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Out of Office summary

Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Peterson

The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working from Home

4.4 (443 ratings)
20 mins

Brief summary

'Out of Office' by Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen is a timely book that explores how work became an all-encompassing part of our lives and offers practical advice on how to set boundaries, unplug, and reclaim our free time to live a more balanced life.

Table of Contents

    Out of Office
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    Key idea 1 of 5

    When your flexibility benefits the company – not you.

    Let’s make one thing clear from the start: these blinks aren’t anti-working-from-home. Far from it. In fact, the authors argue that remote work can be truly liberating, even life-changing! But it has to be done right. 

    Because far too often, working from home just ends up meaning working all the time, with no separation between our work life and our private life. So, to address this, we need to start off with a concept that runs deep in today’s work culture: flexibility.

    Have you ever called the customer service line at Amazon or Apple? Or really any number of other large companies. If so, you likely spoke with a “service partner” from a totally different company – a company called Arise.

    Oddly enough, though, that person on the phone won’t actually be an Arise employee; they’ll be an independently contracted gig worker. No health insurance, leave, or benefits. And no call center – just their living room.

    The upside? According to Arise, it’s flexibility. Arise claims that working with them puts you in control – you can be your own boss, with your own schedule, working from your own home. But . . . is that the sort of flexibility you really want? The sort where you don’t even have a paid lunch break?

    Flexibility like that is great for the company, sure: it’s cheaper. Less overhead, no paid office space. But for the worker, flexibility seldom means freedom. Far from it.

    So how can workers actually get more freedom? There are some interesting ideas around this.

    One is the four-day workweek. A New Zealand trust-management company, Perpetual Guardian, has actually had a 20-percent rise in productivity since it switched to a four-day week – and a 12.5 percent rise in profitability.

    But what they didn’t do was just send everyone home one extra day. They thought about how the change could work with schedules and deadlines. As a result, they made some smaller modifications around the office to increase efficiency – including setting up red, yellow, and green flags at workspaces so that workers could show their availability and distribute the workload.

    Here’s another tip: put up guardrails – not boundaries, which tend to get crossed, but rules that are much firmer.

    Take emails, for example. If you’re heading on vacation, you’ll likely set up an auto reply. But let’s face it. You’ll probably still check your inbox from time to time.

    Front, a tech company, provides a guardrail. It diverts emails out of your inbox altogether, forwarding them on to someone who’s actually working. You never even receive the message, so you don’t have to agonize over whether or not you need to get back to it.

    Won’t your emails just end up going to an equally stressed colleague, though – making their life that much worse? Well, yeah, quite possibly.

    And that’s why, for true workplace flexibility, companies need to do something simpler still: pay for it.

    Most companies demand flexibility from workers for a simple reason: they don’t have enough staff. But if they hire slightly more than they strictly need, others can pick up the slack and ensure that everyone gets along much better.

    Yes, it will cost a bit more. But in the end, the results will pay off for everyone. Employees will be able to unplug, and you’ll reduce a whole lot of stress for everyone else.

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    What is Out of Office about?

    Out of Office (2021) is about working from home, and the bigger, more fundamental questions about contemporary work culture that remote work illuminates. How can we reimagine work to make our lives more meaningful?

    Out of Office Review

    Out of Office (2022) explores the impact of key technologies on our work culture and offers insights on reclaiming our time and productivity. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Provides a thought-provoking exploration of the complex ways new technologies shape our lives, equipping readers with a fresh perspective on work-life balance.
    • Analyzes real-life stories and expert opinions, making the book a compelling and relatable guide to navigating the digital age and its impact on our professional lives.
    • With its emphasis on practical solutions and strategies, the book equips readers with valuable tools to create healthier, more efficient work habits, without sacrificing personal life.

    Who should read Out of Office?

    • Workers curious about fleeing the office
    • Managers looking to rethink working practices
    • Anyone interested in the future of work

    About the Author

    Journalist couple Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen moved from New York City to Montana in 2017. Warzel is a contributing writer at the Atlantic, where he writes the newsletter Galaxy Brain. Formerly, he worked for the New York Times and BuzzFeed. Petersen writes the newsletter Culture Study and has written three other books including Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation.

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    Out of Office FAQs 

    What is the main message of Out of Office?

    Embrace the power of leisure and unplug from work to truly live.

    How long does it take to read Out of Office?

    Reading time for Out of Office varies. The Blinkist summary can be read in 15 minutes.

    Is Out of Office a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Out of Office is a must-read! It explores the importance of disconnecting from work and finding balance in life.

    Who is the author of Out of Office?

    Out of Office is written by Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Peterson.

    What to read after Out of Office?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Out of Office, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • Get It Done by Ayelet Fishbach
    • From Strength to Strength by Arthur C. Brooks
    • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick M. Lencioni
    • The Black Agenda by Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman
    • The Power of Fun by Catherine Price
    • Stolen Focus by Johann Hari
    • Toxic Positivity by Whitney Goodman
    • No Cure for Being Human by Kate Bowler
    • Remote Work Revolution by Tsedal Neeley
    • The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz & Janet Mills