For those of us whose workplaces closed down during the COVID-19 pandemic, the past two years have meant balancing Zoom calls, remote schooling and everything else from our kitchen tables. But, Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen argue in Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working From Home, working from home is not what we’ve been doing. “You were laboring in confinement and under duress. . . . Work became life and life became work. You weren’t thriving. You were surviving,” they write.
With Out of Office, Warzel, a tech writer, and Petersen, a culture writer and the author of Can’t Even, aim to show that done right, remote work can make both workers and their communities happier and healthier. Warzel and Petersen have worked remotely since 2017, when they left New York City for Montana, and although this isn’t a memoir, their experiences inform this book.
Out of Office first offers a brief history of American office work, touching on productivity culture, corporate cost-cutting, chronic understaffing, ever-expanding work hours, startup culture, burnout and the disconnect between a company’s stated values and the way employees are actually treated. Breaking their theme into four big concepts (flexibility, culture, office technologies and community), Warzel and Petersen offer a number of suggestions based on remote workers’ pandemic experiences, as well as on a handful of companies that tried to make flexible work culture a priority long before the pandemic. Some suggestions are simple—such as to standardize Zoom backgrounds for meetings so no one feels self-conscious about their messy kitchen. Others are complicated and far-reaching, like to create real trust throughout an organization and to make child care a national priority, with a living wage for child care workers. Near its end, the book takes a turn toward self-help, asking readers to recall what they loved to do when they were young, from riding bikes to playing cards with a grandparent to singing. These things can provide a first step toward prioritizing one’s self and life rather than work, the authors argue.
Out of Office is a well-researched, timely and mostly persuasive book that asks both workers and managers to reimagine the concept of work in a post-pandemic world.