Last week, Brent Hyder, President and “Chief People Officer” for software giant Salesforce published a post to the company’s blog, titled “Creating a Best Workplace from Anywhere, for Everyone.” Besides being exactly the kind of godawful nonsense word salad you might expect from a big tech company, it was probably the first major instance of one of our new corporate overlords finally saying the quiet part loud when it comes to labor, and our continually changing relationship to work in the time of COVID.
When the pandemic hit, anyone working a desk job was immediately plunged into an indefinite work-from-home (WFH) status. Numerous articles were published, framing the situation as a mass realization that much of what we do can be done from home. In reality, it was employers who were learning that WFH was a viable option for most, if not all of their employees, and sensing an opportunity.
WFH allows big corporations like Salesforce and Facebook to spend much less on fancy campuses and expensive office leases in New York and San Francisco, it’s true. But on the individual level, something that each of us workers already knew became even more clear to employers: no one is working every minute of an 8-hour work day. With all of us stuck at home, in the middle of a pandemic, with other responsibilities to fulfill, there’s plenty more for us to do than work, especially for people with children or others to care for.
One might optimistically think this could finally bring about the end of such antiquated ideas as the five-day workweek and eight-hour workday. People who work less and are paid more, it has been proven several times, are as, if not more, productive as those working 40 hours per week in our current system. Could this crisis finally deliver to us the utopia we have sought after for generations?
Well. Enter Brent Hyder and Salesforce and a book of Mad Libs. The line you’re most likely to see quoted from this post is, “the 9-to-5 workday is dead; and the employee experience is about more than ping-pong tables and snacks.” This sounds good enough on its head, but considering its source and context, something more insidious surely lurks between the lines.
Hyder’s post talks about everything they’ve learned about how to support their workers during the pandemic, how flexible they’ve had to become, and so on and so forth. But just before the flashy “9-to-5 is dead” line, we get to the crux of what’s really being called for: “As employers, we have an opportunity to create an even better workplace.” Among the points given in service of this new opportunity, becoming “more connected to each other,” and finding more “balance” between work and home stick out the most. As a whole, the post is about blurring the line between work and life.
The way Hyder in this post, and others in the tech sector elsewhere put it, this blurring is a natural occurrence, something that is purely a symptom of our new life in quarantine. An unintended consequence. Our lives have become simultaneously more complicated and less mobile, and work must therefore adapt to the situation.
Seen another way, employers obviously view the pandemic as yet another exciting way to steal from workers. We are not better off with a workplace that asks you to work whenever you’re most easily available, rather than within a clear and constrained period of time. This is the start of work creeping into every singular second of our lives. This is employers realizing that earlier point – that no one works every minute of an 8-hour workday – and getting out ahead of what a mass realization of that might bring. This is big tech trying to sell you more work and spin it as freedom.
I worked at a tech startup here in New York for two years. I know how they think. It starts with somehting innocent enough, like checking your work email on the weekend. Lines like, “can you just take care of this quick task?” and “you know, you’re paid a lot more here, and things like this are part of the trade off.” I never asked for any of the three substantial raises I received during my time at this startup, and they were still used as a way of guilting me into working longer than I should have. Slack and other instant communication services are also used to further blur the line between online and offline, clocked-in and clocked-out.
This Salesforce post is the first offensive in a post-COVID crusade to take that toxic startup mentality, which has already gripped the labor market at large, to the next level. If the 9-to-5 is dead, what does that really mean for your work day? Your employer certainly isn’t going to ask you to work less. Will you work during breakfast? Dinner? In the bathroom? What more time do you have?
If labor doesn’t find the will and the power to push back against this now, it’s easy to imagine a future where we’re all permanently chained to our laptops and phones, never given set working hours as a false “concession,” but always required to be online, just in case. Personally, I’d rather clock out at five and disappear from view of my employer until nine the next morning.
No, I’m sorry Salesforce, but this is horseshit.