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Resistance is futile, the future is remote: Today So Far

According to one expert, "the realities of 21st century working" is that remote work is the way of doing things from here on out. This shift will take time. But are there naysayers out there?

This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for September 26, 2022.

If you're a Seattle-area company struggling with the evolution to remote and hybrid work, there is a message you need to hear: This is going to take time, so be patient. But you should probably make peace with the sobering fact that this is the way of working life from here on out.

"These are the realities of 21st century working," Anne Helen Petersen told KUOW's Seattle Now. "You can vote for the future, or you can try to hold on to those old ways of working from the past, and then pay a consulting company in five years to tell you to get with the future. Those are your options."

Petersen is the co-author of "Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working from Home."

It's hard to discuss this issue without addressing an elephant in the room — managers. Anyone who has worked in an office has their own management horror stories. Whether it's a manager who is more of a babysitter lacking any faith a job can be done without them hovering, or a manager who is a textbook case of the Peter Principle.

I don't have any evidence to back this up (aside from my own anecdotal experience through years of office work), but I have a feeling that it's managers like the ones mentioned above (and other higher ups) who are hesitant to evolve into remote work. To such managers out there: Is the job getting done, or is your ego just taking a hit when you can't physically tour around cubicles with a coffee mug, reminding people to put cover sheets on their TPS reports? Or ask yourself: Are you good at your job, or is it that you cannot adapt?

There is evidence, however, to show that this remote/hybrid evolution is growing, especially in our area. The Seattle Times reports that Seattle ranks second in the nation when it comes to remote workers. In fact, the cities that rank high on the Times' list of top remote workers align with other lists of the largest U.S. tech hubs. After a couple years shifting to remote work, there are indications that productivity has not been harmed, and has actually been improved.

"I think Seattle is really interesting test case, because you have a bunch of things going ton that you will not find in a lot of other cities," Petersen said. "First of all, you have the high concentration of tech workers, and tech companies who are very amenable to flexible work solutions, even before the pandemic."

Among other reasons Seattle can be so remote-friendly is because we don't have an option in many cases. Petersen further notes that "there have just been a number of catastrophes, for lack of a better word, with Seattle transit, and roadways, and waterways."

Such as the two-year absence of the West Seattle Bridge, or the struggles with the Washington State Ferry fleet, or how taking mass transit can take hours for simple trips. When you put that up against a commuting workforce, moving to a desk in the other room is far more efficient than losing hours en route to an office.

"It's just harder to make the case to come into the office," Pertersen said, adding that if your company is dead set on bringing people into the office, then it should also be very supportive of better mass transit.

Of course, not every region is apt for remote workforces, but when focusing on the Seattle-Bellevue-Tacoma region, I am biased toward a certain argument — that we can only build so much to accommodate the growth we are experiencing. Roads can only be so big. Housing can only come along so fast. Remote work is emerging to be one solution to the challenges. At some point, employees are going to do the math. They will realize that your office is not worth the commute, which only gets more frustrating as they are forced to move farther and farther out of town in search of scarce affordability (one estimate I found states that a person needs to earn between $84,000 and $124,000 to comfortably live in Seattle).

In full disclosure, I am writing this newsletter from a home office outside of Seattle. KUOW has a remote work agreement with its staff and I have a bias when it comes to this issue. Frankly, as someone who works in the online space, this was not a difficult transition for me nor was it for some colleagues. Not every person or job has this capability. And not every organization will be able to flip a switch so easily and jump right into remote work. It's going to be an "awkward period for while," as Petersen puts it. It will take time to settle into the norm of remote and hybrid work.

"We're not going to figure out hybrid working quickly," Petersen said. "Hybrid working is the most difficult of all options. It is going to be really difficult to fine tune. Some companies are going to give up on it because it's so difficult, but at the same time, I don't think you can go back to working full time in the office. That ship has sailed."

One final thought, a life hack for those who remain going into the office, forced into performative productivity. A wise man once said: When you cross paths with someone at the office, just look annoyed. You always look busy when you're annoyed.

Hear Petersen's full conversation, with more insights, on Seattle Now.

AS SEEN ON KUOW

caption: A sign held at a protest in Bellevue reads "woman life freedom" in Kurdish.
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A sign held at a protest in Bellevue reads "woman life freedom" in Kurdish.
Credit: KUOW photo

On Sunday, hundreds of protestors gathered in Bellevue to demand justice for Mahsa Amini. The 22-year woman died in Iranian police custody earlier this month. (KUOW)

DID YOU KNOW?

National Coffee Day is just a couple days away on Sept. 29. And the party will keep going because International Coffee Day is on Oct. 1. I have no idea who is behind these "holidays," and frankly I celebrate coffee everyday.

Most coffee comes from tropical areas, but some is actually grown in the United States. To be accurate, it is grown in two states — Hawaii and California. Hawaiian coffee is called "Kona" coffee and is generally grown at Hualalai and Mauna Loa on the Big Island. Only coffee grown from these farms can be called "Kona." California has about 30 coffee farms with roughly 30,000 trees. The effort to grow coffee there began in the early 2000s and has been expanding. The California coffee scene is still relatively small, so Californian coffee is known to be pretty expensive.

Despite being nowhere near coffee-growing regions, Seattle is known as a coffee town. It recently ranked as the second "best" coffee city in the USA, despite not ranking too high on individual categories. Seattle comes in 5th for coffee manufacturers per capita; 7th when it comes to spending on coffee per household; 30th for coffee shops per capita; and 54th for homes that have coffee makers. I feel we can do better.

One last point, and this is my own personal stance: Coffee is hot water and grounds, aka drip coffee or black coffee. It can be percolated, etc. but that's what coffee is. That's it. All those other drinks (from lattes to cappuccinos or mochas) have coffee in them, but they are not strictly coffee. And if you disagree, don't get mad if you ask for a whiskey and someone brings you a scotch sour.

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