Did our employers just requisition our homes?
April 21, 2020 4:29 AM   Subscribe

"Working from home" at present means something like this: employers have requisitioned the home as a condition of continuing to work, and they have taken away the office as part of what was previously offered to enable people to work... Acting as if home is a costless resource that is free for appropriation in an emergency, ignoring how home functions as a site of relatively invisible gendered relations of care and labour and imagining home as a largely frictionless site of interpersonal relations, come all too naturally, especially in a crisis."

A blog post by Dr Fiona Jenkins, convenor of the Australian National University's Gender Institute and an associate professor of philosophy at the ANU's Research School of Social Sciences.

Related:
James Gorman, chief executive officer of Morgan Stanley, in an interview with Bloomberg Television quoted by Matt Levine: “We’ve proven we can operate with no footprint. Can I see a future where part of every week, certainly part of every month, a lot of our employees will be at home? Absolutely.”

Australian telecom giant Optus says it will make coronavirus era work-at-home measures a permanent feature of its call centre operations. Paul Tyler, chief customer officer for business at NBN Co (the government-owned enterprise building Australia's national broadband network), said: "We think digital dependence will be much higher than before the crisis. Businesses will continue to avail themselves of the cost savings opportunities the crisis has allowed for."
posted by trotzdem_kunst (75 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
 
And here in the US -- if this is to become the new "normal" -- or an expectation of employment -- then ISPs (and to some extend cellular data providers) need to be deemed a public utility. Internet access has become just as required as a street address is for everything from applying for and managing unemployment benefits as it is for applying for work.

Similarly, the "home office deduction" requirements need to be updated as well: most people cannot afford a spare room that is dedicated solely to office work.

I doubt companies will provide a monthly stipend for home workers to offset electricity, internet access, and reduction of "home" square footage needed to accommodate the needs of at-home office work.
posted by Silvery Fish at 4:39 AM on April 21 [99 favorites]


Let's not forget astonishingly pervasive monitoring! If your micromanager can't hover over your shoulder in real life, they'll do it by malware that tracks keypresses, what applications are running, and via your always-on webcam, whether you're paying attention or not. So exciting!
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:44 AM on April 21 [24 favorites]


So "working from home" at present means something like this: employers have requisitioned the home as a condition of continuing to work, and they have taken away the office as part of what was previously offered to enable people to work.

I think most business that have closed have done so because of government recommendations or stipulations.

We are talking about "working from home" as if it were continuous with what it previously meant as an optional alternative to "working in the office".

I don't think anybody is doing this, given that in my experience newspapers, blogs and social media, as well as sappy commercials, have been uniformly talking about this as disruption rather than continuity.
posted by dmh at 4:51 AM on April 21 [8 favorites]


Did our schools just requisition our homes?
Did our daycares just requisition our homes?
Did our music venues just requisition our homes?
Did our family gatherings just requisition our homes?
Did our colleges just requisition our homes?
Yes. We can use the word "requisition" if the author likes.
posted by phooky at 4:55 AM on April 21 [41 favorites]


This is great, thanks.
posted by lucidium at 4:58 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


via your always-on webcam, whether you're paying attention or not. So exciting!

I’m pretty sure someone on here said that Apple At Home advisors get spot checked via webcam. They have a dress code also.

It’s very 1984.
posted by affectionateborg at 4:59 AM on April 21 [7 favorites]


I think this comes down to "how shitty is your employer?"

I'd be perfectly happy to continue working from home after the crisis is over (though I doubt my boss will see things that way). I enjoy not having to commute, not having to separately launder and hang button-down shirts, and not having to buy overpriced lunches. The main thing I miss is the indoor walking area for breaks.
posted by Foosnark at 5:32 AM on April 21 [26 favorites]


And here in the US -- if this is to become the new "normal" -- or an expectation of employment -- then ISPs (and to some extend cellular data providers) need to be deemed a public utility. Internet access has become just as required as a street address is for everything from applying for and managing unemployment benefits as it is for applying for work.

What exactly does this mean, though? Does it actually make a difference if ISPs are a "public utility" or not? Do you actually mean "universal cheap/free access"?

I'm less impressed with the notion of work-at-home stipends. Wouldn't your commuting stipend cover that? What, you don't have a commuting stipend?!?!

Let's not forget astonishingly pervasive monitoring! If your micromanager can't hover over your shoulder in real life, they'll do it by malware that tracks keypresses, what applications are running, and via your always-on webcam, whether you're paying attention or not. So exciting!

If you're paying me to punch keys at home, you'll probably want a way to make sure I'm punching keys at a rate that'll justify what you're paying me. Especially if you're paying me by the hour.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:36 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


The idea that we are supposed to be gushing and appreciative of this is hard for me. I fund raise for a living. I'm trying to be respectful of my partners/donors/ambassadors/contacts, but that is infuriating my supervisor. She's taken to designing busy work tasks to ensure I'm doing something. Her spouse is a teacher, I think she might be asking him for tips. It's an absolute mess and it's humiliating to ask for money of others when they are literally terrified for their future. But yeah, I'm working from home.
posted by lextex at 5:40 AM on April 21 [21 favorites]


I'd like to see legal protections for workers against working-from-home cost burden shifts and intrusive employer surveillance. And we need to keep pushing services for people at risk of abusive situations at home.

I agree it's interesting to look at wfh situations from a "requisition" lens – I will probably start using this phrasing in certain contexts – but let's not forget the paucity of alternatives.
posted by daveliepmann at 5:41 AM on April 21 [10 favorites]


What exactly does this mean ...

That price would receive government regulation at the speed of government legislation instead of price increasing every month at capitalistic whim.
posted by filtergik at 5:41 AM on April 21 [14 favorites]


If you're paying me to punch keys at home, you'll probably want a way to make sure I'm punching keys at a rate that'll justify what you're paying me.

