Coronavirus COVID-19 is as good a reason as any to pitch your boss about telecommuting. If not now, when?
Working when ill is the biggest hole in the classic Protestant work ethic. Come in and cough and sneeze all over everyone, yeah, great, and prove to us how dedicated you are. Meanwhile, for every five people who have the flu, six more will catch it. That’s how this stuff spreads. Maybe you got in one low-energy extra day to peck away at a project, in between blowing your nose and sipping tea. Because you valorized physical presence above actual productivity, half your department got what you had and then spread it to their partners and kids.
Do we ever even find out what we were sick with? Probably not, not usually. Cold, flu, whooping cough, how would we really know unless we hacked up some goo into a petri dish?
This is part of what’s so scary about COVID-19, that it basically has the same symptoms as any other cold or flu, except that now thousands of people have died from it.
We’re all worrying about it, and we’re all continuing our regular commutes and schedules. Coming to work, even with a sniffle or a sneeze, and isn’t that the beginning of every other disaster movie?
My husband and I have already talked this out. It’s of particular concern to him because he often flies for work. He loves his job but he’s not in any real hurry to be at any airport anytime in the next couple of months.
Like many people, my husband could easily do at least 90% of his job remotely. He’s mainly there in person to maintain the dominant culture, which is, Look at us all busily typing away!
Think how funny this scenario is. The software has been available for at least twenty years to track every single keystroke. For people with data-centric jobs (and many others), it is technologically possible to know exactly what each person is doing, right down to the microsecond. You can track what files they open, what they change, how fast they type, what websites they use, EVERYTHING. Showing up in person is not about productivity.
Even stranger, commuting back and forth and being physically present in the office is often considerably less productive than working remotely. This is part of why people like working from home, because we can get so much more done! It’s often close to triple speed!
A lot of companies have found that closing the building an extra day every week produces cost savings. No light, no heat, no staff, just send everyone home. Some people work four-tens, or ten-hour shifts four days a week instead of eight-hour shifts five days a week. This saves on commuting costs for the individual, makes childcare cheaper, etc.
Some companies never have a central location or office in the first place. They start out with a distributed workforce and simply continue that way. Virtually no overhead.
Imagine how much it would revolutionize the workplace to grade people on their productivity, rather than on which hours they did or did not sit at a desk. This is likely one reason why we haven’t put this into practice as a culture. As soon as it became obvious that some members of staff are as much as 5x more productive than others, a great wordless cry would rise up from the cubicles. Why are we getting paid the same when that guy sleeps at his desk every afternoon, when the thing he is best at is napping with his hand on his mouse so he can twitch awake at the same time as his monitor?
It has long been obvious that trusting employees to work from home can save money, increase productivity, and improve morale all at the same time. Maybe not for every job - not for me as a receptionist, not for a mechanic or a construction worker or a nurse - but for most people with desk jobs, this is definitely possible. We could start tomorrow.
Why haven’t we already done it? We haven’t done it because it shakes up the status quo too much. Nobody is willing to be the first to make this executive decision: try it and see what happens, with the option to of course revert back to normal if it doesn’t work.
This novel coronavirus is a great opportunity to talk it over again. What if we tried having people work from home, so we can all stay away from the germy microdroplets being sneezed out all around us? What if we avoid giving each other colds and flu this season as well?
How this pitch would work probably depends a lot on the individual workplace, your personal reputation, and your relationship with your boss. It might be smarter to bring your pitch to someone else who has a better shot at a yes. This is also a good method of testing support for a new idea.
Let me run this by you. What do you think?
Sometimes your colleague’s interest and investment in a new idea may exceed yours. Another person may benefit from your plan even more than you would. You may have a coworker who has a longer commute than yours, someone who has more dependents or responsibilities at home, someone whose partner has been traveling a lot, someone who will hear your idea with great delight. This person will be coming up with new reasons to support your idea before you are even finished explaining what you had in mind.
Another trick, when pitching a radical new policy, is to ask on behalf of someone else. You can use me as an example. So-and-so is having a bunch of oral surgery, therefore how about testing out a trial run on a telecommuting policy?
What would happen if everyone who could work from home, did work from home? What if people got fined for coming to work sick? What if that fine increased for each additional person who caught the bug? I wonder how quickly these things would spread then?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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