Hello Folks! Here’s another coworking values podcast for you. Our guest this time is Laetitia Vitaud of Laetitia@work. She’s a feminist and she focuses on the future of work.
For this episode, Laetitia shares all about the future of work and what aspects that may, directly and indirectly, affect it. She also shares with us what makes a job, “bullshit”. She will be talking about the difference between working from home and doing remote work. Laetitia also points out very interesting points on what is happening with essential workers in this current pandemic and how they are being treated now as well as how they are going to be treated once all of this is over.
Do you think that things will change after the pandemic?
I don’t want to be too optimistic about you know, the turning point and the fact that after will be different, I think after is right now, actually, and what we’re seeing is a bit more of the same a bit more of what we’ve had for a long time.
And when you see people applauding nurses and medical workers at 8 pm every day and you know, saying thank you to the NHS, you might think, well, that’s a good thing. There’s a bit of recognition. But on the other hand, applauding is not, does not, you know, bring more economic consideration.
They’re not paid more. They’re not the conditions, the working conditions that have been, you know, that have that are worse and worse, as each year passes are not improved. As a result, there’s no, there’s not more investment done on public services and NHS infrastructure, not more hiring, not more, you know, not higher pay. If it’s just, you know, saying thank you.
And then in a way, it’s like, acknowledging, acknowledging that they do things for nothing, that it’s just vocation that the higher purpose that they do it for which is the common good, does not deserve economic recognition, more or better-working conditions. So there’s an economist called Marianna Matsu Cutler, who created a bit of a controversy recently when she said that applauding nurses and medical workers without changing anything is actually a little bit like an insult. And it does more harm than good.
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LAETTITIA VITAUD – THE FUTURE OF WORK AND BULLSHIT JOBS PODCAST TRANSCRIPT
Bernie J Mitchel 0:03
Hello and welcome to this week’s edition of the Coworking Valleys podcast, the sweetest smelling podcast about coworking in the world. And all the way from that little town just outside Belgrade. Zeljko, how are you doing?
Željko Crnjaković 0:17
These intros are getting weirder and weirder, Bernie.
Bernie J Mitchel 0:23
It is because I’m working at home and I have cabin fever. I haven’t been outside for days.
Željko Crnjaković 0:30
Well, hopefully, our audience is a bit of a less feverish audience.
This episode is brought to you by Cobot, our leading management software for coworking spaces, office hubs and flexible workspaces around the world. You know, one of the best things about Cobot is that it is produced by people who manage a coworking space and know the ins and outs of the main problems and issues bugging coworking managers. So if you want more time for your co-workers and community, check out Cobot at cobot.me and take your coworking management to the next level. Hello and welcome to the show.
Bernie J Mitchel 1:17
We did a webinar with Coworkies. How was that for you?
Željko Crnjaković 1:24
Well, the webinar with Coworkies was very informative, very refreshing and was very okay as far as I’m concerned. As far as the first webinar for the ECA that we did, European Coworking Assembly and I’m looking forward to the others.
Bernie J Mitchel 1:42
Can you squeeze a little plug about our Coworking Symposium?
Željko Crnjaković 1:46
Yeah, 27th of May, everybody join us for the Coworking Symposium. It’s going to be awesome. And we’re going to have about 13 lectures, both industry and research related. And you should visit coworkingsymposium.com and apply today. It’s all virtual. It’s all online. And it’s going to happen on the 27th of May, from 9am, Central European Time, until about 2/3pm.
Bernie J Mitchel 2:14
I’m very excited about that. I think I’m going to have a word with our tech team to see, maybe we can put a link in the show notes about that.
Željko Crnjaković 2:20
Bernie J Mitchel 2:21
It’s so important. And our guest today -I’m wildly excited about, because I’ve been following her work for maybe five years now- and last year she started doing a weekly newsletter, which has, if any of you are old enough to remember the artwork from Studio Nine, that’s where the artwork is. And that makes me love it even more. Not to make her blush by particularly admiring her work and then the society that comes her work. So, Laetitia, what are you known for? And what would you like to be known for?
Laetitia Vitaud 3:01
I’m a feminist, and I focus on the future of work. Short and sweet.
Željko Crnjaković 3:08
Short and sweet. Bernie usually asks this question and just hopes for a little bit of time to think about the next question.