People are generally paid to do things, not press keys.
posted by wotsac at 5:42 AM on April 21 [41 favorites]


The most important part of the 'utility' thing, to me, IS universal access to high-speed internet, which in the United States is very much not the case currently. A colleague in San Antonio tells me their transit authority is using its currently-unoccupied vehicles as mobile WiFi hotpspots for neighborhoods with no coverage (or alternatively, households in those neighborhoods who can't afford their own hookup), which is an awesome initiative but shouldn't have to happen. I have fiberoptic, and conference calls can still be a struggle; I can only imagine the incredible frustration of trying to share files or Skype with colleagues in areas with crappy coverage for which you (and not your employer) are paying an arm and a freaking leg.
posted by peakes at 5:46 AM on April 21 [20 favorites]


Did our schools just requisition our homes?
Did our daycares just requisition our homes?
Did our music venues just requisition our homes?
Did our family gatherings just requisition our homes?
Did our colleges just requisition our homes?


But our employers are not like these other things in a pretty specific way...right?
posted by allthinky at 5:51 AM on April 21 [16 favorites]


I'm kinda lost on what precisely the author thinks the alternative is here. Because this?

So "working from home" at present means something like this: employers have requisitioned the home as a condition of continuing to work

You could just as easily re-phrase this as: employers have given significantly more flexibility to how people get their work done instead of just furloughing a small number and laying off the rest. That's the alternative to "work from home".
posted by tocts at 5:58 AM on April 21 [21 favorites]


via your always-on webcam, whether you're paying attention or not. So exciting!

I cringed at this. My managers ordered us all webcams and I don't know what for. But I will seriously be finding another job if I have to keep it on while I'm working. I refuse to be monitored in my own damn home like some criminal.
posted by Young Kullervo at 6:03 AM on April 21 [16 favorites]


The other alternative, for the foreseeable future is: go to a central location, catch a disease and, quite possibly, die.

So, if I have a choice here, I’m working from home.
posted by drivingmenuts at 6:09 AM on April 21 [10 favorites]


The always-on webcam is apparently enough of a thing that I've seen at least two Ask a Manager posts about it. And even the author, not exactly a rabid enemy of capital, says this is a sign of poor management, and is neither productive nor normal.

I guess there could be situations in which key-stroke numbers or whatever could be necessary, but in a lot of jobs the only reason to do this is if your employees' objectives are so poorly defined and tracked that you have to resort to spying--i.e., the only way and only reason to obsess endlessly over whether your people are 'doing their jobs' is if you're not doing yours.
posted by peakes at 6:15 AM on April 21 [11 favorites]


My coworkers and I have speculated whether our company will notice how much they could save by drastically reducing office space by having many people keep working from home. I'd be a lot more ok with the idea if I had any confidence that those savings would be passed on to the employees (i.e., to cover the costs of having and maintaining a comfortable home office) but of course there is no chance of that happening. If it happens, it would be just one more extractive way to capture value from workers.

I guess the quid pro quo (aside from commute costs) is that everyone has visibly been working less productively over the past few weeks, though I don't know how much of that is from general life stress and how much from the transition to working at home.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:16 AM on April 21 [7 favorites]


I for one find it useful to talk about the broader concept of working from home, outside the current context. It should be clear to anyone to the left of Ted Cruz (remember him?) that big part of this becomes moot if the burden for social welfare is placed on government and taken away from employers. If everyone has room, board, health, and internet covered by default, working from home becomes both more equitable and more humane.

Many people who already work from home by choice have very little concept of the difficulties of working from home by someone else's choice. It's easy for me to work from home. I already have everything set up so I can do it, and my partner always has. And we have a basement. But most of the people I know live in tiny condos or shared housing, and if work takes away their third space, their options become far more limited. That's even before you get into all the little micro-inequities/perks of working in a formal workspace, or the panopticon Orwellian bullshit of constant monitoring as an acceptable performance measure.
posted by aspersioncast at 6:20 AM on April 21 [21 favorites]


I think there's some importance in looking at this both in the sense of what it means in the moment, why so many people are working from home right now, and the question being raised in the post about what that also might mean for the future and how workers need to think about the issue before it escalates into owners "requisitioning" worker's homes by attempting to control worker's personal space, time, and life. Focusing just on he now is always how shitty conditions are allowed to find a hold on society. The potential negative effects need to be attended to before they simply become the new norm, even as there can be positive possible outcomes that can accepted as well. If a power arrangement can be abused, it will be. Maybe only by some, but possibly also eventually accepted as "the way things are", which is why asking this question now is a good idea.
posted by gusottertrout at 6:25 AM on April 21 [7 favorites]


I'd be a lot more ok with the idea if I had any confidence that those savings would be passed on to the employees (i.e., to cover the costs of having and maintaining a comfortable home office) but of course there is no chance of that happening.

I mean, I can't speak to everyone's situation, but I can tell you from the experience of friends who have gone through a shift to fully at-home work for whole offices (in the past few years, way before the current crisis) that a pretty standard thing that happened was a generous stipend being paid out (one time) for people to use to set up their home office. Basically, here's a hefty lump sum, please buy a desk / chair / other stuff you need at your discretion.

Will every company be great at it? No. Is it a foregone conclusion that nobody will do it? No, because companies already do it or have done it. And honestly, that's a hell of a lot more equitable than the assumptions built in to commuting (i.e. you have people paid the same amount who have drastically different commute times and costs and the employer doesn't give a fuck because that's your problem to deal with).
posted by tocts at 6:25 AM on April 21


There’s a lot of hidden costs with working from home. Like, you’re using more power for computer/AC/heating/lights. Your power bill goes up. You’re paying for your own toilet paper and using a lot more. Will you have to call a plumber sooner due to greatly increased wear and tear on the pipes? You’re generating more trash that there isn’t a janitor to deal with. You’ve got to source and set up a working environment and deal with any repetitive strain issues that come from it being an ergonomic nightmare crammed into a corner. Oh and you’re sure not gonna get any kind of bulk discount for buying that desk setup like the company might have when it bought several thousand, and you ain’t got a facilities department to put it together for you while you do something else either. You have to acquire a separate work machine or start keeping work data on your own computer and now have it at risk of being seized, should the company do something that makes law enforcement want to start trawling through everything. Also you need to buy more storage space for that data if it ain’t all behind a web-based UI. There are probably more costs that a company eats that I am not thinking of, it’s been a long time since I have been working for The Man.

