from the New York Times
...just so long as it is for someone else.
Remote? That’s No Way to Describe This Work
Back in 2007, during a weekly check-in, my wife’s manager delivered some unexpected good news: “You don’t have to be in the office to do this job,” she said. “You could work from wherever you want.” A fast six months later, we left hot, crowded Austin, Tex., and moved into an apartment on Munjoy Hill in Portland, Me., with a commanding view of Casco Bay only steps away.
My wife managed a geographically dispersed web services team, and I worked as a researcher at a think tank in Washington. The separate rooms where we worked seemed like extensions of offices elsewhere, not places in our house. I had to laugh when I overheard our new downstairs neighbors refer to us as trust funders because they never saw us leave the house to go to work.
We did not know many people and accepted any invitation we received, which is how we ended up at a barbecue, given for a candidate for governor, in a suburban backyard. That was when I fully realized that I belonged to a nascent class of worker that no one knew much about.
The candidate raising campaign funds was a hard-working lawyer who seemed genuinely well meaning, but no one had told him that his economic platform of protecting manufacturing jobs and Maine’s traditional industries wasn’t going to fly with an audience of health care professionals, programmers, web designers and researchers. With plates of potato salad in our hands, we muttered to each other that this guy didn’t have a place in his platform for people like us, many of whom worked for employers in other states. Our checkbooks stayed in our pockets.
I became convinced that workers like us needed to form a community, so I reached out to a local nonprofit, Creative Portland, which, among other activities, sponsors networking events for entrepreneurs, artists and other creative types. The staff members there said they were meeting and hearing about more and more people who had moved to Portland but were keeping their jobs in Boston, New York and Washington. Creative Portland wanted to find a way to support these types of workers.
But first, what to call these workers? We were dissatisfied with the choices currently available.
One term given to people who work at home is “remote worker.” Early on, my wife wondered why such a headquarters-centric label was being used, given that her company had multiple offices in different states and employees who lived in a variety of locations.
“Telecommuter,” another frequent label, has such a dial-up-era feel. With people now communicating not only by email but also via Skype, Slack and other channels, it hardly encompasses the capabilities that workers now have in the home.
Another term is “virtual work,” as if the work is somehow less tangible than what people do in traditional offices. But the work that we do is just as exhilarating and boring as any other sort of work.
So why use adjectives suggesting that employees are less available, less capable or less real — in fact, just plain lesser? Yes, my wife and I work differently from someone who commutes to a headquarters, but we make just as much of a contribution.
It was at the first face-to-face meeting my wife and I had with Creative Portland representatives (we had been communicating by Facebook) that a new label came to me: We “work in place.”
This phrase builds off other well-known phrases, like “shelter in place” or “aging in place,” which everybody understands as “doing whatever you’re doing, where you are.” It’s worker-centric, not office-centric. Less literally, it refers to work undertaken according to where you are in your life: caring for aging parents, raising a young family, supporting a partner, healing after an illness. In all the circumstances, the work is work. You don’t have to qualify it. It doesn’t diminish the work or the person doing it.
The collaboration with Creative Portland has resulted in a new nonprofit effort, Work in Place. There’s an economic research project underway with the University of Southern Maine, some panel discussions and networking events, as well as planning for a national summit on how to harness the changes that work in place will bring to organizations, families, cities and regions.
As an example of the changes that are needed, consider a 2013 economic productivity report for Maine. The report is based on calculations that don’t include workers whose employers are based in other states. Say that I want to persuade my state legislators (or candidates for governor) that the state should shift its economic development policy from recruiting companies through tax incentives (which often end up as a net loss for the state) to recruiting households like mine. We bring talent and income; we pay taxes; we want to contribute to our communities. Yet there’s little data to make the argument that we have a sizable economic impact worth encouraging.
My wife and I still work out of our home in South Portland; I’m a writer and she’s a digital strategist for a software company. A time will come when our children — a kindergartner and a new baby — will ask us for career advice. We hope to be able to say something optimistic and realistic: “You can be whatever you want, and you can work wherever you want.”
from The American Interest
The New York Times Shows Why the Blue Model Is Doomed
The New York Times has an upbeat article about the growing numbers of workers in America who have it all: jobs they love, careers that inspire them, and the freedom to work “in place”—which is to say, at home. An excerpt:Back in 2007, during a weekly check-in, my wife’s manager delivered some unexpected good news: “You don’t have to be in the office to do this job,” she said. “You could work from wherever you want.” A fast six months later, we left hot, crowded Austin, Tex., and moved into an apartment on Munjoy Hill in Portland, Me., with a commanding view of Casco Bay only steps away.This is told as a fantastic story of human empowerment and social transformation, which it is. More and more of us are escaping the tyranny of location; thanks to the telecom revolution we can work where we want and when we want.
The rise of telecommuting will lead to better, richer lives. Families will be stronger. The environment will benefit from less commuting. All good.
But it also represents the death of the political philosophy and economic system that the Times is otherwise prepared to defend to the last: the blue social model. If this revolution continues—and it will—fewer and fewer people will be stuck in big, high tax, over-regulated cities. While some will still choose to live there, many, especially those raising children, will not.
In the long run, people who live and work the way that the subject of the Times article does will simply not support the cumbersome procedures and institutions of the bureaucratic state as we know it.
The butterfly of an information society is struggling to escape from the industrial age cocoon. The future is not the “return” of manufacturing jobs but the development of new, more human-centered and more rewarding kinds of work.
To make this possible we have to stop thinking that defending the blue model status quo is somehow “progressive.” We also have to think about how society can work better for people whose jobs still have to be done the old fashioned way—showing up and grinding it out. We can’t all phone it in as system design engineers living in Portland. More and more of us will be—and that’s a good thing—but there’s a lot of work to be done.