Disney employees have been told by the top boss that they are expected to return to work four days a week from March 1. Working from home – since corona, the ‘new normal’ has already been reversed at Apple, Uber and Twitter. Well, that idiot from Twitter is an outside category, but in America they are more energetic in most areas.
Of course, there are jobs where it literally doesn’t matter whether someone is in the office, at home or on the beach in Bali. There is simply a certain amount of work to be done, a work to be done no matter where or when. As long as it’s done on time. People who work in IT can relate to that; as long as the internet connection is working properly.
However, Disney CEO Robert Iger places great value on the connection, observation and creativity that occurs when colleagues meet physically. He sees creativity as “the heart and soul of who we are and what we do at Disney.”
During my time at the newspaper, more than 100 journalists shared a large newsroom. In the early years, we did not work on computers, but on noisy typewriters with a bell at the end of each line. In the background so many telephones rang continuously, four telex machines also rattled constantly and even the coffee machine was anything but silent.
Chefs jumping out of their skins were also the most normal thing in the world, as were cursing, laughing and crying colleagues. The ever-present time pressure – inextricably linked to the delivery of news – sometimes caused emotions to run high. As soon as the paper rolled off the presses, the stress was over and we relaxed together in the pub. The concept of transgressive behavior or an unsafe working environment had not yet been invented.
Outsiders were often amazed at how a person could work in that cacophony of sounds, the permanent tension and stress. And I’m not even talking about the surrounding cigarette smoke. But I can’t see myself cutting coal 50 meters underground or laying new roof tiles at a height of 20 meters. We all have our strengths and weaknesses.
Half a century ago, continuing to work from home every now and then was already the most normal thing in the world in a profession. When you were working on a difficult story, when you would quietly consult reference works or call sources who didn’t appreciate that everyone in the newsroom understood who they were. Every journalist had a typewriter at home, later a personal computer and a dictionary.
But writing at home was an exception. You would rather work in the editorial office. Where you could joke with your colleagues, where you could ask for advice, where you could seduce someone to read with you. To save some money. Where – if you got creatively stuck – you could talk for a quarter of an hour at the coffee machine, take your mind off the table tennis table or flirt with the editor-in-chief’s secretaries.
So I get that Disney boss. At work there is interaction, the wildest plans can spontaneously sprout, the biggest ideas can grow. Very often they get stuck because they are too expensive, too time-consuming or simply impossible, but even if only one in a hundred turns out to be useful, it is still pure profit.
In practical terms, it is also nice if people are simply present in the office. In case of suddenly threatening activities, the supervisor can quickly deploy someone. “Leave it alone for a while, someone needs to start working on this right now”. Or: “Could you take over this, the colleague who was supposed to do it just went home sick.” The organization is flexible. Can handle any accident.
But times have changed. As part-time work became an almost constitutional right, working conditions changed in many organisations. Not to mention the interdependence. Time-consuming transfers, miscommunication, delays and cancellations. A colleague who worked three days a week and had to go to Paris for an interview was gone for two days and went home to prepare the story the next day. So you didn’t see them for a whole week.
Technology did the rest. The mobile phone made everyone available everywhere. The laptop made the workplace irrelevant. In my last years at a small weekly magazine, as manager I sometimes spent whole days alone with a secretary and a designer. The rest worked at home or did not work at all because: part time.
The feeling of family, the friendship, the creative exchange, the idea of achieving something together became less and less. And then of course you also had the Lapswans, the profiteers. If they were present at work, you could sometimes tell that they had been busy with Facebook or Candy Crush for long enough. That it could also be nice if some work was done that day.
But when you worked at home during corona, all control was lost. It was possible to nab other customers ‘in the boss’s time’, lucrative own projects were carried out or simply sat idle in a sun lounger in the garden with retained salary.
Is it suspicious? None. It’s called experience. Any manager can talk about it. Most people are good. They have a heart for the company, enjoy their work and work ethic. But in every basket there are a few bad apples. During corona, they send their meager contribution to a server that has been out of order for several months. “Really? I didn’t know that”. They return to the office with a brown head, as if they have recently been a lifeguard on Bonaire.
So I get that Robert Iger from Disney. I wonder when his head will be cut off because the rag swans will unite and reject him as a tyrant. Then comes a gentle healer. And we know: they make stinky wounds.