“We could never put out a newspaper from home,” a manager once told me — before the pandemic hit. “What if there was a breaking news story? We’d need everyone together so we could plan our coverage.”
Fast forward a year or so: Not only are many, if not most, journalists working from home these days in Quebec and in other parts of the world, but we have been covering the biggest breaking news story of our lives virtually (in both senses of the word) every day since March 2020.
Journalists, of course, aren’t the only ones forced to work from home. It has become the norm during the pandemic for many office workers, to the dismay of some managers who may feel they aren’t really accomplishing much these days. The truth is, they probably weren’t accomplishing all that much when they ruled corners of the office roost in pre-pandemic days. But at least they looked busy when they were in the office. Today, they’re invisible — and no doubt some are feeling very insecure as they continue to collect paycheques.
That’s not the case of the manager I mentioned at the top. That individual still plays a big role in the newspaper business. But I’m betting they are eager to get back to the physical office, as are managers in many other businesses.
It may be a long time yet — in Quebec, at least — before office workers can safely return to the workplace. Maybe in 2022? But when the time comes for companies to summon employees back, managers may meet some resistance. After all, office workers have proven that their brick-and-mortar workplaces are mostly redundant. Why would employees who can successfully work from home want to endure morning and evening trips, whether by car or on public transit, along with all the associated costs when they can just boot up the computer at home and settle in to work?
In fact, my experience so far is that I — and from what I am hearing, others, too — are more productive when they work from home, often giving unpaid extra time before or after their regular shifts.
But many companies locked up leases on office space for years to come, so they feel a need to fill those spaces. It’s understandable, but you have to think that when those lease terms come to an end, some will not be renewed — and employees will be told to work from home again.
There is another reason why office workers will be summoned — and forced — back to offices: the local economy needs their money. A lot of downtown businesses rely on office workers to survive — from restaurants and shops to transit systems and parking lots. And, oh yes, municipal governments as well that rely on parking meter revenue and all manner of other methods of picking the pockets of office workers.
There is some hypocrisy involved, though. In Montreal, for example, the party in power at city hall has been on an anti-car campaign since it took office almost four years ago. They encourage people to leave their cars at home and take public transit, with the goal of reducing carbon emissions.
It’s admirable. Thing is, a lot of people with the newfound freedom of working from home have moved farther away from the downtown core, where they can have big back yards and green spaces to roam — mask free. When the call comes to return to the office, if they return, they will probably be driving into town.
And that’s where municipal governments like the one in Montreal will show their true colours. Will they encourage those office workers to continue working from home in the name of clean air? Or will they sell out to put more cash in the city’s coffers?
I suspect it will be the latter. Why? Because as I knew when I brought up the subject with the individual I mentioned at the top, many office workers have long felt (and known) their jobs could be done remotely. But the idea was pooh-poohed by city officials and managers alike.
It’s another example of the excessive, wasteful lifestyle of so many Western cities, where the greed and insecurities of a minority of individuals lead the working-class stiffs around like a bunch of cattle.
I’m wondering if the cattle will revolt this time, or if they will meekly do the bidding of their masters?
Time will tell.