The mornings are the same, unlike the rest of the day. I used to get up two hours before work, to catch the train into London. Now I get up just before I need to, and there’s no need to put on a shirt and tie. Instead of facing the train, I have breakfast at my desk in the spare room, and I watch the crows through the window, as they congregate on the telegraph lines. The house is quiet once the children have gone to school.
There were a few people at work who already worked from home a few days per week. I never really thought about it as an option for myself. I just took it as fact that being in a job meant being in an office every day, at the same desk. I probably wouldn’t have picked to work from home before the pandemic, but now working from home is part of ‘the new normal’, I'm not sure I’d want to go back to working from the office. I’d miss the freedom of the spare room.
There are perks, of course. I don’t have to buy a season ticket for the train, and I can spend more time at home, spending time with the family, doing my own thing. I’ve even been learning Spanish on my phone, as everyone seems to be doing these days. Most importantly, perhaps, the time I do spend working feels more worthwhile. I feel as if I’m working harder than before, as if spurred on by my own desire to do it well.
I had a call with Sarah today: she works in legal. She was telling me about how Hassan, her boss, is finally noticing how much more work she’s doing than Paul, one of her colleagues:
‘It’s like, back at the office he never seemed to see how much harder I was working. Paul always stayed later in the office each night and this seemed to give Hassan the impression that he was working harder than I was. Now it’s getting more and more obvious that Paul isn’t pulling his weight and I’m putting in a lot more graft than he is.’
While Sarah was talking I started to realise the truth of what she was saying. It really had become more like the endless hours I’d spent at my desk were less important than the effort I’d been putting into my work.
I suppose there was also an element of bias involved, of which Sarah was doubtless aware. Hassan and Paul were friends around the office, and it was often clear that he was treating Paul favourably because they knew each other. When a senior position opened up alongside Hassan, Paul was first to be considered, even though Sarah had been in her job for longer. I took a break for lunch, and made pasta. I looked in the fridge and we’d run out of parmesan, which was annoying.
When I got back to my desk I started to think more about Sarah’s situation. It struck me that the only reason she was now getting fair treatment was that her performance was now being measured accurately and objectively, compared to her colleagues. Moving away from the office had been the catalyst, I thought, but the change from office to home working had been incidental. What had actually forced things to change was the fact that we all relied on technology as a means to get work done, which had made it much easier to show how hard we were working.
I then began to think about the broader potential of the new way we were all working. We were all faced with a new possibility: that our working achievements and performance could be measured and documented. In some ways, this was a frightening prospect - the idea that we would all be accountable for every decision and action we have made. But then I started to think about how it might change things for the better. We could live in a world where we could prove to anybody what we were really capable of: what skills we have, what our accomplishments have been, everything. It would be possible to eliminate bias of all kinds, and we could finally get the best person for the job when we were hiring new staff. The key to an equal and fair working environment lay in fair appraisals, in objective information about what people were actually doing at work, not in the subjectivity of a manager’s mind.
I’d finished early that day, so I got up and went for a walk, happy in the knowledge that things were on the verge of changing. It had all started with the little desk, in the spare room.