Opinion: Working from home isn’t the gift it’s made out to be

Working from home is just your employer living in your house rent-free

Earlier this week I read an article from The Canadian Press about how only 20 per cent or so of Canadian workers wanted to return to the office full-time after the pandemic is done and dusted, according to some light polling done by a think-tank.

My takeaway from this article was that about 80 percent or so of Canadians must be bonkers.

Don’t get me wrong – I understand that working from home has its perks. The freedom to hang out with the pets, the removal of the daily commute, the avoidance of pesky co-workers that want to know about your weekend.

Working from home opens up many possibilities for the working Canadian, and it was (and still is) a vital component of the fight against COVID-19 in the reduction of risk, but we are now at the tail-end of the pandemic (touch wood), and it should be done away with as soon as reasonable.

Why? Because working from home is yet another tendril of the slow creep of working life into our lives at home.

I, like everybody else, know that office culture isn’t the most glamorous. It’s boring, it’s bland, and yes it sucks the life out of you. The emails, the meetings, the meetings that could be emails – you get the gist.

Now, having said all that , why on Earth would I want that to follow me home where I am supposed to be able to re-charge?

And not just follow me home, but literally carve out a space in my home.

A guest bedroom repurposed for the home office? A corner of the living room for a nook to linger in for eight hours? No thank you.

I do not want to dedicate space in my home to an office that my employer is obliged to provide me, nor do I want to use my internet, my stationary and my space to make money for my employers. At a stretch or in an emergency like a global pandemic? Sure. After that? Nah.

I like making money for my employers, because then they reward me with some of that money. But the deal is they provide me space to work, and that place to work isn’t my own space – it’s their space.

Does a little stipend to cover some office expenses really make up for the fact that over there in the corner of your living room you now have a desk that you must be chained to for eight or more hours a day? Your employer now lives in your house rent-free.

Terrific, right? Why are we all acting like inviting our employers into our personal space, away from them, is a good thing? Sure, it lets the executives and the well-to-do reign over companies and stocks from afar (hi Fernie) but they were doing that anyway. The average office worker who doesn’t get paid six figures to sit in a cubicle and melt their brains should not be taking this development like it’s a gift – because really it’s a curse.

To make it worse, now there are studies thinking about how money can be made out of workers who work at home, such as the one out of Deutsche Bank late last year that suggested taxing people who can work at home in order to support those who can’t. Seriously? And that’s just a taste of the entire concept’s insidious potential.

Before the pandemic was a thing, I recall reading every so often about work-life balance, and how in modern times workers didn’t have a great balance because they spent all their time with a device in their pocket through which their employers could reach out and bother them 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Have we all forgotten this issue, now that working from home is more common? Working from home is just another tendril of a broadly toxic working culture – one that can now take up space in our homes rather than just our heads, hearts, hopes, wallets, calendars and … you get the idea.

When I leave work at the end of the day, I want there to be a disconnect. It’s easier for that disconnect to happen when I have to get in a car and drive, or ride my bike, or walk, or catch public transit – than it is to log off an email and spin around in my swivel chair to take in a living room that before the pandemic, was for just that – living, and not working.

-Scott Tibballs is the Editor of The Free Press (Fernie), and doesn’t work from home if he can help it.