Navigating the WORK-FROM-HOME Waters: A Tale of Trust and Technology

And the sanctuary of HOME, which helped uphold the wall between work and HOME as the digital revolution went into full swing, has become a productive hub. It’s a natural place to ask questions that were at the heart of the relationship between employers and employees: is there enough trust in the remote world, or are we living in a sea of suspicion? This article, which is accompanied by a story, tells that story as it explores the limits of acceptable work behaviour and the technological tethers that tie us to work.

HOME or Office: The Unseen Digital Eye

With lines between HOME and office becoming fuzzier by the day, one of the strange stories to emerge from a corporate interior recently stunned the world. Bloomberg reported last July that Wells Fargo \ICAL\icked a dozen employees who managers suspected of faking typing movement, making it look to all around them as if they worked while they did nothing. The episode throws an uncomfortably bright spotlight on modern office anxieties, the fear of being watched not for output but for action, not for results but for traces.

The Hybrid Work Model: A HOME of Flexibility or Surveillance?

Wells Fargo had embraced the hybrid HOME-office model, too, enthusing about flexibility like countless other companies. But hovering beneath the veneer of digitalism are the manifold surveillance mechanisms, from keyloggers to biometric monitoring, that are becoming ever more prevalent in the age of our new, post-Covid-19 work life. ‘Our standards are very high,’ a Wells Fargo spokesperson said, ‘and Wells Fargo employees are the frontline in protecting those standards’. A grim acceptance of Big Brother-style tactics in the pursuit of protectionist productivity. While the Wells Fargo experiment had a short shelf life, what does it suggest about how the ruling class will respond to the end of our collective lockdowns? After surviving the pandemic, we are tremendously relieved to have the freedom to return to our jobs and – supposedly – our old lives. But is this a conclusion to the story, or merely a pause?

The Gizmo Gamble: Innovating Illusion or Inspiring Integrity?

The mouse jiggler – the stuff of TikTok legend, the dread of corporate hallways – is an endpoint, a promise of leisure in the face of algorithmic policing. Yet, it’s also a symptom of a much larger tension in the posture of WFH, a constant war between employee ingenuity and corporate oversight, and a reckoning with the seeming conflict between surveillance and trust.

Technology: A Double-Edged Sword

Technology is always double-edged, and the combination of the digital revolution (where we could finally work from HOME) and the pandemic (where forcing people to work from HOME became the law) with the rise of surveillance capitalism (where companies are equipping themselves with software that can track every keystroke you make, every minute you’re idle) makes for a particularly dark milieu. A study released in 2021 by Express VPN showed that 78 per cent of employers are monitoring their remote staff. The questions around what getting monitored for productivity entails actual freedoms are the ones we must start having now.

Trust vs. Tracking: Striking a Balance

The story here is not about doing make-believe work, it is about the story of trust between employer and employee that sits beneath it. In the world of valuing appearance over value, do companies have the ability to foster a culture of trust that discards the need for such surveillance? Or are we fated to inhabit a future where productivity is policed and privacy is a premium?

The Future of Work: Redefining HOME

Moving forward, we can draw a map to this new landscape that aligns human needs for trust and autonomy with the technological realities supporting remote work. Before we can write that map, though, we need to redefine the idea ‘HOME’, because ‘HOME’ does not refer to a physical space anymore, it is a condition in which employers and workers relate to one another as mutually respectful and cooperative people who are trying to do a good job. That alone will bring us the promise of remote work – free of surveillance and suspicion.

Understanding HOME: A Final Reflection

After this long journey through the difficult terrain that is organisational life at a distance, we come back full circle to the idea of HOME. HOME, ultimately, is about sanctuary. It is a space for both rest and for creation. And if the worklife merger is the coming reality at the workplace, we will have to work hard to protect the sanctity of HOME. How can I work in such a way that the employer cannot see every keystroke, or I can’t see every keystroke by the employee. How can I work in a way in which there are no targets, there is no surveillance, there’s really only trust? The future of work is certainly a technical question, but perhaps even more so it is a value call. In the future there will be tasking and check-ins, but there must also be the space within which to make work productive. In that space work can be done with integrity in ways that are unsurveilled, and it can be trusted. For this we need to be able to think about the future of work through the lens not only of what is productive, but also of what we need for a productive life. We must walk out that door.

Jun 15, 2024
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