In this week’s episode we speak with Lauren Young from Reuters about technology and working from home. Depending on your stage of life, your family situation and your access to technology, remote work has required quite a significant learning curve, and, in some cases, it presents a hardship
Jeffrey Freedman: Hello and welcome to the RP HealthCast by RooneyPartners. I am your host, Jeffrey Freedman.
Jeffrey: Election day in the United States is finally behind us. But the pandemic is, unfortunately, still very much alive and increasing in intensity as we move further into this second wave. Now, as a bit of pandemic fatigue starts creeping in, the cold weather has also started to arrive here in the Northeast and in other parts of the country, and that is setting the stage for another spike of new cases.
Jeffrey: While we long for a return to normalcy, going out and spending time with friends, these past eight to nine months have created a sense of isolation for many of us. I mean, days previously spent working in an office or commuting and socializing with our peers, they now reduced to working home alone at a home office or at a kitchen counter. It could be surrounded by a family of all ages. I mean, we are trying to be as effective as possible while attempting to maintain a semblance of good cheer for our own sake as well as for our loved ones.
Jeffrey: Now, for some, this remote work, it has been standard operating procedure, especially with the expansion of the gig and freelance economy where telecommuting has always been the norm. But for the rest of us steeped in office culture, adapting to the remote work environment has been a challenge. I mean, depending on your stage of life, your family situation, and your access to technology, remote work has required quite a significant learning curve and in some cases, it presents a hardship.
Jeffrey: So to discuss this with us today, we are delighted to have Lauren Young. For the past ten years, Lauren has been a writer and editor at Reuters, and her journalism career has spanned over thirty years and includes stints at BusinessWeek, the S&P, and Dow Jones. Lauren, thank you so much for joining us today.
Lauren Young: Thank you for having me.
Jeffrey: Now, you are currently an editor of Digital Special Projects at Reuters, and I saw one of the areas you cover is World at Work. Now, I would say the World at Work has changed quite a bit this year. Before we get into some of your coverage, I want you to tell us how has your world of work changed this year?
Lauren: Well, I am literally sitting in my bedroom in Brooklyn right now that I had to move a desk into, much to my dismay, because I am working from home like so many people. I have been to my office at 3 Times Square once in the past seven months. My husband is screaming on the phone in the other room. He is a lawyer. Then at any given time, we have three sons and depending on where they are and what is happening, they might be home doing work too. So, it is crazy. But we feel very lucky we have got, thankfully, a space to spread out a little bit and a good internet connection. It is crazy pants, I will tell you that. I can not believe it if you had told me I would not be in the office for as long as it has been and I really, really miss it, Jeff. I miss it so badly. I need it. I need to commute. I need the colleagues. I need the creativity and collaboration. I need it all.
Jeffrey: You are not alone. One of the things you touch upon is you said you had a great internet connection, bandwidth connection. That is really one of the big things we are going to talk about as part of this. Now, you recently wrote a very interesting article entitled “Technology matters, but how real are our virtual lives at work and play?” The premise of the article was how digital culture can improve our professional as well as our personal lives. Can you tell everyone a little bit about the article and your findings, and especially how it relates to this new world we are living in with having to work from home?
Lauren: Yes. So that is actually an interview with Mary Gray, who is an anthropologist and she is one of the recently named MacArthur genius fellows, MacArthur fellow. So, I spent some time talking to her and it was really interesting. She has written a lot about digital culture and about the gig economy, and it really dovetailed nicely with the things I cover. So we had a really interesting conversation talking about her work experience. I would not say that she said it was okay all the screen time that we are not now because we are all online all the time. But I got a little bit of confirmation as a parent not to feel so guilty that when kids are playing video games, for example, they are learning to collaborate, they are imagining, they are doing things. It is just not things that we necessarily did when we were kids, but they are connecting, which is so important when everybody is very isolated right now.
Jeffrey: Yes, I would say. I mean, I spent last year yelling at my sons to get off the computer and go outside. Now, this year, I am yelling at him to come back inside and get on your computer.
Lauren: Exactly. So it is such a strange thing. So look, I mentioned that I have a strong internet connection. We actually upgraded the first week of the pandemic in early March when everybody was online because there were five people at home trying to do classes and work and whatnot. I upgraded our router and everything and was very lucky to have like timed it very well. But one of the things I spoke about with Mary Gray is she was talking about income inequality, and we do not think about income inequality in terms of the digital divide, but it really is. So, people who live in rural places and do not have access to great Wi-Fi, and can not connect, they are much more isolated and it also, you know, is particularly not everybody is working from home. It lessens their opportunities, economic opportunities for work, for school, and all these things that, frankly, I take for granted.
Jeffrey: Right. I mean, I called Verizon, I upgraded, and you know, within a couple of weeks they are here. I can imagine those living in rural areas, your wait is going to be a long time as well.
