Come in to Work

Earlier this month I got a chance to catch up with an old friend, who works in the video game industry.  It is a highly technical field, relying heavily on advanced math, engineering, and computer science skills.  You'd think that programming, of all work functions, lends itself to remote office arrangements.  After all, there are millions of lines of code to write, which can be done anywhere and anytime.  And yet my friend told me how important it was for he and his team to be in close proximity to each other and to their customers, for it was those constant interactions that enabled better, faster, and more accurate output.  (He also told me a surprisingly high proportion of his co-workers come from a liberal arts background, but that's a story for tomorrow's post.)

I relayed to him that my company's output is similarly technical in nature, and yet it also demands a deep understanding of the economic, political, organizational, and human context in which we do our work.  It is for this reason that I encourage my co-workers to invest in meaningful activities outside of their day job, whether it is family time, leisure pursuits, personal development, or civic engagement.  For not only does that help them be whole people for their own good, but it enables more and broader connections to draw from when doing the work itself.

On a related note, one of the interesting dynamics about telecommuting is that a big part of why it is seen as efficient is that it allows folks to avoid the time and hassle of commuting to work.  We think we are being more productive by allocating more time for the work itself than for getting to and from work.  And yet, if part of work isn't just the work but also cultivating pursuits, relationships, and ideas outside of the work itself, I would argue that skipping the work commute makes us less effective rather than more.  The vast majority of my co-workers walk or take transit to work, and I have lost track of the times one of us has, in the course of getting to or from work, either had a burst of insight while lost in thought, or bumped into someone and struck up a conversation that yielded a breakthrough in something we were working on.

I get why it is good to let people work from home, and we allow folks to do this on an as-needed basis, whether to take care of a sick kid or let a contractor in or steal a few solitary moments for uninterrupted work.  And I get why people would want to do it as a rule, if it works for their work persona or personal arrangement.  But there's much to gain from having everyone together.  And, there is even much to gain from having everyone make the trip in and out of the office.  Even for something as seemingly technical as video game design and economic analysis.
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