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Working 9 to 5? 'Out of Office' author says maybe it's time to rethink that

Petersen and her partner and co-author, Charlie Warzel, make the case that the pandemic has created a rare opportunity to rethink the shape of work life — including the 9-to-5 workday.

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Other segments from the episode on December 13, 2021

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 13, 2021: Interview with Anne Helen Petersen; Best Books of 2021

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Many offices that were shut earlier in the pandemic have reopened or will do so in January, although the new omicron variant has brought more uncertainty. But for many people, the work-at-home era has already ended or is about to, for better or worse. My guest, journalist Anne Helen Petersen, says the pandemic created a rare opportunity to rethink the shape of work life. She's thrilled with the new opportunities for change and dismayed by how many organizations are messing it up.

Petersen writes about working life. Her new book, written with her partner Charlie Warzel, is called "Out Of Office: The Big Problem And Bigger Promise Of Working From Home." A couple of years ago, Petersen and Warzel gave up office life to become independent journalists and work from home. They also changed the definition of home by moving from Brooklyn to Missoula, Mont., and then to an island off the coast of Washington state. She's learned that working from home and living outside the big city doesn't necessarily prevent burnout. You still need guardrails. Petersen is a former senior writer at BuzzFeed News and now writes her newsletter Culture Study as a full-time venture on Substack. She's also the author of an earlier book called "Can't Even: How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation."

Anne Helen Petersen, welcome to FRESH AIR.

ANNE HELEN PETERSEN: Thank you so much for having me. It's a real pleasure.

GROSS: And I want to preface this by saying, you mentioned in your book that your book is addressed to that 40 or more percent of people who were able to work at home during the pandemic, many of whom are interested in continuing to do at least some work from home. You want to acknowledge that this is a pretty lucky position to be in, to have been able to work from home, and most people were not in that position. So let's just state that at the jump.

But for those who work from home and for businesses who had people work from home, it seems to me there's a big conflict now between the model of let's return to normal work life the way it used to be as soon as possible versus let's see what we learn from the pandemic working at home that we should incorporate into a new normal. Do you see that conflict going on right now?

PETERSEN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think that we've been working from home for nearly two years. So a lot of the practices, the habits, the rhythms have become normalized. And we're at the point where I think trying to just jump back into the office five days a week is going to feel really weird for people - has already started to feel weird if people have started to go back into the office. And there's a craving for flexibility that I think - we're seeing that tension, you know, employees ask for more of that flexibility that they had working from home while also having some of the elements of the office that they really did miss.

GROSS: So what are some of the most common themes you've heard and read about what people like or liked about working from home?

PETERSEN: I think people like not commuting. It's a big one. I think people really like being able to figure out care schedules in a way that works for them. This is specific to parents, but there's all sorts of definitions of care, especially elder care is a big one that people don't talk about as much in terms of schedules. And I also think that people like not having to put on a professional face every day and think about what it means to present yourself for people who pay you, you know, for bosses, for co-workers all the time. And that can mean different things for different people. But I know a lot of people just think about all the time that they've spent not presenting themselves in that way, necessarily.

GROSS: And what are some of the biggest problems people have told you about in terms of working from home?

PETERSEN: The hugest one is that work goes everywhere. Work is so slippery. Like, it's roll over in the morning and you start working, and then there's no real off-ramp from work in any capacity. You know, you might stop to pick up your kids or to make dinner, but work is still there in the crevices of your life, and you keep working after dinner. I think this is particularly true during the depths of the pandemic when there really was not very much else available for people to do in terms of socializing - but just that feeling that work was all over the place.

GROSS: Yeah. You write about the importance of guardrails so that you're not working all the time. But that's hard to do, especially if you're working on a very flexible schedule and you're taking time out during the day to be with your children or during the pandemic to help with their education on Zoom or, you know, just at home. So you have to compensate for that by working in the evenings, so it gets very blurry throughout the day.

PETERSEN: Yeah, and that's the difficult thing, too. I think that sometimes people have this image of what working from home is going to look like that is so rooted in that experience of working from home over the course of the last two years, which is not really working from home. You know, I worked from home before the pandemic hit, and it was not what it was like during the pandemic. You know, we were working from home under duress, in confinement, in fear and oftentimes without child care.

And that is a really different experience than what the future of working from home can look like. You know, if you have full-time child care available to you, if you're able to work with other people, you know, go to someone's kitchen table and work with them together, going to co-working spaces, that's really different than what we have experienced over the course of the last few months, few years.

