July 27, 2021

"While workers of all ages have become accustomed to dialing in and skipping the wearying commute, younger ones have grown especially attached to the new way of doing business."

"And in many cases, the decision to return pits older managers who view working in the office as the natural order of things against younger employees who’ve come to see operating remotely as completely normal in the 16 months since the pandemic hit. Some new hires have never gone into their employers’ workplace at all.... In a recent survey by the Conference Board, 55 percent of millennials, defined as people born between 1981 and 1996, questioned the wisdom of returning to the office. Among members of Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980, 45 percent had doubts about going back, while only 36 percent of baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, felt that way.... At the same time, more than a few older workers welcome the flexibility of working from home after years in a cubicle, even as some in their 20s yearn for the camaraderie of the office or the dynamism of an urban setting...."

From "Return to Office Hits a Snag: Young Resisters/ A generation gap has emerged between them and colleagues who value the workplace over the advantages of remote work. Bridging it may require flexibility" (NYT). 

 I like this comment over there:

The dirty secret the white collar world doesn't want to admit is that most people are not working 40 hour weeks anymore, and/or are coming to the realization of how much time they were wasting doing nothing at the office. Why would anyone want to give up 10-20 more hours of their week when they are just as productive. The genie is out of the bottle, and isn't going back. Salaried employees no longer are willing to be paid for hours of their lives taken, and want compensations based on their output (as it should be). The 40 hour work week is dying, and we should be happy about this.... now we need to figure out a way to make sure hourly workers are being compensated more fairly as well.

There's a long tradition of paying people for their time. You can measure time, but it's a rough proxy for work.  If you're at home getting the work done, no one knows how long it took you, and the time you save by working quickly and efficiently is time you get to keep for yourself. Once you've experienced that benefit, how can you stand to give it up? 

The article quotes one manager who says: “It’s just not possible to say no to some remote work.... It’s simply not worth risking losing a good employee because of a doctrinaire view that folks need to be in the office.” 

The words "doctrinaire view" link to this article from last June, "Do Chance Meetings at the Office Boost Innovation? There’s No Evidence of It. For some, the office even stifles creativity. As the pandemic eases in the U.S., a few companies seek to reimagine what work might look like." 

That article cites research showing "contemporary open offices led to 70 percent fewer face-to-face interactions": "People didn’t find it helpful to have so many spontaneous conversations, so they wore headphones and avoided one another."


Ann Althouse said...

MadisonMan writes:

"I don't know if chance meetings at the office boost innovation. But I do know that chance hallway meetings help me to know what other people are doing where I work, and that knowledge can be useful -- vital even, sometimes -- at some point down the road, because part of my job is connecting scientists with users -- and it's helpful to know what the scientists are actually doing.

"My kid, on the other hand, seems to function in their job just fine remotely. But that job is much more a "my boss said do this task" job vs my "connect people" job."

Ann Althouse said...

Tolkein writes:

"I think from what we've seen (lots of savings and wealth businesses in the City) and discussed about quite a bit, it is important for younger workers - mentoring, esp - but also to start out. The alternative is working from a bedroom at home with parents and siblings around. Also work is a great dating service. Drinks after work, etc. It's older folks who find wfh suits them, especially women with children. Even there people are talking about 2-3 days a week in the office. Also wfh is terrible for call centres. Call pick up time has become really poor and quality has deteriorated. News from the UK."

Ann Althouse said...

Washington Blogger writes:

"The gig is up. Just when everyone is starting to realize the value of pay for output rather than clock, the government is trying to outlaw gig employment."

Ann Althouse said...

Joe writes:

"I suspect there is a confounding factor that partially explains the differences among the generations. Boomers may have greater seniority or titles, so are more likely to have individual offices. Younger workers are more likely to have cubicles, or the hellish open-seating plans. So Boomers less likely to object to returning, at least with respect to this factor.

"I also respectfully disagree with the proposition "If you're at home getting the work done, no one knows how long it took you . . .", at least based on my experience as a statistician in the pharma world. Once you have completed your work and 'turned it in', then management has some idea how long it took you. Also there is endless pressure to speed up timelines."

I'll add:

When people are in the office, there's an impression that they are working, even if they are frittering away some of the time. The same spacing out of the time when done at home feels like you're just taking some of the time off from work. At work, you might pace yourself or work slowly, because you know you'll be there all day. At home, you could rush through it, then take a nap or watch a movie. You could hand the work in at the same time, so they don't know how much of the time you were working. There's a different feeling to working at home, where you don't feel watched or like you're putting on a show of working.

Ann Althouse said...

