04.27.20

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In a World Where Free Software Is Considered Standard Remote Work Will Become the Norm

Posted in Free/Libre Software at 5:26 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Also, there are benefits to the environment. Why is it called “remote work” anyway? It’s not remote! You’re home!

What they want us to think work at the office looks like and... what clients think remote work looks like

Summary: The workplace will be better off when we all quit the charade of wealth and breadth; companies that force all employees to work in a single place (even for jobs that don’t strictly require it) are stuck in the past, milking a bygone era

I very rarely write about my professional and personal life because some people try to contact my boss, hoping to cause me trouble (since 2005), and things I write about my personal life are likely to be misframed and mischaracterised to smear me, respectively. So I generally don’t say much about my daily routines here (I opened up a bit in 2017 in this interview). I try to focus on the issues, leaving little room for personal attacks.

“I try to focus on the issues, leaving little room for personal attacks.”The same is true for my wife, who rarely divulges personal details online; we don’t use Facebook or anything like it and I last updated LinkedIn with work-related information some time back in 2006 (when a colleague convinced me to create an account there).

So anyway, don’t expect me to open up too much. It’s bad enough that some British university decided to intimidate someone who wanted to participate in Techrights by basically defaming me, based on distortion of things from 15 years ago. All I will say is that my remote work history is very long. In 2000 or 2001 I started working in the dormitories, offering technical support for computers (I had acquired experience as a teenager) and I could do so within the Halls of Residence without having some truly central office. In 2007 when I stopped much of my practical Ph.D. work (including thesis) I started working more and more from home. In 2010 I was allowed to work as a postdoc as a mostly but not entirely remote worker (with occasional visits to the department, either once a week or several times a year). That went on until 2012 and in 2011 I already started working from home, offering Free software support services — again having to only visit the company’s office a few times a year. In recent years I barely even visit the office anymore. I last went there a year ago (signing some papers) and this was probably the only time in about 3 years. I know that remote work is very much possible. I’ve done it in one form or another for nearly 2 decades.

“Proprietary software companies have long used “happy faces” marketing and “windmills” BS in brochure about their Clown Computing or whatever buzzword clueless, nontechnical decision-making suits happen to fancy that month/year, based on magazines composed and collated by other clueless, nontechnical publishers.”One thing that has always been clear to me is that clients’ perception of the workforce (are they supervised and are they trained?) played a big role in that old assumption that people need to come inward and produce outward from glass-and-metal cages which are neither welcoming nor respectful of basic human dignity. People over your shoulder causing additional stress won’t improve productivity, especially in jobs that require concentration and minimal interruption/interference (such as debugging of code).

Proprietary software companies have long used “happy faces” marketing and “windmills” BS in brochure about their Clown Computing or whatever buzzword clueless, nontechnical decision-making suits happen to fancy that month/year, based on magazines composed and collated by other clueless, nontechnical publishers.

I say, to hell with those buzzwords and hype waves; enough with your stupid marketing, which is only a drain on companies’ budget (not to mention lawyers and sometimes even accountants). For companies to become and remain competitive they need to be lean and not mean. Respect workers, don’t bully them (neither physically nor mentally; the two things are related because diet, health and mood are closely connected). Focus on technical work; it is the heart and soul of technical companies, which is what most if not all Free software firms are. Proprietary software has long relied on lies, aggressive marketing, sometimes even bribery (there are special teams if not departments dedicated to just that).

“I still believe that society as well as workplaces will become more humane when Free software is the de facto standard everywhere; it’s not only about Freedom (libre) of code but also the Freedom of workers.”Now that many people are either forced to work from home or stay home (unemployed) the subject is worth bringing up. We need to leave behind us the nonsensical burden which not only harms the environment but also manifests itself in the form of telemarketing, overstressed workers, and workers who contract flu or pneumonia while commuting or eating next to a colleague they neither like nor really need to interact with. I’m not an introvert. I’m not extrovert either. But I am very practical and I know that a 4-hour trip to the office is rarely necessary, not to mention the carbon footprint.

I still believe that society as well as workplaces will become more humane when Free software is the de facto standard everywhere; it’s not only about Freedom (libre) of code but also the Freedom of workers. There’s definitely a connection between those things. All the code I’ve ever worked on is Free software (it’s against my principles to keep code secret) and each time I worked from 9 to 5 (not much in my adult life, unlike teenage years) I got a taste of what most people are compelled to go through on a daily basis. This is about as sustainable for personal health as it is for the economy itself. The economy isn’t doing too well, is it? Well, maybe it’s time to rethink how we work. Just my 50 pence…

“Proprietary software types like to assess people’s value based on their perceived wealth, i.e. what kind of things they’ve bought and collected — in the same way many assess the quality or value of a company based on the looks of its office, the furnishing, where it is based (the more expensive, the better?) and so on, spurring a culture of over-consumption and over-spending.”Can I take the train journey to the office with 50 pence? The last time I purchased tickets to travel the rail fare was literally twice that of a flight. Time for Richard Branson and the likes of him to declare bankruptcy and time for public transport too… to be rethought. I last owned a car almost 2 decades ago. I can cycle to most places and save myself maintenance headaches (and fees) associated with car ownership. But that perhaps is a topic for another day and a different post. Yes, people who can drive and choose not to own a car aren’t inferior. Proprietary software types like to assess people’s value based on their perceived wealth, i.e. what kind of things they’ve bought and collected — in the same way many assess the quality or value of a company based on the looks of its office, the furnishing, where it is based (the more expensive, the better?) and so on, spurring a culture of over-consumption and over-spending.

