Work without geography?

Exchanging experiences of teleworking with a few colleagues earlier this week, teleworking seemed to be working so well for some of us that we could imagine never returning to campus. Later the same week the ABC reported on the possibility of people using work-from-home arrangements to move to regional cities. All this gave me an image of a geography-free workplace populated entirely by “e-changers” and “globots” who do the organisation’s work while living wherever they liked.

I’d already gone some way down the e-changing path before the pandemic started, and not having to travel to campus certainly has its advantages for me, but I don’t think I’m ready to completely give up in-person work. Being at home all of the time gets monotonous; there are things that are easier and more pleasant to do in-person even in a job that mostly involves sitting in front of a computer; I sometimes appreciate the discipline that going to an office gives me; and at times I’ve wished I’d never have to sit through a webinar ever again.

Furthermore, some research I did into part-time workers earlier this year turned up an observation that most of what gets written about flexible working hours and remote work is written from the points of view of flexible workers—including most or all of what I’ve cited above—without considering the points of view of their co-workers. Workers able to take advantage of flexible working hours are generally quite happy about it; but their colleagues are not always so happy about being unable to contact someone because it’s that person’s day off. I particularly miss the serendipitous meetings and conversations that I’d have while on campus but that rarely or never occur while I’m at home with webinars and e-mail.

Perhaps there are ways around this, and maybe our COVID-19 experience will spur us to think of what they might be. But even so I guess I still feel enough attachment to place that I’d like to work somewhere with which I can have some physical association, even if I only go there once a week or so. Maybe it’s because I like my local area and I want my place of work to be a part of it. Or maybe I’m just more parochial than the jet-setting citizen of the world that my academic work and travel habits might make me look.

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