Against working from the office

I’m worn out from work, particularly the office grind and the entire LinkedIn process—updating my resume and engaging in ‘networking.’ Recently, I encountered a girl on the link-up platform Tagged who mentioned she was networking, and it left me feeling a bit disheartened. However, the truth is, I’m actually quite skilled at networking.

I understand that the job search can be exhausting as well. Receiving rejection emails stating, ‘We regret to inform you that the position you applied for has been filled by another candidate,’ only adds to the weariness. It’s draining to be told that they’ll keep your resume on file for future opportunities that align with your skills. Even though I have a job, I just want a break from it all.

Soul-crashing jobs

In the last couple of years, my focus has shifted from political research to data analytics. I’ve invested significant effort by attending meetings, networking, and subscribing to Coursera for courses. Additionally, I sought guidance from an older cousin who mentors me, and I’ve engaged two close friends and a dear sister in this journey.

Despite my pursuit of a career change, I’ve also actively participated in the rapidly growing and popular subreddit called “anti-work.” It caters to individuals interested in ending work, exploring work-free lifestyles, discussing anti-work concepts, and seeking support with job-related challenges.

I resonate with many posts in “anti-work” regarding terrible bosses, the dehumanization of late-stage capitalism, and soul-crushing jobs for survival. I discovered “anti-work” while spending time on Reddit during the Covid years, particularly in 2020 when I had an unexpected three-month work break. During this time, I devoted hours to subreddits like r/NBA, r/antiwork, and r/personalfinance, prompting me to reflect on how we reached this point.

During those three months, I experienced some of the happiest moments in my working life. I enjoyed taking long walks, reading novels and lengthy articles, and watching the NBA in the morning. I did the minimum work allowed on my laptop each day and mostly worked from home. How I wish my life could always be like that.

Return to working from office

The working-from-home phenomenon came to an abrupt end just as we were getting used to it. A Wall Street Journal report revealed that 72.5 percent of companies had workers solely operating from the office, up from 60 percent in 2021. The prevalence of hybrid arrangements, where employees split time between home and the office, decreased across all industries in 2022.

Companies and state institutions are demanding staff switch back to working from the office. They argue that working from home lowers employee productivity and hinders team synergies and work culture. Many Kenyans have received corporate emails with subtle threats. Increasingly, employers are promoting the benefits of working from the office while discouraging the comfort of working remotely.

“In light of the importance of office culture and maximizing productivity, we have scrapped the option of working from home. We firmly believe that by working together in the office, we can create an environment that encourages learning, collaboration, and growth. It will also help us strengthen our relationships with clients and provide exceptional service,” reads an excerpt from a corporate email to employees.

The great resignation

The situation has led to employee dissatisfaction, prompting many to seek new roles or more flexible work options during what is now known as ‘The Great Resignation.’ Personally, I’ve been unhappy at my current job for the past two to three years since returning to the office.

I find solace in spending time on r/anti-work, where I read, comment, and like posts from others in similar mid-level or lower-level positions who share their exhaustion with virtual meetings, team collaborations, reporting, note-taking, management, workplace politics, and the necessity of working to meet basic needs like food and rent.

I thoroughly enjoy the days when I get to work from home. The lunchtime walks I get to take, sleeping in up to a few minutes past eight, only to wake up, spruce up a bit, and get into the grind before even taking breakfast.

I live in Ongata Rongai (the diaspora), and there are fewer things I hate more than getting stuck in 14-seater matatus. Here, one is squeezed like sardines with fellow workers on a one-and-a-half-hour commute to Nairobi CBD for an eight-hour shift, five days a week.

Read also: Workers want remote jobs, even at less pay

The point of life

Anti-work has felt like an awakening of fire in my soul. All this hassle is unnecessary. The profits, the bonuses, and the fruits of labor go to the big bosses and shareholders.

For the rest of us, all we get is health insurance, the security of a placid landlord, food on the table, and school fees cleared. In fact, Kenyans can barely meet all their bills, with the World Bank estimating an average household makes daily purchases of food and household items on credit. Then we press repeat for another month. What is this?

We live in the richest epoch in human history, yet the levels of inequality in the world are at record highs. Inflation has soared globally, eroding the incomes of many working-class people. We are battling anxiety from climate upheaval, social unrest, economic contraction, and uncertainty about the socio-economic globalized system.

Honestly, it feels like there should be something better out there. Anarchy could be it or working from home, but only because one wants to. Universal basic income, four-day work weeks, all these ideas sound so appealing to me.

To be clear, I am well aware that I live in Kenya, a developing country. A country with high levels of unemployment, underemployment, high inflation, and searing poverty. Universal basic income seems like a pipe dream. Many Kenyans HAVE to work, and not using computers and never-ending Zoom calls, but at jua kali sites, at shops, barbershops, salons, and welding stations where there is no salary but a measly daily wage.

I understand my privilege to be “unsatisfied with my current white-collar career and having to work to eat.

Anarchy seems like heaven

Yet, I still feel vaguely, sometimes deeply frustrated and unhappy on Wednesday mornings (the worst time for me) when the week feels unending. And I have to make sure I am out of the house in time, hoping there is no “msako” or matatu strike or National Transport Safety Authority (NTSA) crackdown or maandamano. I feel like we could have designed a better system than neoliberal capitalism.

Even though I am remarkably good at networking, churning reports, minutes, PowerPoints, matrices, and all manner of Microsoft Documents, I’m unhappy. Disgruntled. Despairing. Anarchy seems like heaven, an idea so good but so out of reach.

But what to do? The game has to be played. The LinkedIn posts have to be uploaded, and the Zoom calls have to be recorded and transcribed. What’s more, the quarterly targets have to be met, massaged, inflated, blame assigned, and credit claimed.

I hope that by subscribing to Coursera and taking their courses, I will acquire the skills to transition into a career where I can work from home. With technology constantly disrupting traditional job markets, I seek a more secure path for the future.

I aim to save more money and take on freelancing gigs that let me travel. Arusha, Marsabit, Malindi, and Kinshasa are great destinations for me as I work. My goal is to avoid jobs that demand commuting on a matatu five days a week to and from the city. Additionally, I aspire to secure a higher salary. But what if I never needed to work?

“The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play. That’s why we have to destroy the present politico-economic system,” says writer Arthur C. Clarke.

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