Another Monday, another full email inbox. For all our struggles with it, it’s a system we’ve had for decades and is still going strong, regardless of its critics.
Here’s Joanne McNeil’s positive (kind of?) take on it all. As she succinctly summarises in her recent newsletter, “you own your email/there’s no Zuckerberg of email/what you actually hate about email is work”.
In defence of email, the tech marvel we couldn’t do without: Joanne McNeil – The Guardian Email – built collaboratively for the public – is just another casualty of work that demands 24-hour availability and cordial performance. It’s an example of how “things we used to keep for ourselves”, as Sarah Jaffe writes in her book Work Won’t Love You Back, “are suddenly in demand on the job, including our friendships, our feelings, and our love”. Those who were online in the 1990s and 2000s might remember when the messages in their inboxes were delightful, curious and thoughtful. The joys of email were easier to appreciate when users primarily communicated with friends and family through it.
I see another Monday had rolled around (‘Freedom day’, no less, hashtag eyeroll). But is Monday your Monday? Or do you have your Monday on another day, Thursday for instance?
The best day to go into the office is… – WIRED UK Many companies seem to be following the idea that people are most productive at the start of the week, and therefore should be in the office on those days. […] A scientific study of workplaces and behaviour in them found that people are least civil with colleagues at the start of the week. They gradually become more friendly and engaging with their peers as the week goes on, though become slightly less civil on Fridays than they were on Thursday.
What really happened in Iceland’s four-day week trial – WIRED UK [T]here are a few caveats to note about this research before everyone stops coming into work on Fridays. First, despite the headlines – including the one on this newsletter – Iceland didn’t trial a four-day work week. Instead, the two trials reduced hours from 40 each week to 35 or 36.
Neckties are the new bow ties – The Atlantic As America struggled to recover from a global pandemic, a shattered economy, and record unemployment levels, headlines despaired: “neckties doomed.” Men were “slashing their clothing bills” to retailers’ chagrin, the Associated Press reported. Those who continued to wear ties were downgrading from colorful, expensive silk to plain, cheap cotton. The year was 1921, and reports of the tie’s death were premature, to say the least.
A century later, as Americans begin to emerge from another financially devastating pandemic, another rash of headlines is predicting the tie’s imminent demise.
Surely, once everything’s back to normal, we can stop bothering with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meets and so on. But, as the first of these two Guardian articles explain, there are plenty of other companies out there — Mozilla Hubs, Gather, Wonder for instance — who are hoping that, not only will we continue to meet online, but we’d do so even more deeply. Needless to say, not everyone agrees.
Can virtual meeting spaces save us all from Zoom fatigue? – The Guardian These platforms are meant to improve remote work, but is a virtual experience that fills the entire day better or worse than spending a couple of hours on video calls but being otherwise generally invisible? “Employers probably want to help people gel, but they risk trying to do too much,” says Dr Linda Kaye, who studies the psychology of gaming and online behaviour. “I’m not saying it’s not useful in a work context, but when you force it on people it becomes inauthentic.” Her research reflects the fact that valuable social connections can be forged online. But just because we can create virtual worlds to work in, should we? […]
Much depends on the type of workplace you’re in – its culture and the sector in which it operates. While Hubs, the platform used by the engineers at the University of Nottingham, could work brilliantly for design, technology or architectural businesses, I’m not sure I can see social workers holding a case conference in a virtual world. Would it feel appropriate for a legal firm dealing with serious crimes to hold their meetings as avatar versions of themselves on Gather? Similarly, it’s hard to imagine holding a disciplinary session as a cartoon version of yourself.
As much as I’m enjoying my weekly book club on Second Life, I’m not sure about swapping the office for it. But it’s not just at work where we feel like we live in a screen. As this fascinating study from UCL shows, thanks to our smartphones we’re living in screens all the time.
“The smartphone is no longer just a device that we use, it’s become the place where we live,” said Prof Daniel Miller, who led the study. “The flip side of that for human relationships is that at any point, whether over a meal, a meeting or other shared activity, a person we’re with can just disappear, having ‘gone home’ to their smartphone. … This behaviour, and the frustration, disappointment or even offence it can cause, is what we’re calling the ‘death of proximity’. We are learning to live with the jeopardy that even when we are physically together, we can be socially, emotionally or professionally alone.” […]
“The smartphone is perhaps the first object to challenge the house itself (and possibly also the workplace) in terms of the amount of time we dwell in it while awake,” they conclude, coining the term “transportal home” to describe the effect. “We are always ‘at home’ in our smartphone. We have become human snails carrying our home in our pockets.”
