Has anyone noticed that it’s been snowing a lot lately? Weird, me either. But there seems to be a lot of twitter and facebook posts about it so I’ll just have to trust them. I mean that’s where I get most of my information from, right after Wikipedia, so let’s just say with 100% accuracy that people have been getting buried in snow this winter. This doesn’t seem to make anyone happy. And really why would it: you can’t get where you need to go, or find a place to park anywhere, the grocery stores are more crowded and panicky than usual, traffic is at all-time level of wanting to drive off the road and leave everything behind, and your previously friendly neighbors are in combat mode burying your car for taking their spot or fighting over whose property to throw unwanted snow like they are defending an international border in wartime. Yeah, it’s a real clusterfuck. But you know what can’t be affected? The office. Not in this era that we are living in. And no one else seems to care.
Who doesn’t love a snow day? There’s something unmatched in greatness in being relieved of your responsibilities for a day. Even if you like going to school or don’t despise your job sometimes the repetitive day after day monotony, the waking up earlier than you want, the sifting through traffic while cramming down a granola bar, you know, the daily fucking grind, sometimes you just need that day to recharge your batteries. And it’s not asking for too much to have a 24 hour reprieve right? It shouldn’t be at least. Schools will often cancel due to awful weather. But more and more schools armed with online classroom additions like Blackboard are still requiring students to submit their work and find out their next assignment online. No bonus days for you. And if you are working full time, thank god for the dropping price of laptops and the ease of VPNs because oh boy, do we have a solution for you.
People have been working from home for a long time but it seems like in the last few years it’s been a more omnipresent development. And I don’t fucking like it. Not that I don’t enjoy not having to get out of my pajamas to get work done as much as the next corporate drone, but the concept is really sticking in my corporate craw. Before you had a choice: if you didn’t want to risk your life for one day of productivity at job that is probably meaningless in the big picture then you didn’t have to worry. If you didn’t posses the New England tough guy gene that says you were born here and you should be able to drive in anything (even though with every goddamn storm there are accidents, stranded cars, and like everywhere) you book out of work, take PTO, whatever. And if your company didn’t possess the New England tough guy mentality or the Corporate profits-are-everything mentality, then they might even cancel work and pay you to stay in bed late and shovel.
Now there is no choice. We are all working at home. Or at the very least answering emails while watching a season of whatever is new on Netflix. Are companies really concerned with not missing a day or just the appearance of not missing a day? Granted this is all based on anecdotal evidence, but from people I’ve talked to these are the activities that are being done on the clock aside from actual work: cooking, eating, watching TV, playing Xbox, sex/masturbation, drinking, shoveling, reading, or some combination of the above. This didn’t even mention all the time wasted trying to work with your IT department because your virtual connection is missing something you need, your internet connection sucks, or the blizzard took down your network and you were too busy focusing on trying to avoid a snow day to realize IT IS A FUCKING SNOW DAY. Your are not responsible for the weather, regardless of how much companies seem to be implicitly adopting this philosophy.
Everyone needs to work from home because management believes an 8 hour loss in insurmountable. Has anyone in charge ever bothered to watch Office Space? Do me a favor and channel your inner Peter Gibbons and honestly ask yourself, in a given work week, how much real, actual work would you say you do here? His answer was a comical 15 minutes, but I still can’t imagine that we live in a world where the majority of people are putting in a full days work 40 solid hours per week. I understand that there will be exceptions with people who really love their careers, are paid so well they don’t want to lose their job under any circumstance, or those who are just closely monitored and are probably going home and looking for jobs immediately after clocking out. But I’m confident that if I did nothing for a day because a historic snow storm bumped pushing papers to the back-burner, I could go into the office the next day and do two days worth of “real, actual work” in 8 hours. Don’t go online for non-work purposes, don’t send emails to friends, don’t get up to go the bathroom or water cooler every 40 minutes because of boredom, and don’t use your phone or social media until you clock out. Office Space was released in 1999, years before Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Reddit/Youtube took over our lives, and people were still doing whatever they could to distract themselves from work. How much more productive does anyone think people are now?