“Do you have a lawyer?”

“Oh, glad you asked! We have a whole in-house department of them!”

Now, how about that for corporate productivity?

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2 Comments

  1. Canta said,

    April 27, 2020 at 1:09 pm

    Gravatar

    I’m working from home since about a month and a few days here in Buenos Aires, because of the covid situation. I’m enyoing it very much, specially the time saving in traveling: clossing my work laptop at time and being already in my home feels a bliss. Yet, I’m still against it.

    There are several reasons for this. But first, please take a look to a few minutes of this video:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_hifamdISs
    Please watch from 32:32, to about 37:30. And that’s from before the nineties.

    IT people is obviously among the strongest defenders of remote work. It’s almost a right in itself for them, as their culture and technical disciplines is what makes possible remote working as we know it today in the first place, and is also strongly related with them generationally speaking. But there are other issues, that we people with humanistics formation also have to consider, and remote working is not all happy things.

    * The most important for me: I don’t want my home to be my office, period.
    I don’t love my work, I loathe the very capitalist concept of “work”: I work because the choice to that is being a homeless, and my home is a place where I can live a few hours a day with rules made with the people that live with me. My wife had health problems several times wich required attention, this is a very small home and we plan to have a child (which will, of course, need attention and make noise), we both have a degree in robotics (which needs some workshop space, for tools and spare parts, and so my tiny home has stuff everywhere), we can’t control our environment (our neighbours screaming, for example), and frankly I don’t want to change any of that because of my work: I already give all my youth to working, that is more than enough, I owe that thing nothing. And remote working has conditions: now I can’t be on pijamas in my own house because I may suddenly have an online chat with camera, for the same very reason I shouldn’t have stuff everywhere as it may look bad, and at my work even tried to make me sign a paper where it said things like “if you have a sick person in your house, you can’t use your working time to give that person attention” (which by no means I was to accept, and so they changed that paper).

    * Also, this does indeed flexibilize working conditions. Which is not good nor cool: is bad.
    Suddenly, let’s say, I need to urgently fix a leak in the roof, which is a private problem between me and my neighbour, because otherwise I can’t “go to work” (as it leaks where I have my working equipment): and since is “my home”, my employeer doesn’t have to pay for it. That’s a responsability translation, from employeer to worker: that wasn’t the case my employeer’s offices, where it wasn’t my responsability to fix the leak. And remote working has LOTS of that kind of situations. It’s the same as when we workers “won” the right of going to work without an uniform given by our employers: we celebrate the freedom, and now we have to buy clothes where we didn’t needed to before, and those clothes have to be adequated to standards so they’re rarely the cheap ones, and since we don’t have that many clothes because we don’t have that many money we use the same for working and for everything else, and so clothes tend to last less, and then we HAVE TO use our money and spare time to go buy that stuff in order to work and everything else, and so we ultimatelly lose not just freedom but also money and time: the real winner, again, is the employer. Applying that kind of stuff to my own house is more like a nightmare scenario to me.

    * What about labour rights?
    In Argentina we have “ART”, which is a state regulated (and private implemented) social security service covering any health damage over workers during working hours AND time between home and work. As you may guess, that right (won and defended with lives lost) is now being debated, as we’re all “at home”, and as regulations require several technical conditions to be in order (like my chair, the distance to the screen, and so on) and now those conditions can’t be regulated (as it requires going inside everybody’s houses, and checking everyday if you’re doing it right). No need to say that now I myself have to buy all that stuff to have my working conditions in order.

    * I work in a very lovely environment: but many, many others are not that lucky, and the control mechanisms over workers could be very aggresive. Also, not everyone is happy (like I am) being in their homes: some people need to go outside or go with groups of people. Also, not every home is adequate to work: some are even an hostile environment (like living in a house with domestic violence), and going to work (or to school) is what made it bereable.

    So, yes, remote working is confortable: until any problem arises in your home or your pesonal life, and then everything becomes urgent because it “affects your work”, or until you take a look the things you lose because of it. Offices are tools that solves lots of problems, given by the employeers to workers; I see full remote working as a loss of that very important tool.

    As usual, the problem is not the details of how it is implemented, but the very concept of capitalist working regime and the very notion of working class. In those concepts you can also find the constant productivity imperative (as if we were machines in a production line), the idealization of work as an identity (I do lots of stuffs beyond what capital considers “work” or “productive”), the morals of having or not having a job (as if it where the only responsability with society, or the most important), the imperium of economics over any other rationale, and so many other things.

    “Work from home” sounds more like “make work the right way”: the whole thing reeks of “efficiency and productivity”, where I say “working is the problem”. We (the world) need to kill that, fast. Urgently. We don’t need more or better work: we need kindness, time for ourselves, time for our ideas and to talk with others, to make emotional connections; we need humanity.

    If this is a step in the right direction, so be it. But working from home should be optional (not forced), and we should also not lose the focus on the bigger picture regarding “work” in itself.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    The terms of the work matter of course. I guess not all “remote work” is equal.

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