Thursday, September 15, 2022

Freelancers Prove that Working from Home Works

Yesterday's post about the business world pushing employees back to the office went a little off the rails, so I never got around to discussing where freelancers fit in.

When I left off, I was talking about the assumption that management has to physically watch employees or they won't work, and how I believe it comes from Taylorism, which is basically the grandfather of the modern office.  While Taylorism was originally designed for the factory setting, the same principles were quickly put to use in early 20th century offices.  For instance, in the 1910s and 1920s, Sears in Chicago hired young women as typists to type up order slips.  They were not secretaries, trained to handle any number of tasks their employer could need done, such as in a private office.  There were hundreds of them, working at rows of desks in a large warehouse-style office, typing up the same sort of thing. over. and. over.  And there was a manager's office on high, watching over them as they worked.  Start times, quitting times, and breaks were closely monitored, and no talking was allowed during work hours.

That's obviously a very extreme workplace environment to most of us today, but still, you can see the ancestor of the modern office in the structure, the microdivision of tasks, and the intense supervision and fundamental distrust of employees.

Freelancing is obviously the polar opposite of Taylorism.  Rather than believing employees to be untrustworthy and incapable of managing the big picture, the freelance industry puts us wholly in charge of our fate.  We are big picture people.  We manage our client relationships, our marketing, our task management, and our rates, and we do it all from our own homes (or wherever else we choose to work).  We basically say, "You don't have to micromanage us; just pay us for the finished product and we will deliver it to you."  We take all of that assumption that employees are inherently lazy, all of the loud offices with their foosball and snack walls and other "perks" designed to somehow trick people into wanting to be in the office, and we trash it without giving it a second thought.  Cut the bullshit.  Tell me what you want and I'll do it, from the comfort of my own kitchen.  And then I'll feed my cat.

There are, obviously, disadvantages to the freelance industry.  You don't have someone on staff to take your demands at any time.  We don't have a guaranteed salary or other benefits that come with full-time employment.  I have to buy my own office supplies... but hey, you don't have to devote resources to making sure I don't steal yours.

I think it's taken me these two posts to come round to what I've been trying to express the entire time: Freelancing proves that these things can be done, just as the pandemic and the studies I cited proved they could be done, but it's all in how you approach it.  When you give people freedom to work how they work best, you're meeting them on equal ground.  It becomes a matter of respect, and when you respect someone, they will do their best for you.

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