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No hiding place as remote working exposes the idlers

Omar Al-Ubaydli

Published: Updated:

Employees that like to shirk responsibility salivated at the prospect of remote work: if dodging tasks at the office was straightforward, it would surely be easier at home, away from the boss’s watchful gaze. Yet, over time, shirkers have come to realize that remote work poses an existential threat to their parasitic ways. It is music to the ears of the diligent workers who have spent their careers toiling for scant recognition.

Most of us met these wasters early on in school, when the teacher assigned group work, and you had the misfortune of being in the same team as one. Their mindset is verging on the sociopathic: how can I get as much credit as possible, while exerting the least amount of effort?

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Luckily for them – and unluckily for you – everyone gets the same grade, and the teacher makes no effort to account for each group member’s individual contribution.

You can count on them to take part in the fun parts of the collective task: meetings that involve socializing, and the post-submission party are their domain. But, when the work is actually getting done, their switched off mobile, or their grief over the death of a grandparent are giveaways of the shirker. We all know someone from the office who has grieved the deaths of at least nine of their grandparents, and tens of other relatives, over a couple of years.

Kidding on you're having a business lunch offers the scope to pursue leisure interests, but your boss might catch you idling your working hours away. (File photo: AFP)
Kidding on you're having a business lunch offers the scope to pursue leisure interests, but your boss might catch you idling your working hours away. (File photo: AFP)

These parasites continue to carve a niche out for themselves in the professional world, though the modern workplace requires them to elevate their task evasion skills. Their toolkit includes cultivating an excellent personal relationship with management, and a mastery of banal corporate platitudes, which they deploy in team meetings to devastating effect.

They avoid detection by making sure that top brass would never suspect such an amiable employee of being a shirker. They also take care to always work in teams with productive colleagues, while exploiting the boss’ emphasis that the team needs to work out a way of getting the job done without being spoon-fed a detailed workflow.

These shirkers have lived a charmed life, and the transition to remote work may be when the music finally stops. There are two main factors at play.

The first is that management can no longer take for granted the ease of monitoring that working in a central office affords overseers. Dragging workers to the office every day makes it easy to check on their work by physically inspecting their workstations, and it also massively restricts the alternatives to work – there are no TVs, Nintendo’s, or beds next to an employee’s desk. Performing one’s job tasks is often preferable to the boredom of vacantly gazing at a computer screen.

Putting your phone on silent while taking to the waves, sounds good, but not too smart if you miss the surprise Zoom meeting with your boss. (File photo: Reuters)
Putting your phone on silent while taking to the waves, sounds good, but not too smart if you miss the surprise Zoom meeting with your boss. (File photo: Reuters)

Accordingly, under remote work, management will exert a lot more effort ensuring that employees fully earn their salaries. That includes regularly checking in to see what the worker is doing, and requiring staff members to complete daily reports that precisely specify their accomplishments.

The second factor at play is that remote work requires managers to reformulate workflows to deal with the inability to physically interact at a moment’s notice. Certain processes may have traditionally required a series of signatures, creating pockets of time-wasting opportunity for elite shirkers. However in the decentralized world of working from home, managers have taken the time to reengineer workflows to eliminate wasteful idle time, putting the squeeze on work dodgers.

In addition to these factors, physical distance makes it harder for the office raconteur to disguise their shirking as a wordsmith and with rhetoric. They can no longer accidentally or purposely bump into the chief executive outside their office to boast about their pivotal contribution to the company’s last project, because all meetings are now formally scheduled. Under remote work, what was once a gap of a few meters between senior management and the rank and file becomes a gaping chasm, traversable only by a rickety rope bridge called “Zoom.”

Ronald Reagan once quipped: “I've heard that hard work never killed anyone, but I say why take the chance?” Many expert shirkers have tacitly adopted this mantra, emboldened by their ability to suck up to the boss as an alternative to doing work. The modern workplace has allowed these idlers to live above their professional station for decades.

To the professionals committed, talented and that understand that hard work does pay off, remote working is showing that the cream really does rise to the top.

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