As Perks Become Problems

The lilacs are busting loose.

A few Saturday’s ago, my random thoughts, urged on by Linda’s prompt and the background image on my laptop, took me into the world of remote work. Beginning in the late 90s, and continuing for about 15 years, we called remote work “telecommuting.” Prior to the mid-90s, we called it a vacation day – as in, if you couldn’t make it to work due to bad weather, school closings, car trouble, or any of a few dozen other reasons, you took the day off – if you could. Some people are still in that situation.

A few days before that post, my friend Mary, wrote a post for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday prompt titled “Ordinary.” The post was anything but. It was interesting, and as I read it the seeds of this post started to sprout.

It was 5:00 am. I was working at home, collaborating with a colleague (David, you met David here) in England on a programming project that resides on a server in our office in CT. I was trying to get an answer for David before he stopped for lunch. Unfortunately, I ran into a technical problem with the whole ‘remote work’ thing.

By 6:25 am. One of my coworkers, working from home because schools were closed in anticipation of a major snow storm, had solved the problem.

In between the error being discovered, reported and solved, I sent a status update to David, got another cup of coffee, consoled Maddie who was upset by the approaching storm, and read Mary’s blog.

I thought: “Wow! What a day for her to raise the issue of what’s ordinary?

The working arrangement I described above, IS ordinary. I remember when it wasn’t. On a day like that, when I was the guy solving technical problems, I’d climb into my 4WD pickup and drive through the snow storm to get to work. If I called someone in England, I would make the call as short as possible due to the extremely high cost of an international long-distance call. If I needed help, my coworker would pack up his kid(s) and join me in the office.

That may seem archaic today. Such a working arrangement is beyond the imagination of many of today’s younger workers, certainly the ones in my industry. And yet, I take this ordinary luxury for granted. The day before that storm, I took my laptop home, fully expecting everything to work, just as it did. I expected that any problems that might occur could be resolved without disrupting my plans. A problem did occur, and it was resolved, and it didn’t disrupt.

I don’t feel guilty about my situation. I have worked for over 40 years to help make technology like this ordinary. When I was first asked to make it possible for some of my coworkers to telecommute, it was a difficult and expensive undertaking. It’s easier and less expensive now, but this technology isn’t helping everyone.

As I write this. the Connecticut Legislature is trying to pass a “fair working hours” bill. In the absence of this bill, part-time, often low wage workers leave work not knowing when or even if they will work tomorrow. This situation makes it difficult for them to plan for child care. It makes their weekly wage an uncertain thing and it often prevents them from working at a second job or attending school. It sounds absurd, but from their employers’ point of view, it may be the only way a small operation can stay in business.

I mention “fair working hours” for two reasons. One is to call attention to the ways in which some people, people who are willing to work, are kept among the ranks of the “working poor” because they work where labor is simply another just-in-time commodity. I also mention it because people like me, people who can easily work remotely, might one day find themselves in that same situation – and that day might not be that far in the future.

Today, remote work is a perk, a convenience offered to employees, a way to keep those employees working in the face of a snow storm. Tomorrow, remote work might be the way companies outsource small bits of work that are currently assigned to a full-time employee. Technology workers might find themselves working for multiple employers (none of whom provide benefits), perhaps during a single day, all from a home office in which they pay all the bills.

Many consultants work like this today, but they have specialized skills that are in high demand and command a high hourly rate. In the future, people with ordinary skills that are only needed a day here and a day there, might find themselves being labeled consultants, and they might find themselves among the working poor.


As we look around, we’re starting to see a few signs of spring.

