With home working, self reflection becomes part of the routine
Flexible working is one of the most hotly debated side effects of lockdown – and the growing interest in its benefits and drawbacks should invite a closer inspection of other aspects of what we have come to see as millennial culture.
Flexible working, bullet-journaling, morning routines and subscription meal services are hallmarks of millennialism, and they all speak to a desire for efficiency and optimisation. This desire to get more done in less time is a clear consequence of a society which asks continuously more from the younger generations whilst they earn less. In turn, these millennial pressures have shaped the world around us: office gyms are increasingly common and “third spaces” such as coffee shops and commuter trains are nowadays expected to offer work-friendly features. Flexible working is the logical conclusion of this tendency to fetishise efficiency. It cuts out the commute and offers unprecedented freedom to allow other tasks to be completed throughout the working day.
Before the pandemic broke out, employers were beginning to accommodate young people’s demands for flexible working options, but without the catalyst of a worldwide pandemic these changes were slow: in 2019, only 5% of the UK workforce worked from home and those under 30 were much less likely to do so. This was partly due to the stubborn stereotype that home workers achieve less than their office-bound counterparts.
In April this year, around half of all workers were forced to work from home. Employers had to adapt at breakneck speed to a wholly remote workforce, resulting in a mass experiment which revealed two contrasting truths. Firstly, and importantly, a remote workforce can be effective. In many ways, the pandemic has done for aspiring home-workers what the First World War did for the female vote. The prejudices of those opposing home-working have been largely dismantled, and it is predicted that many offices will remain empty after the pandemic as a result – just as many women remained in their wartime workplaces long after the Paris Peace Conference.
MACKAYAN: WORKING FROM HOMETweet
On the other hand, the fallacious assumptions which underpin the flexible working ideal have also been debunked. The increased free time that comes from avoiding the office does not always correlate to increased productivity levels, due particularly to lockdown’s effects on mental health. Fulfilment, in turn, doesn’t necessarily follow on from having total control over how one spends their time. Assuming an individual has adequate internet and quietness, their “home office” can theoretically cater to their needs and working style to an extent that would not be possible in even the most modern office. However, an already obvious truth has become unavoidable: the more individualised your work environment, the lonelier you must necessarily be, so for many, instrumenting the “perfect working day” does not equate to having the optimum working experience.
So the pandemic encourages the questioning of millennial values – but it also encourages us to explore the classification of these values as “millennial”. It is no coincidence that cracks appeared in the do-it-all, have-it-all approach to modern life as soon as the world was forced to stop. Much of “millennial culture” is a direct result of sluggish but mobile economies, job insecurity, and a competitive housing market – these obstructive factors make the reclamation of control and the pursuit of constant improvement attractive and advantageous. Nonetheless, these trends are often framed as originating within the millennial character rather than as consequences of socio-economic factors.
According to this narrative, self-improvement books are consumed at growing rates due to self-absorption, and mood-boards and goal-setting are the result of entrepreneurship at best and entitlement at worst. COVID-19 has gone some way to clearing this up: that these behaviours face sudden interrogation when opportunity, and therefore competition, drys up is a clear indication that it was competition which engendered them in the first place. These times function as a reminder that the modern drive for hyper-efficiency should invite concern as well as admiration.