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Career Teleworking

Work Is Not a Place – Part 3

Work Is Not a Place – Part 1
Work Is Not a Place – Part 2

The benefits of remote work are obvious and overwhelming, for both employer and employee. So why did so many employers resist this opportunity to cut expenses, benefit the environment, and boost human health? Inertia likely played a big part. Old customs die hard. Before March, 2020, many organizations were still resisting. It took an act of god to force the religion to change. There will be many beneficial results of the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic, and the general acceptance of remote work as “normal” will be at the top of my list.

Employees can also resist remote work, too, with insecure thoughts like “if I work from home then isn’t that proof that my job can be easily outsourced?” Those of us who work with security clearance and-or sensitive data are more immune to out-sourcing. But either way, if you contribute real value then the answer is “yes,” you’d be better off working from home.

Another reason for the resistance to teleworking could be there isn’t enough knowledge work out there to sustain all the jobs our economy needs, so the theater must continue, and the office is the stage. There are entire industries that are useless in terms of improving the human condition or increasing quality of life. In these settings everyone must play the part and act like they’re doing something useful, so they fill up the day churning up more useless nonsense and doing pointless busy work to keep the boss satisfied. The boss in turn does the same thing for her bosses, and on rolls the giant parade of nonsense on up to the board of directors and investors.

The Golden Rule of Sniffing Out Bullshit in the Office

For knowledge workers, the need to be present in a traditional, brick-and-mortar office setting is proportional to how useless the job really is. The stronger the need to be present in the office, the more likely the job is fake. Everybody knows who these people are. The meeting organizers. There’s zero impact on anything if they disappear, except maybe for an uptick in productivity for everyone else. There’s nothing like working remotely to reveal whether a particular job is fake. If there’s no measurable output, then it should become obvious in the first week.

In the IT sector of knowledge work, there has been a decades-long, non-stop effort to make our services cost-effective, automating and outsourcing the work. Many of us work hard each week to slowly put ourselves out of a job. Eventually these jobs become fake, too. And when the economy crashes, it’s a private sector clearinghouse for fake jobs.

Government jobs are another story. If all the blubber was boiled away there’d be nothing left. But this never happens. These jobs exist to prop up a fake economy, in a way. It should be no surprise that the US Federal government has more people on its payroll than any other organization on Earth. The US Defense Department by itself is the largest employer in the world. “Work” has become a kind of adult day care for a massive chunk of the workforce, millions of people who do not fit easily into the system we’ve made. For better or worse, government’s answer is a kind of social welfare system disguised as employment. Most of these jobs are fake.

There’s no such thing as a totally lean workforce. If all fake jobs were eliminated then unemployment would be thirty percent or more. Something must be done for these people, or the cost comes back around to those of us with so-called real jobs.

This touches again on the idea that “the inter-subjective experience becomes real”. It’s something along the lines of what Harari writes about in his book Sapiens. We have to be careful when talking about fake jobs and fake economy, because all our systems are fake if we look at them through a certain lens. There’s nothing real about money, religion or state. These are all concepts we’ve agreed to accept as reality, and the agreement itself makes them real.

If we agree on positive concepts and social structures then the world becomes a better place, but with negativity machines like social media driving cultural and political polarity, this becomes a steep challenge to overcome. Most internet memes probably start off only partially true, if they have any truth at all. We mistake popularity with truth, and many false ideas become accepted as truth over time. We become what we imagine, whether good or bad.

A lot of good can happen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic fiasco in the States. As with the aftermath of 911, it all depends on how the cards are played. The acceptance of remote work is one positive change that is sure to come, and it’s long overdue. But we can expect other big picture changes, too. What else will be exposed as obvious and overwhelming as a result of this fortunate act of god? In America, the crippling costs of health care, housing, and higher education enforce a wage-slave system, and this needs to change. (Higher education needs a separate post titled Education Is Not a Place.) We’re entering into a time when everyone knows our traditional systems are outdated. Everything needs to be rebuilt. Let’s start with rethinking the way we work, and embrace the beneficial technology of Virtual Private Networking (VPN).

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Career Teleworking

Work Is Not a Place – Part 2

Work Is Not a Place – Part 1

A few principles of the Second Law of Thermodynamics serve to prove the irrefutable superiority of remote work for knowledge workers:

1. natural processes are irreversible

2. concentrated energy is more efficient

3. entropy reduces efficiency

The human body is basically a system with a finite amount of energy that is tasked with accomplishing work. In the case of knowledge workers, electrochemical energy (brain power) is burned to produce actual work in exchange for money.

As with any system, energy in the human body varies greatly with the environment in which it operates, and this includes the mental framework. Efficiency can reach dizzying heights in a remote-work environment, but it’s not automatic. It requires a disciplined mind and a renewed dedication to actual work, from both manager and employee.

