No, you don’t need a commute for work-life separation. A list of fallacies on remote work

“This article has been in the making (in my mind) for a while. The trigger to actually get it out came this week, as — yet another- article came out about the ‘rebirth of the commute’ in response to people’s struggles to disconnect from, respectively get into work. “— Theodora Petra Negrea



The commute, it said, had been demonised for so long, yet look — people are struggling without it!


This exact kind of reasoning (right after prompting a tiny eye-roll) reminded me of what is probably the single most prominent reason why people still struggle to get on board with the idea of flexibility, WFH and WFA: we confuse context with cause.


Instead of looking deeply at what exactly works for us and why that is, we stay at the surface level. We look at past experience, we arbitrarily pick some contextual elements that characterised that experience and…. boom, we magically create a causal relationship between those elements and what may not be running that smoothly today.


Forgetting that we absolutely DO have the power of designing for our needs, and going with the pre-packaged solutions designed for us back in the industrial revolution. A strange collective Stockholm syndrome, of sorts.


Zooming out, this very same reasoning applies for other areas that have been so discussed in the past year:

  • the causal relationship between innovation and physical presence (instead of asking what really makes people innovate collectively, in a non-group-think, inclusive way)

  • the causal relationship between team disconnection and not being physically together (instead of asking what really creates trust, collaboration and psychological safety)

  • the causal relationship between working remotely and more time in meetings (instead of asking how can we really work better in different ways that we’ve been doing for so long)

But this cognitive link may not be so worthy of critique. We have after all, in recent decades at least, only seen work where the commute was a key part of work — albeit mostly an unpaid part.

So when our mornings blend into our working days, it’s only fair that we’ll look at the most present suspect — working from home.

So why do people confuse context with a cause? To get to the bottom of that we need to revisit some… good old logical fallacies. Specifically, a couple of them, as more than one flaw is at play here. Here we go:


Logical Fallacies on remote work


1) False Dichotomy: limiting the options to two when there are in fact more options to choose from.


You either work from the office and create good boundaries between your life and work, or work remotely and end up struggling.


(Solution: you can create that separation in a remote setting, sometimes at an even higher quality that it’s possible in office-work)


You either meet your team in person and have a keep a good relationship, or you work remotely and end up being left out.


(Solution: you should design processes to include everyone, regardless of their location)


You either have a locally based team and can build company culture, or you recruit worldwide and end up losing ‘who you really are as a company’.


(Solution: you can design for a culture where people are included regardless of location)


2) Slippery Slope: moving from a seemingly benign premise or starting point and working through a number of small steps to an improbable extreme.


We can’t allow people to work remotely without fixed office days. Next thing you know, our team identity will be gone, people will disappear somewhere in Bali, no one will ever want to work and we’ll be left without a company.


(Solution: people give quality work in return for trust and true flexibility)


3) Red Herring: distraction from the argument typically with some sentiment that seems to be relevant but isn’t really on-topic.


Person A: In hybrid settings, companies should invest in bridging the gap between those on-site and those off-site, and be conscious of proximity bias. Person B: Yes, but individual people should also strive to be included, if things go wrong it’s because they’re not trying hard enough.


(Solution: the system needs to be in place for people to be empowered, wherever they are. Of course individual responsibility is a big part but that doesn’t take away from the collective responsibility and that of leadership to create an environment where those remote aren’t taxed for being remote)


4) Post hoc/ after this-therefore because of this: mistaking something for the cause just because it came first.


We’ve seen our team disconnecting in the last year. This came after starting working from home, so it must be caused by it.


(Solution: team connection is built with intentionality, inside and outside of an office. ‘Gravity’ has been doing the job of creating at least the appearance of connection. For true bonding you’ll need more than office snacks)


Working from home in the last year has seen an increase in burn-out rates. We must return to the office to prevent this.


(Solution: one more time for those in the back row- people have not experienced actual working from home, and most likely also not working from anywhere. They’ve experienced WFH during a pandemic)


5) Extra: Plain non-sense fallacy.

A special type of fallacy found in certain executive groups and published in the media somewhere around May 2021 *cough cough* reWork *cough cough*.


The employees in the office are those most committed to their work.


(Solution: don’t listen to that particular CEO)


Conclusion

So to revisit our commute discussion, let’s dig deeper.

What is it actually about the commute that makes for that mental separation people justifiably crave?

Is it the traffic through the rain, the crowded public transport, the rushed breakfast — if any-, the leaving your bed early even though you’d love to snuggle in more?


Or is it the physical movement, the attention we put in crafting our appearance for the day, that first contact with the world outside early in the morning, the physical barrier you create by going through an activity that’s slightly more complex than simply sliding into your office chair straight from your bed?


I can safety bet it it’s the latter.


So here’s a ‘revolutionary’ idea I recently shared in response to one these news pieces on the revival of the commute:


Build your own ‘commute’ of the things you enjoy: a bike ride for the sake of it, a walk for the sake of walking.

That layer of separation we keep talking about can be self-designed and isn’t limited to routines imposed by circumstance and other people. Let’s stop assuming we need a routine imposed by those factors. We need self-discipline and consistency. That’s harder to achieve but so much more rewarding in the long run.

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