TL:DR #16 Being Rational About Remote Working

Remote working and how countries, companies and individuals view and approach the concept is as similarly complex in nature as the behaviour of synapses which exist in the spaces between the cells in our brain[1]. Matters such as mode of transport to and from a place of work, the clothes we have been conditioned we must wear to ‘fit in’[2] to a particular employment or business, socially perceived acceptable and unacceptable accents and dialects are all upon close scrutiny, constrained by a fairly narrow band of options. However, being able to ‘work’ from anywhere, at any time, through sophisticated video-audio technology, is changing not only the rules of work location, but has catalysed employees and employers, states and citizens, to reconsider other ‘norms’ and practices, their efficiency but also their ‘appropriateness’.

Diversity and opportunity have like many other global issues been provided a magnified media backed spotlight in recent years which has been concentrated by the dissemination, usage and absorption rates of tech and data. Diversity, equity and inclusion is now a leadership incentivised model for building a new future of work[3]. The principles of this model are to use diversity enabled by tech to properly allocate resource globally and to foster an inclusive working culture with un underpinning of a fundamental sense of belonging, fairness and equity, enabling people to bring their “full self” to work[4]. If leaders and work participants approach remote working with these principles in mind, positive changes can ripple through our planet globally, improving ‘work’ which occupies a large percentage of our lives.

In Thailand, the words “You are not Thai”, “You don’t belong”, “You don’t understand” or even “you are Asian just like us”[5] and any other exclusionary words misused and designed to supress diversity, prevent an open talent pool from aggregating social development, and to compound unfair unequitable practices, will hopefully be challenged further by the advent of the technological revolution. The concept of digital nomads has caused, including in Thailand, a debate on whether the ‘right to work’ should any longer be defined by an outdated criterion[6], whilst trying to balance equity and fairness to ensure that such ‘nomads’ do not pollute the environment, do respect culture and laws reflecting the norms of the country, and make a financial or social contribution greater than their ‘extraction’ of benefits. Not an easy balance to achieve.

Remote working has inspired office asset investors, pro-office leaders and commentators seeking to balance disruption with rational analysis of pros and cons, to highlight some key issues which need to be managed for remote working practices to be successful:

(i) The opportunity to inspire creativity and innovation should still be present in both physical and virtual formats[7]

If the pool of potential collaborators is widened through remote working, then the diversity of creativity and opinion which can be applied to a project or initiative will significantly increase. How humans use space they occupy to ensure such creativity isn’t dampened through the challenges of not being in a ‘structured office environment’ will be critical to potential success.

(ii) Overregulating remote working practices will hinder the principle of flexibility through centralised rough and ready protectionist rules.

Portugal’s recent ‘employee friendly’ rules designed to protect workers from exploitation outside of office hours and to ensure contributions are made by employers to additional costs of working from home, appear to possess virtuous principles[8]. However, such constraints carry significant risks of exploitation by employees, which can cause poor productivity, stifle opportunity for innovation and disincentivise high performers who openly wish to choose to dedicate additional time to work and their professional development[9]. There is no ‘perfect’ answer, but there are a set of ideals and principles which can be adopted as a starting point for adoption and development.

(iii) Although humans have evolved as naturally social creatures, social interactions and situations may or may not suit particularly individuals, and their diversity and differences can be embraced to form a networked spectrum of people who are the most ‘social’ and those who aren’t, without inequitable ‘judgment’ or mandating social activities on those who are not suited to it.

Although co-operation has been consistently proven, as an average, to produce better results than exclusive individualism, asocial behaviour also has some benefits relating to creativity and self-expression[10]. Further, there are many humans who will exploit the fears of others by overexaggerating an external risk, so as to increase self-interested benefit from the group reaction to the fear of a risk. For example, those promoting ‘get back to the office’ with too aggressive a tone without applying a rational range of diverse options for remote, hybrid and physical in-the-office working patterns may perhaps be inclined to overexaggerate the issues with changing pre-pandemic work practices.

The perception of what is or isn’t rational is also an added obfuscator to analysing the best approach to remote working practices. Is it rational to fear immigrants ‘taking over local jobs’ when immigrants generally underpin an accelerated majority-benefit economic uplift, and yet further to fear ‘people working from anywhere’ stealing opportunities from others? Rationality itself is not capable of summation in one sentence, there are degrees of objective and subjective rationality, and a threshold for achieving exceptional rationality so that sound reasons and justifications can support decisions made with critical thinking. Whilst this might all read as very obvious, a delve into Steven Pinker’s recent book – “Rationality: What it is, Why it seems scarce, Why it Matters“[11] is highly illuminating on the extent to which purer forms of rationality free from typical litanies of error, are hard to come by.

After more of us understand how irrational we are or can be, improve ourselves by developing better practices of adjusting mistaken or unsubstantiated beliefs, presumptions and biases, we will be better positioned to leverage the optimum benefits of new innovations such as remote working, with a more equitable spread of benefits across a wider and more diverse pool of people. That task, starts from within.

[1] Vijay Balasubramanian Brain Power (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 118 (32) 10 August 2021 see: )

[2] Melissa De Witte Dress Codes can reveal social aspirations, political ideals, says Stanford scholar (Stanford News Online 10 February 2021 see: )

[3] World Economic Forum & Members of the Global Future Council on the New Equality and Inclusion Agenda Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 4.0: A toolkit for leaders to accelerate social progress in the future of work (World Economic Forum June 2021 see: )

[4] ibid 3.

[5] Analiza Liezl Perez-Amurao & Sirijit Sunanta They are Asians Just Like Us’: Filipino Teachers, Colonial Aesthetics and English Language Education in Thailand (Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia Vol.35 No.1 March 2020 see: ) pp. 108-37

[6] Editorial Digital Nomads Stuck in Grey Area (Bangkok Post Online 21 November 2021 see: last accessed 22 November 2021)

[7] Emma Jacobs Where’s the spark? How lockdown caused a creativity crisis (Financial Times Online 18 January 2021 see: last accessed 22 November 2021)

[8] Peter Wise Portuguese Law bans employers from contacting staff out of hours (Financial Times Online 15 November 2021 see: last accessed 22 November 2021)

[9] Henry Mance Dear colleague, you won’t believe these new remote working rules (Financial Times Online 19 November 2021 see: last accessed 22 November 2021)

[10] David Hargreaves, Dorothy Miell & Raymond MacDonald Musical Imaginations: Multidisciplinary perspectives on creativity, performance and perception (Oxford Scholarship Online May 2021 see: DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199568086.001.0001

[11] Steven Pinker Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters (Viking 2021)

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