I always enjoy Ian Bogost’s articles for The Atlantic as they’re thought-provoking. In this one, he talks about how ‘hybrid work’ is doomed, mainly because The Office is a construct, a way of organising life and work, and heavily invested in the status quo.
A rational assessment of your time and productivity was never quite at issue, and I think it never will be. Companies have been pulling employees back to work in person irrespective of anyone’s well-being or efficiency. That’s because return-to-office plans are not concerned, in any fundamental way, with workers and their plight or preferences. Rather they serve as affirmations of a superseding value—one that spans every industry of knowledge work. If your boss is nudging you to come back to your cubicle, the policy has less to do with one specific firm than with the whole firmament of office life: the Office, as an institution. The Office must endure! To the office we must go.
This should be obvious, but somehow it is not: The existence of an office is the central premise of office work, and nothing—not even a pandemic—will make it go away.[…]
Even in the technology sector, where the tools of remote work are manufactured, the Office reigns supreme. Before the pandemic, Big Tech companies doubled down on the sorts of work environments that had been common for almost a century: urban high-rises and suburban office parks. (Think of Microsoft’s campus in Redmond, Washington; Google’s and Facebook’s in Silicon Valley; Apple’s spaceship in Cupertino; and the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco.) Their deluxe office amenities—free food, gymnasiums, medical care, etc.—only underscore this point: The tech industry has a deep investment in the most conservative interpretation of office life.
If the companies that design and build the very foundations for remote work still adhere to the old-fashioned values of the Office, what should we expect from all the rest? It’s still possible that hybridized knowledge work will become the norm, with work-from-home days provided as a perk. But to get there, office workers must organize, and take the goals and power of the Office into account. It does not want to be flexible, and it cares little for efficiency. If the Office makes concessions, they will be minor, or they will take time; hybrid work is not a revolution.