Work Is Not a Place – Part 1

A quarter of a century ago, a new, beneficial tech promised to boost knowledge worker productivity and save employers loads of cash. Virtual Private Networking (VPN) allowed employees to work remotely, cutting back on carbon emissions and the senseless waste of time getting to and from work. But for many employers, their management styles and conservative business practices did not mesh with the new tech. It took a global pandemic to make those old-school laggards see the light.

If you’re able to work anywhere and you’re serious about getting the work done, then working remotely is the only way to go. It’s a win-win for the employer and employee, no matter how you look at it. I can attest to this truth as an eleven-year veteran of remote work who transitioned to an organization with a strict physical presence requirement. The new job offered a few nice perks, but the change was like stepping into the past, back to a time when it was common to confuse “being there” with doing actual work. Or, put another way, it was like jumping into an Idiocracy future, where stupidity reigned supreme.

Teleworking is the most productive work environment because it offers the unique opportunity to maximize work and minimize the ceremonial bullshit that does not matter. Many people who have always worked in an office don’t understand this idea because stupid office customs have been so deeply ingrained and accepted as a normal part of work. People commonly label their bullshit as “work” and brag about how much of it they do. Mandatory physical presence requirements for brain workers are nothing short of an assault on the intellect (and possibly on physical well-being, in the current environment of COVID-19).

It’s as if some hypothetical person who knew nothing about our world was introduced to the concept of work for the very first time, and on his first day in the office somebody walked up to him and cracked a two-by-four over his head. His boss would say, “Oh yeah, you might want to wear a helmet tomorrow,” and every day for the rest of his career the guy gets hit in the head with a board, accepting it as completely normal.

There are only two reasons an employer could enforce physical presence during a time like this. One, the employer is sadistic, immoral, and cruel to their employees and society as a whole. And-or, the job in question is fake. The fake job phenomenon exists more often than we might like to admit. There are whole industries that are fake. I’ll touch on this later. For now, the point is that people should get paid for actual work – not for getting hit in the head with a stupid lumber stick.

Before a discussion of teleworking can even begin, it’s necessary to re-examine the most basic concepts of work, because its true definition has become blurred in the modern age. First there is the concept of a little something we can call “actual work,” the measurable service or product an employee produces in exchange for getting money.

The second basic concept is “energy,” the finite life force that employees are capable or willing to devote to actual work in a given period of time. After the energy is spent, the individual might show up, but they’re a disabled meat sack, existing but not producing. Energy levels are very real factors in economic output. The Ford Motor Company was the first to standardize the forty-hour work week – not for humane reasons, as is often cited, but because they determined this to be the economic sweet spot to get the most out of their manual laborers. Countless studies have supported this number, and even lower numbers for those doing strictly brain work. Any effort after these limits produces short-term diminishing returns, and long-term negative returns. Employees take time off for sick leave – either because they really are sick, or because their bullshit meter is pegged in the red.

Working remotely eliminates the wasteful, customary bullshit of the traditional office, freeing up time for real work (and more importantly, life). It’s unfortunate it took a global pandemic to remind some organizations of a single, blatant fact. For many of us, “work” is not a place.