Will remote working ruin us?
Updated: Aug 26
I have to admit, my younger self would probably never understand why I'm writing this. She would have fought me tooth and nails on this and begged me not to publish it. Because she, unlike me, (the grown up version I mean...still following?) does not yet understand how this new working world is affecting our society, and quality of life.
I UNDERSTAND THE ATTRACTION
Trust me, there is nothing more appealing than being able to stay in my pj's all day and not have to worry about applying makeup or showering on a regular basis. (I didn't just say that...lol) Being able to work from home sounds like a dream, like winning the lottery! Except, is it? Is it everything we imagined it would be?
Before I continue, I need to admit something. I am childless, with zero mortgage, no pets and very little responsibility. So working from home for me, might not look the same as say a new mum, or a dog mum, or if I had another person in my home that needed round the clock care, or if I lived really far from work and the travel costs were eating into my salary etc. I get it, I do understand that there are benefits to working from home that for some might outweigh all of the negative effects that I am about to rattle on about. But, it is still necessary to have the conversation.
FIRSTLY, OUR MENTAL HEALTH
Aside from the first or second or third week of feeling unbelievably free and liberated by working from the comfort of your own couch, eventually you might start to feel that cloud settle in. The isolation. The voice in your own head convincing you, you don't need to leave the house today. You don't need to get fresh air, it's okay for one day just to stay in. Because let's face it, you're starting to feel a little out of sorts. You might find you don't have the energy to walk aimlessly around the block, or say hello and pretend to care about your neighbors' relatives that are staying with them for the holidays and driving them crazy etc. So you stay in. You drink that extra cup of tea and eat that extra cookie. You start to only dress your top half for when you have a teams meeting. You have even figured out the filters on teams so you no longer need to chuck on any makeup, eventually you don't even turn your camera on. Social interaction is becoming less and less, you feel yourself getting frustrated when you do leave the house and have to co-exist with other humans. You start to feel uncomfortable and isolated even when standing in a busy supermarket. If you live with someone, maybe your partner, you start to feel irritated when they come home from work and you have to share your space or make conversation with them. This behavior is not healthy, and you may even think, I would never become like that. But, it happens. It might not look the same for everyone, but can you honestly say, working from home, isolating yourself, reducing your daily movement and social interaction is not going to start having a negative effect on your mental health?
WHAT'S TO COME FOR OUR FUTURE GENERATIONS
What worries me, is how hybrid/remote working is only increasing. I thought now that COVID has been some what controlled, or at least is now a 'learn to live with it' disease that things would start to get back to normal. But it has been almost 2 years and not only are we not returning to offices and full time 'on-site' work, but jobs are now being advertised as remote/hybrid/onsite. Like its the new norm to see one of those three options when applying for work. When I think about this, I consider the kids coming out of school today. How they will enter the working world? Will they have the same resilience, understanding or the capability to work a full time job on-site, if its not ever expected of them?
Take a look at the corporate world, office's are no longer running at full capacity. Companies are finding that they can't force their employees back to the office without running the risk of loosing them to the competition, who offer WFH options. Who would you rather work for? A company that forces you to commute into the office 100% of the week, or a company that offers WFH or hybrid options. No, this is a time of change that we are currently living in. A shift in the new working life norm. Have you considered, what the future will look like with the kids who are heading into the work force today, leading the industries without ever knowing what 'hard work and sacrifice' really means?
IT'S ALREADY HAPPENING
Have you noticed how poor the customer service is these days? Any where you go from the bank to the post office, or the supermarket to the pharmacy, it has become increasingly frustrating just how unpleasant the service provided is. The last time I went to the Doctor, I was in mid-conversation with the receptionist when her mobile phone rang and she answered her personal call. She didn't apologise to me, or excuse herself. As I stood there shocked, I kept thinking is this normal? Is this considered okay now? Not even 5 years ago, would that have been accepted, and maybe it's not accepted now and I just had this one off experience. But I have noticed more staff on their phones when walking into restaurants, cafe's, even retail shops. I am slightly moving away from my point, but what I am trying to say is, people are becoming lazier in the work place. Customer service is not what it used to be, companies are not as strict in their work ethics, and it is funneling down from executives to management and finally to the employees. If your boss isn't showing up to the office to implement structure, but rather sitting at home with his feet up channel surfing, who do you have to look up to for guidance? And why would you show up to the office if you know your boss isn't going to? It's all relative you see.
LET ME ASK YOU A QUESTION?
