“I understand the drudgery of what you do (at home), but don’t you think… the office is the same for me , I hit my head upon the sink.” — Neil Innes, 1981
“Workin’ for the man every night and day…” — Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1969, “Proud Mary.”
If you think the citizens of the United States of America now can just go back to doing what they did before in this aftermath of the Coronavirus pandemic crisis, think again. There’s no turning back. The times, they are a-changin’.
One of painful lessons businesses are absorbing these days is that a good number of their employees have learned it’s freer, cheaper and more comfortable to work out of their homes rather than show up at the office cubicles five mornings every week.
I gained experience with that notion some time ago. During my sordid days at the J-Ad Graphics Plantation in Hastings, I had some reporters work out of their homes rather than come to the newsroom. One reason was that J-Ad didn’t provide enough computers in the cubicles for everybody on staff and another was that some reporters really liked the flexibility and reduction of expenses by not having to drive to work five days a week.
Susan Hinckley, for example, worked from her home in Nashville using an ancient Compuedit relic from bygone days and once an week she would bring in a disk and photos. The same was true for Theresa Frith in Nashville. Barb Gall of Caledonia went one step further by using her own ancient Macintosh and would simply bring in her disk and pictures once a week.
Because we didn’t pay those reporters in the trenches very well, I was glad to entice them into the J-Ad family by providing such perks.
But such arrangements went even further back in time, when Phyllis McCrossin, perhaps known today for her weekly “Ramblin’ Road” column on Townbroadcast, would send her copy from Fennville via the Internet from an old Tandy 102 laptop to my Macintosh in Allegan. It was slow, but it got the job done.
I once had a lengthy conversation with the German husband of Caledonia reporter Cathy Reuter. He flatly opined that people doing business from home over the Internet would become the work place of the future, and he welcomed it. So did I.
The greatest taste I got for that process was in the spring of 2007 when my family and I traveled to Charlotte, N.C., to take in the NCAA Division II track finals, where son Robby was competing in the steeplechase. I was allowed to go, but I spent a great deal of time at my sister-in-law’s house editing reporters’ copy sent to me via the Internet and I’d send it back. Not only was I sort of working from home, but working from a long ways away.
So I wasn’t surprised that during the post-Covid era just beginning these days many people have “discovered” that working from home and using Internet technology is more fun and less expensive than coming in to the office to work. Some now contend that the boss only wants you to come in to work so he can keep an eye on you and better control what you do and when you do it.
Who cares, as long as the work is getting done and the quality is acceptable?
People now can save on gas and wear and tear on their vehicles. People now can work without adhering to a restrictive dress code. People can take breaks when they want them, as long as the work gets done in a timely manner.
Best of all, for me, this process takes away the omnipresence and horrible tool that is the telephone. I don’t know how many times in years gone by I muttered to myself that I could get my work done a lot faster without so many distractions if wasn’t for that damn phone.
Now comes Sarah, my daughter-in-law, who is moving with Robby to Houghton, Mich., where he is now assistant track and cross-country coach at Michigan Technological University. She asked for and was granted permission from Volleyball USA to continue her work in accounting via the Internet. She had been doing exactly that since the pandemic began while she was living close to headquarters in Colorado Springs.
So Volleyball USA’s forward-looking approach to its work force was able to keep a loyal employee of a dozen years rather than let her go because of her husband’s new job.
Yes, it’s a Brave New World out there. I encourage all businesses to rethink ancient and outdated work models by offering the work at home option whenever and wherever it is feasible.
They just might have more satisfied employees in this strange era in which we are told there is a serious worker shortage.