A month ago, in a fit of pessimism, I tweeted the following:
life is never going to return to normal
this pandemic will become an endemic and coronavirus and variants will be with us for decades
and with deforestation and the other shit there will be a new virus in the next decade if not sooner
— John Cole (@Johngcole) February 25, 2021
It was a long thread with a lot of speculation about what is to come, and it contained this:
So employers will employ fewer people, all while spending less on hard spaces to do business, so CRE will take a permanent hit.
— John Cole (@Johngcole) February 25, 2021
I’m not wrong:
Spotify’s headquarters in the United States fills 16 floors of 4 World Trade Center, a towering office building in Lower Manhattan that was the first to rise on the site of the 2001 terror attacks. Its offices will probably never be full again: Spotify has told employees they can work anywhere, even in another state.
A few floors down, MediaMath, an advertising tech company, is planning to abandon its space, a decision fueled by its new remote-work arrangements during the pandemic.
In Midtown Manhattan, Salesforce, whose name adorns a 630-foot building overlooking Bryant Park, expects workers to be in the office just one to three days a week. A nearby law firm, Lowenstein Sandler, is weighing whether to renew its lease on its Avenue of the Americas office, where 140 lawyers used to work five days a week.
“I could find few people, including myself, who think we are going to go back to the way it was,” said Joseph J. Palermo, the firm’s chief operating officer.
A year after the coronavirus sparked an extraordinary exodus of workers from office buildings, what had seemed like a short-term inconvenience is now clearly becoming a permanent and tectonic shift in how and where people work. Employers and employees have both embraced the advantages of remote work, including lower office costs and greater flexibility for employees, especially those with families.
I don’t know how this is going to play out, of course, and no one does, but it will lead to less efficiency in regards to public transit and other things that are much more efficient when a population is clustered in a city. It will lead to massive disruption, and the only thing we know for sure about disruption is that it ALWAYS favors the rich.
Not really interested in anyone’s fits of pessimism.
I thought this was going to be an “I’m feeling less pessimistic” thread, but no, it turns out that you are still just as pessimistic, just with more detail.
Well, a change in the “work from home” dynamic was definitely to be expected.
I’m moving most of my workers to a “in office 3x a week” setup, but we were at 4x/week before the pandemic and fairly lax about it even then.
Convert is all to housing or manufacturing or indoor farming. Each change means huge structural alterations and enormous physical investment. But, we can build back better. The pandemic is also an opportunity to have more integrated urban centers.
@Omnes Omnibus: Yeah, I am routinely skipping comments by one commenter because of that very thing. It gets so tiresome.
At my company, we still value getting people together, and while we might have less people in the office at a time, we haven’t found the technology — especially as spotty as internet service is — ready for a fully remote workforce.
No thanks. Got enough pessimism of my own. No need to pile on.
Well fuck y’all then.
So whom does the status quo favor?
Shouldn’t that be all y’all?
Corporations will love workers working from home because:
How is allowing telework a bad thing? Before the pandemic it was something that workers wanted and managers didn’t. What’s the point of building your little internal empire if your minions aren’t all gathered in one place so your fellow perfumed princelings can’t SEE the awesomeness of your empire and gnash their teeth in envy?
Why, that would be the rich! Heads they win, tails we lose.
But seriously, I am with moops upthread. So much ugliness was exposed by the pandemic – I really think we have an opportunity to build back better.
We already are, with some of the things in the rescue package.
Crisis = opportunity, if you can manage to do it right.
On the other hand, LA’s rush hour traffic is pretty much back to normal, so I’m not sure how pervasive a work from home shift is really is.
Cubicle farms were the height of human achievement. It’s all downhill from here.
The part that gets me about the shift to “work from home” is that, for those that even have that option, you can’t even deduct the expenses for doing so from your taxes anymore. It’d be one thing if companies chipped in to help their employees pay for the increased home utilities and expenses, but you know damn well they won’t. At least not most of them.
Edit: just as an example, my own home utility bill has increases by roughly 35% monthly simply because my son is home doing virtual schooling this year. Neither my wife nor I can work from home, but if we did I’d be pissed that my boss was effectively making me subsidize their operating expenses without increased compensation to make up the difference.
Sometimes, when you tell the truth, people dump on you for being pessimistic.
You’re not wrong on the whole but it may be easier to cope with than you visualize. For instance:
“it will lead to less efficiency in regards to public transit” might not be all that bad if there less need for transport, pubic or otherwise.
Be yourself John.
But you might spend some time thinking about how to adapt to the New Normal.
Good thing I’m a billionaire.
Sure, things are changing. But there’s positives as well. By not spending time commuting, I have time to join a local coop and buy better healthier local food. I get to walk around my town and patronize business that I never did before, for lunch on a weekday for example. Plus I am significantly happier. The question isn’t how things look next year, it’s how they’ll look in 10 years. And if we can get through the immediate emergencies (pandemic, minimal action on climate change, anti-democratic behavior) I have surprisingly high hopes for the future.
This is actually very good news – potentially at least, because humans screw up almost everything: cutting back on commuting and travel and not duplicating living spaces for people (home at night plus office during the day) will be necessary to fight climate change.
Jesus H Christ on a cracker! This is not necessarily true at all. No one can predict the magnitude or impact of disruptive change on society.
And nobody knows what a return to “normal” means. I noted in the thread below that some Americans believe that they have a God given right to have everything after the pandemic return to exactly like it was before. But this is childish.
