The New York Times decided to piss me off this morning with yet another piece in which an outlet tries to give a sympathetic ear to those who want to send people back to work. It’s a classic narrative where young people are framed as privileged whiners, who are “especially attached to the new way of doing business.”
They describe the generational gap, something I wrote about better and in more detail last week, in the same joyless, objective prose that always somehow benefits those in power:
And in many cases, the decision to return pits older managers who view working in the office as the natural order of things against younger employees who’ve come to see operating remotely as completely normal in the 16 months since the pandemic hit. Some new hires have never gone into their employers’ workplace at all.
They also include one of the funniest quotes I’ve ever seen in my life:
“Frankly, they don’t know what they’re missing, because we have a strong culture,” Mr. Gross said. “Creative development and production requires face-to-face collaboration. It’s hard to have a brainstorm on a Zoom call.”
David Gross, who is a 40-year-old executive of an advertising agency that claims to be “built to navigate this new world…and work smarter,” seems to not be able to justify his culture, but the Glassdoor for Anchor Worldwide sure does:
The company is growing but, at it’s current stage, it can feel like you’ve crashed someone’s party. Cliques make it difficult to progress advance. -
Scary unprofessional at times. Extremely inappropriate comments have been thrown around at Happy Hours etc. and no one seems to care/be concerned. No HR department to confidentially raise it to either.
Adversarial relationships between teams. First company where I’ve felt and heard others say that a certain team is “always fighting” another team.
Creative echo chamber. Homogeneous creative team that champions the same kind of ideas again and again. -Recent rescinding of unlimited PTO and other perks
Another reports a culture that has “boys club vibes.” All of these are very much available online, and I would have really rounded out this article which liberally quotes a guy who claims he is in a “progressive industry” and has a “strong culture.” As I’ve written before, what people usually refer to as “office culture” is mostly the shared abuses that you accept at the place you work. Without knowing Mr. Gross, I would assume he is one of the many managers or executives that feels as if they’re getting a raw deal from this whole “being in power” thing. Not having an office to walk around means that he can’t set up happy hours where people say things that should be reported to the HR team he doesn’t have.
Despite likely having worked remotely for over a year, he feels something is “missing,” and resents the young people have “taken away” from him, because they refuse to come back to the office for no good reason.
The piece quotes two young people, including a “young person” who quit his job (he is 33-years-old) because he couldn’t work remote, but continually commits almost every sin that a piece about the remote divide can have, quoting another manager - an “older millennial” called Jonathan Singer (37-years-old) who claims that “it’s really hard to get cohesion and collegiality without being together on a regular basis,” before showing his own ass and saying “with the leverage that employees have, and the proof that they can work from home, it’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube.” Even in a manager-heavy, pro-office piece, they can’t even justify going back - the interviewee even says that it’s a “doctrinaire view” that folks need to be back in the office.
Just like every one of these pieces, the cardinal sin is the amount of space given to people who want to complain that people want to work remotely. The CEO of a company called Rebellion Research “hopes peer pressure and the fear of missing out on a promotion for lack of face-to-face interactions entices people back,” one of the more nakedly evil things I’ve seen published on the subject, saying that “those people might lose their jobs because of natural selection,” with absolutely no commentary on why that sucks and why that’s evil.
Why? Because I believe a lot of the people writing on this subject have the same view of these CEOs - that part of the deal of hiring people is that you get to move them around and dance for you in whatever way you see fit. By speaking to a lot of managers and CEOs, and giving them as much space in an article as possible, they’re subtly nodding to these people that yes, when you hire someone, you own them, their time and their energy, and they must do everything you say in whatever way you want.
There is absolutely no reason to give leaders who are anti-remote work uncritically published quotes about how people should come back to the office. Framing them as people dealing with a problem rather than a cultural shift is anti-worker, and continually treating “young people” (you are not young in your 30s, sorry) as demanding is genuinely harmful - it empowers the powerful for no reason other than if you happen to agree with them. A piece like this should have framed these managers - with actual words written by the two reporters who wrote this - as dinosaurs - not because of an opinion, but because they are making inefficient demands of people that have proven that remote work is productive, based on their own quotes.
Frankly, judging this as a “generational gap” in and of itself is disingenuous unless you frame it as older people not being willing to move into the future, and then penetrate and analyze those feelings. Without asking probing questions and making people justify the actual work that happens in the office, you are letting them off the hook.
Ultimately, framing this as a “want” is what the problem is - this is not something that people are asking for because it’s nice, but because it’s as efficient or more efficient than being in the office, and there is very little in the way of a justification as to why they should have to give it up.