The Other Columbus: Remote work is amazing and no you can’t have it

A return to the office might not be in the best interest of workers, but that has never really been the concern

Scott Woods
Kayla Kirby, a collector at Progressive Financial, and Nikolas Howell, a senior collector, work on calls.

Let me make clear at the start that if I could work from home every day, I would. Alas, my job involves the handling of hundreds of books per day, and my arms aren’t long enough to box with God, so I drive to work. I feel the need to qualify everything after this part because I’m struggling to understand what people don’t get about how businesses work. I need folks who keep reading to understand that I feel you, but you’re not going to win this one.

Remote work is going away. And while that seems utterly counterproductive to most of us, you already know why that dissonance exists.

I have never worked a job and felt that the institution cared about me as a person. As an employee, sure. My well-being as a worker is directly related to how much work I can complete, so yes, my jobs have always at least cared about my work life (more or less). But I have never labored under the impression that they cared more about my mental or physical health, my home, or my ability to feed and clothe myself more than whatever work I provide them. I don’t care how sterling the benefits seemed; I have never encountered a paycheck or insurance package that suggested my life outside of the work I provide was of genuine concern to an employer. 

I say all of that to say that I feel sorry for people who are upset at the Biden administration because the President gives speeches about putting an end to remote work. 

Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter

Here is a thing that everyone knows: We live in a capitalist society. We all know this, and yet we process what that means very differently as individuals. For most of us it means things occasionally get cheap and then drastically expensive, and so we have to manage our budgets accordingly. For a smaller slice of the population, it means we cannot find purchase in the economy and end up in the streets. And for an even smaller group of us — the smallest, in fact — capitalism is a loving and fair religion that affords them wonderful things.

Regardless of how we engage the system, what’s important to remember is that it is capitalism. It is never actually caring or protective or altruistic. For it to exist, there must be a range of participants, and that range must always have people who pay into capitalism and people who draw from it.    

Again, this is all Economics 101. And if you know all of that, then it shouldn’t matter to you who is President. The bulk of us were always going to be pushed back into office spaces. It’s not personal; it’s literally just business.

I know: Metrics prove that productivity is actually increased with remote work in most fields, and that a balance of hybrid work is demonstrably healthier, more efficient and economically sound for workers. But a great many businesses spend millions of dollars buying, leasing and renting spaces, equipment and labor to make their enterprise work. Many are locked into expensive long-term leases and contracts for everything from parking spaces to copy machines. If you think affordable housing is hard to find, look up commercial real estate figures. You’re lucky your job isn’t trying to trick you into living in the stockroom to cut your commute time.

Commercial real estate is as much a bubble as the residential market. Sometimes it bursts, and the pandemic has put a really sharp pin against the skin of that bubble. It is reasonable to want to stick with what works for you as an employee, and, naturally, if workers’ lives are made easier all around, they tend to be more productive. But businesses don’t exist for workers. They exist for work. And regardless of how many pizza days your boss throws, not one slice of that pie represents how much they care about you as a person. If they were interested in improving morale in any meaningful way they’d pay you more, or increase your benefits, or give you more time off to live your actual life.

We live in a capitalist society. That machine is always and only concerned about what you produce. It doesn’t matter who is in charge or how you voted. Pushing back on remote work despite its many obvious benefits isn’t personal. It’s business.