Lauren: Yes, and there is not the infrastructure for it as well. So there are many factors at play and the cost. So it is something we take for granted but as I said, I am very thankful to be able to do this, to be able to sit here. We had to connect with each other a few different ways, but we figured out a way to make it work. In 2020, there are certainly plenty of ways to connect with people, that is for sure.
Jeffrey: Now, you talk about income inequality, but what were some of your findings related to people at different stages of their lives? I mean, you mentioned you and your husband work at home. You have three kids in school doing schooling. But what about even outside those boundaries, have you done any research on single people living alone or older people? How are they coping?
Lauren: I have. Frankly, we have talked about two cohorts that I am really worried about. It is a lot to expect. My 86-year-old father has a flip phone. Interestingly enough, Mary Gray, who I interviewed for this piece, I asked her, like, what is the one piece of technology she could not live without? We had ended up, she said she is spending a lot of time talking on the phone with people, old school. I said, “Well, do you FaceTime with your parents?” She said, “No.” Her dad has a flip phone too. So I can not FaceTime with my dad, she cannot FaceTime with hers, and there is something really nice about being able to at least look.
Lauren: I do not know if you have remembered Pee-wee’s Playhouse? But he had the videophone and he would go into the booth and he would pull down the backdrop and he put on a hat, he would be all ready, it could be a farm or it could be a trucker or driving a train, but he would have a little get up. But I think about that every time I am on FaceTime with somebody. So that is one cohort for sure, and I really, really in this time, have worried so much about my colleagues or along with the young single ones. Like I am older, I got people around, I got a family, I got a dog, but to be alone at this time is really really isolating and hard. I just do not think technology can cut it. I really do not. It does not replace human interaction. It certainly can not replace when it comes to brainstorming or thinking in a group. It does not translate on them.
Jeffrey: Yes, I know from like an office culture, in our sense, we have Junior Associates that were doing a great job that we are mentoring in the office. But as you try to work and bring on new people and bring on new associates. I mean, do you feel that this sense of technology, are we going to be able to continue to grow the economy and grow our employees without that person-to-person?
Lauren: So we have done a few stories in a workplace coverage about starting a new job in 2020 and we just interviewed somebody who also has started a new job and has not met any of their colleagues yet. It is so strange when you have not met a person, for me, like, unfortunately, I do not think we have ever met in person, I am not sure. But I do not have a clear image of who you are. So, if we were to meet, my conversation with you would be different because we would have a familiarity and you can not recreate that familiarity online, at least I can not.
Lauren: So I do believe with all this talk about real estate and the office is going away. But I think people will crave being together again. It may not be exactly the same and certainly, managers will understand now that people can work remotely. By the way, I have been working from home one day a week for the past since my son was born, so sixteen years. So I have always been home one day, I know how to do it. But for people who have never done it before, it is weird. It is really weird.
Jeffrey: Yes, and that it is. So we have talked about some of the drawbacks and it is not going to replace that sense of camaraderie or face-to-face. Have you found any negatives or has it just been the isolation that people talk about?
Lauren: In terms of what it is to work from home?
Jeffrey: Yes, just the drawbacks of having the technology. Have you found that people, besides feeling isolated, are they more anxious? Are they not sleeping? Is too much technology a bad thing in certain instances?
Lauren: That will be yes, yes, and yes.
Jeffrey: I am leading the witness, I guess.
Lauren: Yes. No, all of those things. I mean, there are some good things about obviously the flexibility. We as a family, when everybody’s plans got all upended, we spent a month in Montana this past summer, which we would never have been able to do under any other circumstances, you know, work particularly for the two parents who have jobs. So we had this great experience as a family. So that flexibility is fantastic, but that said, yes, the anxiety, people just not leaving their homes, not having the separation. How do you separate your work day from your life? It is all blurry together. Actually, all the studies show that people are working more now because they can not detach themselves from their computers.
Jeffrey: Yes, I absolutely see that.
Lauren: So from a productivity standpoint, that is actually not good. It is not good for people but it is probably not bad. People have managed to rise up in a way and produce in a way that no one expected.
Jeffrey: They have. I mean, this is ongoing, right? For those of us that work in Manhattan or in New York City that we have to maintain this and we have to maintain this sense of experience of working from home and that enthusiasm. I read a statistic that I think eighty-five of all office workers in New York are still working from home, and we are at a point, though, that some companies need their employees to come back to the office.
Jeffrey: For example, I was reading an article from The New York Times entitled “These are the perks that companies are using to get workers back to the office.” The article was saying that while companies want their employees back, there is still a lot of fear from the employees about coming into the city. The management understands this but in order to entice the workers back, they need to offer additional perks not just a promise of a safe work environment. They are offering significant incentives. Have you seen any of this in your research or any in your reading?
