Work Futures Update | Going To Smash
| W. H. Auden | Elevator Culture | Unghosting Unpaid Work |
[2022-01-28: I was cleaning house at Medium (former home of Work Futures) and I discovered this draft post from the olden times — 2020 — and I thought I would move it here for posterity.]
2020–06–28 Beacon NY | I think it was Dostoevsky who said you could judge a society’s level of civilization by its prisons. I generalize slightly, by saying we can judge a society by its response to crisis. Do the people come together, to collectively counter the threat? Do leaders arise that summon the necessary altruistic sacrifice and inclusion needed to meet the threat? Or do we fall apart, and turn on each other?
Perhaps you can judge a society in dozens of ways, by its prisons, nursing homes, or how the homeless are housed. Auden thought you could tell a lot by how a country treats its woods.
A well-kempt forest begs Our Lady’s grace;
Someone is not disgusted, or at least
Is laying bets upon the human race
Retaining enough decency to last;
The trees encountered on a country stroll
Reveal a lot about a country’s soul.
A small grove massacred to the last ash,
An oak with heart-rot, give away the show:
This great society is going to smash;
They cannot fool us with how fast they go,
How much they cost each other and the gods.
A culture is no better than its woods.
| W. H. Auden, Bucolics, part II
Going Up? Not So Fast: Strict New Rules to Govern Elevator Culture | Matt Richtel looks into the new etiquette of elevators:
Richard Corsi, dean of engineering and computer science at Portland State University, has calculated how much virus would remain in an elevator if an infected person rode 10 floors, coughing once and talking on a smartphone. After exiting the elevator — an act that released some of that person’s emissions from the elevator — approximately 25 percent of the person’s discharge would remain by the time the empty elevator returned to the first floor, he estimated.
Given all the unknowns with the coronavirus — like how much is needed to cause illness and how much of the aerosol would spread to another rider’s lungs — Dr. Corsi couldn’t determine the likelihood of transmission. But he said that the excretion from an infected person not wearing a mask would make an elevator far riskier than, say, standing in much less confined space, for the same amount of time, even indoors — “100 to 1,000 times more particles per liter of air,” he estimated.
“Standing as far as way as you can diagonally in elevator would be good, and do not speak,” he said.
“That needs to be part of new etiquette,” he added. “They should put big signs on the elevator: Do Not Speak.”
Elevators are generally too small to allow social distancing, and the best recourse — one person at a time — would lead to incredibly long wait times.
There’s only so much, though, that can be done with elevators. Some buildings are opening stairwells, including those run by CBRE, one of the world’s largest commercial real estate operators. Some are asking tenants to stagger employee start times.
“Imagine if you have a 30-story office building in New York City and you’re trying to get 5,000 people in between 7 and 9 in the morning,” said Brian Jennings, CBRE’s managing director of business operations in the Americas, who said elevator safety ranked as a top five concern among clients.
“I can’t think of any thing comparable to this,” he said. “This is the world’s smallest room and I don’t want to be in there with someone else.”
The best answer? Work from home.
Why Did It Take the Coronavirus to Show How Much Unpaid Work Women Do? | Diane Coyle peels the onion about unpaid work:
The question of what counts in “the economy” is no longer posed only by feminist scholars; it is being examined by economists in general, including those who define the statistics used to measure growth. That’s because digital technology is changing the boundary between what we pay for in the market and what we do free in the home — for men as well as women.
Economists call the line between paid and unpaid work the “production boundary.” Increasingly, the ordinary activities of life involve crossing that boundary. When I use online banking to deposit a check or when I book my own hotel room, I am crossing the production boundary, substituting my own unpaid work for the paid work of bank tellers or travel agents. None of this unpaid work is counted directly in gross domestic product.
Similarly, many free online products — like TikToks, Wikipedia entries and social media posts — are substitutes for purchased equivalents in the media and entertainment. Millions of us donate our work to amuse or inform others, in a parallel economy in which others pay with their attention.
The digital economy, like the offline household and volunteer economy, is linking us in exchanges that are hard to measure in traditional economic terms, although they create much unpaid value. These activities do create a lot of monetary value for the owners of digital platforms, and that is included in formal measures of the economy, but everything that falls on the wrong side of the production boundary — all that unpaid digital work — is uncounted.
This situation now seems untenable. During the pandemic and subsequent lockdown, in many places much of the activity counted in G.D.P. has come to a sudden stop. Yet it is clearer than ever how much time we are spending on the “wrong” side of the production boundary. Online traffic is as much as 30 percent higher in some regions since the beginning of the pandemic, and households in lockdown are spending many more hours on the unpaid domestic work of cooking, cleaning and child care.
What Moms Always Knew About Working From Home | Brigid Schulte shares more on the economics of remote work, which overlaps with unpaid work:
One quarter of the U.S. work force works remotely, at least some of the time, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Research has found that remote workers are often more productive, more engaged, less stressed, more satisfied and less likely to quit than their in-office counterparts. Remote workers, to their own detriment, are often more dedicated, working longer hours, and, in essence, “gifting” their time and lives for free back to their companies.
And yet research shows that managers tend to reward workers who are physically present over remote workers, and believe face-time workers are more committed to the job.
Some of the face-time bias in American workplaces, to be sure, has to do with status quo bias, or our human predilection to favor things we’re familiar with. But a lot of it has to do with gender.
When remote and flexible work policies were first introduced in the 1990s, many were offered through “women’s initiatives” and not available to the wider company. They quickly became seen as “Mommy Track” accommodations for women and working mothers in order for them to juggle work and caregiving. Managers assumed men didn’t need them, because men didn’t have to give care — a notion that’s being challenged as more men demand parental leave and take on caregiving. Men wanting to work remotely have been seen as less dedicated, and penalized. Many companies have a telework policy in name only that no one dares to use. Or, as some human resources professionals say, a “ghost benefit.”
Erin Kelly, a professor of work and organization studies at M.I.T., has found this in her research. Working flexibly from home for more than a day or two here and there, she said, “marks you as someone not playing by the regular rules.”
Let’s unghost the benefits of remote work.
Work-From-Home Could Make the Gender Wage Gap Worse | Bryce Covert makes the gender gap in remote work clear:
Without a deliberate culture shift, any increase in our ability to work from home is going to play out the same way that all workplace policies do: Women will get penalized while men use them to get promoted. We can use this unique moment to do better, but such change won’t happen simply because we were forced to be remote this year. We have to work for it.