How much of this is your newly WFH job covering? Are you being paid for your time doing all of the support roles yourself? If you have an arrangement with your partner where one of you Wins Bread and the other stays at home and keeps the home in good shape, is your job now paying for your partner’s time to pick up after you a lot more? I doubt it. I can definitely see the “all this shit has been requisitioned” angle - yes, it’s a strongly worded way to put it, that carries a particularly combative attitude towards all this, that’s kind of the point.

I have been a freelancer who works from home for a good while and lemme tell you, I spend a lot of time out of my home at coffee shops, in part to have an excuse to leave the house and burn some calories walking/cycling around, in part to not have to deal with all of the above. And I really miss the coffee shop option right now.
posted by egypturnash at 6:27 AM on April 21 [42 favorites]


I work remotely for an org that, until a month ago, was 75% onsite. Working from home has huge upsides but, for instance, my work did not provide comparable amenities or pay for co-working space - the flexibility of home working is taken more or less as a trade-off for standing desks, office snacks, parking etc. Arranging for them to cover the cost of a computer monitor for me to use for work took a couple weeks of negotiation. This has been workable for me because I don't have any dependents, have a strong internet signal, and a corner that works as a home office. Now, for many of my coworkers, their homes have absolutely been requisitioned, in the sense that they are working out of various non-ideal spaces with laggy country internet and home schooling children (the space they take up working absolutely has other demands on it, is what I'm saying). My workspace has acquired a second user (spouse) who has meetings most of the day - if this was going to be a permanent thing, we'd need to move apartments to regain something like what was considered acceptable working space a month ago, and I can't see either of our employers covering that cost. They'd save a ton on office rent if they could get us to eat the cost instead!
posted by heyforfour at 6:28 AM on April 21 [12 favorites]


It is a requisitioning for some people. There's a lot of discussion over "webcams on/off" but once people accept "webcams on" there are further demands: what you can wear in your home. What part of your home you can use. What can that part of the home look like? Can you have children visible or audible in your living room? Can you have pets? Can you have your spouse? Can you telework from your bedroom or is that in itself inappropriate?

Many people are understanding of their employees and coworkers, and realize that professional behavior while teleworking is not the same as having a staged-managed office. But I've read so many things lately of bosses demanding, for instance, that workers move into a spot of the apartment with "better lighting" (for internal calls), relocate pieces of furniture or home bar carts (when there is nowhere else to put them), etc. Several years ago I posted a link where a man gave away his child's dog because his work-from-home situation wouldn't allow it, and many teleworkers commented about the demands of their remote jobs.

This is a major change because "professional behavior" in the middle class office has been conditioned on having no personal life (except of course a behind-the-scenes personal wife that takes care your emotions and housework and makes you a better worker). Now your boss literally expects to peer into your personal life. And of course all your co-workers are too. Who has the ridiculously expensive refrigerator? Who is able to keep their space tidy and clean? What books are on their shelves? Who has the Frank Frazetta posters up? How much do you think they're paying for that apartment?
posted by Hypatia at 6:31 AM on April 21 [40 favorites]


Let's not forget astonishingly pervasive monitoring! If your micromanager can't hover over your shoulder in real life, they'll do it by malware that tracks keypresses, what applications are running, and via your always-on webcam, whether you're paying attention or not. So exciting!
posted by seanmpuckett

From Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash (1992):

Not that it's any big secret, who comes in first. When you sign on to a workstation in the morning, it's not like the central computer doesn't notice that fact. The central computer notices just about everything. Keeps track of every key you hit on the keyboard, all day long, what time you hit it, down to the microsecond, whether it was the right key or the wrong key, how many mistakes you make and when you make them. You're only required to be at your workstation from eight to five, with a half-hour lunch break and two ten-minute coffee breaks, but if you stuck to that schedule it would definitely be noticed, which is why Y.T.'s mom is sliding into the first unoccupied workstation and signing on to her machine at quarter to seven. Half a dozen other people are already here, signed on to workstations closer to the entrance, but this isn't bad. She can look forward to a reasonably stable career if she can keep up this sort of performance.

posted by mecran01 at 6:33 AM on April 21 [8 favorites]


Hilariously I cannot buy a webcam for love or money right now.
posted by selfnoise at 6:40 AM on April 21 [5 favorites]


I can't speak to everyone's situation

Exactly, and your situation is by no means the default. The break downs along income, industry, and geographic location are pretty stark. People in New England and the West Coast have generally more legal worker protections in place and much higher social expectations of the workplace than people in the South and Southeast.

I absolutely agree that commuting introduces a whole different set of inequities and inefficiencies.
posted by aspersioncast at 6:41 AM on April 21 [7 favorites]


I mean, I can't speak to everyone's situation, but I can tell you from the experience of friends who have gone through a shift to fully at-home work for whole offices (in the past few years, way before the current crisis) that a pretty standard thing that happened was a generous stipend being paid out (one time) for people to use to set up their home office. Basically, here's a hefty lump sum, please buy a desk / chair / other stuff you need at your discretion.

We are fortunate and already have that -- part of the shift to work at home the other week was pretty much blanket approval to take home or purchase things like extra monitors, chairs, etc., that are required for an ergonomic workspace. But what I can guarantee will never be offered is the money to rent or purchase to upsize from, say, a one-bedroom apartment to a two-bedroom apartment, or to a larger house, in order to provide you with an adequate home office space. The real costs of doing this long-term would be carried by employees, not by companies.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:58 AM on April 21 [16 favorites]


I work for a museum, which by its definition is a destination. When we switched to WFH, we had 1 day's notice. While a lot of the higher-ups were able to transition smoothly to WFH, a lot of us were not (like our floor staff). My job is 100% in-office, and I've been hanging on with my 7-year old Macbook Air (my personal computer), which doubles as my reading/entertainment during non-work hours. Since my company is non-profit, none of us are able to get WFH setups paid for by the museum. So most of us are plugging along using our own devices/internet and hoping that nothing breaks or crashes. I went without internet for the first 3 years I lived in this apartment, but signed up a couple of years ago. Damn good thing I did, because if I had not, I'd be completely unable to work right now.

As for the ergonomics, well, that's another story. I've got a terrible setup. I have back issues to begin with and this is not helping at all.
posted by sundrop at 6:59 AM on April 21 [5 favorites]


It also goes in the other direction. I believe the phrase "on the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog" applies here.