Lauren: A little bit. I mean, it is more active. I do have. I live in a building with seventeen units and it is interesting because my neighbors, my husband have been going into the office a couple days a week. My first husband, who is also a lawyer, I only marry lawyers, he has also been going to the office, and both of them say they can get so much more work done because they have space and they have their stuff. But I am not like perk-wise, free lunch and all those things in Silicon Valley were doing to their workers, is that really going to incentivize people?
Lauren: I think people are worried about safety, certainly the commute. I know traveling on the New York City Subway right now. I have gone a few times but every day, I got a full-detailed report on who did not have a mask on and who was sleeping on a row of seats. So I get for my husband, you know, these updates, it makes him nervous. It makes him anxious. I mean, we would ride bikes if we could but it is kind of far to go to Midtown from where we are, just so you know. I do not know, it is like if there are logistical things. I have driven into Manhattan a few times living in New York City and I realized for people who do not live in New York, it is not the same thing. I have been in Philadelphia and I have driven around Philly too. But it is weird.
Lauren: I think given where we are now in the pandemic, things could change again if we do really have the second wave that we are seeing in Europe. But people are like they are just itching to get out and I do think they do want to go back to the office, it is just what is safe. Sitting at your desk all day long with a mask on, it really sucks, and to try and talk with a mask on is awful. So I do not know how that is going to work.
Jeffrey: It is going to be hard. I mean, it is going to be hard. If you were to gaze into your crystal ball though, everybody is itching to get back, a lot of people are itching to get back, I would say, when do you feel that we are going to be able to make the shift where employees come back to the offices or you think our technology and skills as remote workers have gotten so good that we are going to be having a hybrid model and allow employees the option to work from home full-time or part-time?
Lauren: For sure, some Industries will be hybrid, but manufacturing can not do that, that is not going to happen. For the office, white-collar office worker, I do think that there will be more flexibility. But I also think really what the tipping point of my crystal ball and I have been really gung-ho about this is testing. When we have some reliable rapid testing system available to us, which is available in other countries, and we can not seem to get it together, that really could move the needle because people will have a level of comfort that they are safe and wants to have that level of comfort that they are safe and they will be willing to go back to work or to go to the theater or is it, you know, go to a restaurant, whatever it is. I do not think it is that far away, but I have now come to the realization that, yes, a vaccine, we need it. But what we really need right now is reliable testing. We want to get things going again.
Jeffrey: Okay. So as a New Yorker, I mean, you live and you work in New York City, you know, in New York, it is going to take a while to recover, right? What are you seeing? What is your assessment of the outlook for New York City? When is that vibrancy? When is that theater? When is all that shopping’s [?] be about?
Lauren: So what I did not say is my husband actually works in the theater industry. He is a Broadway lawyer. So one of the marquee things for New York literally and physically is Broadway. It is such a draw for tourism. So we need tourists to come back. The theater and the museums are open. I have had lovely experiences at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and at MoMA. I have to say in a way, it is nice not to be with zillions of tourists because you can walk around and enjoy it. A really lovely experience and not feel that you are in a throng of people.
Lauren: But, obviously, we need the hustle and bustle for New York City. From a real estate perspective, obviously, the office market and you know, certainly some of these large apartment buildings, people do not want to be in big buildings. The elevator, so those considerations. I live in Brooklyn, Brownstone, Brooklyn, which apparently is hot right now and people want to be here and it is lovely. It does not really feel like there is anything going on except that people are wearing masks and, obviously, some places have closed down and sitting outside, there are changes. But life is pretty normal in my neck of the woods.
Lauren: So there is like a million different things going on and, obviously, from a revenue perspective, I mean, our tax base has really been decimated in New York City. Without that money, it is going to be really challenging. There is going to be, you know, school or so many things, services, we need the funds to do them. We were on such a good track but in a way, I also think that the creative culture of New York, I really hope. It is just in the Upper West Side of Manhattan felt like you were in a shopping mall because every chain store, there was nothing personal about it, and all the artists had left this village and gone, you know, into the bush wick or wherever.
Lauren: But I really do hope that if Broadway comes back and, obviously, this is the center of the art world, if the artists come back and the creative culture comes back, that would be really one’s overlining to all this madness.
Jeffrey: Yes, that it would. Well, Lauren, thank you so much for your time today. This has been a wonderful conversation. We learned a lot so thank you.
Lauren: Well, Jeff, I hope that your world of work continues to be good and that everybody who is listening thrives and prospers in crazy times and just take a deep breath, we will get through this.
Jeffrey: We hope you enjoyed this week’s podcast. If you have any questions comments, or future story suggestions, please reach out to us on social media. Thank you, and we hope you enjoyed the RP HealthCast.