Hands down, the most unintentionally funny of the alarmist stories about remote work must be the June “news” articles warning that by 2100, teleworking would result in a generation of obese, hunchbacked, prematurely aged people with swollen eyes, their hands permanently stuck in clawing gestures from using a mouse.
Lest you worry that your great-great-grandchildren will evolve into Microsoft-proficient C.H.U.D.s, it’s probably good to note that these stories, trumpeted by tabloids like the New York Post, were the result of a 3D model produced by a U.K. office furniture manufacturer, Furniture at Work. Their solution? Ergonomic office furniture!
While there’s plenty to pick apart here — why does using a mouse at home versus an office result in clawed hands? — these stories are typical of pushback to fast-moving social and technological changes. As reported by Virginia Business Associate Editor Courtney Mabeus-Brown in our September cover story, remote and hybrid work models expedited by the pandemic are here to stay, but the effects of that — from vacant office space, empty downtown districts and less convention travel to potential impacts on company culture or employee mental health — are resulting in a transition that’s not easy for every person or industry.
Pivotal changes also can result in strong emotional responses that aren’t always based on facts. Take, for example, reports that an Amazon.com senior vice president, Mike Hopkins, spoke in favor of in-office work during a July company meeting by saying, “I don’t have data to back it up, but I know it’s better.”
There are numerous, contradictory studies around remote work, and some are suspect, depending on whether the entity supporting the study has a dog in the fight, like Furniture at Work. But you can count on one thing: Coming generations will be increasingly comfortable working remotely via a host of digital platforms, and they will not accept that work must be limited to specific locations or even times.
Remote work is hardly a new concept; one of the first media depictions of it occurs in the 1984 film, “2010: The Year We Make Contact,” in which Roy Scheider’s character uses a portable computer while sitting on a beach. “2010” was based on the writings of sci-fi novelist and futurist Arthur C. Clarke, who in 1964 uncannily predicted the rise of remote work and its impacts, telling the BBC that he believed that by the 2010s, businesspeople “will no longer commute — they will communicate. They won’t have to travel for business anymore. They’ll only travel for pleasure.”
Change is difficult, but it’s inevitable. How we respond and adapt to it proves whether we’ll be viewed as forward thinkers or the last buggy whip makers on the block.
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Packaged with this month’s issue, you’ll find copies of our annual Virginia 500 issue, listing the commonwealth’s most successful and powerful leaders. In addition to being a handy reference to Virginia’s top power players by industry, it provides a fascinating look at the journeys executives take to success.
Also this month, keen-eyed readers may notice that we have begun eliminating most corporate designations (Inc., Corp., Co., etc.) from company names in our stories. Following the lead of The Wall Street Journal and other publications, Virginia Business’ editors have decided to make this change in favor of readability and streamlining copy. (There will be exceptions for clarity or when the suffix is an important element of a company’s identity.) It’s hoped this move will eliminate some of the “alphabet soup” that can make sentences clunky and unwieldy.