67 thoughts on “As Perks Become Problems

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  1. Hi Dan! It dos look like Spring is finally giving you the eye. Thank goodness. I do get what you are saying. Even on LinkedIn, as a writer by passion my eye is always on opportunities which might afford me the cahnce to do something I truly love. More and more I see ads for content writers but not just travel jobs. They appear to be for major companies like Netflix, companies based out of dofferent states and all jobs i feel certain at some point were done by cubicle inhabitants or better yet, real office workers. My son is a program writer so often even on his ‘vacations’ will say he has a bit of work to do and sits with his laptop for a few hours. Right now he has benefits and the comapny is amazing to him. I wonder, however, if what you describe will affect him at some point. I hope not. He is just getting himself grounded. Good luck with your situation. The good news for us approaching the end of our careers is that some of these changes will affect us minimally. But we have our own worries with SS….😏

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It WAS looking like spring. We woke up to a white-covered world. Even Maddie was confused. Saturday, we were sitting, and now the yard is covered in snow – again! It will be gone by the time I get home. It’s supposed to hit 50, and were supposed to get 2″ of rain :(

      I think we’re OK in our small company, because people already wear multiple hats. I think doing many things is safer than doing one thing, these days. I wish all the younger folks a decent career. I think it’s going to be harder for them than we can imagine.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. I know a lot of consultants already. On the plus side, make your own hours. On the down side… well, you covered it. We’re all just little random cogs who work when and where we can. Never forget that, I guess.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The benefits from working outside the office are many. But, there is no real ‘vacation’ anymore because something is dinging at you 24/7. And, then there is the topic of the many employers working below ‘full’ time and receiving zero benefits which is a subject matter I dealt with for years in my HR days. Bottom line – it’s all about the money.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Judy – you are so right about the money. If there’s a cheaper way to do it, count on it being considered. There’s no real vacation, and business travel is just crazy. I was at a conference last week. I was speaking to a woman who was moaning that her company paid thousands of dollars to send her there, but then required her to miss 4 hours of the conference to be on a phone call that had very little to do with her job. The problem is, when you’re gone, there’s no one who can fill in, any more.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve been away for the past 3 days in Pennsylvania enjoying the balmy temperatures …. just to come back to a major ice storm.

    Our power just came back on about 30 minutes ago after being out since around 9:30 last night.
    That whole question of going to work or not is weighing heavily on our household this morning since our youngest son is temporarily with us again since he got a new job in Toronto a few weeks ago. Working remotely is not an option for him right now. It brings back a lot of memories of white-knuckling it to work.

    Being in privacy and security, I too remember those early days of resolving the issues with working from home. The standalone files downloaded to a portable computer were one thing, but the networking for server accesses were another. Suddenly I feel very old 😖

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Today’s technology does make me feel old, Joanne. I find myself wanting to say “when I did that job, we had…” I feel good about all we’ve accomplished, but I shake my head at how different it has become in the last five years. Who knows what the next five will bring.

      Sorry to hear about your power. I hope it stays back on. We had snow and ice overnight, but it has turned to rain, and rain and apparently, more rain is coming.

      Like

  5. When I first went off work on Long Term Disability Leave we tried to see if I could work from home. Unfortunately the Police had a closed system so it wouldn’t work. I wonder if it is possible now with the new technologies around? I am so glad I’m retired! Love the pictures of MiMi and Maddie.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can understand that (both the systems challenge and the happiness with being retired). It’s relatively easy to handle business transactions, even secure business transactions. But, there are still systems that are so secure or need to be isolated for one reason or the other, that remote access isn’t desired. It isn’t always a technical issue. Thanks for adding your experience to the mix, Pam.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Working from home has its benefits, but now we have gone to twinning our phones so we can also take calls at home. PTO or working from home? It’s all such a blur. MiMi is so cute and the mama squirrels…..gotta get smaller peanuts, Dan, for those little babies!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Lois. It’s getting really hard to draw the line between work and life when trying to find that work/life balance. My work email has been actively following me for over 10 years. My phone and voicemail follow me, too. I actually find it easier to deal with some email, from home, during a commercial break, for example, than finding it all in my inbox in the morning. Then again, I’m mostly trying to politely ignore a vendor, so… But, when you’re working with people in other time zones, it’s hard to say when the day begins or ends.

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    1. I’m sorry for you. I’m sure Gibbs would appreciate your being able to work from home (although he might not understand that you have to work). Maddie visits me during the day, but I work from a desk in the bedroom where she doesn’t spend much time. I don’t get to work from home very often.

      I had to do a little shoveling this morning, but it’s mostly a rain event for us.

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        1. And maybe a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack and snuggle?

