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#WFH: Learning Lessons From Beyond the Cubicle

Being able to track your own agenda starts with an awareness of where you are and how the virtual world is very different. You have more freedom but much less wiggle room, as the digital world is more unforgiving and it never really forgets. In the cubicle, your identity was pretty well defined. The organizational and social structures of home, family and play were set by rigid rules related to your role at work: time, schedules and corporate rules.
We have come a long way since the days of Freud’s cynical theories that we were led by unknown forces and had little influence over our conscious autonomy. Radical individualism has been with us since Emerson wrote his essay, “Self-Reliance.” It is an American value that is instilled in our culture and social systems. For decades, we have had a safety net in the workplace because we only had to be partly independent. We had the company and we had each other to reinforce what was acceptable, what was necessary, and what was to be done and when. We had conformity: we dressed alike, we worked 9-to-5 and we “drank the corporate Kool-Aid.” It is what we did if we wanted success. The existentialists may have been right, but it wasn’t anything we had to concern ourselves with. We were all linked in similar ways and we reinforced each other.

When we moved from the cubicle to the virtual office, all of that changed. The rules of 9-to-5 became 24/7. We became invisible and in charge of our own destinies. There is no one there to watch us, judge us or control us. We are alone with ourselves and uncomfortable. Anxiety, stress, and anger all come with us. All the parts of our conscious and subconscious minds, what Freud called the ego and id, moved out of the cubicle and into an environment so new, so strange and so different that we really do not know how to handle it. The expectations are still there; in fact, they are greater than ever before but the constraints are gone. The boundaries and limits have been removed. We are more vulnerable yet must be more disciplined. Most importantly, we are expected to produce results.

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