It'll be much easier for the homeless and transients to get a leg up into employment, especially some of these entry level positions, without a certain expectation of professional presentation every morning. If all you need is a haircut, a laptop and a phone to be a call center worker you can do it anywhere and for a cheaper investment than an apartment with a shower and a whole heap of clothes. It also gives them access to a much larger labor market than their immediate vicinity.

Then, once they have an income stream they can much easily break the chicken and egg cycle of getting back into "regular" society and generating some security for themselves. This is much harder when you have to show up to even a local place with no transport, very little access to hygiene facilities, and very little access to professional attire.

You could argue that the underclass shouldn't have to go through this and you'd be 100% correct. But absent completely reworking parts of society we shouldn't look at this as a universally bad thing.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 7:00 AM on April 21 [6 favorites]


I worry that caught up in the urgency of crisis we risk forgetting just how problematic the "working from home" pillar of our strategy for mitigation is in multiple respects. Just because we accept the necessity of action in the context of emergency should not mean that we do not question its further implications and its practice.

I concur with the thrust of the article, which is that working from home exacerbates the already disproportionate domestic burden placed on women which, if companies find the relocation of workers to the home fiscally beneficial as well as advantageous from a monitoring perspective, may not abate once stay-at-home orders are lifted. AKA there are aspects of this currently necessary state of affairs that deserve critical examination, particularly along the axis of sex, lest it become the new normal.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:13 AM on April 21 [7 favorites]


I think this comes down to "how shitty is your employer?"

I think it comes down to “how profitable this makes shitty employers” and then other employers follow the trend. After all, how many companies talk about how they really improved earnings this year by padding out their budget through unnecessary expenditures?

I think this, like a lot of things, all depends on how long this lasts. We adapt quickly, and business employ people specifically to figure out how to adapt to new trends and profit (or cut costs) from them. The “new normal” can very quickly just become “normal” and when it does, businesses will adjust.

Sure, not every employer will be as relentlessly shitty as the can possibly be. But believing that there aren’t employers that will exploit this for every penny in a world where Smithfield and their bought and paid for politics hacks aren’t trying to claim that the immigrants they underpay to process meat couldn’t possibly have contracted Covid 19 at work, no sir, it was their weird and frankly unAmerican living conditions and customs that did it. Believing that there aren’t employers that will do their best to take advantage of whatever leverage they have over employees ignores the, what, 22 million people suddenly out of work in the last month with a government that evidently delayed (too small) relief checks so they could get the president’s signature on them? How many people right now would jump at the chance for a job, even if it meant letting the employer dictate how they comfort themselves in their home? How many employees have already had to do that from the get go, for fear of losing their job in this economic climate?

Hell, I’m working from home, and when we had our meeting about what that would entail, the school, which has been pretty good about a lot of things, and is, in general, a pretty good employer, said, nah, if you need to buy stuff so that you can teach at home, that’s on you. Maybe this goes long term, and maybe my school doesn’t exploit it. But push it all a bit further, and maybe now that everyone can work remotely, maybe we can start outsourcing the jobs that we used to think couldn’t be outsourced.

Honestly, I think any possible image of how badly companies can and will exploit any situation is only limited to ones imagination and how closely you’ve watched the last twenty to thirty years of labor relations.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:41 AM on April 21 [7 favorites]


Summer will be here soon in Arizona.

I keep my energy bills down to a reasonable amount (approx. $350 a month) during the summer by turning off the vents to unnecessary rooms and turning the AC up to 89 degrees while we're at work.

Now, those unnecessary rooms are the offices where my husband and I do our work--they'll need to be cooled-- and we'll have to pay to keep the temperature bearable all day long.

It's going to be very costly, and ain't no way either of our employers is going to help with the extra cost.
posted by meese at 7:47 AM on April 21 [23 favorites]


JOKE: "We're going to give you your own office so you can block out the office noise and be more productive."

BROKE: "We're going to put you in an open plan workspace so that you can be closer to your colleagues and be more productive."

WOKE: "We're going to take away your office and have you work from home, because it was never really about productivity at all."
posted by tonycpsu at 7:52 AM on April 21 [10 favorites]


There’s a lot of hidden costs with working from home. Like, you’re using more power for computer/AC/heating/lights. Your power bill goes up. You’re paying for your own toilet paper and using a lot more. Will you have to call a plumber sooner due to greatly increased wear and tear on the pipes? You’re generating more trash that there isn’t a janitor to deal with.

Sure. But there are costs imposed on the employee to work in an office. You have commuting costs, which in most of the US means owning and maintaining a car. You have to buy gas. You have the opportunity cost (huge) of sitting in that car commuting to work. You have to buy work-appropriate clothing (you know, pants). You either have to spend time meal prepping or buy lunch.

Nobody is being reimbursed for any of that traditional-office stuff, it's just assumed that you pay for it out of your salary/take-home-pay.

I can say with pretty strong confidence that working from home would be a financial win, at least for me. If I knew this current status quo was going to prevail post-COVID, we could get rid of at least one vehicle and all its associated costs, which is like receiving an instant bonus. I wouldn't be doing dry cleaning anymore. I get back between 40-60 minutes per day of hating the universe and probably stressing myself towards an early heart attack because I'm sitting in traffic.

It seems like a pretty solid deal. YMMV, of course.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:52 AM on April 21 [12 favorites]


If you're paying me to punch keys at home, you'll probably want a way to make sure I'm punching keys at a rate that'll justify what you're paying me.

I want lots of things I cannot lawfully obtain.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:55 AM on April 21 [7 favorites]


The knock-on effects of mass work-at-home will affect a lot lot lot of shit, though. What kind of astronomically significant social and economic shifts would we see if half of all office workers stopped commuting? I'm a systems analyst and my mind boggles at the changes that could be wrought.

What do with all the surplus office space? Affordable housing, for example? And that's just one tiny effect.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:01 AM on April 21 [7 favorites]


I want lots of things I cannot lawfully obtain.