Jake writes:

"Don't you have a feeling this is going to backfire? I mean, people like being at home, it seems, because they get their work done quickly and then have time to do other things. At least that's what the comment about the 40-hour week dying suggests. I disagree. Won't companies just end up finding ways to make sure employees are glued to their screens and working all day? There will be less workers with the most efficient grinding out hours day-in, day-out. I know in my profession I've got to bill a certain amount of hours regardless of where I'm sitting when I do it. I suspect other businesses will end up this way too (to the extent they already haven't) and these folks that think they'll be able to get away with 4 hour days are in for a surprise. It reminds me of a job I had as a kid for the parks department - I was assigned to paint a section of fence. I did it quickly and came back for a new assignment. I was told there wasn't a new assignment and that I should take longer to do my work. I was sent home and only got paid for half a day. I think that's how most of these at-home paper-pushers are getting by. Work they used to slow walk at the office now gets done fast. I just don't think that'll last. Businesses aren't going to pay full-time wages for part-time work."

Ann Althouse said...

Brian writes:

What about people born after 1996? The article seems to ignore them.
If you know your job, working from home might work; but, if you've Never worked, there are a lot of things to learn

> chance hallway meetings
How ARE kids going to get the scuttlebut (scuttles are/were watercoolers in the navy). If you Don't get the gossip; how are you going to realize that working for Tom is a career Godsend, Harry is a career deadend, and that Dick is a REAL dick? Unless there are going to be anonymous forums for office gossip; rookies are going to NEVER figure these things out

> Also work is a great dating service.
>Drinks after work,
Long days (and nights) working together on projects...
HOW are we going to have another generation of humans, if we all work from home?

Ann Althouse said...

Scott writes:

"This partially intersects with David Graeber's Bullshit Jobs.
Amazon link
He said (paraphrase of his story) he would meet someone at a party and ask "What do you do?". They would answer "nothing much really". He eventually realized that they were serious. Their actual work would take 2 hours and the rest of the week they were pretending to work.
Here's an hour-long talk on youtube. youtube link
Interesting guy. Bummer - He passed away last year at 59."

Ann Althouse said...

ALP writes:

"This sentence of yours leapt out at me: "At work, you might pace yourself or work slowly, because you know you'll be there all day."

"Oh dear no. No. No. No. I had a downright visceral reaction to this sentence, it is so counter to how things work in my work world. Even if I have just one thing to do and can finish it quickly, I've learned that you never know when the next problematic case or emergency will get dumped in your lap. Best to clear your caseload as efficiently as you can. I can't imagine 'working slowly' - would you want to explain to a client paying in 6 minute increments "yeah I felt like working slowly that's why we billed you for 4 hours when it really should have taken 2."

"The office environments in these articles about remote work are totally foreign to me. Where are these jobs where people get to slack off half the day and the client never notices? In what firm is bullshitting about YouTube/Tik Tock in the hallway is truly valued? I'm in the last years of my work life and I seem to work ever harder. I need one of these easy going jobs!"

I'll add:

I don't know your workplace, and I've only been in situations like that back in the 1970s, before I went to law school. No "billable hours" were involved. Just office work where there wasn't all that much to do but you were expected to be there 9 to 5.

I've spent about 2 years of my life in a billable hours regime, and that's its own sort of hell. And I think it was hard to get the benefit of your own efficiency and speed. You just look like you're generating less income, and you can be weighed down by others who are working inefficiently. But I haven't done that sort of work in more than 30 years, thank God.

Ann Althouse said...

The ennui of office work is something I don't even like to think about! You know, I could never watch the TV show "The Office" because it made me feel sad for the people who have to work in places like that. But what if all those people got to work from home?

Ann Althouse said...

ALP also wrote:

"Just the other day I was reading that younger people wanted to return to the office as it serves as an important source of friends and possible lovers/partners. Yet here is an article claiming the opposite. I am just one data point, but we had a Paralegal Assistant join our team during the pandemic. Have yet to meet her in person but we've worked together very well, so much so I've been inspired to communicate to our management a few times how amazing she is. She even won an "Exceptional Employee Award" - working remotely hasn't slowed us down one bit.

"Employers in the U.S. have pushed very hard to create office environments absent of microaggressions, tiny slights, and minuscule aggravations. The managers of our Big Law Firm spend an inordinate time 'counseling' staff - primarily female, over interpersonal tangles. "Cat Herding" might be a good term. I am required to have quarterly meetings with our Paralegal Manager just 'to talk'. I can't get my head around thinking that returning to this is helpful in any way in getting the work done. My annual review during the pandemic was glowing - my billable hours were the best yet. I would love to see an article about remote work focusing on people with a solid work ethic, a billable hour environment, demanding clients, with a workload that makes one wonder how they will get it all done. Where are these jobs where people can slack off and twiddle their thumbs all day? If employees can't be trusted to work from home, maybe examine your hiring practices?"

I'll add:

ALP, you sound like the person they're talking about when they say: If you want to get something done, give it to the busiest person.

Ann Althouse said...

Kay writes:

"I have a lot of thoughts about this new way of working.

"I think there is an anxiety (mostly among white-collar workers whose labor produces nothing tangible) that wfh will reveal how little work gets done on average by some of the highest earners.

"This makes me think of the age old dilemma about automation, which wouldn’t be a dilemma if we really valued productivity over profit. Imagine an Uber driver in the near future who owns a self-driving car. While his car is out picking up fares for him, he might have more free time to take on other work, or even just relax for a change. But unfortunately, self-driving cars or any technology that can actually benefit workers and save them time would never be rolled out in such a manner. That’s something we should also rethink."

