When I worked at Barclays, they jammed us in with about 2 – 3′ of personal space on each side. There was someone opposite us, and someone within arms reach on either side.
Even then, space was a premium… we were told it was very expensive to have us work in NY. They had tricked me… every interview I had was in a private office, even the interviews with my peers. I made the (faulty) assumption that we worked in offices. The (purposely?) didn’t show me where we actually worked.
I lasted six weeks.
Citibank has just finished construction on their beautiful flagship property. Making it open plan to improve
density collaboration. Open plan is marketed at a solution to improve collaboration but it’s really a cost thing.
I’m not the only one thinking this, there’s a lot of speculation about NY office space and working from home, especially since we’ve been hit so hard and will likely be one of the last areas to open.
So, I wonder, how will they put 1/3 of the people in the same space as before, and justify the cost, when these companies could hardly justify the cost before the pandemic?
One-third you wonder? Yeah. These people are crammed in so tight, that half-the people wouldn’t allow for 6′ social distancing, let alone more furniture to allow for dividers between people. So, one-third is probably a better estimate.
Do they get more space?
Do some work from home full time, others from the office full-time?
Do they rotate?
More space is a non-starter (at least for now; over time, I think the remote trend breaks the location dependency… which then allows for location independency to shift from work from home to larger remote offices away from HQ).
I can think of really big problems with both other alternatives. I’m a full-time work from home person (because I can’t function in an open plan). My wife, I imagine, would be as miserable working from home full-time as I am working from an open office plan (and not only because I’m home too).
I think more traditional companies would feel that rotating people into the office makes more sense… but there’s so much trouble with that. Do they keep teams together? What about people like me that don’t work with their team-from-the-same-manager, but people who work across-teams-to-get-results. That second type of team isn’t reflected in the org chart… yet, if the company is to be “fair” (which is really not what fair means… but I’ll ignore that for the moment)… if the company wants to be fair, the way to slice-and-dice it is to rotate around by teams. Or by license plate (random; like they did when we were rationing gas in the US in the ’70s).
But if rotating, who gets to work from home on Fridays? A more advantageous day over the summer, when it means you can commute to your summer weekend on Thursday. And if your peers can work at home on Fridays and have a better summer commute, that’s a perk to be negotiated… or to be used even if Friday is your day in the office. How do managers handle that? Companies might be flexible like Twitter, but most are rigid corporate machines that don’t want to hear about our humanity. And the rule is (or will be) the rule.
What about working couples… can they coördinate their work from home across companies so they can share the one home office they have?
What about Mondays? That’s the day for most holidays… someone working from the office on Mondays, if it’s fixed, will have decidedly less office-time than someone working from home a different day. (Judge for yourself if that’s pro or a con.)
Two key observations
There’s a million questions that I find fascinating about this… but it comes down to two observations:
- The business models will not sustain more investment in real estate.
- It’s obvious that for many, our jobs are time/location independent but we work “9 – 5” at an office out of habit. A habit that clearly doesn’t serve our humanity as we balance commutes, childcare, home-schooling (*yes, we will all be homeschooling for some time), doctors visits, grocery shopping, exercise, etc.
I like to think about “what does that mean we should do?” And, I don’t know. I’m very curious how this plays out. The only thing I can think of is people-management skill.
It’s very easy to manage a team when you’re sitting next to them or in the same building. When you know that they’re prisoners to being onsite all day, and if they choose to not work in that time they’ll get a bad review. But mostly you have to be really looking for it to get a bad review.
When a team is distributed, you need a better way to manage to the work, and hold people accountable. A better way to manage accountability and communicate asynchronously. A better way to distribute both accountability and responsibility.
It’s the freakonomics not the “thing” that matters most
It’s not about the office space, really. It’s about the side-effects that result. I like to think of this as the freakonomics of the situation. What unexpected things two- or three-steps removed from the fact that people work at home more occur.
And how can you get ahead of that to find the opportunity?
The parents aren’t alright until the kids are
Finally. It’s not the work from home part that is hard. It’s the work from home part while the spouse is also working from home and while the kids are home schooling.
It’s like an open plan office in the middle of a kindergarden full of kids that I’m teaching part-time.
If work from home happens for everyone, even in a limited way, that means families are going to spend a lot more time together around work/school, instead of families going out to do their “thing” and then come home for homework and dinner.
That could be the most interesting knock-on effect of all.