The question is, do you have the lobbying power to get those things made lawful? Or the billions in cash on hand to pay laughably negligible fines (compared to those billions) for wanton violations of those laws? Because there are companies and industries that do.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:01 AM on April 21


My company bought a nice big office building a few years back. Previously we were on the very wrong side of town in offices over warehouses. Executives have been joking recently about moving back to our old offices and leaving many working from home. Many of us sold houses and moved across town to be near the new office.
posted by Manic Pixie Hollow at 8:18 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


The piece I don’t get is...WHY are we still happily handing over our personal information for free? Um, if companies are free to requisition my home then they damn well will have to pay my price when they requisition my personal information.
posted by floweredfish at 8:24 AM on April 21


I’ve been lucky; WFH has been a boon for me. At 25¢ per mile operating cost on my car, I’m saving $50 a week just on that. Then there’s the meal flexibility. Running late and didn’t have time to put lunch together? Not a problem. Yesterday during lunch I was able to start some bread dough for dinner. French press in the kitchen so if I want some coffee, I can get it without having to pick between quality or having to settle for Keurig swill. I’ve noticed that we’re spending a lot less money since I went full time WFH a month and a half ago and I may have the option to do that permanently.

But I do realize that not everyone has it this good. I know some employers are invasive as far as monitoring, which is something I never understood - if you’re getting your work done right and in time, what’s the issue? But many managers just can’t stand the thought of not managing their employees as much as possible. At a previous job, the idea of working from home was a non-starter, because management insisted on having us at our desks, punching the clock, even though we were doing a job that could easily be done from home, on a system that tracked what work was getting done. It’s ridiculous. There’s been some people who have told me to apply for this job or that because I could make more money, but there are things that make a job worth keeping besides just the amount on the paycheck, and I’m fortunate to be where I’m at. My company has treated us very well, and that’s something I’m grateful for.
posted by azpenguin at 8:26 AM on April 21


Always-on webcams can still have always-covered lenses. A few have built in lens covers; a post it note or even tape can do the job too.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:34 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


"Always-on webcams" are easy to solve, but "employers that require you to use a webcam and keep it on" not so much.

I'm happy to work for a company that seems to consider webcams unnecessary, a breach of privacy, a waste of bandwidth and just one more piece of technology to have to purchase and maintain. Also generally, I'm judged by the work I get done, not number of keystrokes or percentage of the workday I'm chained to my desk. But not everyone is so reasonable.
posted by Foosnark at 8:50 AM on April 21


I and my spouse are extremely privileged in the WFH situation -- a large apartment with separate rooms, high-speed internet, good computer equipment and understanding bosses. I have a job that means no meetings, no face-to-face, just producing data. My spouse has a job with meetings and face-to-face and general office stuff. And not having to commute, plus having a little flexibility in daytime tasks, has been really nice.

However, I have a different work schedule than my spouse (not 9-5), so I often have my free time during the day. But ironically, I've found myself limited to doing things compatible with the 9-5 office lifestyle. For example, I basically have to stay out of part of the apartment. I can't play the piano when I want. I can't run the sewing machine if he's on a call. I can't work out unless I get up really early. So my use of my home in my free time is already limited by my husband's work schedules and work expectations. And I have it so much better than many people, who don't have separate rooms, who have inadvertently walked naked past their spouses' webcam, or are also trying to corral kids, or who have to figure out where to put their pile of dirty laundry when it used to live by the computer.
posted by Hypatia at 8:56 AM on April 21 [14 favorites]


Aside from some early technology hiccups, WFH/telemedicine has been an overall win for me. The biggest positive change is that because I no longer have to commute, I can go for a run first thing in the morning -- before everyone and their dog is on the street -- and still have time to shower and look moderately presentable by 8am. Or, if I decide to sleep in, I can spend 20 minutes at lunch going for a neighborhood walk; I was never able to do that before because my clinic is located at the interchange of 3 freeways.

I am also 100% "on time" even though I'm spending more time actually talking to patients, because all the things that made me run late before (like the fact that there was ALWAYS a line to check in at the front desk) are no longer an issue. There are also no more no-shows. Sometimes there are no pants, though.

It's also been a bit of a mental doozy to take the things that I used to get ill-concealed pity for -- like the fact that I'm single with no kids -- and realize that's what privilege looks like right now. No toddler-wrangling, no homeschooling older children, no splitting lowest-tier cheapest wifi with a working spouse. Just me, my 2016 desktop computer, and an empty room.
posted by basalganglia at 9:15 AM on April 21 [11 favorites]


The pressure on employers is overwhelming to make this appear to be the next "natural" step in the evolution of cost savings.

First there was open-plan (because that made us more productive (lolwhatcrap)), then there was hot-desking (an abomination) and now, opportunistically, on the back of the enforced wfh situation we find ourselves in, employers suddenly find the cost savings too juicy to turn down. Now, suddenly, everyone finds all those anti-wfh arguments holding no water.

Going back to Gorman's comment, Morgan had historically been wfh-friendly but his positioning now is very difference. Previously there was a genial disposition towards wfh as an accommodation to ease the ridiculousness of the modern work burden. Need to meet the ConEdison guy somewhere between "noon and five"(lol)? No problem, wfh is ok. Dentist? Doctor? Emergency child care? No problem, wfh. The deal was that in exchange for those soft accommodations, you'd agree to be on that 8pm conference bridge with China, that 6am "scrum" with the team in India. It was quid-pro-quo, but generally, it balanced out.

This is different. This is "you're going to save us a ton of money by being in the office a _maximum_ number of days a week", which is a shift in positioning. Where previously hotdesking was an unpopular experiment, with firms looking to find ways to force it on people, it will now just be "the way".

Cost savings. That's all that matters.
posted by breezytimes at 9:35 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


Working from home was my sole ambition as an introverted executive-functionally challenged child, and I've managed to make it happen in a number of ways throughout my professional life from babysitting to freelancing to academia to my current 100% remote digital white collar job. I put this in context because I'm aware of the multiple layers of privilege that go into my thoughts and feelings about working from home - chiefly the fact that it was my own choice, which isn't the case for most.
But to me, working from home is the closest we get to owning the means of production in the most basic marxist sense, and it's a total mindfuck to see it flipped into worst forms of management oppression. Most of us workers aren't in the fields or running looms now; skills, knowledge, physical presence, mental bandwidth and TIME are the means of production, and the whole ringamarole of "going to a separate workplace" is engineered to take as much of those things from you as possible.
This pandemic has coerced too many people into untenable wfh conditions that make it impossible to balance professional and personal concerns. No doubt. But I hope it also shows workers how much time and space they can claw back from their employers and still get the job done.
posted by Freyja at 9:46 AM on April 21 [5 favorites]


Where previously hotdesking was an unpopular experiment, with firms looking to find ways to force it on people, it will now just be "the way".