Ann Althouse said...

impresaria writes:

"I had a wonderful job as an analyst for a consulting firm for 30+ years until I retired 10 years ago. Nominally I had an hourly rate, but we all knew we were effectively paid for piecework. Project directors "hired" their teams, telling the members they had X weeks to complete their tasks. Those who couldn't do an assignment in 40 hours/week worked longer hours, sometimes much longer. If the work still wasn't done, that individual would have to be paid for more weeks causing an overrun, and would have difficulty getting coverage on a subsequent project. If no PD wanted you, you were soon out of a job. I thrived by ensuring that my hourly rate was low enough relative to my productivity that the pressure wasn't too great. I was present in the office for 40 hours but some of that could be social -- and lunchroom conversations with people working on different projects could be invaluable. Autres temps, autres moeurs."

Ann Althouse said...

Aggie writes:

"It’s the old paradox of value-added transactions that are not recognized or accounted for by bottom-line management. I’ve lived through transitions that took us out of offices, put us into team rooms, and then put us into Open Plan. The last was an absolute disaster, controlled pandemonium. But the team offices was a terrific idea. Very productive conversations, you’d overhear others talking on a subject and, if you had something to add, could join in. This definitely added value and quality to our work. And there is nothing quite like face-to-face communication to work an issue.

"Also noted, the casual conversations that one has in the halls, or in the coffee shop, gabbing and delving in and out of work / life subjects – this also helps shape context, prioritize tasks, generate creative and new ideas, etc.

"But almost completely uncommented here is the sustained hit to quality that has been suffered because of the COVID diaspora. With everyone out of the office, now managers have no way to check in on employee performance, no way to witness behaviors, no way to assess how teams are functioning. No way to see that they aren’t functioning, either. I predicted this to my Son In Law when they were staying with us early in the shutdown last year – Management would sooner or later put their foot down because quality will have been suffering and the results will start to come in. The bottom-liners will start to react with ample justification.

"And as we all know, almost all modern business is run by the bottom line, because of the way publically –traded corporations are forced to report quarterly results. It’s a terribly myopic way to run a business, but it’s a fact of life."

Ann Althouse said...

Alex writes:

"Tolkien wrote, "it is important for younger workers - mentoring, esp - but also to start out. The alternative is working from a bedroom at home with parents and siblings around. Also work is a great dating service. Drinks after work, etc." As a late-thirties millennial, I'll say that mentoring has been hit-or-miss at best. From what I've heard from peers the same is true for them as well. Too many companies don't view workers as long-term assets to be nurtured, because the expectation is that any training on the company's dime, or professional development, will simply make it that much easier to jump ship later on. As for dating in the workplace, that's a minefield that many younger workers are simply going to avoid. When the company has written rules regarding asking out coworkers and dating... who wants to be the one to get caught up in an HR investigation because of a bad breakup?

"While it's true that working from home can make you more efficient and result in more free time, it also runs the risk of eliminating the distinction between personal and work life. I think of stories I've heard from attorneys who work late hours or work on vacations, because they are never truly "off" from their jobs."

Ann Althouse said...

MJB Wolf writes:

"While the NYT attempts to frame the article as conflict, generation gap (how trite!) etc., their commenters and yours cut through that crap and identify the real interesting issues. First, productivity and flexibility to work when and how we can to get things done irrespective of timeclock. Second, as companies learn how this remote work is getting done they will develop tools to measure and quantify productive hours and more closely monitor employees. Technology is quickly catching up to provide the boss with new tools to manage the new normal, no doubt about it."

Ann Althouse said...

Fouquieria Splendens writes:

"My large company is beginning to have people filter back into the office as they choose. As of September 1 we are required to be back within commuting distance (50 miles). Many of the junior employees have been clamoring to return to the office mainly due to the challenges of working from their homes (living with parents/family after having given up their digs; multiple room-mate situations that make the confidential nature of the work impossible to do, etc.) and because of the highly collaborative nature of the work in general.

"I am among the executive admin staff who are likely to be on site only as needed: an in person client meeting, helping a colleague who is unable to be on site, or an office-wide gathering. I have a computer and cell phone - I can do my job from just about anywhere. In fact, we are unlikely to have desks to work from if we were to return for 5 days a week. There's such a space crunch that we "overhead" employees would be taking up valuable real estate. It makes more sense for the admins to remain at home. Even partners are being asked to clear their offices as they will now be assigned two to an office, on the assumption that the times when both will be in at the same time will be few. I went to the office last Friday to clear any remaining personal items (not much) and purge any paper files from my desk in anticipation of the roll-out of "hotel" sign ups for open desks. I bumped into a few colleagues and chatted briefly, but didn't feel compelled to roam the halls looking to see who was in.

"Now that I've adjusted and don't have to endure a 45 min commute on public transport to and from work, I'm much happier. My colleagues feel the same way, especially those with kidlets who are having to deal with school schedules and day care and the current restrictions on how long their kids are able to be there."