Laetitia Vitaud 3:20
I have a weekly newsletter called Laetitia@work on Sub Stack. Maybe we could add the link to that one. I write books, I published a book about craftsmanship. I explained in it that the future of work will depend on our ability to recover the values of craftsmanship; autonomy, responsibility, creativity. And with the COVID-19 crisis, I find myself with a lot more work than ever because a lot of the subjects that I usually talk about or write about are very much in the forefront today. For example, the work of frontline workers, care workers, nurses, people who work to make sure that our supply chain remains functional and we can have food on the table. All these workers who are usually the lowest paid workers in society, they are deemed necessary workers. They are those we depend most acutely on. And meanwhile the others who can work remotely and who can work wherever they like, they sometimes find themselves a bit useless and identify with the concept of bullshit jobs more than ever. Not all of them, of course, but some of them.
Bernie J Mitchel 4:51
I’m glad we got to this point so quickly. Can you just give a shout out to the book?
Laetitia Vitaud 4:59
That’s Anthropologist, David Graeber’s book. He published it two years ago, I think. Bullshit Jobs was a theory. But he actually started speaking about bullshit jobs seven years ago in 2013. And the rant was mostly a provocative rant that was published in a marginal online magazine. And he didn’t expect this rant about bullshit jobs to stir passions the way it did. So everyone started talking about bullshit jobs and saying, oh my God, that’s true. The more useful you are as a worker, the less you are paid, and the more useless you are, the more bullshit your job is, the higher you are on the revenue ladder. And actually his analysis of the phenomenon of bullshit jobs, again, was largely provocative and Graeber didn’t expect that so many millions of people would identify with his concept, and they did.
Željko Crnjaković 6:16
Does that apply only to those made up jobs just for the future work and stuff like that?
Laetitia Vitaud 6:26
The definition is a bit blurry. Because what exactly is a bullshit job? It is unclear to be to be honest. His definition is one that depends on the level of bureaucracy in the company that you work for. The level of basically toxicity. Whether what you do is toxic to the world or valuable to the world. But mostly it’s a subjective thing. Do you feel that what you do doesn’t bring value, doesn’t serve anyone? Is totally useless? And do you have to pretend that you don’t feel that way? Do you have to lie about what you do? So it’s a very subjective thing. If you feel that a certain number of the tasks that you perform everyday serves no purpose whatsoever, then you may find yourself with a bullshit job. But someone else doing the same job, finding purpose in it might not identify with the concept the same way.
Bernie J Mitchel 7:33
So how is this going to go? This is a very broad question. Where do you think we’ll end up on the other side of this COVID thing? Because very early on, I saw Jeremy Corbyn, who’s the opposition leader here in the government, shouting in a triumphant way about all the people who do those jobs like you said; care workers and stuff like that. Teachers, frontline workers, and firefighters and police people, they’re essential to society. And his actual words resonated with what’s happening now, and he’s got an angle on that already. But, that is the reality. All those people have been thrust into the limelight. And, because they’re essential now, how do you think we will regard each other after all this? Will we just go back to our: “thanks for that, now, let’s get on with crashing courses”, or will they have more status in society? Status is not the word I was looking for, but I think you know what I mean.
Laetitia Vitaud 8:42
Yeah, it’s an excellent question. I don’t want to be too optimistic about the turning point and the fact that after will be different. I think after is right now actually, and what we’re seeing is a bit more of the same, a bit more of what we’ve had for a long time. And when you see people applauding nurses and medical workers at 8pm every day, saying thank you to the NHS, you might think, well, that’s a good thing, there’s a bit of recognition. But on the other hand, applauding does not bring more economic consideration. They’re not paid more. The working conditions that are worse and worse, as each year passes are not improved.
As a result, there’s not more investment done on public services and NHS infrastructure, not more hiring, not higher pay, if it’s just saying thank you. And then in a way, it’s like acknowledging that they do things for nothing. That it’s just vocation, that the higher purpose that they do it for which is the common good, does not deserve economic recognition, more pay or better working conditions. So there’s an economist called Mariana Mazzucato, who created a bit of a controversy recently when she said that applauding nurses and medical workers without changing anything is actually a little bit like an insult. And it does more harm than good in fact, because it contributes to reinforcing the idea that they do things for nothing, just for the sole purpose of saving others.