When you start a new job, you walk in quite determined to make a good impression. You want to work hard, show off your talents and impress your boss. After a week or two, you notice that your colleagues including your boss only come into the office 2-3 days a week. You notice that the work that you are handing in isn't getting much feedback, but that you are also not really receiving much guidance or training. How long before this focused, determined and excited version of yourself begins to feel discouraged, disconnected and somewhat bothered by how the office is run? How long do you think you would stay motivated for, if you were not seeing this same level of enthusiasm within your team? How long before you start to get bothered that you are the only one coming into the office 5 days a week, before you start to request the WFH option too? Those who lead, need to do so by example, but is the example that we are seeing at the moment, the best way forward?
I UNDERSTAND THE BENEFITS
There are so many benefits to having a more flexible working week. If you have small children, being able to split your days with your partner and actually be a more present parent is a huge one as well as reducing the cost of day care which we all know is extortionate.
Or helping to save the planet by reducing your commute into the office to only a couple of days a week. Not only would it drop the fuel cost for you, but also reduce your carbon footprint. Another massive benefit.
Maybe you have an ill parent, or elderly person who needs round the clock care, so they move in with you and again you can split your days with your husband/wife to take care of them, probably improving their quality of life and reducing the costs of paying for a care facility.
I am sure there are many more, and I understand how working from home can have a huge benefit for so many peoples lives. So where do we draw the line? How do we decide who gets to WFH and who doesn't?
WHAT I WAS TAUGHT WHEN I WAS YOUNG
I grew up with a hard working dad, who would leave the house before I woke up for school and get home in time for dinner, five days a week. As much as I wish he was around more when I was a kid, I always knew he was doing it for us. He was working hard because it was important for him and for his family.
My parents thought it was important for me to understand the value of earning my own money, so I got a part time job when I was 16 where I would work on weekends when not at school. Something, at the time I'm sure I didn't want to do, but now I am grateful for them for it. My parents instilled in me the value of money earned and the importance of working hard. Something that I find kids today, are not learning.
BUT LET ME GET REAL WITH YOU
After years of working jobs I didn't like, I felt burnt out. I was depressed, suffered chronic back pain, and felt I was missing out on trying so many things I had always wanted to try. So I went part-time. I took up acting, and writing and I even started my own dog walking business in my local area. I found the 'time' to enjoy life, and take back time for myself. But I still worked. Just a little differently than what I did before. Why am I telling you this? Because I am not some slave to the Mon-Fri working lifestyle. I don't believe that working full time in an office or warehouse or retail shop etc is the best way of living your life, on the contrary. BUT I do understand the value of resilience and hard work, qualities that really need to be instilled as a child in order to appreciate as an adult.
SO WHAT'S MY ACTUAL ARGUMENT THEN?
My main concern from seeing the growth of hybrid/WFH jobs, is 1. People's mental health suffering 2. People's social interaction suffering. 3. Kids not really understanding and appreciating the life lessons you get from working a full time job. I have been witnessing the repercussions since returning to work post-COVID and I believe, it's only getting worse.
Is there not a way for us to have the best of both worlds? Is there not a way to teach kids coming out of school these days the importance of hard work, but giving them flexibility in their working life? Is there not a way to improve one's quality of life if they do choose to have a WFH job?
I've believed for some time that working 5 days a week is too much. For anyone, to really enjoy life. Working 4 days a week and having 3 days off (full time hours) I think is much more beneficial to our mental health. Why? BALANCE! Balance is everything. Firstly, people are going to work harder during their working days when they have more days off to enjoy. You can maintain flexibility with a shorter working week, by having time to do all those odd jobs that you never have the time to fit in when working 5 days. You will resent your job less if you can combine it with hobbies that you can do on your days off. You will have more time with family and friends and for things like travelling or weekends away. Also it will create more jobs for people because there is that option of job sharing to cover the other 3 days, especially in industries such as hospitality and retail, establishments that are usually open 7 days a week.
Well, I guess we will just have to see how it works in Belgium, since they implemented a 4 day working week without the loss of salary back in February 2022. Other countries have also been trialing it such as Australia, Canada, Austria, Ireland and Iceland. It's definitely getting some attention, obviously it will take time and there will be tweaks depending on the country and state of economy. However I am very interested to see if it does pick up world wide, and what a future of 4 day working weeks will look like, and if that will encourage people to return to the office?
Or if we continue with the way things are going now, what will become of our existence? Is this just another moment of change in history where life became different for our predecessors. Am I/we in the middle of being a predecessor? Is this how our ancestors felt? Only time will tell...