Issues of Space and Time in the Working World

These past two (has it really only been two!?) months have been the first in several years where I’ve not had classes, school assignments, employment, or other major time commitments filling up my daytime hours. You might expect that this kind of freedom would be a glorious state of relaxation and euphoria for me. I can, if I so desire, sit in my pajamas with a cup of coffee until 11:30am, after which time I can leisurely dress and wander out the door. I could (if I wanted) stay up late writing and sleep in until noon the next day.

But the fact is, dear reader, that this situation fills me with a rending guilt and throbbing anxiety that won’t desist. I committed to completing my thesis this semester, a goal that I will now reach by December at the latest. My open schedule has allowed me to sit down and finish that document. However, the enforced lack of activity has taken its toll on me psychologically. I am not the kind of person who appreciates sitting at home all day.

Consequently, I read over two recent articles in FastCompany with a good deal of interest. The first, “A New Workplace Manifesto: In Praise Of Freedom, Time, Space, And Working Remotely” provides an overview of Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson‘s book called Remote: Office Not Required. In this book, Jason and David reflect on the nature of work and how commuting has become a central part of work, along with other annoyances like meetings, phone calls, and co-workers (FastCompany October 2013). Most people sign up for the endless grind of work with the dream to one day retire and reach the ‘luxurious’ state of being unemployed (FastCompany October 2013).

Jason and David propose that working remotely – i.e. telecommuting, or putting in productive work time hours from your home – is the solution to achieve luxury while in a state of work. For starters, you can escape the pressures of geography and live anywhere that you want (e.g. by the beach, not the city). They also suggest that as people we enjoy productive, meaningful, thought-provoking work, it’s just the circumstances in which we perform that work which can stress us out and wear us down:

“The fact is that most people like to work. Really work, that is. Engage their brain and their talents in the creation of value. At least if they are fortunate enough to work in a field of expertise, if not passion. Retirement from that is not nearly as luxurious as it sounds. Sudoku puzzles won’t replace that accomplished feeling of a good day’s work.

So what if we could have both? What if we could retain the stimulation of work and also embrace the true luxury of nondeferred living? That’s the inclusive truth that more and more people are finding in working remotely.

It’s the new luxury, and the definition is this: Freedom, time, and space. Freedom from that dreaded commute, from that productivity grinder of the traditional office, from being chained to the one city in which your employer happens to be located. Time to spend with friends and loved ones, to do what you really want outside work hours. Space to live and breathe” (FastCompany October 2013).

Although we have the technology to achieve this perfect state, there is still a negative attitude towards working from home and not many people do it. Telecommuting has countless benefits for a company and its workers, though; everything from reducing global climate change to bolstering pandemic and disaster preparedness (Global Workplace Analytics).

The second article, “The 30-Hour Workweek Is Here (If You Want It)” describes how our economic system (despite the predictions of John Maynard Keynes) has shifted towards more work hours in a week as technological efficiency increases. The article argues that our work week is too long, and reducing it would lead to more productive workers and stable economies:

“The average worker in Germany puts in 35 hours, but the German economy remains the fourth-largest in the world. The country also largely excludes work on Sundays, and the unemployment rate sits at a healthy 5%, compared to the United States’ 7%” (Brownstone, October 2013).

I support the ideas of telecommuting and working fewer hours, as I think both changes would hugely benefit our work-life balance and allow people to live meaningful, inspired lives filled with hobbies, travel, volunteer work, and family time. However, I also realize that a lot will have to change before anyone can accept these ideas. We have to find ways to overcome worker isolation, ensure that remote workers are getting enough tasks to keep them occupied, and remove the stigma associated with working from home.

I think that the majority of the guilt I have felt over the past two months has a lot to do with being in my own space and not feeling ‘productive enough’ due to a lack of external feedback. Thus, the psychology of working remotely is intricate and requires careful thought by companies before they make any changes in this direction.

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