Bernie J Mitchel 10:35
I really agree with that. My wife works in the NHS, so I got into our road and shouted about tweeting about coworking and no one pays any attention. And she said the NHS too, but genuinely nice neighbours say thank you very much. I think that position the neighbours come from is genuine. But I feel that what Boris Johnson is tweeting to us about, to get out and bang pots and pans for the NHS workers. He feels like he’s saving a few millions a year in pay rises, and being at the front line of being in danger is almost like sending people into a fight that is not in line with the amount of money they are willing to pay them as a result of that.
Laetitia Vitaud 11:34
Exactly. We asked them to be very much in a logic of sacrifice. Sacrifice yourself. And they were not even given proper protective gear in the context of the pandemic. I read all these articles about the lack of proper PPE for NHS workers and how very little was done, and very late in the pandemic. And that’s quite a bit of a scandal I think. How does your spouse feel about people applauding every day?
Bernie J Mitchel 12:16
It doesn’t work very well for her at all because she’s from Argentina. And when the wittiest parts of the dictatorship happened, when she was little, people were out banging pots and pans. So it kind of has a double meaning for her, because while she appreciates people doing that, it just reminds her of being in a very difficult time in her country. It’s like someone generously serving up some food in full celebration, and it’s like the last meal you saw your parent eat or something like that. It doesn’t quite work. But one thing is she’s slightly a feminist, and has a lot of the same ideas as you do. And she definitely is like, this is like a free marketing ploy for more sinister means. If you can get all day and you get the whole country to run outside banging pots and pans, it’s great for comradery, but it kind of sweeps the real issues under the carpet. And there are people that probably for the first time in ages, are paying attention to the NHS and how the whole thing works. Like, oh, that’s great. We should do that. Really, you know, I’ve been in the hospital for ages. So, they walk into this thing and don’t quite realize what they’re turning a blind eye to.
Laetitia Vitaud 13:49
On the other hand it could be an opportunity to put all these subjects on the table and discuss the future of the NHS, and how much we want to invest, and how much we want this momentary recognition to turn into something more durable.
Bernie J Mitchel 14:09
Well, in other parts of the internet, that is what I’ve seen is happening, is people who are just way better at communicating and going like: “hey, now this is happening, maybe we should put the brakes on privatizing large chunks of it.” And it’s highlighting how nice guy, Richard Branson is buying up large chunks in Manchester knock down rates and that sort of thing. Before we run out of time, I want to sharply pivot which is the word of the moment in business at the moment is; can I shout some things out about remote work and the future work and everything like that. And our friend Albert from WeShare, very earlier on, Albert and Marc Navarro have also been on this podcast, shared a few articles about how the COVID has accelerated the real future of work by like 5 or 10 years, and how we’re all working from home. A lot of command and control has gone because people have to work at home, so they don’t have to go to an office and that area.
Laetitia Vitaud 15:26
I’m more or less agreeing. Now that we’ve talked about the remote work, frontline workers, etc. At least we cannot be accused of being naive and speaking about remote work in a way that ignores those who are not concerned. Let’s also maybe add another thing, but before we speak about remote work, the large chunk of people with no work. And as this crisis continues, there is going to be more of them. So if we exclude people on the frontline, working on sites or delivering or caring for others. And then those with no work at all and in dire situations, at risk of literally losing everything, then we can move on to the third category. And the third category is composed of people who usually work in an office or basically behind a computer and now, largely or exclusively work from home. So that’s the third chunk or the third category of workers. And actually, within this category, there are lots of different people if you look closely. And that and we’re not equal when it comes to remote work. It’s a little bit like management. It’s not a binary thing. It’s not either you work remotely or you work in an office. It’s much more complicated than that. And when you come to remote work overnight, forced to do it by the various special circumstances of confinement and this COVID crisis.
Well, it can either be really wonderful for some people, as they gain more flexibility and autonomy, and in spite of the circumstances, they find it quite good. And they think, well, it’s, I have more, more flexibility in my work and it’s actually nice, or it can be quite awful. And it can actually be quite awful when the culture of the company you work for does not favour autonomy in general times, then it will replicate online, this culture that lacks trust and autonomy. And basically if you overnight, you’re propelled into remote work, with no preparation and your culture is not right for this, then you will find yourself continuously in Zoom meetings, Zoom or Skype or whatever. You’ll find yourself connected continuously to your co-workers, because your manager will not trust you to do the right thing and they will want to see you constantly.
