In 2017, reporters Anne Helen Petersen and Charlie Warzel moved from New York City to Missoula, Mont., and started asking some existential questions. The couple—who both wrote for BuzzFeed at the time—were working from home and began to feel like something was fundamentally off about the remote work bargain. Why, in our own homes, are we expected to structure our lives around office norms if they don’t even make us more productive? Why are we beholden to working 40 hours a week if we’d deliver better results in 30? Why are all these tools meant to enable communication starting to feel more like surveillance? When the pandemic plunged millions into the quagmire of working from home, Warzel and Petersen realized we were at a cultural inflection point. Their new book, Out of Office, explores what comes next. Here, Warzel and Petersen explain why we should be talking about how we work, not just where.
“Flexibility” was the great promise of remote work, but many employees feel even more pressure to perform when working at home— racing to respond to emails and Slacks, proving they’re always “on.” Why does it all feel so unsatisfactory?
PETERSEN: Terms like flexibility and culture came up a lot while researching the book. It was a breakthrough when I realized that the way companies conceive of these ideas is so different from the way individuals understand them. Historically, companies have described remote or hybrid work as “flexible,” which sounds very positive. But really, it’s been used to talk about making life much more precarious for the worker in favor of corporate profits. We’re not saying this should switch altogether. If the corporation never benefits, there’s no corporation. But how can these concepts benefit the corporation and the employee?
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