An exchange of opinions between Jane, Team Lead Corporate Communications at InterNations, and Senior Content & Communications Manager Elena on the pros and cons of remote work.
InterNations is a remote-first company. Of course, we all appreciate the flexibility and the possibility to organize our own time.
But here’s the thing: one year of working from home, after first joining InterNations in 2022, has also made me realize the traps of remote work. Yes, it does feel like a trap. It’s the convenience trap.
When I think of working from home, I think of my mother, who died two years ago. As a retiree, on her own in a big house, she kept telling me (on the phone, as we lived too far apart to see each other in person): “If only I had a dog. A dog would keep me company. I could pet him, and go out with him, which would motivate me to walk a bit more.” But when I responded: “Mom, let’s get you a dog,” she said: “Oh, but never! Do you think I could be bothered to look after a dog? I would have to take care of him and collect his poo in a plastic bag. No, never!”
What my mom did was that she opted for convenience over quality of life. She chose leading a comfortable pet-free life over companionship, to be free of commitments. But what was this freedom for? To spend more time in isolation, with too much time on her hands and too many thoughts on her mind. To get a little lonelier, a little unhappier, a little more overweight. But at least she had a convenient life! The freedom to do or not do whatever she wanted to ― mainly the freedom of not doing anything.
In a way, this is what working from home can be like for me. It’s a bit of an unhealthy addiction. You cherish the comfort of not having to dress up for work and not having to commute. Of not having to organize childcare with an army of nannies or neighbors and not having to do all your chores after work or on the weekend. Instead, you can conveniently squeeze doing the laundry, watering your flowers, emptying the dishwasher, feeding the cat, and shopping for groceries into your breaks.
But what is the advantage of all this? To be a little bit lonelier and a little less connected to your colleagues and your company. To feel a little bit sadder and at odds with the world. Again, it’s choosing convenience over quality of life.
It almost becomes like a compulsion. This piece by Medium author Richard Lowenthal illustrates very well what I mean. He considers convenience (he mainly talks about consumerism) a compelling and dangerous addiction. We become addicted to immediate gratification and start claiming convenience as a universal right.
Lowenthal applies this concept of convenience to fast food, to businesses and politicians with short-term goals and no vision for the future, and even to the global consumerism that ignores climate change and pollution. He calls this mindset the “Gospel of Convenience,” which rules all aspects of our lives and makes us feel separate from the natural world. And in the end, it makes us feel lonelier — more disconnected and isolated from each other.
What’s your take on remote work?
When the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020, we were sent home immediately to work remotely. At the time, we didn’t know how long it would last. Many of us believed that we would fully return to the office in a few weeks. After several months, we switched to a flexible desk policy instead, and it became clear that working remotely was here to stay. At that moment, I felt a kind of isolation very similar to the one you’ve just described. I wasn’t only scared of my loved ones getting sick with a bad case of COVID. I also realized I missed my usual routine from the office.
But in the past three years, I have also learned to appreciate the freedom and flexibility that working remotely has brought into my life. When I think of our office, located on a busy street corner near Munich’s central station, I remember the noise from the traffic and construction sites. I also remember the heat during the summer months. And the seemingly endless commutes via a public transportation system that isn’t always as reliable as it should be.
Living in a quiet, residential neighborhood, I can hear birds chirp and watch them outside my window after I wake up. I can relax during my lunch break and enjoy some peace and quiet (something I’ve been craving lately), or I can hop on my bike and run some errands. After dropping off my child at school in the morning, I take a walk or go on a brief run to get moving before work, something I wasn’t able to do three years ago.
Yes, all of this is terribly convenient, but does this convenience really diminish my quality of life? If I worked at the office, the household chores you mentioned would still be there when I get home. The grocery shopping would still be waiting to get done. Being flexible allows me to do those things whenever I have a few minutes of free time, not whenever I happen to be at home.
Of course, there are times when I do miss the human connections and the spontaneous lunch hangouts with my colleagues. But even before the pandemic, our team of about a hundred employees was spread out over several floors in two different buildings. Even then, there were some colleagues I never ran into or got to talk to. With our virtual co-working tools, it has actually become easier to connect with people outside of my own small team.
And as for those real-life connections … maybe we just need to make more of an effort. An effort to meet people outside of work, to find new hobbies, to reconnect with friends, and to plan outings with our loved ones. And since we work remotely, we are flexible enough to do just that.
Image credit: Canva/InterNations