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  • Writer's pictureSharon Chau

Working hard vs hardly working

This is part of a series I call 'daily espressos', where I write down a stream of thoughts on a random topic!

I was sent home from work a couple of days ago because someone from the office had caught Covid, and my manager was unfortunately a close contact. I was overjoyed when I heard the news (obviously didn't show it) - being at home means I can slack off, zone out, and most importantly, do a bit of leisurely reading which I haven’t had much time for. So I trotted home excitedly to start my week of productive multitasking. What ended up happening was I did much less work-work and negligible amounts of reading, while binge-watching Inventing Anna and almost doubling my phone screen time. I was also really bored and missed talking shit with my colleagues/managers.

Curious about whether working from home more generally improved or diminished productivity, I looked this up online. One of the articles that caught my eye was from Bloomberg, which said that working from home would ‘lift productivity by 5%’ in post-pandemic U.S., with the main argument being the savings on commuting time and having fewer distractions at home than the office. This seems intuitively likely - commuting is tiring and eats up your sleeping hours, so avoiding that every day would mean at least 5+ extra hours per week. However, the Washington Post published an article arguing that despite possible productivity gains in the short term, the losses of learning, innovation and new friendships would set overall productivity back in the long term; the relationships built during lunches at work and casual conversations are simply not replicable over Zoom. Similarly, a Microsoft report demonstrates information gaps make it harder for employees to acquire and share new information across the network, leading to productivity losses. Another problem pointed out was the inequality fostered by working from home - it doesn’t affect those high up the company hierarchy that much, but it greatly decreases promotional and networking opportunities for employees who are just starting out, including younger recent grads. Overall, the consensus for working from home seems to be that short-term productivity might increase, but long-term productivity would suffer.

But as interesting as this was, it wasn’t what I was looking for. I wanted to know about the individual and what their productivity looked like when working from home compared to in the office. Basically, was anyone else also super unproductive so I could feel better about myself? Unfortunately, all I got when I attempted to look this up was ‘productivity tips for working from home!’ and ‘here’s the Pomodoro technique!’ despite reports showing that 29% of office workers struggle with work-life balance when working from home and many consequently see their mental health deteriorate. Hari (my boyfriend) has mentioned how working from home is incredibly isolating, and that not being able to build relationships with others in the office removes a lot of personal stakes/motivation for work. This is quite sobering, especially when large companies like Microsoft are happy to continue with work-from-home practices, because of productivity improvements which overshadow other priorities. But anyways, that’s a rant on capitalism for another day - until then, back to some good old work-from-home-procrastination.


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