It is hyperreal to describe the office workplaces of the early 21st century – that now lie derelict – as being centres for authentic connection between workers in any traditional sense.
For decades open-plan office decorum had restricted conversations at desks, professional or casual. Limited meeting spaces led to quick fire stand-ups in corridors or prevented meetings occurring at the necessary time. Outlook emails and increasingly Teams have been the dominant tools to collaborate and to progress. The desk telephone collected dust long before Lockdown.
If we are to transform, we need to understand the limits in our current thinking imposed by the language we use.
‘Remote working’ is a linguistic relic of a recent history from the dominance of ‘the workplace’. Remote working is a term that we should be cautious to use. Remote in this context is from the perspective of an organisation directed at the individual. It infers a disconnect of the individual worker to the larger organisation and in some circumstances, this may be true, but for others work has continued, with continual adaption, as before.
What if we switched to the perspective of the worker? After all the term is being applied to us.
Here we are in our homes, our place of residence. A place that for many we have chosen. For some, it may be shared with family, collected artefacts, furry pets and failed DIY projects. It’s a place of love and of loss, frustrations and delights. It encapsulates our authentic experience of life, leaks an’ all. The home has been the incubator that we turned to for protection, when nothing else could. So how is it, from a worker’s perspective, that working here is remote?
For many, the old commute by train, bicycle or car, had become more a symbolic habit – hyperreal – with no genuine value. Packing a laptop into a bag, closing the door on our family home, paying for expensive seasonal tickets with increasing environmental costs, only to unpack the same laptop in an impersonal grey office, separated from all we have. It is this that alienates, that excludes and separates. The commute is for some maybe even the many, nothing more than a repetitive task, working remotely, to return home for a few hours with the family, to eat and sleep.
Where we are now is not remote working, it is professionally proximate, its decentralised working. It is a new holistic embrace that brings life’s components within reach, malleable around one another, sensitive to the individual needs.
Marx referred to work as fulfilling our species essence, providing us with creative outlets. And for some of us, work has provided a structure and a sense of purpose to the lockdown day. It has benefited our mental health without threatening our physical health, without financial or environmental cost.
Marx, in a different context, posited the working class must organise itself at home – well here we are at home, we are organised, and we are working, sustainably.