GROSS: I work from home for over a year during the pandemic, and among the things I really missed about being in the office and in the recording studio is the people who I work with who I really love seeing, the soundproofing of an office because - of a studio because it's so noisy outside - there's, like, trucks and lawnmowers and construction - but also that change of scenery. You know, my mother who went back to work after me and my brother were grown up, she went back to work as a secretary, which was what she was before we were born. And it's not like she loved the work that much.

But what she said to me was the best part of the day was leaving home and closing the door, and the other best part of the day was coming home and opening the door, you know? And I thought, like, that's so interesting. And I understand that. That sense of, like, coming and going and changing of scenery is so - it feels important.

PETERSEN: Absolutely. And I think that any mother who's had to go through the - any parent, any caregiver understands that that desire to just be away from the spaces in which they're parenting all the time. And that's why I think you also hear from some parents who feel very conflicted about, you know, I am so sick of my kids, but I'm also addicted to my kids and I want to be around them all the time and understanding that you can feel both of those things at once. Like, I don't want to leave the house. I don't want to put on makeup. I don't want to commute. But also, I really need to get out of my space. So how do we hold those two ideas in our heads and find something that is a mix of those two things?

And for me, you know, there are ways in which I leave the house all the time and get a change of scenery in my working day and the rhythms of my day that don't involve a commute. And I think a lot of people can figure those out as well. But sometimes, too, it does mean going to the office. And sometimes I think the way that we've talked about this question about moving forward with this, there's this dichotomy of it's all remote or it's all office, and what we're advocating for is a real mix of the two.

GROSS: Yeah, the hybrid model.

PETERSEN: Yeah, or, like, whatever fits for your industry, for your job, for the type of work that you do. Different types of work have different rhythms, and I think there's no one size fits all solution to this.

GROSS: Yeah, you're right. You're not anti-arbitrary office. What do you mean by that?

PETERSEN: So the status quo of us being in offices from a certain time to a certain time every day - you know, that standard of 9 to 5 is, I think, how some people think of it. But I think that had expanded significantly so that people were in their offices from 9 to 5, but also working other hours as well. It just - it's very arbitrary. It's based on rhythms that are no longer ours. You know, it's based on an understanding that there is a caretaker at home for most families in the United States, and that's not necessarily the case. You know, kids get out of school at 2 or 3. And so I think it's such a great time to revisit some of these pretty arbitrary understandings of how many hours your butt should be in a chair in the office. You don't need to be in an office to answer emails.

GROSS: Do you mean that the 9-to-5 model was initially predicated on the wife and mother being home to take care of things, to take care of the children?

PETERSEN: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: A lot of companies put a premium on face-to-face interactions and say - and I think justifiably - that there's ideas that just pop up when you're talking in passing - you know, when you have a kind of accidental meeting in the hallway and you just start schmoozing, and suddenly there's an interesting idea that emerges from that - or just a sense of pleasure and - you know, pleasure at seeing a colleague that you like. So how much of a premium do you put on that when you think about the future of work?

PETERSEN: So this is really interesting, because I've always been someone who takes, like, you know, a normal amount of pleasure, I think, in seeing people in the office and that sort of thing. But it is not necessarily an environment in which I thrive, and I think that that has to do with being a little bit more introverted, but also not being a person who - you know, just because of my gender, the way that I interact with people, like, I am not the - like, the MVP of the office, and Charlie loves the office. He, like, cannot wait to get back into the office spaces. Like, even when we moved away from New York, he loved going back to New York to go to his home office when he was working at The New York Times. And so much of it was that, like, he was - he's a white guy, and he does really well in these white guy spaces.

And I think sometimes when we talk about who thrives in the office, we think about, like, oh, just characteristics - the way that people's minds work, like, how they think about socializing and creativity. But it's also about the cultures of offices and who is meant to thrive - right? - what the dominant ways of communicating - like, who it privileges. And so my thinking now is so much more in line with, like - you know, the way that offices were before, they were really built for a person who loves to socialize, who's understanding of socializing outside of the offices also - like, let's go get a drink afterwards - and who doesn't have to be torn away for other responsibilities. And I think that that says a lot about who really thrived in these mandatory office environments.

