The New Way to Work

Let’s face it. I’m lazy.

I have a job bookended by twenty foot commutes. I can execute my professional duties wearing a Snuggie and fluffy bunny bedroom slippers. I shave when the mood strikes me. Whim dictates my breaks. I vacation when I please. These freedoms fill me with the profound, emotional joy usually reserved for the birth of offspring or three-pointing a crumpled ball of paper on the first go.

As I recline in my contoured office chair at my unnecessarily large desk, surrounded by bright computer screens, stocked bookshelves, and the detritus of errant free-throw attempts, I find it difficult to avoid aiming a glimmer of smugness at you poor buggers who actually have to work for a living. Because what I do is not work; at least not in the traditional sense. I get paid to play with words. People are actually quite prepared to give me money for this rubbish, which never ceases to boggle my noggin.

Laziness, you see, is not necessarily a fault. Every device, every invention, every idea came into being because someone was looking for an easier way to get something done. Laziness prompts us to perform more quickly and efficiently, so we can increase our time in its pursuit. It is the cyclical human condition.

Now consider the rarified word that describes what I do: freelance. To me, it conjures up the image of a laconic lone wolf, a similarly unshaven man with no name, if you will, slowly striding the dusty streets of commerce selling his deadly services to whomever will pay.

This iconic avatar is not, may I point out, shuffling along in a light blue Snuggie. And spurs don’t jingle quite so menacingly, I imagine, while buried deeply in soft bunny fluff. His slugs of rotgut whiskey and well-chewed cheroot have been usurped in reality by mugs of comforting cocoa and, if I’m feeling particularly dangerous, a chocolate cookie.

My mouse is my gun, my prose ammunition. At the risk of overtaxing this metaphor’s tensile elasticity, I will forgo spuriously likening to Eli Wallach by inelegantly linking their first two letters. Instead, I will mention the days of frantically scouring trade publications and the like for potential clients are forever over. Now they come to me, delivered via Elance’s colossal online fish-barrel. It’s almost criminally easy.

See, in the bad old days, freelance writing was an analogue profession. We had to roam the figurative tundra in search of paying work. We had to proactively make phone calls and traipse to libraries to conduct our research. Paper was occasionally used for projects more productive than wastebasketball. Effort was actually a requirement of the vocation. Then, some bright (but lazy) spark invented the internet. This begat, which begat a burgeoning industry of workers who clumsily slop milk-sodden Fruit Loops down their pajama fronts with the indifference of an untended infant.

I’m not sure this is what Elance anticipated when they envisioned The New Way to Work. Personally, I don’t mind if clients erroneously believe I’m a facsimile of the blustery editor in a high-pressure broadsheet newsroom; all rolled-up shirt-sleeves and furiously masticated pencils, fingers gradually typing less madly as the caffeine-fuelled hustle is delicately redressed by Liquid Paper fumes. After all, who am I to derail their delusion?

Obviously, Elance planned to accrue an exhaustive index of such hard-boiled archetypes. However, instead (and I’m sure to their everlasting horror) they got people like me.

By rights, working from home should have exploded when the internet arrived. There’s no real reason for people to physically travel to an office building anymore. Email, instant messaging, cell phones, video conferencing, pervasive wifi and online workrooms should have euthanized the archaic concept of the communal administrative workplace, but they haven’t yet. Why is this?

Could it possibly be the people who own large businesses are oblivious to the motivational aspects of our quest for idleness? Do they firmly believe their lazy employees require robust, adjacent, slave galley-like supervision? A bleak observation, granted, but what other reason could there be? I’ve posed this question to colleagues who espouse this paradigm. They invariably answer: “Meetings are more effective in person”.

That may be, but does one really require special premises (and all the expense they entail) for something so mundane? If you feel the need to get tangible when you talk about work, can you not sit down for a chinwag at your house? You know there are pubs, clubs, restaurants, hotels, malls, convention centers, churches, temples and coffee shops with meeting rooms, right?

I’m willing to bet most people who advocate formal, nay, ceremonial meetings in office surroundings do so because it buffs their self-importance to walk into an engagement sporting a Savile Row pinstripe, an Underwood briefcase and a Scott Tracy haircut; the comical, outmoded trappings of modern “power”. Negotiate from a position of perceived strength is the applicable adage here, I believe, even if that strength is umbilically tied to the truncated fashions of a 1960s children’s puppet show. I think it taps the same conceit originally evolved by the caveman carrying the prettiest club into the forest: Me best hunter.

As far as I can ascertain, a far more accurate contemporary summation would be Me dunno how to work them internets. It’s time to rid the village of this hirsute knuckle-dragger, folks. Pompous, contentless, physical formality in business is dying, as well it should. We may as well drag it behind the shed and put it out of its misery.

Writing this reminds me of something I said fifteen years ago. I was walking through Central Park with my girlfriend, marveling at the surrounding skyscrapers. The internet was first really starting to take off. “See these wonderful office buildings? They’ll all be fancy apartments in five years,” I predicted, “no business in its right mind will run things from such expensive central locations when there’s online offices. Everyone will be working from home. You watch.”

Yeah, so I was wrong.

But that watch is ticking.

Elance ID: Stamary


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