The Possible Dark Future of Remote Work
For a long time, remote work seemed like a positive thing. Offered as a perk to give an edge to employers, or as a way to entice the best talent, working from home was synonymous with greater personal freedom, more time for friends, hobbies, and the things that matter. But if everyone starts working from home, will this continue? Or will the future of remote work look a shade darker, and quickly become a means for control, blurred lines between home and work life, and a burden on workers, not on corporations?
I’m not entirely pessimistic about the future of remote work. For the most part, I’ve seen the transition as a good thing. This is especially true if you are able to work for yourself, or for smaller enterprises. However, as bigger corporations and businesses that have not traditionally powered work at a large level begin to make the shift, there are a few concerns I have. Will the corporations really be ready to release control over their employees?
Up until now, there has been a certain level of privilege involved in working from home. People don’t let people work from home who they don’t trust to do it successfully. If you worked from home, chances are that you were in a high paying job, and had autonomy over your daily activities.
However, as work from home becomes more of a requirement than a privilege, I see several dangers arising. In a way, many of these dangers are already present in the lives of remote workers. But I fear they could get worse over time. Here’s how remote work could get dark real quick.
Close Employee Scrutiny
Most offices have cameras everywhere, right? So why not install cameras in your home. You’re supposed to be working, anyways, right? Doesn’t the employer have the right to see what you are doing at all times. In theory, I see forced webcams that either run at all times or turn on and off intermittently as being a real possible part of remote work’s future. The days of remote work being tied closely to freedom could be coming to a close.
Employee Monitoring Software
Software already exists that closely watches what your employees are doing, taking random screenshots of their computers and even monitoring their keystrokes to make sure they aren’t ever far away from their work. This kind of software is bad enough when deployed at work computers in the office. But what if they are tracking your every moment at home, too?
Endless Work Hours
The commute, traffic, car problems, catching colds all add up to a lot of sympathy for employees. Employers understand when you are late, or when you need a day to stay home. But if you work from home, you suddenly don’t have any excuses for not working endlessly. After all, why not check in at 6am — you aren’t taking the train at that time anymore, remember? Similarly, why take a day off to be sick? You’re too sick to sit up in bed and access your email? How could you be that sick?
Remote work becoming mainstream could quickly turn the tides on how we think about work and attendance, making our home offices feel more like prisons than comfortable workspaces.
Work is Life — Life is Work
No on and off times, no morning jogs before checking in for work, and no evening social happy hours with friends — if we aren’t careful, there could end up being no distinction between work and life. Corporations could simply begin to expect workers to be on call via smart phone and other team chat apps 24/7.
I can see a lot of these challenges ending the way we think of remote work as a freeing thing.
Originally published at https://www.josephwriteranderson.com on August 5, 2020.