What We Learned This Week

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What We Learned This Week

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What goes around comes back around, as they say.

One of the biggest takeaways in the first few months of the pandemic was that the ordeal quickly proved wrong employers who’d been wary of letting employees work remotely. It turns out, they didn’t slack off and disregard their obligations, they got shit done – even amid mind-bogglingly stressful circumstances triggered by the coronavirus.

The state of California, for example, had long wanted to keep tabs on its workers by forcing them to adhere to strict hours inside the office. But suddenly, it decided it could save money by making telework permanent.

As this swift embrace of remote work began to take hold, one Washington Post columnist made a prediction: It won’t last.

“Employers frequently see themselves as better able to monitor and control their employees when they are actually on the premises,” she wrote.

She was right.

This week alone saw numerous “actually” arguments against remote work – including more than one that went so far as to claim that long commutes are, in fact, a good thing.

One author argued in the Boston Globe, presumably with a straight face, that “working from home can be too convenient.” This, he contends, is a problem: “Lifting weights is hard, but it makes us stronger. Similarly, it is more convenient not to have a commute or change out of our pajamas, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for us. Having some commuting time, whether it’s walking, on public transit, or in a car, gives us an opportunity to let our minds wander and explore ideas.”

Another echoed in The Atlantic: “Commutes can have upsides. Last year, I was somewhat embarrassed to realize that I was among the half of American office workers who missed mine; the time I used to spend walking and riding the train every morning provided a psychological in-between.”

I’m gonna take a shot in the dark and guess that these writers either don’t have kids or are not those kids’ primary caregivers. I’m not sure how you could live with the crushing anxiety of trying to rush home to make dinner for your family even as office demands are pulling you in the opposite direction and think, “Gee, this is nice.”

Some of these writers’ arguments represent a pretty naked self-interest.

The CEO of WeWork, a company whose business model relies entirely on people occupying office spaces, said at a Wall Street Journal event: “Those who are uberly engaged with the company want to go to the office two-thirds of the time, at least. Those who are least engaged are very comfortable working from home.”

One corporation well known for wringing every last cent out of its workers at the expense of their health is Amazon. In a shocking coincidence, Amazon wants its workers “back in the office by early fall, saying it wants to return to an ‘office-centric culture as our baseline,’” Vox reported.

Meanwhile, Slate in its own special way, raises another crucial point: After a year and a half in your home, can you imagine being once again forced to poop at work?

It all adds up to one glaring conclusion: If and when workers begin returning to in-person work, it will be because that’s what employers want. Most employees, not so much.

What VOSD Learned This Week

Many of the outdoor dining structures that have sprung up amid the pandemic are unpermitted and illegal, and will likely have to come down. Nowhere is the tension more pronounced than in Little Italy, where many restaurants have built elaborate structures that owners believed were OK’d by the city. We talked about the city’s mixed messaging on the structures on this week’s podcast.

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Current and former students of San Pasqual Academy are fighting to save the facility. Kayla Jimenez explained why it’s being forced to close, and the unique space it’s provided for kids whose needs aren’t being met within the foster system.

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We might soon have some more answers about how the disastrous 101 Ash St. deal came together and who profited from it, thanks to subpoenas recently served by lawyers representing the city.

What I’m Reading

  • Young women to whom we owe a big apology, Part 1: Courtney Stodden was a child being groomed before our eyes, and we mocked her mercilessly. (Daily Beast)
  • Young women to whom we owe a big apology, Part 2: I’m honestly stunned that President Joe Biden hasn’t yet freed Reality Winner, and this column drives home that injustice. (Washington Post)
  • This is an incredible piece of writing seeking to grapple with Confederate sympathizers: “For so many of them, history isn’t the story of what actually happened; it is just the story they want to believe.” (The Atlantic)
  • As a writer I follow learned, even broaching the idea of regretting parenthood generates an enormous amount of hate and vitriol. She reflected on why that is here. (Substack)

Line of the Week

“Why get hung up on principle when power is so near at hand?” – This is a great column on how Kevin McCarthy got to this moment.

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