catching C19.

Perverse incentives will, as ever, yield perverse results. It's just human nature.

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Measuring success in terms of how many hours workers spend at a desk seems kind of a bad way to work, but IDK what your company does.

I'm not 100 per cent new school 'everyone should do what they feel like' on these matters but it seems clear to me that people should have clear objectives, and tasks to do which lead to those objectives being complete.

Some people will work faster than others within that. In a good system you can then give those people a little more work.

But the idea that the workers are always seeking to 'game' a system whose ultimate goal should always be that they are working as many hours as possible seems agnostic of any actual purpose or point to what is being done, or the many different types of task and the nature of these.

It might take me two hours to email a recalcitrant person, or five minutes to help a younger colleague to learn an important thing, or whatever. Are these the same? If someone else does these tasks in a different amount of time are they wrong or worse?

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This ties into a lot of what Freddie has written about education. They will develop some system staffed by brilliant dedicated tireless 20 somethings and they can improve student performance. Great! They say, let’s roll this out to a larger group. And the benefits evaporate. Why? Because the system only worked with brilliant dedicated tireless 20 somethings.

The same is true with WFH. It can work if you have above average employees managed by above average managers. But the average employee is average as is the average manager.

If your solution is we just need better managers - you’ll have to reveal where to find them.

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A better system, I would argue!

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Every suggestion of a better system I’ve heard relies on better managers.

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I guess I see it more as creating a system where the entire organisation has clear goals, but maybe wouldn't apply to something like teaching so much.

I don't really think of that as being about managers per se.

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First of all, measuring worker productivity is not some form of arcane mysticism. It is quite easy to examine the amount of stuff that actually gets produced by employees. This is table stakes. I did not say "all workers" game the system. I did say that perverse incentives to game the system are built into the remote work model, and there's no denying that plenty of people do, in fact, respond to incentives to treat working from home as an invitation to do as little real work as actually possible.

Conversely, a few (a tiny few, but a noticeable few) saw their personal productivity go up while remote working, because they treated it like a chance to work hard, and treat it like an audition for a promotion or raise. But overall, it plummeted - and we weren't alone. Profits for tech and software went up during the pandemic, but now that that bubble has burst, the bloated, much less productive remote workers remained, and now we're in a recession, there are mass layoffs (which still won't improve productivity per worker, but will reduce costs at least).

Again, this is simply human nature in action. People respond to incentives, good incentives, and bad incentives.

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For sure, I don't disagree that work can be measured. I think in fact measuring what people do and having it out in the open is good. In my job it's clear at all times what I do, I see this as a way to show my ability.

I guess tying productivity to hours spent at desk is where I disagree. It's hard to have this discussion across industries or experiences but my experience of work isn't that people are inherently lazy. I've had plenty of lazy colleagues over the years but I've also worked in places where people's roles were unclear, or the effect of their job was vague, or whatever.

I think it should be possible for companies to be productive with people working from home. I don't think we can say the current recession is entirely or even mainly to do with remote working.

I don't know your industry but I do think some companies could examine their culture in a wider way besides just blaming working remotely. If all your staff don't give a shit and stop working from home then maybe there are myriad reasons for that besides them being inherently lazy.

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By 'your' in that final sentence I didn't mean you personally... sorry sounded a bit aggressive :)

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Jan 23, 2023·edited Jan 23, 2023

“ It is quite easy to examine the amount of stuff that actually gets produced by employees. ”

There are tons of books about attempts to measure software developer productivity. It’s very difficult.

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It may not be possible to do it perfectly, but outside of tech it's barely even attempted sometimes. At a basic level at least having tickets of work which you attempt to size and scope etc may seem broken or problematic within tech, but it's not done at all across many other industries.

The difference between the standard tech setup of daily updates and tickets etc and a lot of more traditional industries is still quite big, even if the former are imperfect or difficult as you describe.

You're still going to know if someone is doing no work, which was the essence of the original comment.