Why remote work may render the 5-day workweek obsolete – Fast Company A mere 300 years ago, before the industrial revolution, there was no such thing as grinding it out for five days in order to run to a Saturday date night or a day of lesiure on Sunday. From the start of when Homo erectus first began roaming the earth, working and living were one and the same. Every day we did our chores. Every day we enjoyed the company of our tribe. The five-day workweek is a sociocultural artifact, not evidence-based framework for maximizing productivity and well-being.
I know several people that enjoy working on weekends (myself included). On weekends there is no steady stream of emails and calls during the day and no scheduled meetings, so all of the time can be allocated to deep-thought tasks, a luxury employees long for but never have the time to get to.
Another Monday rolls by, only my third one in the office since March, six months ago. Working from home was quickly becoming part of the new normal, but I’m not so sure now.
Bosses are doing weird things to get people back in the office – Wired UK A private ride to work is a luxury for Cameron, who has cycled in the past but normally commutes by train. When Advent started discussions on reopening its London office, Cameron found herself in a predicament: while she craved the human interactions of the office, she was unwilling to ride public transport for fear of catching the virus. She was also wary of becoming infected in the workplace. Along with many of her colleagues, she decided it was safer to stay home.
This month, she changed her mind when the company sent an email to all 102 employees at the London office offering to cover the cost of taxis for them to attend the office for team meetings but not the regular day-to-day commute. Advent also provides fortnightly home-testing kits, and requires employees to have tested negative within the past two weeks to be eligible for entry.
The work from home backlash is upon us – Wealth of Common Sense In March, many companies were forced into a work from home situation whether they wanted to or not. Considering there were no meetings, planning or upfront technology investments made leading up to that shift, it has gone better than most employees or employers could have dreamed. But there are bound to be growing pains in the months and years ahead as companies decide how to integrate what they’ve learned over the past 6 months. This transition is not going to be as smooth as many people think.
I think “growing pains” slightly undersells the issue somewhat.
Why airlines, cities, and Starbucks need remote workers back at the office – Marker But now, suggests MIT economist David Autor in a paper last month, the office economy is under threat. The pandemic, he and his co-author, Elisabeth Reynolds, a lecturer at MIT, write, has made a permanent shift to remote work for a large part of the office workforce a near certainty. And with that, tens of thousands of workers in the office support economy — those who “feed, transport, clothe, entertain, and shelter people when they are not in their own homes” — will lose their jobs.
As we’ve seen before, it’s easier for some more than others.
Americans stayed inside even as cities and states reopened – Bloomberg In some cases, the ability to stay home was tied to income. More than 70% of households earning more than $100,000 said they were able to substitute telecommuting for some in-person work. By comparison, only 27% of households with annual incomes under $75,000 said someone in their home was able to telecommute.
And some companies seem more supportive than others.
Netflix’s Reed Hastings deems remote work ‘a pure negative’ – WSJ WSJ: It’s been anticipated that many companies will shift to a work-from-home approach for many employees even after the Covid-19 crisis. What do you think? Mr. Hastings: If I had to guess, the five-day workweek will become four days in the office while one day is virtual from home. I’d bet that’s where a lot of companies end up.
WSJ: Do you have a date in mind for when your workforce returns to the office? Mr. Hastings: Twelve hours after a vaccine is approved.
The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, suggested in a speech on Tuesday that if a second lockdown was necessary it would be “a sign of government failure, not an act of God”. Saying that Boris Johnson has had “months to prepare for this, Starmer added that a new lockdown “would take an immense toll on people’s physical and mental health and on the economy”.
A thought-provoking article from Wired on the toll all this might be taking on our teenagers.
The reality of Covid-19 is hitting teens especially hard – Wired
Everyone has had to abruptly adapt to “the new normal,” and my initial thought was that kids would take it all in stride. My daughter spends the vast majority of her free time in her room, on her bed, staring at her phone. Would shelter-in-place be any different, aside from not going to school for a few hours a day?
It is, and the impact on Zoe has been profound. She was devastated by the news, and she recently—after more than two weeks into stay-at-home restrictions—spoke to me about the ups and downs (mostly downs) of the experience. “I’m trying to deal with the fact that my high school career is over,” she says. “Losing track and field, prom, and graduation sucks. And there’s no way to cope with it because I’m just never going to get to do those things. It feels like the last four years of hard work have been for nothing.”
