Bring your own premises

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The JC’s home office yesterday

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A major new survey from Microsoft shows that bosses and workers fundamentally disagree about productivity when working from home. Bosses worry about whether working from home is as productive as being in the office. While 87% of workers felt they worked as, or more, efficiently from home, 80% of managers disagreed.

BBC News, 23 September 2022

The reductio ad absurdum — sorry, my mistake: I mean logical conclusion — of middle management’s generational headlong stampede towards outsourcing all those messy externalities that are a by-product of needing meatware to carry out your business objectives.

For all the — well, chatchatbots haven’t yet managed to supplant those cretinous lumps who are needed push whatever buttons must be pushed to propel the great steampunk corporation forward.

But when these oafs became capable, overnight, of glibly infecting each other with fatal illness, and the corporate world was obliged to locate a safe remove at which they could operate their buttons without accidentally murdering each other, it dawned on the management that, since all buttons were now digital, this new-fangled internet thing meant these oafish meatsacks could push their buttons to their hearts’ content — well, to their overlords’ hearts’ content, at any rate — from their own homes.

This was regarded at first as a regrettable evil, but when the new arrangement turned out to work very well, over a prolonged period, it acquired the waft of opportunity for cost saving. This in turn prompted diametrically opposite instincts in the management layer — frequently within the same individuals.

For on one hand, outsourcing the very space one’s employees occupy to those very same employees, and thereby getting it free of charge, represented an enormous windfall opportunity.

On the other hand, the capitalist’s natural suspicion that all labour is indolent runs deep: it was harder to monitor these employees in their own homes. And as for these digital buttons they had been doggedly pushing all this time: who’s idea was that? Were they even necessary?

The good old days

Now there was a time where employment in the professions afforded status in society, and one had the accoutrements to match: an office with a mahogany desk, an elephant’s foot umbrella-stand in the corner, a minute secretary, an executive model Dictaphone, and so on.

As data modernism has systematically eroded these privileges in the name of cost reduction, the poor professional has been denuded of her status. Increasingly, she has been expected to supply her own accoutrements: do-it-yourself typing; bring your own device — and the same time that once commodious office became communal, then lost its door, then its walls, diminished to a dedicated space along a row, and most recently has become a conditional promise of a sanitised space at a telescreen somewhere in the building, assuming enough people are out sick or on holiday.

While these progressions undoubtedly looked magnificent on that PowerPoint deck the COO presents to the steerco, from the meatware’s eye view, living them out in person has been less edifying.

Something important might have been lost among the winking green RAG status signals on the workstream update dashboard. But — the pragmatist’s prayer,[1] and all that.

But then, from nowhere, Coronavirus bounced us all into a step further: now employees don’t get an office at all, but have to supply their own.

As as aside, pity the poor, perma-prepared cub scouts from the business continuity management team — who have been waiting for literally decades for just such a catastrophe to spring into action and finally reveal their worth, but whom coronavirus has largely snookered. Just when you need it, their magisterium — aka some grimy, sprawling warehouse near Luton Airport — was no more suitable for disaster recovery than the premises in EC4!

Instead, employees were sent home. By and large, and to their great surprise, they found this rather agreeable. Suddenly the privacy, the space, the peace & quiet, the Elephant’s foot and the mahogany desk were back from nowhere.

The question now: is there any going back?

See also