The Corner


Coronavirus Comes: Professional Elites Working from Home Hardest Hit?


It was perhaps inevitable that, when employers began to react to COVID-19 by instituting remote work, digital and media companies would be disproportionately represented. Many in such enterprises often work from home (or elsewhere) anyway, outside of pandemic scenarios.

And once an unusual circumstance gave journalists and other well-heeled professional types an excuse to write or be interviewed about it, well . . . it was certainly inevitable that they would do so. One such dispatch has appeared in the Washington Post style section, describing the “hard times” of working from home in the time of coronavirus. “Working from home, all of a sudden: It’s convenient, yet disruptive. Comfortable, yet unsettling.”

It is true that working from home indefinitely can represent a significant disruption. We are not meant to be alone. And many of us only realize how much we have built not merely interpersonal contact with others, but also the routines by which we structure our days to reach them — wake-up times, commutes, etc. — into our lives until they are unexpectedly taken away.

At their worst, however, the professional elites profiled in this feature complain in a manner that is somewhat disproportionate to their plight. Consider one tech company employee whose dire case is presented:

“I always look forward to getting lunch at work. It’s some of the best food you can get,” says Brian Terlson, 35, who works for a large tech company in Seattle. He began to reminisce about the good old days of one week ago, when the lunch options were bountiful and convenient.

“Monday is usually a pizza day, unless the chef’s table has something special they’re cooking up,” he says. “Pasta day is Wednesday; it’s a very important day for me.”

But at home, food is an “obstacle,” he says. “It’s 1:30 and I haven’t eaten yet. I’ll probably just skip lunch.”

You can sympathize with the disruption of routine here, while also noting that missing out on free lunch is not exactly the worst thing to come from a viral outbreak. Nor is figuring out what to do about it the most difficult obstacle to confront in such a situation.

Superficially, this could all seem like a case of insularity: an upwardly mobile individual writing about how fellow upwardly mobile individuals — the sort of people willing and able to complain about working from home to the Washington Post in the midst of a rapid spread of disease — are coping. But the feature also describes working from home as a “a privilege — one not available to service-industry workers and medical professionals and others whose work cannot be done from the safety of home.” This is undoubtedly true. And the reader is left to wonder if the point of the whole thing were actually to draw attention away from the people interviewed, and toward the plight of those who are dealing with a more serious set of problems.

(Filed from my home office.)