And then you can have the worst of both worlds the worst of remote work, which is isolation, feeling of not being able to spend quality time in the physical presence of people you like and drinking coffee with them, and etc. And the worst of physical office work with complete alienation and no control over your time and how you spend it and, endless meetings and etc. And so, you can basically have work conditions that are quite horrible. And let’s not forget that there is software that’s currently very popular among some managers to control your workers, to check what they’re doing online, to take a screenshot every minute or so to verify that they’re actually doing what they should be doing. And the lower you are on the… or let’s say that if you’re in a job, that’s not seen as valuable, then you may have even more control and less autonomy. So, it’s more complex than just saying remote work is necessarily great because you gain autonomy and freedom and everyone will be happy ever after.
Željko Crnjaković 19:49
But can I ask you, we saw some trends in the sense that we saw some transient people adapting to working from home and there is one number I saw, I don’t know where on some report that, about 46% of people in the UK who are working from home don’t want to go back to offices. So, what about that adaptation to working from home?
Laetitia Vitaud 20:19
That’s true. It’s been going on for a long time now. And it’s true that the negative sides could be overcome. The hurdles could be overcome once you do it for a very long period of time. After your first zoom burnout, after the first problems have been encountered and solved, maybe we can learn to work differently. And I believe that some teams which at the beginning of this forced to telework, we’re not very good at it. Maybe after six weeks, seven weeks, eight weeks, they are learning and changing and, valuing the distinction between synchronous work, when you work together with people on a collaborative tool or on video and asynchronous work when you actually give people the freedom to contribute in their own time. And when you work together on a project, it can be different time zones, or it can just be different moments of the day. So that people who have constraints at home, children at home or have other difficulties, can choose the time they want to work best and concentrate on their work. And I’m quite optimistic about the fact that this forced telework that is on a scale that’s so massive, we’ve never experienced anything like it you know, that overnight millions of workers were asked to work from home, comes with a lot of positive learnings and yes, I agree with, WeShare’s Albert who says that we are propelled five years into the future of work. I’m quite sure that are net positive gains in all of this
Željko Crnjaković 22:08
I mean, I’m asking because I’m seeing you know that of myself. So I was one of the founders of the second coworking space in Serbia in total in the whole country, and I did it because I couldn’t work from home. I couldn’t find either the concentration or the environment or the family issues and stuff like that. And now I’m actually finding that I’m more productive now at home, which is wondrous and amazing, than I was, two months ago at work. That doesn’t mean that I’m not going to go back to the coworking space and restart it and rework it. And still, I miss those office meetings and business networking opportunities, face to face. But it’s very far for me to say that this is not a good thing in that sense. I saw in your last post or on the post about the new normal. So it’s all about adaptation and how can you comment on forming new habits and still wanting to go back? People’s ability to adapt to new situations versus people’s longing to go back to old habits.
Laetitia Vitaud 23:43
There are lots of questions in your question actually. Because the first thing you touched on, which was a great thing to touch on, was this distinction between remote work and work from home. It’s not to say you can work remotely in a coworking space in a cafe or anywhere. It’s actually a split space, and you can choose depending on the level of concentration you need. You can choose to go here or there to complete a task and concentrate. And the thing with the current experience that we’re going through is that we have to work exclusively from home. And the thing is, for some people, I think it’s possible and easy, and it can even be great. But for others basically, it all depends on the home that you have, right? Yeah. And if you live with young children, and a partner, and let’s say your partner has to work on the front line… so, you’re stuck with all the chores, and it’s very difficult for you to find the physical space and the time to focus on your own work, and eventually you end up being a housewife or a house husband or whatever. And so, working from home will not work for them.
It depends on the situation of your household, whether you are living with someone or not, whether you have children or not. If you have children, is it your partner or is it you who will do most of the work? On average, women do most of the chores and right now they are stuck with an overwhelming proportion of those chores, and they do most of the domestic work, and they do most of all the tasks involved with raising children. And for them… If you say yeah, working from home is great, and let’s just adapt to the new normal. They will say, sorry, for decades, we’ve outsourced a lot of those tasks by, having nannies and schools and bringing our children outside the home to be able to work. And they don’t really find that that is a liberation, to just be stuck with children at home or be stuck with all the chores at home, no outside help.