          It’s funny, because I eat less when I am working at home. At work, I snack, as a way of getting up from my desk and walking around. At home, it’s way more natural.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. What a sweet shed! And multiple doors, too. :) That picture of the leaf on the porch is frame-worthy.

    As a writer, I work remotely, too. I remember the days when manuscripts had to be typed on physical paper and mailed — with return postage included — to places we hoped might publish our work. We called it Post Office Roulette. Computers can drive ya crazy, but Mr. One and Mr. Zero are my besties, all in all.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks! I like remote work when I get to work from home when the office is open. When everyone is working from home, I inherit a portion of the support-everyone-else load – that’s not nearly as much fun.

      Messrs One and Zero have paid the bills around here for a good long time – we’re good buddies.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Dilbert once wrote “It is wise to centralize all that is decentralized and decentralize all that is centralized.” This can be said of outsourcing and telecommuting too. The outsourcing boom was followed by an insourcing boom and telecommuters were told to show up in the office more often.

    Back in 2014, the State of Minnesota consolidated their IT functions under one massive organization. Soon after, I met my new boss, a man who didn’t know our staff and didn’t know our business. He then declared an end to telecommuting, saying that we need to present “a presence to our customers”. I gave my two weeks notice.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’ve seen that go both ways as well in this industry. One insurance company in Hartford actually had a big blurb about the benefits of telecommuting, including how much more productive their staff was, on their website for several years.

      Then they ended it. They had actually recruited people who didn’t live close enough to commute to the office, and then told them to show up on Monday.

      “a presence to our customers” Translation: “I don’t believe you’re actually working, unless I see you at your desk.”

      Like

  9. I’m so happy to be retired and not have to live in fear that my job could be outsourced, downsized, automated, or eliminated all together. I’m not sure what changes we’ll see in the employment landscape over the next decade, but I am concerned that many will find themselves unable to generate an adequate income.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m pretty sure my job will be here until I retire, but I know a lot of people who can’t make that statement. Employment is going to go through a lot of changes in the next 5-10 years. I was downsized once, back in 1981, which is when I moved from Seattle to Hartford. I survived downsizing in the 90s, but my job changed in many ways as I inherited what “that guy used to do.”

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi Dan – I have to say … I didn’t climb high – but I was able to have a job … and generally now have a reasonable life – but certainly feel for the not so educated etc … I think there’s opportunities for many – just a way is needed to appreciate that we need to think and help others, by looking outside the box.

    Also there is still this expectation that everyone needs a job – and that doesn’t help … if we were all trained to help ourselves, have courses which we could learn doing things we enjoy etc … it’s all too based on one size fits all and that our ‘experts’ resources perhaps need to be addressed in more purposeful ways. Well done to you – and good to read – cheers Hilarty

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Hilary. The broad view is that automation will eliminate some jobs but open up others. Unfortunately, they aren’t considering the time lag between those tow trends. You’re right, it isn’t a one size fits all world, but lots of decision makers treat it like it is. We’ve been through similar changes in the past, but none have arrived with the velocity of the current wave.

      Like

  11. Remote work probably wouldn’t suffice for me. I don’t have the mindset for it. Instead of keeping my nose to the grindstone, I would find myself playing with the dog, writing blog posts or just futzing around. I prefer to work in an office, although I refuse to take work home or to connect to the office email system – once I’m home, I’m home. Fortunately, my job is the type that if the weather is bad enough, I simply don’t go in. I don’t have any projects that can’t be put on hold for a day or two.

    Although that could all change if I found just the right gig that I could work from home, so long as I could make my own hours. These days, anything is possible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We negotiate special deals with employees when circumstances dictate. We have several who live or have needed to move out of state. We let people flex hours around school kids and stuff like that, but not on a daily basis. There has to be an agreed upon schedule.

      Working at home requires a bit of discipline. I don’t work at home often, but when I do, I work from a desk, in relative isolation.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. We’re cognizant of the issues you raise, Dan, as my husband currently works from home all time, a situation he loves. Where else can you work in shorts/sweats and a T-shirt, take a nap if there’s time and you need one, or play PlayStation games to relax at off times. He’s in IT with lots of hours over 40, so it’s not as though he’s cheating the company or taking time off. But he has a (more than) full time job with benefits, something that’s not necessarily the norm any longer.

