Commentary: How working remotely turned me into a monster
Flexible working is an unspeakable nightmare. Give me an office any day, says the Financial Times' Jo Ellison.
LONDON: I’m now in my third week of reporting, on the road, from the autumn/winter 2019 shows. And I do mean the road. I’m walking around sending emails, I’m looking at PDFs in the car, I’m editing and signing off page layouts while waiting for fashion shows to begin while sat on a bench that has only allocated a space for half an arse.
Ninety-nine per cent of all my productivity has begun and ended with a phone. Not that I’ve made a single phone call.
(As my favourite meme currently reads, “the best time to call me is text”.)
LOST IN TRANSLATION
Almost no one I’m in contact with is anywhere near the other — one is sitting at their home office, another on a laptop in the back of a car, one is crouched underneath a catwalk trying to get the shot in question, or wandering to Pret A Manger to get a coffee, or making edits on the far side of the world.
The process is a constant buzz of urgent information. I’ve been reduced to a monster who sends barking monosyllabic instructions via screeds of instant messages.
I hate myself, and I’m pretty sure everyone I work with hates me too.
My last resort in the event of things getting lost in translation — and you better believe it happens every time — is to use a pen and paper.
I sketch layouts, scribble on the captions and send a snapshot to the work WhatsApp group. It’s always the most rudimentary, archaic and primitive of communications that are the most efficient.
MISLEADING AND CRUEL
Has there ever been a deception as cruel and misleading as the concept of working remotely? According to a 2017 YouGov poll, 81 per cent of British workers believe that remote working would make them more productive. And that many would prefer flexibility in lieu of a pay rise.
What rubbish. The allure of working out-of-office is a myth built on a lie. That fantasy about slopping around in your pyjamas and being there to see your children? Total nonsense.
You half see them, over the window of your laptop, as they wonder why you’re always sat on your computer. And then the geography of the office assumes an endless horizon from which there is zero escape.
A 2017 study by Cardiff University found that 39 per cent of people who mostly worked from home put in additional hours to get through their business, compared with fewer than a quarter (24 per cent) who went to work.
In my experience, working remotely means working three times as hard, at an efficacy rate of around 5 per cent, while simultaneously having a nervous breakdown.
It means having wowy Wi-Fi that will wipe out your Word document at any given moment, hotel rooms that have only one measly bar of coverage and phone reception that sounds so remote you might as well be working on the Moon.
In the event of anything becoming vaguely urgent, everything will unfailingly stop working. The checks and balances put in place to protect us from safety breaches will be triggered, and all my emails will be held hostage while I’m “locked out”.
SHACKLED TO THE PHONE
Worse still, in the absence of face-to-face interaction even the simplest undertakings come unstuck. Every tiny decision requires an encyclopedic exchange. Modern technology has given us the means to communicate on a billion different platforms, but the quality of that conversation has been diluted to a code.
Currently, nine out of 10 of my work exchanges are emojis (most often the thumbs-up or the puke face). It’s the fastest way of getting things done.
Remote working was established to empower the office worker, to liberate them from the desk and set them free. Instead the leash has just got longer.
There’s little, technically, that I can do in the office that I can’t do elsewhere, but in going remote I feel unbearably encumbered — shackled, tied and tethered to the phone.
Flexible working is an unspeakable nightmare. At this point, I relish the prospect of being back in the office — with its ghastly strip lighting and lumpy desktop computers and benign attitudes. Mostly, I can’t wait to be able to cross a room and actually speak to another colleague. In person.
The worst thing about working remotely is its dehumanising nature. All that group talk — being copied into emails, WhatsApp messaging and “workflow” — is bad for the soul.
Likewise, that anti-humane nonsense called “hot desking”, where you are encouraged to sit wherever your laptop plugs in. The idea is that it livens up the working community and makes for a free flow of ideas.
All I know is that there’s nothing as efficient as sitting next to the person you’re working with when trying to get something done. How else are you supposed to read the nuances of conversation, or really stress-test an idea? In killing conversation, and real physical interaction, you risk killing the environment from which good ideas come.
In the meantime, the modern office is expanding. I doubt that in future years we’ll ever see our colleagues. And we’ll all be sending monstrous texts and emojis as a means to get things done.
My advice? Always keep a pen and paper handy. Or better still a pencil. It doesn’t need a battery, and it will never let you down.