Our informed friends and clients are likely aware of the recent JP Morgan Chase findings that productivity has slipped in the office, particularly on Mondays and Fridays. In the same vein, architect and design firm Vocon surveyed the heads of nearly 50 businesses around the country and found that (i) 40 percent of them have started to see decreases in productivity and (ii) 25 percent said their employees were feeling exhausted working from home every day.
This is the biggest untold story of the office space disaster caused by the Coronavirus. Employers don’t want to discuss this issue, but not every employee is completely self-motivated. Human nature being what it is, many employees need in-person supervision to provide both encouragement and discipline.
Accordingly, below are 4 reasons that businesses need offices:
1) Not all work is ennobling and self-fulfilling. Much of our work is dull, repetitive and requires lots of drive and energy. However, not every employee has a self-starting mentality. Moreover, it is not a criticism to say that most people work to live rather than live to work. It is the rare and lucky person who loves their work so much (whether well-compensated or not) who does not need the focus of an immediate deadline or negative consequences if the job is not done to the timely and highest possible standard.
2) No matter how much employers protest to the contrary, in some businesses there is simply no substitute for in person oversight. Much is made of the so-called “collision of ideas“ that occurs when employees at professional or technology firms run into each other by chance at the coffee machine or at informal meetings. That may or may not be replaceable by Zoom calls, emails or other forms of contact.
3) Many forms of work are not exciting and creative. Despite the popular myth of the empowered employee, a substantial percentage of white-collar workers have to bang out the same boring tasks day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. That is not easy. In other words, it is truly hard work. To ensure that work gets done in a 35+ hour work week, sometimes managerial oversight, inspiration and enforcement is needed. While quantifiable metrics can be useful, not all jobs can be reduced to those metrics. As a practical matter, many employees need to know that a supervisor is looking over their shoulder, and there is no better way to do that than in person.
4) Of course, as time passes other issues regarding remote working will become increasingly important. How will remote hiring work out as turnover increases? What about maintenance of deep and nuanced company culture? Deep-pocketed companies can devise team-building schemes and sophisticated business models to deal with these issues, but what about smaller ones?
For the time being, companies have rightfully devised workarounds to emphasize remote working because safety is primary. In major cities (most notably New York), the density and transportation problems outweigh other considerations. Further, remote working is here to stay in some form or fashion. As a result, the key question is not whether remote working will continue when we get to the other side of Coronavirus disaster. Rather, the question is whether remote working should be the predominant manner of work. As the months pass, companies will have sufficient experience and data to make informed decisions on how they should best move forward.
As corollary, we have seen the havoc wreaked on our major cities and their small business ecosystem of retailers, restaurants and other service providers when offices are deserted. Whatever your politics, these cities are the economic engines of our country. Other developed countries, particularly the U.K, have experienced similarly disastrous urban outcomes, while some (Germany and France) have done better due to smaller buildings, less density and more effective health policies. If the United States does not develop a comprehensive modern-day Marshall Plan for our cities to deal with transportation, support for workers and businesses, safety costs, funding to cover loss of tax revenues and the like, we will suffer the consequences of long-term unemployment and recession for years to come. While this may be a subject for another article, it merits mention here as it is interconnected with the future of the urban workplace.
Please let us know your thoughts and feel free to tap our expertise if you have any questions regarding your office situation. We represent our clients with integrity, creativity and diligence.