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The end of the office? I hope not, I've had it with home working

Adrian Weckler


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Home comforts can soon pale. (Stock image)

Home comforts can soon pale. (Stock image)

Home comforts can soon pale. (Stock image)

Last week, one of Ireland's most senior tech investors mused that the lockdown is proving we don't need offices any more.

With our work-from-home adaptability, we now know all those meetings were a waste of time, said Ray Nolan. There will be no going back to those office blocks.

Not me. I've had almost three weeks of home working now. And I've had it. My head is about to explode.

Sure, I save time on the commute. And yes, I'm not wasting money on takeaway coffee.

But I've barely left the house in 21 days. I go from the bedroom to the desk to the kitchen and back again. (I keep the treat of the living room for evenings.)

I'm starting to wonder if I need to get dressed. Why wear anything but a T-shirt and tracksuit bottoms? And my diet? Gone to sheer hell. I've conservatively put on half a stone this month.

"That's just your lack of structure," you might retort. "Work out a proper routine and you'll get on top of things."

Sorry, no. I can have the best home set-up in the world, with the best discipline and the best routines. But it doesn't change the fact I'm now a virtual prisoner.

I'm now condemned to living, working and sleeping in a single plot inside four walls.

And I'm lucky - I have a reasonably nice semi-detached house with a small garden and a spare room.

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What is this like for hundreds of thousands (or millions) stuck in smaller flats, apartments and terraces that were never envisaged as workplaces as well as bedsits and nurseries?

Even if it was physically possible, advocates of this miss the point. It's not the calculus over productivity or "lost time" in a commute. It's a psychological and mental health issue.

Yes, trudging into work on a wet morning is irksome. But the change in scenery is most welcome. The demarcation between home life and work life is also such a luxury. It means that when I look at the kitchen table, I'm not automatically thinking of a work space and those emails I need to send.

I've spent much of the last three weeks writing tech tool guides for people to survive their Covid-19 incarceration. It's doable. And yes, we're all learning valuable skills.

But is it the future of work? Dare we tell people that, for the rest of their life, they'll be largely confined to a 90sqm structure for almost all of their waking and sleeping hours? I sincerely hope not.

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Is some faction of the Government running Twitter bots which swarm around ministerial tweets, praising them?

It seems unlikely. Twitter said as much last week when asked by my colleague Cormac McQuinn.

We also looked at this issue in our Big Tech Show podcast over the weekend, drilling down into what actually makes a Twitter bot and why the ones being derogatorily tagged as #Leobots or #Concannonbots (named after the government's sometime public relations operative John Concannon) by government critics seem unlikely to be any such thing.

Aside from the checks almost anyone can do to see whether a Twitter user is a bot, there is the larger question of motivation. As digital marketing consultant Damien Mulley told us last week, bots are normally used to make money or in high stakes international policy war games. Would it really be worth it for a few dozen 'well done minister' comments?

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"Now is the perfect opportunity to reset all of this."

How many times have you heard this phrase over the last week? It can apply to virtually anything, from healthcare to immigration control. Basically, anyone who has a long-standing policy goal is now saying the pandemic proves why they were right and that society should now 'reset' in the way they have been advocating.

One 'reset' that may already be happening is surveillance. The last week has seen a number of moves which, together, could spell a step closer to an Asian-style tracked-by-the-state society.

Authorities here said they want to introduce a contact tracing app, which would help locate people who might be in danger of contamination from the coronavirus.

The shape or scope of this app have not yet been articulated, but some Asian countries have offered a fairly draconian vision into what you can use such apps for. In China, everyone is now virtually colour coded. If you are 'green', you are OK. If you are 'red', you are stopped at checkpoints. In South Korea, details of infected patients' movements are posted publicly, although without their names.

In a more benign move, Google here posted anonymised data which showed drastic drops in footfall to well-visited locations such as shops and parks. That data is based on opted-in location history on your smartphone. Even still, it would be surprising if some policy-makers don't start musing that tracking technology should be used more in everyday life and not just for the duration of a pandemic.


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