I hope you’re all doing well out there. I haven’t been moved to write a blog post in a very long time, but the topic of this post keeps coming into my line-of-sight and I have a few thoughts on it.
For most of my adult life, I have been a cube dweller in Corporate America. At first, it feels like your cube is your personal domain, and most people decorate with family photos, artwork, a houseplant or two, cute desktop accessories and so on. All this to mask the soul-crushing banality of the jobs themselves. Pumping out reports via spreadsheet or written analysis, endless Powerpoint presentations presenting facts in graphic form… lots of data-crunching consuming our lives. For decades people have bemoaned this existence and tried to escape from the office and its regimentation of punching the clock to sit at a desk, staring at a computer screen for eight or more hours each day. Over the years, cubes have become smaller and smaller, or you have to share with a co-worker, or it’s an “open floor plan” with no assigned desks (cubes are so 1970s) where first come, first served, so if you show up late you have nowhere to sit.
To quote from the movie Office Space:
“Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles, staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about mission statements.”
And then there’s the office politics, and the enforced socializing with co-workers who pry into every area of your personal life, then gossip about anything you tell them to everyone who will listen. I like to draw a line between my work life and my personal life, although this is a concept that seems to be lost on most people today. I tend to be a trusting person, and stupidly expect things I confide to be held in confidence. I’m also apparently a slow learner, because several times I’ve had to relearn the lesson that whatever you tell a co-worker will be spread around the company like wildfire.
Let’s face it: most of us are just drones making other people rich. We’ve been taught to feel grateful for every crumb tossed to us. For almost as long as corporate America has existed, people have dreamed of escaping the mind-numbing grind, and finally in the last decade or so more of us have been given the option to work from home, perhaps once a week, sparing us a long commute where we’re stuck in traffic for hours every day. Those of us who were not gifted this little luxury watched those who were with great envy. Even one day a week freed from this exhausting routine of racing out the door at 6AM and returning at 7PM seemed like a mini-vacation. My commutes have varied over the years; some were short when I was able to find work close to home, but more often I had hour-long drives each way, lengthening my day by at least two hours in no meaningful way. The gas, the traffic, the wear and tear on the car, road rage, or avoiding creeps on mass transit did not add to my quality of life. Working from home was a privilege extended only to upper management.
Now with the COVID-19 virus, a lot more of us are working from home. In the age of high-speed internet and a lot of work being done on computers there’s been little valid reason to clog the highways every single day, except for tradition. You would think people would be relishing this new set up of a 5-second commute. I know I am. If I never had to set foot in the office again, it would be too soon.
But… I keep seeing articles on how much people are missing the office environment. They’re not just griping about not being able to go out drinking; they actually miss the office. Why? Because they miss the socializing.
I do not miss any of my co-workers one little bit. None of them. I do not miss shallow, superficial conversations with people I have no desire to know more deeply. I don’t miss listening to them clip their nails. I don’t miss the backstabbing, the misplaced anger from bosses who get irate because the airline canceled their favorite commuter flight and I can’t make them bring it back.
There’s a novel by Joshua Ferris called “Then We Came to the End,” about a Chicago ad agency, in which he says the employees showed up for work, not because they loved their jobs, but because it “presented challenges to overcome.” I think we convince ourselves to believe our jobs are meaningful because it’s the only way we can survive them, and I believe the majority of us show up because we need the paycheck, not because our jobs make our lives meaningful. It’s a bleak outlook, but the majority of workers are treated in a bleak fashion. The only people who want to go back are the upper echelons who are trying to climb the corporate ladder.
Companies have been encouraging video conferencing over physical travel for years, yet when that’s all their left with, suddenly it’s insufficient.
Personally, I am content to work from home for the rest of my career.