One of the loudest and most frequent defences of WFH (aka working from home) is that it is perfectly viable in this ultra tech-age. Perfectly viable that co-workers can connect without being practically conjoined in an office setting. Let me be clear: I consider office a category arching over everything from business parks built and expanding alongside universities – yes, academics are very commercial indeed; medical R&D – yes, a lab is a version of office; tech – yes, a quirky breakout room is a form of office; across to the ‘traditional’ floorplates housing staff engaged in admin, banking, insurance etc.
Now, one is all too often accused of modern-day Luddism for suggesting that all the above office models have to be preserved for our productive good. I must say there is some irony when those defending WFH accuse those who insist there is no productive substitute to collective working of being the modern-day equivalents of Ned Ludd. After all, this composite character captured those artisans who wanted to continue weaving textiles from their cottage looms rather than collect together in a textile mill to use “the blasted” Spinning Jenny – the tech-disrupter of its day. As for the ‘evils’ of once-contented cottage workers moving to “Satanic mills”, we must remember that working from home provided millers no security of income or chance to collectively bargain for better terms and conditions. Yes, it took time and struggle to achieve both, but achieve them they did.
I will not go into the detail of why in order to fully exploit economies of scale and division of labour, so as to be at our most productive, we need to collect together to gain critical worker mass. I want merely to make clear that it was the case in the post-industrial age, and it is no less the case in this post-ethereal one. For while we have never before had our heads so much up in the clouds, we have never more needed to have our bodies together.