The Answer is not the Office

We are all different from each other, and we work in different ways. Still, we must all come together to the office, usually an ugly building with lousy coffee, at a predetermined time and stay there for at least 8 hours. Of course, eight hours are just for lazy, uncommitted employees. The real heroes are proud of working night shifts and making you feel bad when leaving the office earlier. Going home on time is a form of treason.

“Strong agree” with this nice article by Fernando Silvestrin about the office as a place in which good (i.e. deep, creative, worthwhile) work can’t possibly get done.

While offices are the only place built specifically for us to get the job done, we don’t actually get any work done at the office – especially creative work. But isn’t answering emails, attending meetings and listening to your boss, what we call “working”? Not really.

Just like us, Fernando has a fine newsletter on the subject of work and idling. Newsletters, my friends! They’re the way to go.

About

Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at www.wringham.co.uk/about.

4 Responses to “The Answer is not the Office”

  1. Antonia says:

    With the new virus (and related anxiety) spreading over Italy these past weeks, lots of people are working from remote. While the overall issues about purpose, working hours etc. are not being directly addressed, for many jobs working from home is proving to be just fine. (I am not talking about myself directly here, because being freelance, I have been working from remote for the past ten years). I wonder did we need an epidemic to realize that…

  2. John says:

    I can’t say I agree that the office, almost any office, isn’t a “place in which good (i.e. deep, creative, worthwhile) work can’t possibly get done.” You probably have covered these elsewhere, but how can one prescribe “deep, creative, and worthwhile” universally? Personal ideas about those matter as I think there’s a limit to how much we can define what is worthwhile for other people. Subsequently, how do we know that “deep, creative, and worthwhile” are impossible in any given office/office-like environment/workplace/space?

    I have worked in both the more contemporary “creative” office being in architecture and the traditional cubicle farm when I was in banking, and in both cases I have witnessed (both myself and colleagues) succeed, thrive and fulfill personal goals regardless of their environmental limitations. True, it doesn’t represent the majority of experiences, but there are legitimate people having legitimate positive experiences in the environments we often criticize, and I don’t think positive work experiences necessarily require any kind of radical shift in work. They’re plentiful if one stops and looks (which is another discussion). One could even observe that the workplace has evolved radically since the last recession! For the better too! (Architects and designers have arguably been at the forefront of this recent movement in more engaging and interactive contemporary office spaces that often incorporate the elements of domesticity and hospitality in the workplace, another interesting discussion in itself, and it’s not all bad!)

    The 9 to 5 workday, while having clearly redundant elements, also has elements of difference within those hours in which good things still happen – moments of joy, opportunities for creativity within the sphere of one’s authority, abilities and responsibilities, and even meaningful connections with colleagues – especially considering the aforementioned improvements in workplaces. You could say, it would require a heightened sense of awareness to detect and appreciate those differences, but those differences, regardless of their magnitude, do matter whether conscious or subconscious of them. Here, I’m just saying there are still good things that it can produce, but I do completely understand and am aware of the obvious counter-productive redundancies that, if unprepared, can take up one’s actual working time enormously – these usually have to do with meetings and inefficient forms of communication or tools.

    The fact is, “good” work (and I mean not only productive in terms of an economic, but also personal, sense) does get done in the office, as much as “bad” work. I think it’s important to recognize that good work also often doesn’t get done at home and it may be due to any number of factors (just like at work) – “the system” being one of a fraction of possible issues.

    Not all office work is detrimental just as not all non-office work is productive and vice versa. But again, it’s crucial to examine what it means to work, what it means to be productive (not just economically of course), and what work means to us because work is important for a number of reasons. Until automation takes over 100% of everything we can possibly think of, humans will labor forever, and not just physical, but mental labor, even spiritual labor. Even if were brains in a jar, our brains are still laboring (possibly against our will). And this all begs an interesting question which is – would we rather be sitting around most of the time receiving everything we want instantly… or spend our time doing something even if it’s pleasurable? And if we want to spend our time doing what we love to do, would this require work of any kind? All pleasure and progress (no matter how they’re practically defined) require work – it’s just a part of being human.

    So I don’t think that the issue of work or labor in general is a particularly good critical focus, as I’ve seen in various posts or external links that work (usually unspecified and generic) is often criticized as counter-creative or degrading, etc.. (but that depends on the job and the person doing it!)

    I think having work in general is a good thing (because first of all at least you know you’re not just sitting there your entire life) – what matters is the kind of work we choose to pursue and do, and how well we can deal with the inevitable struggles (big or small) of daily toil – even in the things we love to do… Interestingly, I’ve often found that it’s the process of working, not always the end product, from which we become fulfilled, sometimes regardless of the nature of the job. Some tasks, especially if monotonous, can become a surprisingly meditative practice…

    That said, I’ve always enjoyed reading the pieces on this site especially since I bought my first New Escapologist over 12 years ago. I still carry my fluchtverdachtiger (will you sell those again? I may be interested in purchasing more) with me everywhere. Anyone that sees it usually thinks it’s a British R.A.F. or The Who logo or something. I also have your book Escape Everything, which I am very eager to read. I have some thoughts on what it means to escape and I probably more thoughts on the amazing world of work also, but I’ll save those for another comment.

    Thanks for doing what you do!

    J

  3. Whoof. I don’t agree. Obviously. I hate working in offices. I think it might even have damaged my brain. And I founded an entire cottage industry on escaping offices because I hate them so much. I’m glad offices work for you though and thanks for thinking critically about work and workplaces. More people should. It’s the stuff of so much life.

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