Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Working from home

I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about this week and then I discovered that Craig Boudreau, head of  J. Francis Investments, vice chair of the Cape Breton Regional Chamber of Commerce, Sage of Charlotte Street, had once again taken pen in hand to share his thoughts on the work-from-home question. 

Craig Boudreau

Craig Boudreau (cropped from CB Post photo/Jeremy Fraser)

This is not the first time he’s addressed the subject—you may recall his December 2020 missive to the same publication, in which he argued that if people were “allowed and/or encouraged to work from home they effectively stop contributing to the economy.” Boudreau proposed such people should face a special “work-from-home” tax.

This time, Boudreau is rebutting a letter to the editor of the Cape Breton Post headlined, ‘New work policy should be reversed,’ in which the author, Lawrence Barron from Ingonish Harbour, calls on the federal government to allow its employees to continue to work from home full-time instead of being forced back into the office two or three days a week as of March.

Boudreau’s argument is basically the same one he made in December (minus the special tax, which someone must have convinced him was a non-starter). He thinks federal workers should be forced to work in offices so they will buy their lunches (from people like him):

Now keep in mind that Mr. Barron is referring specifically to government employees. That’s ironic isn’t it? The government workers who are paid by us, the taxpayers, want to work from home a certain portion of the week, or all week if they had it their way.

And by doing so all small and medium-sized businesses pay the price and the only winners are Amazon, Costco and the big utilities and oil companies that heat and power their homes.

I think he’s confusing working from home with being in lock down. I work from home and I promise you, I don’t buy all my supplies from Amazon, and certainly not from Costco, which we don’t even have in CBRM (a fact the vice-chair of the chamber of commerce must know.) Getting out to buy groceries, have a meal or get a coffee is a nice break from the home office.

But Boudreau really loses the plot when he tries to dress up this naked self-interest as concern for workers:

There is a lot more that I could say, but for case in point I would like to thank a number of professions and vocations that are unable to work from home – ‘the cannots.’

Food and beverage servers, dentists, laborers and trades people, bank employees, car dealership employees, physicians, mechanics, fire fighters, EMT operators, nurses, taxi drivers, bus drivers, day-care workers, home-care employees, massage therapists, chiropractors, telephone and power repair people, grocery workers to name just a few. Should they not be allowed to work from home as well?

The kindest thing I can say about that list of “cannots” is that Boudreau is probably a very busy man, and while he may have time to write a letter to the editor, he can hardly be expected to think about it. Because if he’d thought about this list for even a moment, he’d have realized that some physicians, day-care workers, massage therapists and chiropractors DO work from home.

Virtual Freshii cashier

Boudreau is co-owner of a Freshii franchise, a company so concerned about its workers, it’s experimenting in Ontario with “Percy,” a virtual cashier system that allows it to hire cashiers in Nicaragua and pay them a fraction of what Canadian workers would cost. Interesting update here. (Percy/Vimeo)

And surely it would have struck him that people don’t generally become bus drivers, fire fighters or “telephone and power repair people” because they’re looking for a job they can do from their living rooms.

Some people don’t want to work from home, they prefer interacting with their fellow human beings, it’s why they choose the jobs they do, and some people have no choice but to work in the service industry, but they all want (and deserve) to be paid a living wage. If Boudreau is concerned about workers, he should take up that cause rather than using the fact that some can’t work from home as an argument for forcing everyone back into the office.


Major studies

Lawrence Barron, in his letter, cites “major studies” that “have shown that employees who work from home are often more productive than office workers, but Boudreau pounces:

…the term “major studies” does not equate to proof of anything, but at the very least the studies that Mr. Barron is referring to (if they exist) can easily be refuted by other “major studies.”

At which point, I expected Boudreau to cite these “other ‘major studies'” and “easily” refute Barron’s contention, but he doesn’t.

Photo of a man in a suit working on a laptop in a restaurant.

I am curious as to why this “digital nomad,” is wearing a suit. (Photo by Flcikr user: perzon seo, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)

So I will give Barron a little assist by pointing you to this 2020 article in the Harvard Business Review headlined “Our Work-from-Anywhere Future” by Harvard Business School prof Prithwiraj (Raj) Choudhury:

Research has shown performance benefits. A 2015 study by Nicholas Bloom and coauthors found that when employees opted in to WFH [work from home] policies, their productivity increased by 13%. When, nine months later, the same workers were given a choice between remaining at home and returning to the office, those who chose the former saw even further improvements: They were 22% more productive than they had been before the experiment. This suggests that people should probably determine for themselves the situation (home or office) that fits them best.

In 2019, Choudhury and a colleague conducted their own study focusing on federal workers in the US who were able to work not just from home but “from anywhere”:

“The effect was an increase in real income [for remote employees],” Choudhury said, adding that much of the increase was driven by living in areas with lower housing costs. “That makes people really happy, and that happiness and motivation possibly translates to productivity.”

Barron cites long commutes, intrusive co-workers, noisy and/or messy workplaces and “negative and abusive work environments with abusive bosses” as reasons why an employee might prefer to work from home. Boudreau counters this with a masterful: “Really?”

Meaning that to make his case, Boudreau not only has to ignore all the documented benefits of remote work for employees and employers alike, he has to outright deny the ills that exist in many workplaces.

That he does so with such conviction is both funny and, ultimately, depressing.


Cruise news

I watched a handful of YouTube videos by a cruise enthusiast for a story in this week’s edition and now the algorithm thinks I want to take a cruise, so every second add it shows me is for Carnival or Holland America Line.

That’ll teach me.

I also heard from a reader who explained that the Saint John pulp and paper mill, which said cruise enthusiast had filmed, is located near an actual attraction: the Reversing Falls. And it’s true, that is the attraction the cruise enthusiast had set out initially to see.

Pulp and paper mill, Saint John, NB

My reader said the falls actually are “right there in the middle of the river but it’s high tide and there’s nothing much to see but a few ripples,” adding that:

…World Famous Reversing Falls is a better slogan than World-Class Ugly Pulp Mill and Oil Refinery. Irvings outrank the Creator in New Brunswick of course, it was foolish to put the fancy reversing rapids beside their pulp mill.

My reader ended by noting they actually love Saint John, which smells “95% better than it did in the ’60s.”

I don’t know Saint John at all, but I do love my readers.

Stay warm, everyone!