GROSS: Well, let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is journalist Anne Helen Petersen. She's the co-author of the new book "Out Of Office: The Big Problem And Bigger Promise Of Working From Home." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF JULIAN LAGE'S "SUPERA")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. My guest is Anne Helen Petersen, and she writes about work and work life. Her new book is called "Out Of Office: The Big Problem And Bigger Promise Of Working From Home." She works from home. She used to write for BuzzFeed, but now she is an independent journalist and writes the newsletter Culture Study as a full-time venture on Substack.

Are there models any place in the world where it is a hybrid model and it's been successful? And I mean, like, before the pandemic, not...

PETERSEN: Yeah.

GROSS: ...Experimenting after the pandemic - or we're not after yet. It's still during the pandemic.

PETERSEN: I always hesitate to bring up a Scandinavian country because people are like, well, of course Scandinavia has it figured out.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Right. Yeah.

PETERSEN: And we'll never be like Scandinavia for any number of reasons. But I - Denmark - you know, a lot of people, when I was writing about this, pointed to some of the ways that there are breaks in their day in Denmark in which everyone - or a lot of people, men and women, leave the office at an earlier hour that coincides when school and care centers are done. So I think it's, like, 2 or 3 maybe. And people go home and they feed their families. And then there's oftentimes a little bit of work that is reserved for after that pickup time. So the day is stilted in that way.

You know, and I would love to talk and think more about people who are, like, well, I hate that because I just have to go back to work essentially. Like, I want my day to be over. But it also makes it so that you can split the responsibilities for who picks up kids, and you don't have to worry about that awkward after-care time. You know, a lot of people I know are spending a lot of money to try to figure out what to do with those two hours when school is done but work is not yet done.

GROSS: You know, one of the problems that working at home will not solve, I think, is for ambitious people who want to, like, get the most done and prove themselves and take on more projects and then are stuck with deadlines for those projects. Those people are still going to have to be working constantly and still burning out. Like, you can burn out at home as well as you can at work if you're driving yourself really hard. And that will always be the case for many people, for all the best and worst reasons.

PETERSEN: Yeah, the individual can only do so much in terms of guarding themselves against burnout. We talk in the book a lot about the difference between boundaries, which are contingent upon the individual to uphold - right? - and often fail or always fail, and guardrails, which are structural and the responsibility of the organization to maintain. And the thing about guardrails is that, like, that's the work of management. It's the work of the C-suite. It's the work of the organization and how it communicates the amount of work that needs to be done and when it should be done.

And I think sometimes organizations are really organized in a way that is meant to burn out employees. So even before the pandemic and before working from home, the amount of work was still there. And the demands on people and how much work that they should be doing, it was still there. And I think it just, in some ways, became more visible when you're doing it all the time in your own spaces at home. Like, it never - it feels like it never ends. It seeps into everything. You're not getting a change of landscape.

And so when you - when salaried workers, when people who don't have hourly maxes are given tasks and not enough staff and unrealistic deadlines but told this is what you need to do in order to succeed in this company, you know, people are going to try to do that. They're also going to burn themselves out. And that might mean turnover. It might mean worse product, less creative product. Like, it's not a net good for the organization. But sometimes, a net - and this is a particularly American affliction, but it's harder to look in that long term. People are more focused on, like, I need to finish this product, and I need to do it now.

GROSS: What are some of the ways that you think companies are messing up return-to-office?

PETERSEN: One of my favorites or it - least favorites - is no working from home on Fridays. And to me, I understand why companies do this. They think that if you allow people to work from home on Fridays, that they're just going to take a three-day weekend. And I think that what that does is, one, most of all, it shows that you do not trust your employees. You think that they are going to sneak around and fake working and be less productive on a Friday. And maybe, you know, I think sometimes employees figure out ways to do the work that is demanded of them and push off at 3 p.m. on a Friday. And I don't think that there is anything wrong with this.

This is where, I think, like, maybe some managers or executives who would be listening to this would be like, how dare she suggest that, like, there would be two hours in the day that an employee is not working and says that they're working or is contracted to work. But you know what I used to do? Even when I had to be in the office from 3 to 5 on a Friday, I would do nothing, right? My day, my ability to work any longer was over. And this would happen periodically throughout the week, too. I was really just wasting time by being in the office. I had, you know, reached my creative limit, and I was spinning my wheels.

And so what I think companies would be smarter to do is to allow their employees - give their - like, trust their employees in a way that shows that they can figure out when they do their best work. And, you know, for me, may - like, I work really poorly on Friday afternoons. It's just not a time for me. But I love working on a Sunday morning. So I exchange times throughout the week in order to do the amount of work that I need to do over the course of that week.