That's not my read on this at all, at least specific to hotdesking. I honestly cannot see companies that maintain a physical office continuing with a seating policy that amounts to, "every day you're going to sit at a new desk with the germs of who fucking knows from yesterday". I've already been seeing serious pushback on that from employees in companies I know of that were hotdesking prior to the current crisis, and I think hotdesking at a wide scale is going to be an incredibly hard sell going forward.
posted by tocts at 9:48 AM on April 21 [8 favorites]


It's very hard to manage people long distance, as I'm learning, and as much as I don't miss commuting, I do miss being able to talk to and assist my team in person.
posted by emjaybee at 9:57 AM on April 21 [7 favorites]


Most of us workers aren't in the fields or running looms now
For some definition of "us," I suppose. If we're going to subject this to a Marxist analysis I'd hope for a little more solidarity with the people who actually make things. After NAFTA a lot of that work got off-shored or out-sourced to China, Maquiladoras and migrant workers with even shittier labor conditions. We're seeing the consequences of that in real time, what with Trump's trade war, COVID outbreaks in border factories, and the further kneecapping of the US's already-moronic immigration policies.

But even right here in the US of A there really are an awful lot of jobs that can't be done remotely. Or at least not at the same level.

I can do most of my job off-site for now - hell, I'm saving money, and probably being more productive. But if we stay remote into the Fall semester I'm pretty sure I'm canned or furloughed, along with my direct supervisor, because at least half of my work has to do with the physical interactions of people and materials in a space, and managing the people who staff that space.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:20 AM on April 21 [5 favorites]


From a different angle, I'm really eager for the studies about pollution and automotive accident/fatality statistics from this current period. I've long advocated for more remote work options across any industries that can support it. Mainly for those two reasons. But also because yeah, introvert here.

As for pollution, there would be fewer total emissions and probably less individual emissions from the cars still on the road, due to less stop-and-go congestion. It would probably even make the goal of self-driving cars more achievable, if traffic patterns were consistently lighter and without the worst of the rush-hour snarls. That would further smooth out traffic patterns eventually, reducing pollution even further. Of course, hybrid/electric self-driving would be the ultimate goal anyway, but still.

Most importantly would be the number of lives saved by the reduction in traffic accidents. Not just deaths, but all manner and severity of injuries well. That would, in turn, reduce the burden on the healthcare system as well. Insurance claims would of course go way down, though I'm sure the insurance industry would gleefully pocket all of those savings.

That's just my take on it, though.
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 11:18 AM on April 21 [4 favorites]


Our entire economy and culture is thoroughly corrupted by the worship of money and the abuse of the poor.

Some days, I hope those fucking evangelicals are right and they do have to explain their actions to Jesus on Judgement Day.
posted by corvikate at 11:38 AM on April 21 [3 favorites]


Working from home has been overall very good for me, and it is the right choice to prevent needless death. But it also rings true for me that I have had to give up part of my home to my employer. I had to rearrange a bunch of shit to actually have a webcam setup that doesn’t show my bed or craft table or any of the other markers of living that are distracting and unprofessional. I share a one bedroom apartment with my partner, but I conduct telemedicine, so they can’t be in the room while I’m on a call and I have to have the door closed. I have to either be in the living room, which means they can’t use their desktop computer or the kitchen (which is open to the living room), or I have to be in the bedroom, which means they can’t take a nap and the cat can’t get to her litter box. Many days I have to go back and forth with my setup, because I’m not going to make my partner get up early and get out of the bedroom if I have a 9am meeting, but I’m also not going to keep them from using the rest of the apartment all day by settling in the living room.

I’m also not going to lock my cat out of half the apartment all day. So, when I’m having meetings without clients (supervisors, classes), I open the door. But this means frequently being interrupted as she tries to sit on my laptop or cross in front of it or whatever. It means I’m treating her differently than I usually would, because I have to dump her on the ground and ignore her to continue with the meeting. My partner also can’t play video games with voice chat while I’m in meetings, or play music while they clean. If they forgot something in the room I’m in, they have to wait until I’m not with a client to get it. They don’t get to enjoy our home the same way because of my work.

My first meeting today my cat jumped on my laptop and turned it off while I was talking, and the second one my partner accidentally walked behind me in their underwear. So, yeah, it’s definitely starting to feel like a requisitioning.
posted by brook horse at 12:53 PM on April 21 [11 favorites]


I wouldn't be doing dry cleaning anymore.

Well, you won't be dry-cleaning your pants, anyway . . .
posted by soundguy99 at 12:55 PM on April 21


> Well, you won't be dry-cleaning your pants, anyway . . .

Ahh yes, the ol' Webcam Mullet. Business up top, party down below!
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 1:06 PM on April 21 [7 favorites]


If you're paying me to punch keys at home, you'll probably want a way to make sure I'm punching keys at a rate that'll justify what you're paying me. Especially if you're paying me by the hour.

If the only metric I have to measure your work is how fast you punch keys, I'm very likely a shit manager. Unless you're like a keyboard stress tester or something.

We've emptied our classroom chromebook trolleys for staff that needed *something* to be able to teach or admin from home. It's not ideal, but it's all we had, and budget has obviously gone from tight to black hole. We did get a decent size batch of webcams that went very quickly and are impossible to buy more from our suppliers, so I am having a *little* bit of schadenfreude at the 'usual suspect' teachers that ignored the multiple requests to let us know if they needed one or a chromebook for a whole month, and are now irate we don't any left to hand out. (We're directing them to their department heads to plead their case for further expenditure from their budget)

Safeguarding concerns have fluctuated with webcams for teaching; first it was don't use them at all because well, teachers privately videoing repeatedly with students at home would normally be a huge red flag! But recent studies have shown that even virtual facetime with teachers and peers, without hovering parents, is a big mental health help, and can help spot an abusive situation at home, so it's now encouraged for light use where feasible; individual video meets with students can potentially have a safeguarding lead pop in for a minute unannounced, and of course not all teachers can or are willing, and that's fine.

