(If you want more analysis, read this fine piece by my colleague Greg Bensinger, a member of the Times editorial board, on what it will take for Agrawal to fix the company, including cleaning up bots and misinformation. And, here, The Times’s Kevin Roose looked at the restlessness of tech moguls like Dorsey.)
I connected with Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen about the future of work. Warzel is a former Opinion writer for The Times and now writes the Galaxy Brain newsletter for The Atlantic; Petersen is the author of several books and the Culture Study newsletter at Substack. Their forthcoming book is “Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working From Home.” I’ve edited their answers.
The pandemic greatly shifted how we work and will work going forward. Do you think those changes are permanent or will most of us drift back into the office?
Warzel: The biggest thing that’s changed is that for years bosses told employees the office was central to productivity and that all hell would break loose if too many people worked from home. That turned out to be mostly false, and now workers are wondering what other corporate maxims were B.S.
Everyone is going to find their own balance when it comes to where people are working. There are advantages to episodic office work and it’s silly to pretend otherwise. But I also don’t think humans are meant to toil in one spot 40-plus hours a week and so there’ll be a lot of finding the right equilibrium.
Petersen: The hybrid work ship has sailed. Or to use another metaphor from politics: When you give people an “entitlement” (like, say, Social Security or Medicare), there is truly no way of rolling it back without a massive backlash. Hence, the real resistance to any organization that is pushing people back into the office full time (or even with mandatory full-time days). I’ve been particularly surprised to see industries that have been historically super resistant to change, like law firms, try to figure out a way forward that affords a modicum of flexibility.
This is the future. Organizations that resist it are going to have massive issues with attrition and hiring. And if they don’t, they’re going to end up with a work force of white dudes who either don’t have care responsibilities or have figured out a way to offload them onto someone else.
What will work and life look like after the pandemic?
What are the pros of being out of the office? What are the cons?
Petersen: Pros: Not having to expend the energy to make yourself “professional” in whatever capacity (generally a lot more work for women; also a lot of work and discomfort for nonbinary people when dress for their industry is often really gender-conforming). Commuting when it’s most convenient. The ability to segment your day to better accommodate child-care pickups and drop-offs, elder-care responsibilities, therapy appointments, just general life. Less office generally means less white-male-office-monoculture, so a lot fewer microaggressions. Just to start.