The Luddites Loved Remote Work

They knew “working from home” meant controlling your hours, the pace of work, and your quality of life

Clive Thompson
Published in
8 min readOct 26, 2021


Women working in a weaving factory, under the eye of the manager

By now, you’ve heard about the culture clash in white-collar remote work:

  1. Bosses want employees back in the office …
  2. … but a lot of employees are saying screw that: I want to stay remote.

Survey after survey documents this schism. A recent Gallup poll found 37% of employees want to stay home full-time, 54% want a hybrid arrangement (a few days in the office, a few days out), and barely 9% want to work in an office full time.

In contrast, most bosses are desperate to get their employees back into the cubicles. The great majority of managers want their workers to be at least hybrid, and almost half want ’em in the office full-time.

Why don’t the employees want to go back? It’s partly about avoiding COVID. But there’s an even bigger reason: Control. Remote work gives them more privacy away from their managers, more autonomy from corporate dictates, and — crucially — more say over how and when they work.

Running a quick errand during the day? So long as you nail your quotas (and your workflow allows it), the boss doesn’t need to know. Some pandemic workers have discovered their jobs require so few hours of real toil that they’ve taken on a second job, which they also do at home, with neither of their two remote bosses being the wiser.

Now, this idea — that working from home is a power move for the laborer — seems pretty modern, doesn’t it? It feels like a highly digital arrangement, made possible only because of Zoom, email, Slack and Dropbox. Surely workers of the past didn’t fight to stay remote.

Nope. They did. In fact, you know who were the first laborers to realize the autonomy and power that came from controlling your own workspace, in your own domicile?

The Luddites.

The Luddites: The original workers who didn’t want to stop working from home

These days, the Luddites are generally known for their antitechnological stance: Enraged by the advent of machines that automated…



Clive Thompson
Writer for

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”.