I believe social Media and smart phones are the real reason for the death of snow days. And I’m not against these things, but I think everyone should have a choice in how involved they want to be in that world. While group texting about last night’s game or scanning Reddit for reasons for why that rash that showed up this morning are good ways to pass the time in the meaningless career that you’ve chosen, it does become habit forming. As anyone who has gone camping in the woods without reception, the experience of being disconnected can be terrifying and exhilarating. Usually once you get past the fact that you don’t need to know right away (or ever) which team a free agent signed with or which publication a Kardashian will be posing nude for next, you can re-focus on things that actually matter. Unfortunately you come back to the “real” world where you need those distractions to get through 8 hours, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year, give or take whatever precious vacation time is allotted to you. Think about how little social media really matters, then think about how much it stills matters to you more than your job, and tell me you still think you should be working on a snow day. Or working where you are employed at all.
Work has decided to co-opt this always-connected mentality and it is seriously disheartening. It is hard to deny that most people are checking their phones and emails 24 a day. So now we get work provided phones, tablets, laptops, headsets, and anything else that can allow us to stay connected. There is no more sneaking out before the boss asks you to come in over the weekend or not showing up on Monday due to the pending blizzard. Those off the clock emails are going to catch your ass and your denials about knowing the updates won’t hold up. Management will argue that we don’t live in a 9 to 5 world anymore, but there’s a problem with that. Actually a couple. First of all, the majority of jobs out there are just not that exciting. These aren’t passion projects, or the kind of of work that anyone would do if they didn’t have to work for money. The upside of a mentally/emotionally/physically unsatisfying job is that it ends. Clock out and the night is yours. You can drink. You can work out. You can see your family, friends or anyone that actual matters in your life. Or you can get to do what you are actually passionate about but doesn’t pay the bills like writing (why hello there), painting, designing clothes, playing music, whatever you want. It’s your fucking life.
And that leads to the second problem which is really just an extension of the first one. Has anyone looked into the psychological need for down time? If you wanted a job where you are considered “critical personnel” and needed to stay on call for your job then you probably would have become a doctor not a cubicle jockey. You may only provide a certain amount of productive hours at work each day and might think it “evens out” by having to do some extra work at home. But there is real value to not having to to worry about something when you are off the clock. Is it time consuming to answer that email from your boss at 8pm? Probably not. But it’s not the five minutes of typing that is problematic but the hours of stress that one email could cause.
How are you supposed to de-compress from a tough day when two hours into “relaxation time” you are now thinking about a meeting tomorrow and numbers that you have to pull that are going to show that everyone is only putting 15 minutes of real, actual work in a given week. Well, there goes my appetite. Sorry I’m distracted watching our show darling, I’m now going to be watching The Walking Dead hoping that a zombie Apocalypse saves me from going to that meeting tomorrow. I know we only have a few hours together each night but I was thinking maybe we could spend them fighting because work requires me to live in constant anxiety and prioritize them over you.
Call me a pessimist but I only see things getting worse. No matter what you do for a living it will only become more involved in your life as we eliminate all barriers to “connectivity”. And while it’s depressing to think about social media and smart phones being a constant distraction, again that is a choice. Soon you won’t be able to hold down a job unless you answer calls, texts, and emails as they come in regardless of time of day. There’s no choice, you’re just on duty. Blizzards and personal life can’t stop the demand of the company, and therefore what is demanded of you. It’s reflected in the expectations of management and probably your clients who now demand everything in real time. So the only choice people will have to make is to shoot for a career that matters more. It won’t be easy, and there’s certainly too many jobs out there that demand more than they are worth. But if you’re not doing something that you love, you can’t just pretend it’s not your life from 5pm to 9am anymore. You might be able to fake doing work 50% of your time in the office, but you can’t fake being content in a dead end job that slowly becomes a dead end life.