THE OFFICE – There is no boss hovering over me, asking me why my project – find Mike Pence’s spine — was not finished on time, no co-worker dropping by to discuss the Astros’ chances of making bail before the truncated season starts and no one trying to sell me their daughter’s Girl Scout cookies. Also, no one objects to my spittoon. Then there is the commuting. I commute quite a ways, from the bedroom, through the solarium and the stables, over the river and through the woods to my office. With light traffic, I can make it in 15 to 20 minutes. There are drawbacks. You know the old saying, “For better or worse, but not for lunch?” I can now make my own peanut butter sandwich.
Due to the new coronavirus, today millions of Americans are at home, spending all day on their computer or Zooming or talking to Perth while still in their pajamas, house shoes and unshaven, not even using a deodorant. There are advantages and disadvantages, which we shall now explore, along with the burning question out front: when this pandemic is over, or until Gov. Greg Abbot says the death toll is acceptable (1,000 a day), will our work habits go back to normal or will we continue to go unshaven?
Not to get bogged down in stats, a survey of 1,000 full-time employed men and women in the past month found that 69 percent of Americans enjoy working from home more than they thought they would while 54 percent say they are more productive at home. Approximately half of working adults are sleeping later because they don’t have to commute, 37 percent admit to wearing pajamas during the day, and 17 percent work with a pet or child on their lap. What do people dislike about working from home? Forty-four percent say they miss their co-workers and 21 percent miss outside lunch breaks. Moreover, approximately a quarter of working adults miss having specific working hours.
The number of stay-at-homers had been increasing long before the pandemic. According to the U.S. Census, in 2000, 3.3 percent of workers in the U.S. worked full time at home. Sixteen years later, in 2016, it was 5 percent, and increased to 5.2 percent in 2017, about 8 million people. Here’s a statistic I find to be suspicious, but it could be true: Research shows that, apparently due to the pandemic, 66 percent of Americans are currently working from home, 44 percent are working remotely – that is, at the funeral home or pig rendering factory — five days or more a week. A lot of Americans would really like to get out of the house: 39 percent would prefer to work some place other than home.
As for those who stay home, the usual suspects: the suits, the numbers crunchers freed from their cubicles. The latest Bureau of Labor and Statistics data reports this covers management, business and financial industries. Those who still awake to the alarm clock and hit the freeways are store clerks, prison guards, rat catchers and postal carriers. Americans whose workplaces haven’t changed include lighthouse keepers, authors, submariners and President Trump. Shepherds and cowboys fall into their own category. None of this includes the tens of millions of Americans who aren’t working, period.
The worst thing about the pandemic – well, not counting all the suffering, deaths and world-wide disruptions – is trying to turn the pages in newspapers, magazines and books. My fingers are too dry. Before the pandemic, I would simply lick my fingers and magically flip the page. Now we are not even supposed to touch our face, much less stick any finger in our mouth. Also, it’s hard to lick your fingers while wearing a mask. Maybe I should put a dish of water by my chair and dip my fingers in it every two pages. In addition, the pandemic has changed my own self-importance, because now with so many others working at home, I can’t feel superior. Ah, the good old days when, about 5:30 I could wander to the bar, pour a vodka and think, “Those poor suckers are stuck on the freeway and won’t be home for hours.”
What will our society be after the pandemic? A Gallup poll found a majority of American adults working from home would prefer to continue doing so “as much as possible” after the pandemic. Working at home means less driving, less gas, fewer fill-ups. The lifeline for Houston and Texas is oil and gas, and with oil already at historic lows, what happens to the Texas economy? The state government will suffer a harsh cut in gasoline and diesel taxes (20 cents a gallon). The Permanent University Fund, largely financed with royalties from the oil biz which is channeled to the UT and A&M systems, will be hurt, too. How will those schools pay for their halfbacks? The public schools in Texas also depend on state funds. School teachers from Dalhart to Harlingen will have to turn in their Mercedes-Maybach. On the other hand, less driving means less air pollution. Already satellite shots show that cities around the world have less air pollution.
There are spin-offs that will suffer when workers tell their boss, “I did great during the pandemic self-quarantine. Why can’t I just work from home?” If this happens in significant numbers, what happens to the delis and fast-food shops – that didn’t go bankrupt — that serve lunches to the wage slaves Monday through Friday? Haberdashers will find their customers no longer need business attire, although there will be a run on pajamas. Ladies, who needs cosmetics? Kids might find home schooling beats the 30-minute ride on the school bus and no more of that foul-tempered Miss Grinch. There will be less work for the police since home burglaries will drop – all the houses will be occupied. Forget a home alarm system.
Well, it’s back to work for me. Maybe I can google “spine – veep.”
Ashby works at firstname.lastname@example.org