Monday, 31 August 2020

After twenty three weeks

It has now been around twenty three weeks of lockdown and the world has changed. The restrictions continue to ease, although the number of new cases per day is on the rise. Many decisions are being made about the future of the country, however I’m not going to write about those.

What I do want to write about is the weird message we are seeing in the papers about getting back to work. Setting aside the utter lack of empathy being shown - people are frightened - I want to take a quick look at the underlying assumptions in the message.

Firstly, there is an assumption that people aren’t working now. Because we aren’t in the office, we are slacking off or not working at all. Now clearly there are some jobs for which location is important (you can’t build a house remotely) but the modern office is perfectly capable of working remotely. Indeed, during this period I’ve seen my colleagues work harder than ever - putting in more hours, remaining better focused on delivering solutions. I myself went through a long stretch of working around 3 days worth of hours for every 2 calendar days, including over the weekends. And yet we’re hearing about “bone idle workers” staying at home and not helping the country recover. This narrative is simply not true and does a great disservice to the many workers around the country who have done everything they can to keep things going during a time of international crisis.

Secondly, there is an underlying assumption that returning to normal (ie as things were a year ago) is the ideal. For me, this is a long way from true. A year ago, I was travelling an awful lot and basically doing nothing but working. I was looking to change this before the pandemic hit, but now I’m certain. I have been stuck in one place for pushing six months now and that has been lovely. I haven’t had to get on the train, I haven’t had to run from location to location looking for the next person to meet. I’ve been at home - the place I’ve worked for and which is full of my stuff - and it has been great. Now I’m not certain I want to remain a remote worker, but I do know that the minimal commute (bed to sofa via shower) has been wonderful compared to getting on the tube every day for half an hour or more.

Not that I want things to be as they are right now. I would like to go to more than three locations and I would definitely like to be able to pick up new things and meet new people. However, I feel like my current life is a good starting point and I’d like to be able to add to it - not reset to the madness of my old life and work from there. I know a lot of people who feel this way, which makes the ongoing call to return to the bustle and noise of before hard to hear.

Underpinning the “back to the office” narrative is a push to get the economy running again. Of course, one would be forgiven for thinking the London economy is entirely shaped by sandwich shops. Maybe this is modern city life? Working hard so you can buy sandwiches from someone else, while the city around you slowly prices all service industry people out of living there?

Myself, I see a different story. It’s about control. Get back into the office quick - before you realise you actually have some options. Don’t start making any decisions for yourself because you might notice that this unique event has stopped The Machine long enough to take a look at the world and think that maybe this isn’t what you want. Maybe we don’t want to all be running around all the time like ants.

Control is in the micro - we only trust you’re working because you’re in the office where we can see you - and the macro. The current economic system doesn’t benefit many. I am fortunately enough to be in the ranks of people who are doing ok, but there are many people who are chewed up and spat out by society. And there are a very few who benefit from the status quo - the queen ants in the analogy above. The same people who seem very keen for us all to be back in the office where they can see us...

There isn't a conclusion to this post. Like all of these lockdown posts, I’m recording my feelings and the way I’m thinking. At the moment I’m using this time to think about what I really want from my life, what I’m worth (both in the market and in a general existential way) and what this means for my future. What I want is definitely different from what I had.

This post is from a series of shorter posts, written roughly once a week while the country is on lockdown to capture my feelings and reactions as we go. They are all tagged with coronavirus.