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Remote work has changed everything. And it's still getting weirder

From quiet quitting and quiet firing to overemployment, the working day is getting stranger and stranger.
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director on
Man working from home at a small desk with plants
Maskot/Getty

It's tempting to think that, two-and-a-half years after remote working was forced upon many office workers, everyone would be getting the hang of it. 

And yet even now, I think, many workers and their managers are still struggling to understand exactly what this shift in our working lives really means.

What's become increasingly clear is the idea of everyone working from an office all day every day is no longer the automatic assumption it once was. According to one piece of research, nearly half of office workers are now working either fully remotely or in some kind of hybrid work arrangement. And they seem to like it (and are getting more sleep as a result).

Managers find themselves in the slightly odd position of having to persuade their workers to come back to the office. Even weirder, bosses are finding themselves asking people to come back into the office even if that makes them a bit less productive, not more.

Workers don't all want to stay at home because they can't be bothered to commute.

Plenty want to stay at home because many of them are more productive that way (although they probably do also hate the commute, too).

If you're working a project that needs concentration and focus, an office full of people talking about what they watched on TV last night is pretty much the last place you want to be.

Of course, the wisest bosses -- and workers -- are willing to trade a little bit of short-term productivity for the chance to get their teams together at least once in a while to talk strategy, to come up with new ideas, or simply for a reminder of what it's like to be a team with a common goal.

In some ways it's entirely understandable why bosses would want everyone back in the office – that way they can at least see what people are up (and make sure they aren't working a second or a third job during their 9 to 5).

What the shift to remote working has really done is exposed many of the oddities and tensions that have gradually been building up inside the average working day for years. In the last decade or so the standard office setup has made less and less sense because it was underpinned by an assumption that no longer held true. 

We've long assumed that for an organisation to function effectively, the people, the data, and the tools they use (PCs mostly) had to all be collected in one physical space. None of that is true anymore.  

Quiet quitting and quiet firing have always been issues, but they've become more obvious as we've started to challenge everything else about office life. Similarly, concepts like overemployment are really the result of the rise of tech-enabled remote working, outsourcing, and cloud computing, and it's unlikely to be the last tech-fuelled workplace phenomena either. 

It's very easy to see there will be a rapid evolution of working practices over the next year or two -- a Cambrian explosion of working practices that will mean the working day of the near future will look totally different. 

Already looming on the horizon is the concept of the four-day week, which claims it can make us more productive and give us another day off every week. 

Also: This company successfully switched to a four-day workweek. Here's how 

Throw in the (potential) arrival of the metaverse, and it means the when, where, and how of our jobs are all in flux. Some of those changes we will welcome, others less so. But what's clear is that the working week is ripe for change, and has been for some time. 

Perhaps the weirdest thing is that we held onto the old model for so long.

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