    I’ve worked part time in two different small businesses over the last three years and I can see the problem from both sides. Many small businesses can’t afford to hire a number of full time people and pay benefits. But there are also companies large and small who just make sure they have almost all part time people, thus avoiding higher wages and benefits. Not like it used to be. Our older daughter has always had a job with salary and benefits. The younger has had one several times, although the salary was hourly, something new to me, and she’s also had to work a number of part time jobs just to make it. Lots of difficult situations these days with no clear-cut answers.

    Raising the minimum wage sounds great, but would also put many smaller businesses out of business and people out of work at other places, so it’s difficult to know what’s best.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking article. We had snow here this morning, too, but it’s just enough above freezing now that it’s melted, but we’re not warm. :-) Oh, spring, come quickly!!

    janet

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for adding that, Janet. It’s interesting to read about the real life situations. We’ve seen a bit of a pushback around here, with several companies eliminating the option to work from home. They point to studies that show innovation happens in a collective environment.

      I don’t have the answers, but I think the questions will continue to get harder before we find them.

      Our snow turned to rain but it hasn’t melted yet.

      Like

  13. My first “real” job was wth Standard-Vacuum Oil Company, where I was introduced to the electric typewriter and the Pneumatic Tube! Woohoo! I worked in the Transcription Pool. If you needed 6 copies of a letter, you added 6 sheets of ‘onion skin’ to the original and 6 sheets of carbon paper. And good luck erasing if you made a typo ! 😃

    But, we had job security, health insurance, vacation time, sick time and personal time. Raises were almost automatic.

    The work force today lives in limbo. No job security. Constant downsizing. Companies just going out of business. More and more hard-working people join the ranks of the ‘working poor’ every day.

    I’m not sorry to be out of the workforce. I have enough problems with Social Security and Medicare! Lol.
    🔹Ginger🔹

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have to admit to writing software that put many of those people out of work. Usually, they found other jobs in the company. Companies that were automating back then were usually growing. I’ve gone through the “automate this so we can downsize” phase too. Those were difficult times.

      The companies that go out of business and the reopen under another name, but with different staff, lower rent, etc. really bother me. We had s furniture store that had a going out of business sale every summer.

      I appreciate the comment, Ginger. I’m not sure if we’ll find answers to these issues but sooner or later something’s going to have to change.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Some wonderful thoughts here – the appreciation for remote work and how we are all interconnected. It is true that this kind of work could be exploited by big companies in the future in a bigger way than is already happening. If a company is not that ethical it could and often does leave free lancers in a place where they are never sure of anything.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment. A lot of companies working the “sharing economy” do this as a normal means of operating. People don’t tend to think about these issues affecting them, until they do.

      Like

  15. With all the technology, it looks like working from home will become popular in the near future. I myself have worked remotely for quite many years and am loving the flexibility. Love the pictures as always! Yay, Spring is coming!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Ah was it ever really a perk ? Before working remote there was this concept of being on call. If something broke people were responsible to come in and fix the problem. Fix it anytime night or day, weekend or holiday. Sometimes there was a separation between support staff and project staff. Sometimes there was no separation. Now with cell phone technology workers are basically on call 24 x 7. Or let’s just say it like it is – always on call. Sleep, family, health may or may not fit into the equation. Sometimes this was dependent on a certain manager. Sometimes it is a top down attitude in the business.

    All this brings me to the question : do businesses work under the same ethical rules they expect of their employees ? Is profit/success the only measure of a good business ?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You raise a good question, John. I remember when business travel, days off and vacations were times when you were out of touch. These days. I don’t even set an “out of office” rule or change my voice mail, because they follow me wherever I go. On the train, on a plane, home, leisure, to bed. We are on call for emergencies, and I accept that (and I help make it possible), but sometimes, the “emergency” is something that could surely wait.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Distinct signs of spring on their way, for sure. My favorite is to watch the daffodils pop their little yellow heads. Probably safe to say goodbye to winter. Spring is particularly well earned and well deserved this year for New Englanders.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Dan, great shots of spring! Your post gave me pause for thought. How ordinary work might end up outsourced. Some outsourced technicians today in other countries speak difficult to understand English. Not much help if we can’t understand them. That would hold true for company consultants too. Not a good thing. 😕 Christine

