This week, I was out of town presenting at the Internet Librarian conference. Originally, for this intro, I thought about musing on my talk. I discussed remote customer service and how everyone (looking at you c-suiters and directors) needs to be trained to do it well. It was a great talk. I had 100 people, give or take, in the audience which was about a quarter of all attendees.
But that's not what I want to talk about. Instead, I want to talk about a session I attended.
The speaker discussed remote work and how it harms our physical and mental well-being. She showcased the issues and then rolled into how we can mitigate the problems. Her intentions were great, but I kept finding a problem in the framing. She focused on how individuals can fix these issues instead of employers. That really got to me. It's days later and this is still eating at me.
The ergonomic issues of the home office - bad desks, poor seating, screen glare, etc. - also exist in the office. My home office set up isn't the best - but my office cubicle is about 0 degrees and my chair seat tilts slightly to the left and my feet don't touch the ground which gives me a crick in my back. No workspace is perfect. Some employers are trying to force workers back on-site because of ergonomics. No! The same goes for team cohesiveness and collaboration. Companies claim it's better on-site than remote. Also, no! I'm tired of managers thinking good work can only be done in an office. There are problems with remote. But there are also problems with the office.
I keep coming back to the fact that the problem isn't the location, it's the demands of work itself. Employees are treated like robots who generate output instead of human beings. All of these physical/mental issues that come from remote work also happen in the office. We need to support people as individuals wherever they work - but most companies don't want to do this because it costs money.
Instead of framing these issues as something individuals need to fix, we need to look at systematic solutions. It cannot be up to a single person to fix societal and cultural problems. The burden needs to be on employers. Yes, it will cost money. But it will make people happier. Happier employees are more engaged, productive, and innovative. But, more importantly, it's the right thing to do.
Now who wants to hear me rant about the cult of work productivity?