We are overdue for a revolution of workplace expectations and norms upon which our relationships with one another and our individuality can flourish.
Times change and, inevitably, so too does the workplace. The work-at-home and digital shift, a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, expedited a tremendous shift in our frame of thinking surrounding the workplace. Some places of work have opted to maintain pandemic practices, while others have reverted to wasteful, illogical, and damaging antiquated pre-pandemic norms. I could go on and on about various positive impacts pandemic-era work adaptations could have for individuals and businesses alike if continued, but I’m writing today with a specific train of thought in mind:
Requiring an individual to commute who performs a wholly, if not mostly, digital role is a costly burden and an infringement on their individuality and creativity. When I use “burden”, I use it with great intent, and when I use “costly”, I am not solely referring to monetary costs.
When quarantine hit, we spent a lot more time at home than before. Many of us looked for ways to pass our newfound time. A wave of creativity and exploration challenged people to try their hands at baking, others (such as myself) to learn how to play instruments, or to take more time to read.
We are often encouraged, through empty words, to be creative and to work smarter and more efficiently. Yet, only when the foundations of workplace norms and standards themselves shook to their very core did we gain the means to do so.
We had time.
When I finished school, I was fortunate enough to receive a full-time job offer. While, formally, a data analyst, informally, I served as a jack-of-all-trades, performing a slew of responsibilities to fill the inevitable gaps any small, start-up company faces. Notably, all of my functions could be performed remotely. Often I worked alone, save the two joint owners who came and went and spent their days hopping between meetings. Commuting cost me $8 a day (not compensated), and I took three different forms of transportation each way.
Overall, a typical work week cost me an average of 10 hours and $32 in commuting alone.
At first, I went home early to avoid the 5 pm congestion, which increased the time it took me to get home by 50%. Once home, I would finish my required hours for the day, often exceeding 5 pm to account for the time to get home. When discovered (after a considerable amount of time since I often sat in the office alone), they required I stay until 5 pm, despite explaining the logic behind my actions, which did not impact the quantity or quality of my work output.
Commutes Consume Individuality
Whether an individual replaces an hour of commuting with an hour of TV, an hour with the family, an hour learning a new instrument or language, or an hour learning a new craft does not matter. That hour they spend is more productive than the hour that is unnecessarily and unjustifiably stolen from them otherwise. Now, when I use “productive”, I use it loosely. Each of these tasks exercises or contributes toward a unique aspect of the individual. One that is not triggered in the same way by sitting in traffic or waiting for a tram.
Yes, I am saying that watching an hour of TV is productive; productive in supporting individuality and creativity. The individual choosing to watch TV engages with their preferences formed through life experiences, a unique aspect of this individual. What is my preference for TV, and why? That additional episode they watch in place of commuting expands more on who that individual is; why they are the way they are, how they think about certain topics or people, and why they think about certain topics or people the way they do.
When quarantine went into effect, many experienced a bountiful harvest of free time foreign to us in which we dedicated ourselves to pursuing personal interests, new hobbies, and new ideas. We spent more time engaging with ourselves in ways we had neglected or been neglected. The elimination of a work commute fostered some of this extra time, and we all opened our eyes to the idea that some jobs don’t need to be conducted in-person to be executed successfully.
To require individuals whose presence is unnecessary in the office to attend in-person is to rob them of themselves.
This post does not go into nearly as much depth as it could. This is merely the recording of a passing train of thought with the potential to expand into a larger collection of ideas, opinions, and work.
I am very passionate about achieving a seismic shift in workplace culture, norms, and standards to allow for more flexibility, comfort, authentic relationships, creativity, self-guided exploration and innovation, and more. Step one is calling attention to the practices that keep us cemented in our old ways.
Not only do these practices impact individuality and creativity, as focused on in this post, but they also carry significant costs through the ways they maintain systemic (racial, class, etc.) divisions and barriers; a level of analysis I wish to explore in more detail in future posts.