And there's definitely a big issue with home office setups; homes are typically very cramped in England anyway, so trying to find room for potentially 2 WFH adults plus children is a major issue for everyone; work is doing their best to try and be flexible and forgiving, and being camera-off in larger meetings is becoming a thing. I just wish google Meet would hurry up and add live background blurring like Teams and Zoom.

I have 3 scheduled meetings a week; one allstaff (which is more a briefing) by the head, and two with my team for about 15 minutes a time, where we can catch up on any wider issues, from me or them, and I think it helps to try and replicate a tiny bit of the in-offfice environment. We've had a couple of one-on-ones where needed, as I'm the previous sysadmin and still know where a few of the (IT) bodies are buried!

The idea of monitoring my team by webcam or spyware fills me with total horror. It would *utterly* destroy any trust and all morale, particularly right now when we're all incredibly stressed and trying to make the best of a bad situation, so productivity will be whatever it is anyway. So far, they've frankly put in heroic effort, and I couldn't be prouder - I've been the one trying to make sure they take proper breaks and have time to decompress! Burnout and high stress are my key worries for them, not watching bloody metrics. Plus, I already have far too much to do without adding spymaster to my joblist!
posted by Absolutely No You-Know-What at 1:15 PM on April 21 [6 favorites]


Safeguarding concerns have fluctuated with webcams for teaching; first it was don't use them at all because well, teachers privately videoing repeatedly with students at home would normally be a huge red flag! But recent studies have shown that even virtual facetime with teachers and peers, without hovering parents, is a big mental health help, and can help spot an abusive situation at home, so it's now encouraged for light use where feasible; individual video meets with students can potentially have a safeguarding lead pop in for a minute unannounced, and of course not all teachers can or are willing, and that's fine.

One of the huge problems were school districts using spyware to surreptitiously take pictures of students outside of school hours which (and I don't know why they didn't foresee this) ended up being just a giant child porn factory.

No picture from any webcam should ever EVER EVER be taken with without consent of the subject. Any company that tries it? Let your kid use the company laptop in their room for "homework" and then sue them into the fucking ground.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 1:28 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


The worst part is in that school district case was that the software was MANUALLY ACTIVATED and images were intermittently deleted. If there wasn't a pedophile with access to that system who was using it to manufacture their own content I'll eat my left shoe.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 1:30 PM on April 21 [4 favorites]


One of the huge problems were school districts using spyware to surreptitiously take pictures of students outside of school hours

I think our main safeguarding lead just had a coronary. Who... who could possibly think that was a good idea?
posted by Absolutely No You-Know-What at 1:35 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


Who... who could possibly think that was a good idea?

There's plenty of faculty and administrators who will happily dehumanize students as nothing more than immature blobs unworthy of basic human rights. Once they don't consider them as miniature humans it becomes trivial to rationalize that they can do whatever they want to the kids in the name of order and control.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 1:43 PM on April 21 [4 favorites]


Absolutely No You-Know-What: And there's definitely a big issue with home office setups; homes are typically very cramped in England

Same down here, both generally and turned up to 11 in any city larger than 250k people. My suburbanite friends are justifiably smug, ha.

I sincerely wonder whether the mass wfh situation, if it lasts long enough, might finally rejigger the priorities or even just the needs of die-hard urbanites (guilty) such that the ongoing population leak away from hypercenters accelerates or even reaches a tipping point.

I will say that my neck problems are not improved by sharing the single desk we can fit into our 12m2 living room. Tolerating a cramped space because 'we're only in here nights and lazy Sundays' is a world away from 'can you stand up so I can reach my mouse'. What a time to be alive!
posted by peakes at 2:09 PM on April 21


I'm currently working student services from home, on my phone that I pay the bill for, using my internet services that I pay for, and working at a desk I had to go out with my money and buy the day we were ordered home. I do often feel like my private resources have been appropriated, no matter how much I like being able to make lunch in my own kitchen each day.

I would be using my own old laptop too if I hadn't just unplugged and carried home my work computer on the last day in the office and then asked for permission afterwards.

Now my job has announced furloughs starting in May - 8 hours every pay period. So all of us who have had our resources appropriated will need to be able to find a way to still pay the electricity, and internet, and cell phone bills if we want to keep our jobs, and keep making that even smaller paycheck. It's definitely grinding my gears.
posted by See you tomorrow, saguaro at 2:24 PM on April 21 [17 favorites]


I am moving this week because going from just me working from home when I don't have a class, to both me and my housemate full time at home, then having my ten year old homeschooling full time with a custody flip since her father is also working from home full time, has meant neither house I can inhabit has the space or internet capacity for it. Currently my kid and I work and sleep in the same room. Luckily I can do lectures from a cobbled together set up of my trolley table and armchair, while she works at my desk. I can up my data plan on my phone and hotspot with it. Her dad can manage homeschooling one day a week to take some pressure off. I could go and sign a lease and move to my own two bedroom place so we can set up two desks, and not sleep in the same room.

I'm not being reimbursed for any of it. But my work has taken a hit for the current situation. Lecturing is hard with a kid around - thank God I'm not trying to teach film this semester though. writing is hard when I'm helping her just sort out the tech and paperwork. Marking is hard when I barely get a moment to myself.

And my employer has been GREAT. People were encouraged to take home and requisition what they needed. Bursaries and loans were offered to people without the right tech, as well as advice. Multiple helplines and tip sheets are made available, along with counselling. They have made it clear that there is a huge budgetary effect from this, but first line of dealing with it has been pay cuts for exec, and bringing down leave entitlements, and shifting hours from the no longer needed commuting and multiple lecture budgets.

But I'm still moving, with my ten year old, mid pandemic, because working and schooling from home requires SO much.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:10 PM on April 21 [4 favorites]


I had to pitch a fit to get a work computer when my institution sent everyone home, because I refused to do 100% of my job on my (old, near-death) personal computer--particularly when my job now requires me to run software I might not otherwise want on my own devices. And while I am extremely privileged in living along and having a dedicated home office, that office was never designed to be the place I now often put in 12 hour days, 5-6 days a week. My back and overall health are suffering, and any ergonomic fixes I make will come out of my own pocket, same as my internet always has and my overall (now rising) utility costs will. When I consider overall health and wellbeing, WFH costs me more than I'm saving in not driving my (short) commute.