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Jan 23, 2023·edited Jan 23, 2023

It is done in other industries, especially in manufacturing where per worker productivity is the easiest to define and manage. The Japanese practically wrote the book on measuring, tracking, and improving industrial productivity for the entire world during the sixties and seventies. Since then, these formulas have been adapted and even improved upon in other industries as well, including and especially technology.

What is true is that it does take work to do. The payoff, however, is worthwhile, especially for industries that run on very tight profit margins and require a high rate of human touch.

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Sure, I know about the Japanese stuff. I was thinking of more traditional industries, I have friends who work in architecture or law or whatever.

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Those "other industries" don't have people work from home. How do you measure the productivity of knowledge workers like teachers, lawyers or accountants?

Have you ever worked in education? Measuring teacher productivity is notoriously difficult and one of the more controversial aspects of education policy.

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People writing "tons of books" tons not equate to magically proving what you seem to think it does there, friend.

Good companies are able to establish useful productivity metrics - I simply happen to work for one of those companies. It is not exactly rocket science to examine the amount of real output generated by workers, even in big tech, if you are tracking the correct metrics.

Difficult and impossible are two different things. Shitty tech startups may throw up their hands and exclaim "I dunno, maaaan, this is impossible!" - the ones in the fortune 500? Not so much.

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"they treated it like a chance to work hard, and treat it like an audition for a promotion or raise"

One can't help but be excited for these folks. Surely, while the rest of the industry is dealing with recession and mass layoffs, these guys are set to enjoy promotions and raises.

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And indeed, where I'm at, they did. We made a point of it, especially after the "silent quitting" thing finished playing out.

I realize people at some other companies in my sector didn't get so lucky; Amazon, Microsoft, Meta and some others threw out a lot of wheat with the chaff, but our own position was good enough to be way, WAY more selective in that regard.

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Completely dependent on industry and how crappy the job is -- the worse the job, the more motivated people are to slack. So sure, if you work customer service or something, of course those workers will take every opportunity to work less, just like the company will take every opportunity to pay less.

Lawyers don't get paid unless they're billing time. They write down every single thing they do in six minute increments, and clients scrutinize the bill to make sure it was a good use of time. Virtually all law firms saw a huge jump in productivity and billable hours once lawyers could work at home and stop wasting time commuting. Many billed more hours than they'd ever done in previous years. But those are jobs with high autonomy, responsibility, and pay, which are the jobs that motivate people to work.

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I think the work-from-home excitement is over. I think companies want people back. There is still a deep level of distrust from management that people working from home might not be working every available second of the day. Better to have them back in the office, where they can be observed.

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Ironically, though, nobody was working every available second when in the office either. It's just a feel-good (to management) mirage.

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I don't think most people perceive a bigger living space as a business expense. More space to work also means more space for yourself, family, and friends - that theoretical 12k investment betters you, not just your employer. Add on top the colossal aggregate time saved by not commuting and remote work is a pretty damn good deal.

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Jan 23, 2023·edited Jan 23, 2023

I agree that we have become more and more isolated from one another, and that's too bad.

However, I think that the analysis of the additional costs to the employee for remote work is missing the accounting of the benefits:

1. Reduced or no commuting costs - for me, back when I worked in an office, I had a 45 minute commute each way - over 7 hours a week. Not to mention the wear and tear on my car.

2. For a lot of people, moving from a cramped apartment in a city to a house with a yard in the suburbs or a small town is a wash. And all the benefits of upgrading to a new, bigger space go to the whole family, not just the employee.

3. Because I've always traveled for work, I've never had an employer that didn't provide me with everything I needed to work away from an office. And, in the old days, they would pay my Internet bill.

I started working remotely in 2018 (before the pandemic), and my family life, my mental health, and my physical health have all dramatically improved.

Now, I'm not saying my situation is the same as anyone else. I've worked for companies doing a lot of technical work all over the world. We are all used to working with teams spread out across the country. The companies already had a lot of infrastructure in place to go full remote.

I imagine that employees of companies doing remote work for the first time are experiencing a huge variety of approaches, and a lot of those are not going to be anywhere near as good as my experience.

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