GROSS: You know, you used the word trust, and I think trust is such a pivotal word here. Because if you trust your team to get the work done on a schedule that suits them, that's great for everybody. But there are often employees who will be cheating in that sense. Do you know what I mean? They're, like - some people will just take Friday off and go to the movies...

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: ...You know, and sleep late. And so - I mean, I think that is a genuine issue that especially large companies have to deal with. So - I don't know. How do you suggest dealing with that?

PETERSEN: Yeah, this is a really tough one - right? - because some jobs are passion jobs - right? - that people want to do and that they wake up every day, and they're like, I really like what I do. Sometimes it burns me out, but I really like what I do, and I'm dedicated to this project. And then some jobs are data entry, right? And that can be done from home. But it is not necessarily a job that people feel like, I need to do this job really well every day, you know? I'm aspiring to excellence at this data entry. It's a paycheck, and that's important.

And I think that there are different ways, though, even with jobs that are paycheck jobs, to think about it in terms of, like, here is my expectation as a company. Here is our expectation as a company for the amount of work that we need done from you. And if it is a realistic expectation, if it is a doable expectation and you say, you figure out with your hours when you want to get this work done, and the - here's the quality that we expect from you, here's the accuracy, people will get it done, right? Like, that is a real - that is incredible gift.

People respond in kind by saying, OK, I can get this work done, and I can do it with the accuracy that is required of me. And I will figure out, you know, the hours that'll work for me. And maybe because they are spending less arbitrary time or wasting less time just staring at computer screens and doing more time - spending more time doing what they actually want to do in their lives, they'll come back to work better rested and have - you know, do better work. That's the harder thing, I think, for us to get our heads around, is that sometimes when you spend fewer hours doing work, the work that you actually do is much better.

GROSS: Well, let's take another break here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Anne Helen Petersen, co-author of the new book "Out Of Office: The Big Problem And Bigger Promise Of Working From Home." We'll talk more after we take a short break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF THELONIOUS MONK'S "NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (TAKE 2)")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Anne Helen Petersen. Her new book, written with her partner Charlie Warzel, is called "Out Of Office: The Big Problem And Bigger Promise Of Working From Home." A couple of years ago, Petersen and Warzel gave up office life to become independent journalists and work from home. They also changed the definition of home by moving from Brooklyn to Missoula, Mont., and, more recently, to an island off the coast of Washington state. She now writes the newsletter Culture Study as a full-time venture on Substack.

There have been protests from people at large organizations who have been told to return to work or have been given, you know, a future return-to-office deadline. And that includes protests from people working at Apple, where there have been petitions signed to protest the mandatory return to office. And I found that really interesting 'cause Apple was one of those places that really tried to create, like, a new working environment, where, you know, there was more kind of, like, pleasure and fun brought into the workplace, where it was, like, a campus that was designed to be, you know, appealing. There were, you know, like, parties and guest speakers and all kinds of things like that. And now there's protests about returning to the office. Do you have any insights into that?

PETERSEN: Oh, 100%.

(LAUGHTER)

PETERSEN: So yes. Apple's offices - I have not been to them personally. I've seen pictures, you know? They're, like, a lot of what I think of as cool offices - right? - offices that are meant to make you want to go into them. A lot of these offices, too, are part of larger campuses that have everything from, like, dry cleaning to climbing gyms, right? They are essentially apartment buildings (laughter) where you work. And the goal of these offices isn't just to, like, make life easy; it's to make you want to be in the office all of the time.

And you'll hear testimonies from people who work at these tech companies - especially the ones in Silicon Valley - where they really were in the office or in the office campus for almost all of their day. You know, they'd start the day, take the shuttle and work on the shuttle and be with their friends. All of their friends were people that also were co-workers. They would socialize at the office, you know, 'cause there were, like, beer gardens at these different offices. They would eat all of their meals there. They would have all of the different parts of their lives attended to there. Their entire lives were subsumed by this office.

And this is intentional, of course, because the less time you are devoting to friends away from the office, to tasks away from the office, the more time you were working. And I think that one of the many things that the pandemic did for people was give some of that perspective of, you know, I can't believe my entire life is essentially just my workplace. You know, there's something that is unsettling about that, especially because when your job is your life, what happens when you lose your job? Like, what happens to your identity? And so I think that people who have rediscovered a different axis of their life, a different center of their life away from the office itself, are very reticent to return to that mode of existence.