It’s not just teenagers, of course, but our younger children and ourselves that are struggling with all this.
The parents are not all right – GEN
We both felt guilty for the work we were not doing — and aching for the way our son was struggling and needed us to be present and calm. But that’s exactly what our current schedule prohibits, as we run back and forth between work calls, requests, and parenting. (Later, as I took over the homeschool shift and he stormed upstairs to cry, he told me it was because I had stopped smiling at him. Knife, meet heart.) […]
This current situation is almost prophetically designed to showcase the farce of our societal approach to separating work and family lives. We are expected to work from home full time. And care for our children full time. And we cannot have anyone outside our immediate household help. It can’t work and we all are suffering at the illusion that it does.
I first read this on my phone and now here I am, blogging about it on my tablet.
Why laptops could be facing the end of the line – The Conversation Research shows that PC and laptop ownership, usage and importance have declined over the past three years, replaced largely by smartphones. A survey of internet users found just 15% thought their laptop was their most important device for accessing the internet, down from 30% in 2015, while 66% thought their smartphone was most important, up from 32%.
This has led some commentators to predict the slow death of the laptop because of young people’s preference for and greater familiarity with the devices in their pocket. But a survey by UK regulator Ofcom in 2017 also found there has also been a record rise in older people using smartphones and tablets.
How your laptop ruined your life – The Atlantic
As laptops have kept improving, and Wi-Fi has continued to reach ever further into the crevices of American life, however, the reality of laptops’ potential stopped looking quite so rosy. Instead of liberating white-collar and “knowledge” workers from their office, laptops turned many people’s whole life into an office. Smartphones might require you to read an after-hours email or check in on the office-communication platform Slack before you started your commute, but portable computers gave workers 24-hour access to the sophisticated, expensive applications—Salesforce CRM, Oracle ERP, Adobe Photoshop—that made their full range of duties possible.
Mobiles, mobiles, mobiles. They’re practically compulsory these days.
When Barack Obama became president in 2008, he famously fought for (and won) the right to keep using his Blackberry (the phone would become the official device given out by large swathes of the federal government, including Congress). And years before reverting to a “dumb phone” became a thing for trendsetters like Anna Wintour, magazine writers tried the same stunt to lessen their Blackberry usage. One Daily Mail headline from 2006 warned of a “Blackberry addiction ‘similar to drugs,’” describing the kind of behavior we now readily associate with social media and phones more generally (“One key sign of a user being addicted is if they focus on their Blackberry ignoring those around them.”).
But for those of us that are/were, here’s a look back at a simpler time.
Old CSS, new CSS – Fuzzy Notepad Damn, I miss those days. There were no big walled gardens, no Twitter or Facebook. If you had anything to say to anyone, you had to put together your own website. It was amazing. No one knew what they were doing; I’d wager that the vast majority of web designers at the time were clueless hobbyist tweens (like me) all copying from other clueless hobbyist tweens. … Everyone who was cool and in the know used Internet Explorer 3, the most advanced browser, but some losers still used Netscape Navigator so you had to put a “Best in IE” animated GIF on your splash page too. […]
Sadly, that’s all gone now — paved over by homogenous timelines where anything that wasn’t made this week is old news and long forgotten. The web was supposed to make information eternal, but instead, so much of it became ephemeral. I miss when virtually everyone I knew had their own website. Having a Twitter and an Instagram as your entire online presence is a poor substitute.
Jason Kottke found some great articles on how Philip Glass supported his early career, including this one from The Guardian.
When less means more
Throughout this period, Glass supported himself as a New York cabbie and as a plumber, occupations that often led to unusual encounters. “I had gone to install a dishwasher in a loft in SoHo,” he says. “While working, I suddenly heard a noise and looked up to find Robert Hughes, the art critic of Time magazine, staring at me in disbelief. ‘But you’re Philip Glass! What are you doing here?’ It was obvious that I was installing his dishwasher and I told him I would soon be finished. ‘But you are an artist,’ he protested. I explained that I was an artist but that I was sometimes a plumber as well and that he should go away and let me finish.”
Your lifestyle has already been designed
But the 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.
“Do what you love” is not great advice Not all passions match up with the realities of the job market. If you’re passionate about poetry or painting, you’re going to find very limited job opportunities for those things. Other people’s passions are their friends or their family, or home-making, or dogs, and again, there’s not much of a job market built around those things. But those are lovely passions to have. And in those cases, it makes sense to find work that you can do reasonably happily, while pursuing your passions when you’re not at work. And that’s completely okay.