What is the finite amount of energy at our disposal? The eight-hour workday might be a good baseline for manual labor, but for creative work, five hours of peak productivity per day is around the most we can expect from anyone (assuming chemical intake is caffeine and not something stronger like Adderall). This is supported by research, my practical experience, and general common sense. The remainder of the requisite eight-hour day can be spent doing tasks that are less brain-intensive, like research, revision, and the inevitable administrative work.

Remote work allows for maximum efficiency, like some zero-loss, theoretical energy source recovered from an alien spacecraft marooned on Earth.

By contrast the physical office environment disperses the concentration of energy and limits efficiency to somewhere between zero and thirty percent, which just happens to be the range of efficiency at which an internal combustion engine converts old-school petrochemical fuel into forward momentum. In this work arrangement energy is wasted on non-work activities in the effort to get to (and exist!) in the place where we’re paid to think.

1. Natural processes are irreversible.

Business objectives must comply with the laws of physics and human nature, not the other way around. In an average work week the employer owns a set amount of the employee’s energy, and the employee agrees to devote that amount of time to the working process. All the effort devoted to work that does not involve actual work gets decremented from the total in terms of output no matter what, regardless of the quality of employee. When the limit is reached, productivity takes a dive. On the outside the employee may appear to be working and this might give the manager a warm feeling; but warm feelings do not contribute to the bottom line. On the inside her bullshit meter is beyond the threshold and she’s turned off. Employee energy is a currency, and it’s the employer’s responsibility to spend it wisely. Spending the energy wisely results in success for the organization, and this starts with providing the right environment for its employees.

2. Concentrated energy is more efficient.

How is the knowledge worker’s finite energy dispersed by the physical presence requirement of the traditional office?

First, there’s THE COMMUTE. For me the actual work is not so bad. Generally speaking I like what I do, and I’d do it even if I had all the time and or money in the world. What bothers me are the thousands of little actions that comprise the stupid routine to get my meat mass to the work site, exist there for nine plus hours, and then get back from there, when there is no logical reason for me to be there in the first place. Sure, I usually make the best use of my commute time, but I’d rather be focusing on actual work, fulfilling my actual obligations to my employer, and then getting on with life.

True, it is my responsibility to commute from home to the work site, but as noted above, it doesn’t matter. Natural processes cannot be reversed.

Most people have it much worse. I devote the absolute minimum time on wardrobe and hygiene, and then I take it easy on the train, reading a book or planning my day. Most U.S. workers have to deal with the hellish nightmare of rush hour traffic in a motor vehicle, which luckily I have not experienced in twenty-plus years. How productive can an employee be if he just spent the past hour screaming his intent to murder the mothers of people who cut him off in traffic? Recently I calculated that one of my friends had driven around the world over six times in the past ten years, in terms of mileage driven back and forth to work. Somehow, to him this was not just normal, but commendable. To me it’s insane, a wooden board cracked over the head.

The commute has a massive impact on the environment and long-term health issues. Of course there is zero energy loss with teleworking. The commute is zero. Food prep is zero. Clothing prep is zero. All these things can be done during breaks in the work day. Impact on the environment: zero. Let’s stop this harmful, masochistic routine once and for all.

3. Entropy reduces efficiency.

Then there are all the continuous, idiotic distractions that only an office can produce. OH THE HUMANITY. People invade your space and force you to listen to their stupid jokes, gossip, opinions about world events. There’s always some guy in the next cubicle over who just won’t shut the hell up. Some days the senseless meetings are non-stop. For me, tendency to produce actual work is much greater when working remotely, as there has to be some measureable impact of my work. In the office I tend to slack, simply because being seen and heard is perceived (wrongly) as equal value to actual work.

The importance of written communication often goes unrecognized in the physical office. It’s not unusual to spend time crafting a clear description or explanation in an email reply, only to have the recipient run to your cubicle for an offline follow-up, leaving others out. Email is asynchronous for a reason. There’s real value in taking time for deliberate thought. It’s also not unusual to verbalize the same information to many different people in different ways in addition to writing about it. This is because interpersonal, verbal communication just feels better, especially to those people whose job only job is to appear important. Even if people have no idea what you’re talking about, they smile and nod because they feel better hearing your words, and they feel better knowing that you’re working in a professional environment with them, wearing similar “business casual” clothing, looking polished, professional and smart. None of this has anything to do with the actual product or service that we’re paid to provide, but we’re all dancing the same stupid dance, and in this way the inter-subjective experience becomes real. Communication in an office setting typically requires triple the energy than is actually necessary to convey thoughts and ideas.

In the very best case scenario THE PHYSICAL OFFICE environment is not as good as what you have at home. Does anyone have a cubicle at home? The answer is “no,” unless you’re hopelessly locked into the wage slave mentality. People are not meant to sit in boxes. A bad physical environment drains energy and dramatically decrements the bullshit tolerance, as well as other human needs like comfort, fun, and hygiene. There are very real studies that show how bad lighting and cold air, for example, reduce employee productivity.

