NYT guest essay reads like talking points from owners, investors and bosses desperate to reclaim power over working people.
What is this? “Trickle-Down Productivity”?
In a guest essay in The New York Times today, a former counselor to the Treasury secretary, during the Obama administration, wondered aloud, “Is Working From Home Really Working?”
Throughout the piece he just keeps on wondering, using the question as a springboard to baseless and dismissive assertions about loss of productivity due to people working from home (WFH) rather than going into an office or other workplace.
“Quiet quitting. Working from home. The Great Resignation…,” wrote Steven Rattner, a neoliberal if ever there was one, “Whatever you want to call it, the attitude of many Americans toward work appears to have changed during the long pandemic — and, generally speaking, not for the better. This new approach threatens to do long-lasting damage to economic growth and prosperity.”
The Ruling Caste Holds Forth
The basis for this conclusion is… well… baseless.
No hard data, just interviews with a bunch of 1 percenters. Of course they want employees in the office – it’s much easier to control them there. Rattner should have talked to some at-home workers themselves, and some people who voluntarily and involuntarily go into the office, too. And if he’s going to draw sweeping conclusions, like working from home is a drag on productivity, he should have some data and facts to back them up.
Not to be deterred, Rattner writes, “Every senior executive of the several dozen with whom I’ve discussed this issue believes that operating from home is simply less productive than being in the office.”
Ohhhh, well, since you talked to a bunch of senior executives, and since they all agree, then it must be fact, eh? And those senior executives – the geniuses who never pay attention to, let alone listen to, their frontline workers – they’ve got this all worked out, right?
What a bunch of bunk.
Forgive me, but an entire argument based solely on the opinions of a small group of people from the ruling caste is less than persuasive.
From there, Rattner veers into the ludicrous.
“Collaboration is harder, as is mentorship. That short stroll to a colleague’s desk to ask a quick question or make a request becomes a laborious process,” he writes of working from home.
“Less output – whether a consequence of fewer hours or lower efficiency – eventually means a lower standard of living (or a less quickly rising one).”
First of all, that “quick question” is a concentration-interrupter, a.k.a., a massive productivity suck. Second, it takes less time for someone working from home to call or instant message a colleague than it does to meander down the hallway or through the cubicle maze for an in-person pop-in. Plus, if the colleague doesn’t want to ruin their focus at that particular moment, they can put off the summons.
Secondly – while not in any way conceding working from home means lower productivity – whether less output truly means a lower standard of living depends on company owners and shareholders. If they actually pay people what they’re worth rather than padding their investment portfolios and ensuring there are enough millions for the golden parachutes they’ll eventually need, it won’t be a problem.
Thirdly, did these “discussions” happen on the golf course, by any chance?
And the Working-From-Home Data Says…
Rattner’s rich-guy rant would have benefitted from statements based on data, like this, from Apollo Technical, a talent/recruiting agency:
If for some reason you question the motivations of a company that helps people find work, then take it from Forbes, which is hardly a bastion for workers:
It seems that not only are workers more productive, they’re happier with their work and their lives overall. Or maybe that’s the wrong order; they’re happier with their work and lives overall because they’re working from home, so they’re more productive.
Either way, working from home is a clear positive.
There’s something else wrapped up in this issue that’s important to climate-crisis warriors like me. As I wrote in “So-Called Post-COVID ‘Normal’ is Overrated,” the more people we have working from home, the less CO2 is released into the atmosphere, the better it is for the planet and the future of the human race.
Stay home. Meet over Zoom. Spare our children and grandchildren the hellscape we’re currently hurtling toward. (See yesterday’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.)
What’s the Definition of Productivity, Again?
Which reminds me…. beyond climate impacts, I don’t really have a dog in this fight.
I’ve been working for myself since 2004. From home. So here’s some firsthand testimony –
I am, and always have been, more productive working from home than I ever was in an office where people constantly interrupted me and where there were more concentration-crushing meetings and phone calls than one could shake a dress code at. I collaborate effectively with people who are based all around the world and, rather than being in each others’ faces and spaces, we work together successfully on our terms.
The only bosses I answer to are my clients, and they don’t seem to give a crap where I work from as long as I get their work done, on time and well.
Which is an attitude the senior executives that Rattner spoke to would do well to adopt.
Working from home doesn’t just work; it works great. Higher production, greater job satisfaction, better life for all people. Especially working people.
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Featured photo by DoDo Phanthamaly via pexels.com.
OK, so my friend, Richard Lunde, responded to this post on the IV Words Stacked chat on Substack. Too funny!