So it depends. And basically, there’s a third of all people in London who are single. For them obviously, being able to concentrate, have the physical space to work on something creative is possible. I don’t think it’s impossible to adapt to working from home in those circumstances. For others, the two thirds of the workers who have families, it just depends and it’s more complex than that. I like to never forget Virginia Woolf’s ‘A room of one’s own’. She wrote about a room of one’s own to say that women needed that to be able to write literature. But actually, what’s true about literature is true about even an Excel spreadsheet. You need this material, physical and time space to be able to concentrate on something and create value. And it’s not easy in the current circumstances. So I think that the new normal will not be acceptable… some people won’t be able to continue like this for a very, very long time.
Željko Crnjaković 27:23
Bernie, did you want to ask something for the end?
Bernie J Mitchel 27:27
I haven’t got a question. I just saw from my close personal friend Ricky Jervis on an interview on Radio Five and he was saying almost the same thing like, how will the celebrities tweeting about: “it’s tough here”, when they go exercise in the gym in their house or in their swimming pool and talk about a horror. He actually said what you said that millions of people who have a lot of kids in a house or a block of flats and can’t move anywhere. What keeps coming up for me is that we have to remember that not everyone is in the same situation. I live right near a country park in zone four of London, it’s just like a sheer fluke that one side of our luxury London, or London residence is one of the main roads into London so, it’s like a small motorway. And the other side is a country Park. And when I tweet about cycling around that, people are like, oh my goodness, that’s amazing. You live in the countryside. Whereas other people we know further in London, and when they step outside their front door, there’s loads of people there. This is a very claustrophobic intense experience for them because everywhere they go, there’s people.
Laetitia Vitaud 29:07
There’s this role reversal of situations, because usually if you live in zone one in London that’s like the most expensive place you can live in and you would usually have a very cramped space and you sacrifice space for density because you are in a very central space, you’ll have no commute, etc. But if you work from home, that’s not the right choice to make, is it? If you work from home exclusively, you’d rather live in zone four, zone five and have a garden and have access to a huge park and a forest and be able to take your bike outside or go on walks. And for the same price for the same rent that you pay for the small space in zone one, you can have a much, much larger place in zone four, zone five. And what I’m getting at is that if more people continue to work from home in a few months or years, we may have a lot more spread and a lot less density. This advantage of being in the densest area that was the most expensive one because you had access to clusters, talent clusters and your peers and etc. This may not be as relevant tomorrow as it is today. And it will change the city as we know it. It would change commutes as we know them. And I really believe that there will be a difference in that respect in a couple of years.
Bernie J Mitchel 30:41
On that point, there’s a friend of ours that lives by Regent’s Park in London, which is one of the “Oh my God, what a cool place to live in”. And Regent’s Park is not a fun place to be at the moment because there are so many people where that’s the only place they get to go. And so it’s really hectic. And I would hope that there are more coworking spaces in zone four apart from the local library here, and I live on the east side of London. And then if you go into zone three, there’s Creative Works, Morton Stowe and the Home Brewed Cafe. And then you go into zone two and you come across Main yard and Psychedelic Society and Knowledge Dock. And then they all happen in zone one. And really, you know, zone four needs coworking spaces and all people need coworking spaces. It needs less people to have to go into London to use a computer, then pack up, put in their bag, get on a train and come back home again. And I would hope we get out of that. I’m going to attempt to stop there unless you want me to help.
Željko Crnjaković 31:57
I think that’s it. In this regard, we can finish this week’s episode. Laetitia, thank you so much for being our guest.
Laetitia Vitaud 32:06
Thank you for inviting me.
Željko Crnjaković 32:08
Bernie, do you want to shout out anything for the ends?
Bernie J Mitchel 32:12
There’ll be a lot of links in the show notes to things we’ve mentioned here. And I urge you to go and flip them and explore the future work, because there’s loads of issues around how we work, that are outside our own frame of reference, and they pop up every week in the teachers newsletter, which there’ll be a link to, and obviously, ours is the best thing to subscribe to. But after you’ve done that, thanks very much for your time today, folks.
Željko Crnjaković 32:43
Check us out at coworkingassembly.eu and sign up to the newsletter to get regular updates about the podcast. Talk to you next episode.
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