The “existing there” part is currently the most challenging for me, as it’s the extreme opposite of what I used to have. By contrast, in my old teleworking job I used to proactively invent improvement projects and find work to do when things were slow. I don’t do this anymore. All I’m thinking about all day is getting the hell away from that place.

In a typical week I drop about thirty hours on the above three items (the commute, the humanity, and the physical office). This might seem like a lot, but when you factor in all the water-cooler chats, the distractions, pointless meetings, meat-mass transport, navigating distance to nearest vacant toilet seat, or availability of suitable places to sit down and eat lunch, the time adds up. So I’ve burned about three-quarters of the energy I’ve agreed to devote to the job, and this is before any actual was has been done. If there’s something urgent to do then I’ll do it, but my finite energy level and my business sense are telling me that I’ve only got a total of ten hours of productivity left to give.

At the end of the week in my old teleworking job, I had accomplished a solid thirty or forty hours of actual work, which, if people are absolutely honest, is a heck of a lot of brain work in one week for any job. My bullshit meter almost never got pegged, as energy spent was at or around the forty-hour limit. I was happy, engaged, and consistently returned to the company very high efficiency on hours logged.

As an added bonus to the organization I never called in sick in over ten years of working from home. Why not? Because I never had to serve my time in the virus distribution center called “The Office”. I still worked even if I was sick, and nobody suffered because of it. I never felt like I had to take long breaks from work. So the end result was win-win.

Remote work offers employer and employee the most efficient expenditure of human energy and the highest productivity in terms of actual work produced. Never mind the opportunity to eliminate the massive cost of maintaining the bizarre circus of bullshit called the physical office.

In the next post I’ll wrap up a few mind-tingling thoughts.

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Career Teleworking

Work Is Not a Place – Part 1

A quarter of a century ago, a new, beneficial tech promised to boost knowledge worker productivity and save employers loads of cash. Virtual Private Networking (VPN) allowed employees to work remotely, cutting back on carbon emissions and the senseless waste of time getting to and from work. But for many employers, their management styles and conservative business practices did not mesh with the new tech. It took a global pandemic to make those old-school laggards see the light.

If you’re able to work anywhere and you’re serious about getting the work done, then working remotely is the only way to go. It’s a win-win for the employer and employee, no matter how you look at it. I can attest to this truth as an eleven-year veteran of remote work who transitioned to an organization with a strict physical presence requirement. The new job offered a few nice perks, but the change was like stepping into the past, back to a time when it was common to confuse “being there” with doing actual work. Or, put another way, it was like jumping into an Idiocracy future, where stupidity reigned supreme.

Teleworking is the most productive work environment because it offers the unique opportunity to maximize work and minimize the ceremonial bullshit that does not matter. Many people who have always worked in an office don’t understand this idea because stupid office customs have been so deeply ingrained and accepted as a normal part of work. People commonly label their bullshit as “work” and brag about how much of it they do. Mandatory physical presence requirements for brain workers are nothing short of an assault on the intellect (and possibly on physical well-being, in the current environment of COVID-19).

It’s as if some hypothetical person who knew nothing about our world was introduced to the concept of work for the very first time, and on his first day in the office somebody walked up to him and cracked a two-by-four over his head. His boss would say, “Oh yeah, you might want to wear a helmet tomorrow,” and every day for the rest of his career the guy gets hit in the head with a board, accepting it as completely normal.

There are only two reasons an employer could enforce physical presence during a time like this. One, the employer is sadistic, immoral, and cruel to their employees and society as a whole. And-or, the job in question is fake. The fake job phenomenon exists more often than we might like to admit. There are whole industries that are fake. I’ll touch on this later. For now, the point is that people should get paid for actual work – not for getting hit in the head with a stupid lumber stick.

Before a discussion of teleworking can even begin, it’s necessary to re-examine the most basic concepts of work, because its true definition has become blurred in the modern age. First there is the concept of a little something we can call “actual work,” the measurable service or product an employee produces in exchange for getting money.

The second basic concept is “energy,” the finite life force that employees are capable or willing to devote to actual work in a given period of time. After the energy is spent, the individual might show up, but they’re a disabled meat sack, existing but not producing. Energy levels are very real factors in economic output. The Ford Motor Company was the first to standardize the forty-hour work week – not for humane reasons, as is often cited, but because they determined this to be the economic sweet spot to get the most out of their manual laborers. Countless studies have supported this number, and even lower numbers for those doing strictly brain work. Any effort after these limits produces short-term diminishing returns, and long-term negative returns. Employees take time off for sick leave – either because they really are sick, or because their bullshit meter is pegged in the red.

Working remotely eliminates the wasteful, customary bullshit of the traditional office, freeing up time for real work (and more importantly, life). It’s unfortunate it took a global pandemic to remind some organizations of a single, blatant fact. For many of us, “work” is not a place.