Business

Is it really such a crisis that the ‘peasants’ want to work from home?

For many years companies paid consultants oodles of money to help them foster better work “cultures”. Those with deep pockets, and perhaps with one eye on their egos, paid architects to design signature headquarters for all their employees to spend all their working hours busily being acculturated. It was expected that the result of these grand designs was a workforce that was “engaged”.

Presumably an engaged worker is one rather like an engaged fiance or fiancee who (in theory) focuses their gaze laser-like on their intended spouse, and is not distracted in their quest to commit marriage. Of course, it is possible that an engaged worker is one who is currently on another call, probably to a recruiter. I suspect, in most cases, employers were thinking more along the lines of marriage than separation when in their engagement drives.

Working from home

Now we find ourselves back in a situation perhaps not unlike the turning point of the late middle ages when the black death wreaked havoc on lives and economies. Some have argued that the peasants then did well due to labour shortages occasioned by death, and even enjoyed improved diets due to changing priorities in food production.

Today, business types are worrying themselves about a crisis of culture disengagement. It turns out the “peasants” do not want to return to the office. The latest notable example of this appears to be at Apple who have recently introduced a hybrid working model as an experiment. This apparently involves working in the office Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, with the option to work from “anywhere” for two weeks a year.

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Reportedly this has not gone down well with some Apple employees. The irony is this is the same company that just announced enhancements to its Facetime video conferencing software to compete with Zoom for the distance working market.

Apple has recently built a $5 billion headquarters called Apple Park, a Xanadu in sunny California. Setting aside the obvious mistake that an Apple Park is an orchard and not a park, it is a beautiful high-tech headquarters. Yet, apparently, despite all the expertise that went into creating this high tech, culturally engaged environment, at least some employees prefer their dining room table and a view of a basket of laundry. It is an interesting question, why workers who continue to be productive and therefore engaged in the most relevant way, do not want to work in offices. This may be presaging a profound shift, that as yet, even the most progressive and enlightened leadership teams simply have yet to fully appreciate.

Work historically has been relatively close to home for the vast majority except for sailors, and the logistics company that transported the stones at Stonehenge. It seems for the rest of us, there is an attraction to keeping it local, that asserts itself when opportunity arises. As we are all well aware, the recent pandemic has provided the opportunity, and the IT companies continue to provide the means to making working locally attractive and efficient. Perhaps this is the new culture, and presages a new era. It seems the apple does not fall far from tree.

Jim Bright, FAPS is Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU and owns Bright and Associates, a Career Management Consultancy. Email to [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @DrJimBright

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