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  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 11:20am
My Take
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 March, 2013, 3:11am

There's no substitute for the real thing

First it was the supposed obsolescence of the workplace. Now it's the university classroom. The Western cult of online virtuality is overhyped. It's a good thing it has never caught on in this part of the world. Let's hope it never will.

Many of us wage slaves have fantasised about working at home while earning a regular pay cheque. My kids wonder why they can't connect online to their school and skip classes.

For a long time, beleaguered internet pioneer Yahoo! allowed its workers to do just that - until its new chief executive, Marissa Mayer, put an end to the practice. Now she has become a figure of hate in her own company and vilified by workers around the world who have long cherished the fantasy. But she is right. I am afraid working from home will remain the exclusive privilege of successful poets, novelists, artists - and underemployed people.

A minority of workers can function efficiently anywhere, but most can't. In my line of work, deadlines have far less reality and exert less pressure if you are outside the newsroom, out of the range of screaming editors. Interactions with colleagues, however unpleasant and complaining, are necessary for productivity, concentration and/or just to be kept in the loop.

The same applies to studying at university, that is, attending lectures and seminars. Moocs - massive open online courses - have become all the rage, led by top universities such as Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Sure, it's fun to listen to star professors and Nobel Prize winners giving a lecture - occasionally. But to do an entire course online? It gets tedious and most students have neither the stamina nor discipline.

Now, I am not denigrating the worthwhile effort to "democratise" elite education so everyone who is interested has a chance to take part in higher learning. But let's be clear: you are not getting a degree from Harvard, only a certificate, if you make it to the end, which may or may not advance your academic career and employability.

A large part of going to university is about being present on the physical campus, where you interact with professors, peers, odd characters and brilliant minds - to listen, argue, converse and learn. There is no substitute for that.


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This article is now closed to comments

I agree that one would miss out a lot without physically present at a campus even if it is at the less interactive universities in Hong Kong perhaps. However, I think most of the wage slaves in Hong Kong giving a chance would all vote to work from home. I agree to that too. It will improve productivity by cutting out the unproductive time spend at workplace in babysitting their boss after the legitimate working hours and weekends. It could even improve air quality with reduce use of air polluting buses and no less the MTR (coal burning to get electricity). But this is all a pipe dream for most – not the least is that one finds no room at home as an office.
I agree. When I work from home, I tend to work "less" and can't concentrate. Unless you are in some fine arts, or you have no deadlines, or you have good self-discipline or you don't need to interact with your peers, you can't stay at home and expect to work efficiently.
I won't even let my kids stay at home and get a degree.
Marissa Mayer made a tough choice, against the majority of the people in her organisation. Not popular but needed for the survival of Yahoo. She may be able to revive Yahoo. Cheers lady !
I can't work at home; self control is not in my genes. I will sleep in everyday and have long lunch, then I tell myself I'll do it later. Please don't think I am a bad worker, just me needing other human beings to be in my mist, so I can feel I am not alone, working for a living. I agree with Mr Alex Lo - "working from home will remain the exclusive privilege of successful poets, novelists, artists - and underemployed people". I wish I am born gifted or talented, such a privilege!


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