I'm also thinking of the broader toll that working from home takes--the gendered aspects touched upon in the first article bring to light long-running gender issues in academia: take this trainwreck of an article on Inside Higher Ed that seemed to be mostly speaking to women about looking professional, which spawned backlashes such as Inside Higher Ed Can Fuck Right Off. There's also early data that (shocker!) suggests that women's research productivity is tanking while men's isn't because aca-moms still do more of the housework and childcare than aca-dads.
posted by TwoStride at 4:05 PM on April 21 [12 favorites]


I'm luckier than some, I suppose, because I can use part of the kitchen table as an office, dont have any video calls and have an employer who understands this is an emergency. The company has been very against a formal remote work policy in the past, it was always "only if absolutely necessary." But our work machines are all laptops, and we were pretty quick in getting remote connectivity rolled out in sufficient capacity.

What there hasn't been is other financial help. No reimbursement for increased Internet capacity or home office furniture. I was able to bring a monitor home from work but had to buy my own chair. When I asked about financial help, I was told lots of people had spent a lot of their own money to set up ther home offices in the past so basically you're on your own.

What will be most interesting to see is how our WFH policies may change. Things have worked pretty well for us, and my fellow workers hope when this crisis is in the past the ability to WFH more often will be offered to us.
posted by lhauser at 6:57 PM on April 21


Thanks for those links, TwoStride. I have always thought that work-from-home would be a total disaster for women with male partners and been continually surprised that so many see it as some kind of progressive boon for workers, so I'm glad that someone is studying this.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 4:48 AM on April 22 [5 favorites]


I clicked through the reponse to the Inside Higher Ed article and found this excellent guideline:

"Anyone who Zooms or teleconferences with me right now is a guest in my home and should behave accordingly."
posted by warriorqueen at 7:45 AM on April 22 [10 favorites]


Where previously hotdesking was an unpopular experiment, with firms looking to find ways to force it on people, it will now just be "the way".

It's interesting how previous exposure to working from home really changes perceptions. I have never in my career had a fixed desk anywhere other than at my home. I don't think I would want one because it would come with an expectation that I would be there on a regular schedule but not just that, I actually find the idea aesthetically repellent.

I hear "fixed desk" and I think Comic Sans passive aggressive notes about cleaning the sink in the break room, and dingy carpet tiles, and despair. It would be one thing to have an actual office, but to have a fixed cubicle? The mind fairly recoils.

I already work somewhere with a 3:1 desk to employee ratio so I don't imagine this will make a big difference for us. People work a few days a week at home, at client offices, or they're at meetings or whatever. We've just gone from that to everyone working at home all the time and while I miss the social interaction I don't miss being in a particular building for it.

The choices people have made to balance commute time, home space, and leisure possibilities have really been thrown out of balance by this.

The absolute conventional wisdom on MetaFilter as recently as a few months ago was that suburban living was for absolute chumps and the nuclear family was a distortion of healthy multi-generational living. I wonder if we still think that now?
posted by atrazine at 3:13 AM on April 23


> The absolute conventional wisdom on MetaFilter as recently as a few months ago was that suburban living was for absolute chumps and the nuclear family was a distortion of healthy multi-generational living. I wonder if we still think that now?

Just before lockdown, I moved out of my apartment of 6 years. Since I can't move into my new house until it has repairs done, I've been living in my parents' basement, and it's been pretty fine so far. I've always been in the "City living is for chumps" camp, though.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 12:16 AM on April 24


The absolute conventional wisdom on MetaFilter as recently as a few months ago was that suburban living was for absolute chumps and the nuclear family was a distortion of healthy multi-generational living. I wonder if we still think that now?

Where did you get "absolute conventional wisdom" from, especially for the latter? If anything, the common conversation on Metafilter is about how toxic or suffocating birth families can be.
posted by tavella at 8:54 AM on April 24 [2 favorites]


The absolute conventional wisdom on MetaFilter as recently as a few months ago was that suburban living was for absolute chumps and the nuclear family was a distortion of healthy multi-generational living. I wonder if we still think that now?

I mean I feel like it was more that suburban living is privileged and that is quite obviously even more the case now.
posted by brook horse at 9:44 AM on April 24 [7 favorites]


I mean, that conventional wisdom is pretty weird simply because having a 'healtht multigenerational' family who doesn't live in the suburbs is a bit difficult, no?

Also I'm super glad my family isn't all living together. My parents got COVID and living rurally on their own meant they could quarantine easily - family members close by would drop groceries over the fence. They didn't have to worry about infecting my grandmother, or any of the grandkids. us kids could still work.

My non-nuclear family structure has worked well because we have the means for it. I can move to my own place so kiddo and I have the space to work at home, while housemate and ex can also work from their homes, and our social distancing orders allow for visits and custody swaps. And we have good enough relationships that we can adjust the custody arrangement as well. I have a car so I can do that custody swaps, and keep us fed. We live in the city so we can access delivery eausly, and kiddo can now walk from my house to her dad's place.

Working from home means I don't have to book a room or borrow a real office from other faculty every time I need to have a sensitive conversation with a student. It does mean I need the space so my daughter or housemate or ex is not part of the conversation. Everyone I know in multigenerational households is struggling to maintain any sort of privacy for their work, so I know I'm lucky given the individuals I am living with, and wouldn't be if I were living with my folks. Even if I'd have a property to be outside in.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:42 PM on April 24


Well shoot, it's almost like "suburb" means different things to different people, and is further complicated by not having any sort of coherent definition.
posted by aspersioncast at 11:58 PM on May 2


So, I wrote this last month in a comment up above:

My coworkers and I have speculated whether our company will notice how much they could save by drastically reducing office space by having many people keep working from home.

This week, it was announced that the company is actively planning for this -- not closing all offices, but reducing leased office space in order to reduce costs.

The new normal is being imposed very quickly and without people having much of any say in the matter.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:23 AM on May 7


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