The Laptop Class Lives In La-La Land

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On May 5th, 2023, the World Health Organization determined that, “Covid 19 is now an established and ongoing health concern which no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concerns.”

So… life can go back to normal?
For many life was never going to go back to normal, but forward into something else.
After much more time than “two weeks to flatten the curve” we have formulated some new habits.
The most enduring one is where we, as individuals, work.

Other habits have endured, but – at scale – this hybrid work system seems to be the biggest change and output from the global pandemic.

People are going back to physical shopping (we’ve seen e-commerce trends tweak back to pre-pandemic growth levels).
Concerts and sporting events are seeing brisk gate activity (we’re not seeing an uptick in individuals wanting these experiences as a streaming option).
People are even going back on cruises (even with record levels of gastro cases) and movie theaters as well (it’s me… Mario!).
For some reason, how (and, more importantly, where) we work seems forever changed or (still) in a state of flux.
Employers are pushing for more work days back in the office.

Fast forward to May 17th (just a few days ago), and this is what Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX and Twitter) had to say about the current state of office space:

“I’m a big believer that people are more productive when they’re in person… The whole notion of work from home is a bit like the fake Marie Antoinette quote, ‘let them eat cake.’ It’s like, really? You’re gonna work from home, and you’re gonna make everyone else, who made you car, come work in the factory… the people that come to fix your house, they can’t work from home, but you can? Does that seem morally right? That’s messed up… The laptop class is living in la-la land… It’s not just a productivity thing, I think it’s morally wrong.”

Now, let’s put aside the source of the quote (which, admittedly, is never an easy thing to do), and what do we have?

By making these remote and hybrid work choices, have we suddenly created a new class of workers… let’s call them, “The Laptop Class” (of which I am a member)?
Is this a new class of worker that believes their time, productivity, commute, personal time, right not to be judged based on their physical presence is entitled over, say, a nurse, teacher, chef, electrician, doctor, mechanic and more?
Is “The Laptop Class” – based on a choice of profession – absolved from the greater corporate culture that happens when people and teams come together in physical spaces?
Is “The Laptop Class” simply an extended version of freelancers, the self-employed, independent contractors and beyond?
Can we, simply, look at the work and the result of the work, while extracting the intangible value that these individuals brought to the office space (and the company) when they were all housed under the same roof?
Can “The Laptop Class” complain if stores have fewer opening hours or restaurants are closing in their downtown core, or when the price of things skyrockets?

Everything has become more dispersed and erratic, because where we worked has shifted the economic landscape.

There are consequences… then there are unintended consequences.
An unintended consequence of this new way to work might very well be the creation of an entirely new class of worker… and it may not be the best thing for diversity, equity, inclusion and growth.
What’s best for me, the individual, may not be what’s best for we, the individual who is a part of a team… a company… a brand… and the community that surrounds the office space.
While “The Laptop Class” enjoys the flexibility of remote work, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.
So, yes, the pandemic has catalyzed a shift in our work habits, but maybe it’s also exposed a widening chasm between different classes of workers?

And here we are: Not everyone has the luxury to work from home.

Is it fair that this new class of workers gets to bypass the office life that they signed up for?
“The Laptop Class” will reassure us that their productivity has increased, that they’ve found a better work-life balance.
But at what cost?
Are we ready to accept a world where the downtown core loses its vibrancy, and where the sense of community in physical workplaces (potentially) fades away?
“The Laptop Class” does not work in isolation.
“The Laptop Class” is a part of much larger ecosystem.
The choice of where we work shapes not only our professional development, but the very fabric of our cities and societies.
The bigger question is this:

Do we want a world that values all workers or one where those with a laptop and wifi signal get a better deal?

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