Does ‘work-from-home’ betray the 19th Century Luddites?

Would the 19th century Luddites, predecessors of modern labor activists, support the implementation or move to suppress this suddenly popular ‘work-from-home’ movement?

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Are we betraying the Luddite vision of a healthy and happy work environment?

Technologies, and the new imperative are creating a fertile petri dish for development and discovery of new ‘work from home’ protocols.

Petri dish;HA! This is an improvised cauldron brewing up a tempting mulligan stew that has the potential to forever alter the social fabric of business and commerce. Not everyone at home is working.

Is the Covid-19 virus becoming an excuse for something the Luddites fought against?

The accepted view is that the people identified as Luddites, then and now, oppose new technologies. That’s not strictly the truth. It’s not that a Luddite fights against technology and innovation per se, but they definitely were and are against the displacement of workers, the changing tone of work and the workplace, and the impact on the home.

What is the impact of the work-from-home mentality on the worker homelife?

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  • Not every job can be done effectively and efficiently from home.
  • Most urban homes, especially apartments don’t offer the elbow room a home worker and their family need. Does the work-from-home employee have the technology at home to support their job role? Is the employer able to provide the tech and support needed?
  • Schedules are up-ended. Trying to establish a realistic and workable daily timetable can become problematic. The temptation to do additional work tasks at the end of the work day becomes hard to resist, as does the temptation to focus on household chores, and idle entertainments..
  • Balancing the needs of everyone in the household becomes very important, especially issues of childcare and supervision.
  • The household changes size and shape, demanding greater participation from the extended family. Grandparents take on a larger role.
  • Focus changes dramatically from moment-to-moment.

One of the things that was raised during the Luddite riots in the early 19th century was the perception and the fear that technology was being implemented in a ‘fraudulent and deceitful manner’ by the owners and operators of the big manufacturing plants that drew people to the cities. The technologies were making the tasks easier, more efficient and were creating a safer workplace. However the profits from the increased efficiencies were not being passed on to the workers.

We are already seeing how the idea of ‘working from home’ is being perceived as a platform that is empowering the less scrupulous leaders of industry to reduce pay, short benefits programs, and turn the nature of the gig economy on its head.

However, the employer isn’t always the bad guy, but human nature being what it is, we’re very quick to judge. Anecdotally we’re seeing abuses on both sides. And it is unfortunate that we need to chose sides during the pandemic.

What sort of horror stories are you hearing about?

  • Are all workers doing a good day’s work for fair pay? We’ve heard of a number of ‘terminations’ of workers who have allowed their productivity to slide. We hear of workers who have allowed their side-hustles to overwhelm their working day while still drawing down on their primary boss’s compensation schemes. Taking compensation from two sources while doing neither job effectively is being done shamelessly.
  • We’ve even heard the excuse that the babysitting needs of friends and neighbors trump the employment agreement.
  • The supervisor who is a bully in the office is reportedly worse in the work-from-home environment structure. Demands are made of employees to be productive outside of what is considered regular hours of work and appropriate compensation is not forthcoming.
  • The faults and shortcomings of leaders and managers with questionable skills are amplified in the ‘work-from-home’ environments. Disorganized, poor communicators are further confusing the plight of the stay-at-home worker.
  • Workers are being tasked with job roles that they weren’t hired for and may not be qualified for. We know of one copy writer who has been assigned the task of IT Systems Support without adequate training or tools. The threat is that if she can’t ‘step up’ she won’t have a job at all.

So many of these challenges would normally be addressed in the workplace, where workers and managers have access to colleagues to have that five minute ‘water cooler’ chat to get advice.

Human beings are social creatures. Most of us like to be surrounded by our peers. Most often we excel when working with and being cheered on by like-minded people. Many of the creatives among us do like to create in isolation but in the end the goal is the presentation of their creations to people. Is this validation or vanity? It doesn’t matter, really, it’s still about the human condition and the need for others. And this is part of what the original Luddites were pitching. Technology is good if it serves the worker.

Does modern technology serve the worker?

Is the cloud, AI, virtual meetings and the work-from-home culture detrimental to the efficiency and effectiveness of the modern knowledge worker, or is technology generally driving a wedge between the interactions among workers?

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Check out this article from the Smithsonian Magazine about the Luddite movement and what it stood for;

What the Luddites really fought for.

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