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Christine. Hopefully, I will be retired before I am forced to deal with people that can’t communicate well. It’s sad, because for every job I’ve ever had, I was told that strong written and verbal communication skills were critical. I guess that’s not such a hard requirement, if we can save a ton of money.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know. Strong communication skills are slowly becoming a thing of the past. I’m retired and faced with telemarketing calls at home. Robot messages and people named Todd or Bob from India! Give me a break! 😬

        Liked by 1 person

  19. I have some consulting friends and some IT friends who work from home most days. They seem to enjoy it, although yeah, the code guy writes for two employers full-time and still doesn’t get benefits. Most of the work I do could be done from home, but this is not offered — not in the last three places I’ve worked. However, after I left one job, Mentor worked from home for a few weeks because there was a mold infestation in the building and she had a bad reaction, receiving doctor’s orders. By the time Boss got a new office, Mentor had already moved on. She said she was much more productive from home. I don’t know that I would share that sentiment. Being home too much worsens my anxiety level.
    All my writing gigs are at home. They’re also done in the blink of an eye and don’t earn much. I’d need 20 a day to feel like I was working!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am more productive at home, but I carefully choose when I work from home based on what I have to accomplish. If it’s a solitary task, I can fly at home. But if I need input, I prefer face-to-face as opposed to phone/Skype/email.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. I have a Forsythia bush right next to the deck in my backyard. I’ve tried to shape it every year, yet it always gets out of hand. I’m thinking about pulling it out.

    My husband is in the ranks of the working poor. We wouldn’t be able to make it except we have his retirement income from the military. At least that’s the way it’s been since we both got on SS too. Life is more of a financial challenge in American these days. I personally think it’s going to get worse too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it will get worse as time rolls forward, Glynis. Life is a challenge for more people than politicians understand or acknowledge.

      As for shaping Forsythia, like you, I have tried in vain to take some that were out of control when we bought this place. It’s a never-ending battle.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. My ex-husband I met in college goes to countries to “trouble shoot” (for computer systems) for Lexis Nexis. I am not sure why traveling overseas occurs, couldn’t he do remote work in this way you do, Dan? Maybe I am not sure what his job entails. When we were married he worked for National Supply (division of Armco steel) on a computer in Logan, Ohio. Anyway, we are of course friends due to sharing grandies. It always makes me laugh because in college for his computer lab classes I would go in, sign for him, put the time down and leave. It would have improved my life in some ways to have just gone in there and worked on the computer (1974-78). My Dad loved computers and taught all of my kids how to use the newest ones since he was a “gadget and equipment” lover. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s about two years after I was learning the same skills. I guess those skills led us all in different directions. I moved coast to coast twice. My dad didn’t live to see personal computers grow to the industry they have become but he saw the start and was happy he supported me in this field.

      Like

  22. Great post, Dan….I am aware of some of the larger credit card issuers using more and more part time and full time employees working from home. Saves expenses in adding more and more space in major call centers and with todays technology they can monitor and control calls just as easily to a home office as to a cubicle amongst thousands of others. Good friend of mine who is an engineer with Honeywell manages an international group from a home office…works across a number of time zones on projects…but it works well for all….again…great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Kirt. It can work very well, with the right people in both the workforce and the management group. We didn’t save much money allowing remote work, but we made people’s lives easier. We have some folks who travel almost every other week. Letting them work from home in other weeks helps to let them catch up.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. I came across your site after doing a search for “perks” “problems” etc.. very thoughtful and I will be back to read more! I’ve worked in the tech industry since the first dot com era and its been really interesting to see where we are today – some good – some not so good trends. I find it truly interesting to think about what we needed to do our jobs 25 years ago and what we think we need today. Not sure where its all going but I remember thinking it was cool we had fresh cream for our coffee. lol Thanks for a great site!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for visiting. I was thinking about this same subject this morning while watching a Jacob Morgan video abut 24-hour work weeks. I don’t know where the workplace is heading, but I think I’m glad to be nearing retirement age.

      Like

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