GROSS: Yeah. I was wondering if things that sound like fantastic innovations for young people who want to meet other young people and want to meet potential partners, therefore enjoy socializing after hours in the workplace or with people from the workplace - and there's this, like, kind of, like, seamless transition from the workplace to going to the bar together - if that changes after you find a partner or have children, and you have a home life that you want and/or need to return to.

PETERSEN: Yeah. I think the infrastructure for friendship after you have kids oftentimes rotates around, you know, your kids themselves. But I also - I think even just that idea of the workplace as this source of friendship and of partnership is a difficult one. And I say this with the full knowledge that, like, I met my partner at work. And a lot of people I know also met their partners at work. There's something that is appealing once you graduate from college, where - oftentimes, people have this real infrastructure of friendship and of partnership - you know, a lot of people who are the same age doing the same thing. It's like a big pot of friendship and partnership available. And then you go into the world, and you're like, where's my pot? Like, where all my people?

And it seems like the workplace, especially if the workplace is filled with younger people - that might be the place. But it also encourages working all the time, right? It facilitates the understanding of work as something that can subsume your life. And one of the more controversial things that we argue in the book is that it's OK to not have your workplace be the primary source of friendship and companionship in your life - because what happens when you are less invested in making friends at work? Like, you can still be friendly with people in your workplace. That's fine.

But when you're not using the workplace as your primary source of friendship and you open up all this other space in your life to not be working to not be rotating around the workplace, you make friends outside of the workplace. You make friends with people who aren't like you. You make friends in your community, which is the real focus and locus of care, instead of the workplace itself.

GROSS: Vacations - vacations are great. They're invigorating. You can even get things done that you weren't able to get done before, if you take some time out for the to-do list. And then, you know - speaking for myself, sometimes I think when I'm on vacation, like, oh - and it'll be - you know, there's things about work I really miss. I enjoy doing interviews. I love seeing people who work on the show. But within a couple of days, the feeling of, like, stress and, you know, wow, work is really hard, just returns immediately. Like, the relaxation of a vacation - the kind of - the calm - relative calm - of vacation vanishes pretty quickly. Is that your experience, too?

PETERSEN: Yeah. You know, I came back from the first vacation I've taken in a bit a few weeks ago and returned to, like, a natural disaster here in northwest Washington. There was just flooding all over the place. Like, we're on a shelter-in-place order. And that sort of immediate stress - and then followed by the barrage of work requests - and, you know, my overflowing inbox never goes away - is a real reminder that, like, vacation is not a fix, right? Vacations are important. They're refreshing. And they did - you know, I was like a vegetable. I just sat and read for four days and felt very reinvigorated and rested and ready to come back and write and be creative.

But if the way that your every day and every week is structured is to be working all the time - right? - like, if you are structured in a way that burns you out, like, a vacation is not going to fix that. And so I think that it's important to think about the ways that we can build grace for ourselves into the system - right? - whether that's the system of the larger organizations and your work, the system of our society and the way that we care for each other, but also the way that even we think about work as individuals. But it has to - it can't just start with vacation - right? - or with self-care or bath bombs or any of those things.

GROSS: Yeah. And as you say, burnout is a struggle for people who really do find satisfaction in their work because you like your work. It is satisfying, it is fulfilling, and you want to do the best that you can. So with some work, it's hard to say, oh, I'm finished because you can always make it better. You can always do more.

PETERSEN: Yeah.

GROSS: You can always take on something else. You can always get ahead in a project that you're working on. How do you deal with that?

PETERSEN: Yeah. And for people who also came into the workforce post-recession in a time when work felt really unstable and one's place in the workplace felt really unstable, I think that there is this impulse to always be putting in a little bit extra to find some sort of security. And I also think that when your identity is really aligned with work as a calling, as doing what you love or however you want to phrase it, your worth as a person is also really bound up in your ability to be doing that work all the time.

So to take a step back sometimes feels like failing - failing yourself, failing other people, failing, you know, your passion. But it's not sustainable. You know, when you burn out, you're also failing your passion. You're also failing other people in all of these different ways. So I think if you want to cultivate that sort of longevity in your passion or in the sort of - the thing that you do, there has to be boundaries around the work that you do.

