It’s difficult to keep track of all the ways the pandemic has affected “normal” life, but one of the most major changes has been how, where, and even when we work. You could call the last year or so a “remote work revolution,” but it isn’t entirely accurate. For one thing, most of the country didn’t have access to remote work. However, even for those who were fortunate enough to work from home, their efforts were ineffective. It’s more kin to a hasty agreement reached amid a national emergency.
But, as we are near the end of this pandemic or at least the end of the closest we’ll get to know, we have an opportunity to reconsider our shattered relationship with labor. The epidemic marked a turning point, and it is up to us to decide what happens next. Work-life balance is so deeply ingrained in American culture; it’s not only that we struggle to preserve it or that we don’t do an excellent job of educating people about it; we also embrace and celebrate the polar opposite of it. We value and applaud its destruction.
People have expectations about when they should work, how much they should work, and when to communicate. And if you break those standards or fail to meet those expectations, it’s not considered something to bring up with your manager. On Sundays, they labor.” Even if it is expected that you will not be at the office on such days, you will not be working.
The American work ethic glamourizes hustle culture but does not contemplate workers conditions. In that sense, the worker is a bit of a bystander. And it can’t be up to the person to try to modify that within that framework, within that knowledge. Individuals cannot shield themselves from the wider ideological influence that better work inevitably entails more labor. And so, instead of using this language of limits, which is the individual’s responsibility, I’ve been thinking a lot about how borders are constantly breached. And it’s your fault as an individual if they’re broken because you didn’t keep them up to date. Instead, we might consider guardrails. Guardrails on the mountain passes are maintained by the government or a larger body, out here in the West, where we dwell. And they’re there to keep everyone safe. We all contribute to them through taxes to ensure that everyone is protected.
And I’m not implying that nationally regulated work hours, or a definition of what constitutes good labor, must resemble that. That does not always have to be the answer. There are numerous intriguing case studies in the book from various nations, such as attempts to enforce no email after specified work hours and the like. They failed because they lacked the resilience to deal with the reality of global capitalism.
So, at least for the time being, until labor legislation catches up to the current reality of work — which I believe is an important and vital goal moving forward — companies must maintain standards of what good work looks like; these guardrails, if they say they value work-life balance or say they want their workers to not burn out, to be sustainable.
If you work best late at night, and that’s how you’ve set up your flexible work schedule, that’s fantastic. You, on the other hand, do not send that email. You delay sending, which isn’t difficult. You put off sending that message, email, or whatever it is until the morning, during regular business hours. And, most significantly, if you break that norm, that boundary, it becomes a problem rather than a low-key means to gain attention.
So there’s this firm called Gumroad that’s exceptionally cool. It’s simply a platform for creators. And they had to go through this entire re-organization and change the way their firm operates. Except for the founder, they now have no employees. Everybody works as a contractor. What’s more, the company’s mentality is “You don’t owe us anything except the work.” You come in and perform this task. We’re not going to get along. I’m not claiming this is a viable model for almost anyone or the way a company should be run, but the thought of being transactional with your employer is refreshing. If you do an excellent job for us, we will reward you with money or other benefits. In exchange, we get the labor that we paid for. There will be no unnecessary guilt, commitment, or anything like that.
And while I believe it is excessive, there is something about the transactional character that is both stimulating and beneficial. And, in my opinion, it is far less harmful than the “we are a family” mentality. Because, as we all know, families have their difficulties and toxic relationships to deal with. And then there’s the issue of guilt. And I believe that our working style has adapted to include a lot of that type of information. A decentered working connection, in my opinion, is not wholly frigid, and it can have some personal relationship qualities. But, in the end, it’s just a transaction. You’re working for someone, and the transaction comes to an end at some point, and you’ve completed your tasks for that period.