GROSS: Let's take another short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Anne Helen Petersen, co-author of the new book "Out Of Office: The Big Problem And Bigger Promise Of Working From Home." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROBBEN FORD'S "CATCH A RIDE")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Anne Helen Petersen. Her new book, written with her partner Charlie Warzel, is called "Out Of Office: The Big Problem And Bigger Promise Of Working From Home." A couple of years ago, they gave up office life to become independent journalists and work from home. They also moved from Brooklyn to Missoula, Mont., and more recently to an island off the coast of Washington state.

You know, one of the things we were talking a little earlier about, vacations - one of the problems is if you're suffering from burnout and you take some time off, when you return, all the work you didn't do while you took time off, you still have to do. You still have to deal with all the emails that you didn't take care of while you were on vacation and all of the other things that may have accumulated. So the pleasures of the vacation can be counteracted pretty immediately by all of the frantic catching up you have to do when you get back.

PETERSEN: You can't just say, like, this work is going to disappear (laughter) 'cause the work doesn't disappear. The demands don't disappear. So how is it going to be absorbed? Does it just go on to someone else, like, that then makes that person resent whoever is taking the time? Or do you figure out how to staff sufficiently so that the work can be absorbed amongst many people? The other thing, too, is, like, I never think that tech is a fix. It's not a fix for all of our problems, but it can facilitate fixes.

So something that I failed to do this last vacation is actually put up a really good out-of-office responder that was very clear about when I would be back, but also I've seen really excellent out-of-office responders that say things like, I am - start like, I am not reading any email over a break, and also I'm not responding to any emails I receive over break. So if you want to get in touch with me, you need to email me again after break. So that allows them to effectively come back from vacation and nuke their inbox and start fresh.

GROSS: So tell me honestly. Do you check your email anyways when you're on vacation?

PETERSEN: Oh, I did this time. Usually I try to delete all of the apps from my phone in order to not have that sort of contact. And it takes me about two days, maybe three, to stop even, like, feeling my thumb go naturally to the places where (laughter) my different apps are on the phone. But then you feel it fade away. The compulsions fade away.

GROSS: You know, something we haven't talked much about is how essential good day care is and a good day care policy is to people having the ability to have a flexible work schedule, whether it's at home or in the office. And we really, as of right now, don't have that.

PETERSEN: Yeah. I'm super-passionate about this. And I think sometimes it surprises people because I don't have kids to have someone who's incredibly passionate about child care accessibility. And I think part of it is, again, that I was a nanny and that I know just how much work it takes to take care of children. And I also worked in a day care center, actually, before that and had to quit the day care center to become a nanny because the day care center paid so little. It was unsustainable to live in Seattle, where I was living. Even though I was living with three other women, I was going into debt, essentially, working for this day care center.

And I don't know that people who aren't currently trying to get their kids into day care or trying to find care for their kids have any idea how bad it is and how much worse it's gotten over the course of the last two years. And the real problem is that, I think - people think that it - the care is too expensive, and it doesn't make sense if the care is so expensive that the people doing that care are so underpaid. It's just a totally broken system. The market cannot fix it. And the solution, it seems clear, is that day care needs to be funded the same way that we think about and fund school in general.

You know, if we had to make every kid - every person, regardless of income, pay to have their first-grader have a teacher, that would also be unsustainable. And so what if we took the model that we have developed of public funding - because we understand that having care for kids is a public good - and apply that to people who are below the age of 5 as well? It would be transformative.

GROSS: How does the Build Back Better and the infrastructure bills address that?

PETERSEN: Well, they tried to address it (laughter). I think that it's still incomplete in a lot of ways, and the boost that we need is not just the patchwork system that we're - I think, we're trying to put into place, which is, like, oh, let's figure out how we can maybe pay teachers a little bit more, and let's try to figure out how we can subsidize care centers a little bit more. It has to be this whole-scale reconceptualization of child care as part of, you know, education - as part of educational infrastructure. And not only is it good for kids, but it's also good for the economy in terms of when you provide - when you put care into the system - reliable care, accessible care - it makes it a lot easier for people to work.

GROSS: Anne Helen Petersen, thank you so much for talking with us. And I wish you a balanced life - balanced between work and the rest of life. And thank you.

PETERSEN: This was wonderful. We covered so much ground. Thank you.

GROSS: Anne Helen Petersen is the co-author of the new book "Out Of Office: The Big Problem And Bigger Promise Of Working From Home." After we take a short break, our book critic Maureen Corrigan will have her list of the top 10 books of the year. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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