Remote work may become the new normal because technology makes it possible. An economist speculated that this might also see a permanent decline in business air travel as companies rely more on Zoom conferences. Is this a bad thing? I don’t know.
A friend’s daughter remote teaches at a school in Southern California. But she has been living in Philadelphia while she oversees the renovation of some homes she bought there. The pandemic created an opportunity that she would not have readily been able to take advantage of in the Before Times.
Some people are also finding that they prefer working in offices around other people, so who knows how this will sort itself out.
And we have yet to see how people facing segments of the economy will come back. This is travel, leisure, concerts, movie theaters, sporting events, hotels, etc.
This should be among the major lessons taken from this. That we need to seriously build out our high speed internet infrastructure. And do so in a manner that doesn’t serve to simply further enrich the existing mega-providers. Whether that means treating it as a utility, or some other approach I can’t say with authority. But it’s a significant vulnerability that the various shutdowns and work from home efforts have clearly identified.
I don’t believe the “things will never be the same” crowd. People want to gather together, they always have, they always will. Putting people together in a building is more efficient for the group as a whole (even if individuals are – or think they are – more productive at home).
I do think the hybrid, I want to work from home 2-3 days/week model will be the new normal for a year or two, but after that it will drift back to the way it was. For one thing, having people flit back and forth whenever they feel like it is going to be worse than having them all in the building or all out of it.
We’ll check back on this comment in a few years and see how it’s aged…
@John Cole: I love that, as you are the blog owner, within your all-in-blue comment was posted an add for a medical grade air filtration system for pollen and dust. It made me laugh.
We are starting to grapple with this. I work in a unionized, nonprofit law firm.
management has been making noises about making work remote permanently.
as.my unit president, this makes me mad because (1) mgt seems to think courts will continue to be remote – but casehandlers know judges are chomping at the bit to reopen – the tech issues alone result in lost time and (2) in our .last contract cycle, management flatly refused to put in place a mechanism for remote work – across the table mgt stated that it couldn’t be sure people would work under those circumstances and (3) collaboration is hard in legal.work under these circumstances.
now management is making noises about taking away our assigned offices spaces and I am.gearing up for a fight because I am.on a collusion course with a mgt that is ignoring our contract.
I’m retired so don’t have a dog in this fight, but if I had to choose between a 2-3 hour commute (as many workers do, for work that could easily be done remotely) and converting part of my home into a home office, I know what I would choose. I think the main thing that made pandemic work from home so stressful was that the kids were home too.
Enhanced Voting Techniques
@PenandKey: Counter that with the money you don’t spend on gas, vehicle maintenance or the time you spend sitting in traffic.
Different isn’t necessarily worse. What we need to look for is who will benefit and who will need help. Then we can all commit to being helpers.
Maybe so, but people not commuting because they’re working from home is very likely to be more efficient than people commuting using efficient means like public transit. Also, work from home is only practical for a fraction of the population. People who work in retail, manufacturing, and many kinds of service will still need to come in for work. The big thing is that the people who can work from home are massively overrepresented among readers of big city newspapers.
Jim, Foolish Literalist
Well, I guess it’s up to me to bring a little sunshine: The Former Guy’s three most valuable assets are 30% shares in three different commercial high rises, two on the West Side of Manhattan and one in San Francisco. And I hope he takes a bath in shit.
And while I think the 9-5 (8-6) Mon-Fri paradigm might change dramatically, and that kind of commercial real estate is going to take a big hit, I think people are going to want to get back to face-to-face meetings, working in a separate space, the informal networking of lunches and proximity…. people are gonna need a place to go and have meetings, even if it is three days a week, or if the standard shifts to 10-4 M-Thur, or Tues- Fri (noon)
@featheredsprite: He is the one who referred to a fit of pessimism. We don’t know how anything is going to turn out, but we do have agency. Why don’t we fucking use it?
There’s nothing they can monitor when you’re working at home that they couldn’t monitor just as easily when you’re at the office.
It’s one thing to work from home if you are an old hand in an established position but I’m having trouble seeing how new hires learn their way around from the comfort of their homes. For both the actual content of the job and the inevitable office politics that must be navigated.
I’m one who expects to never return to the office and I’m fine with that. There are a few people I’ll miss but I love the time with my cats.
Enhanced Voting Techniques
This is counteracted by managers wanting to build up their head count as part of their empire building and CEOs who want to see butts in the seat when they stroll in about 10:00am.
Also as my place is finding out about the hard way, the number of people who capable of doing multiple jobs is few so they can afford to be picky and will just quit when management pushes to hard. I’ve worked with people who have notice without another job and had one by the end of the week.
I think it can be the opposite. The established workers who have already established themselves within an organization kind of get ossified in their roles in remote work. But younger workers just starting out have a harder time breaking in since people don’t really know their faces and haven’t really achieved that comfort level with them. My daughter who is a recent college grad is discovering this. The loss of face-to-face interactions hurts her ability to carve out a space for herself.
I see a lot of potential silver linings, though it will take a concerted effort to democratize the benefits. Some examples of the possible upside are mentioned upthread, e.g., less need for commuting and heating/cooling more than one space for the same person, which reduces energy consumption.
If demand for housing/office space in cities declines, it will make real estate there more affordable, which is a good thing for lots of folks who want/need to live there. If there’s an exodus of city dwellers to more wide-open spaces, perhaps they’ll bring their politics with them.
Enhanced Voting Techniques
Not to mention your manager needs to take time out replying to those 300+ emails he gets a day so sort threw the all the data collected on his staff work performance and then deciding if all those key strokes is really what he wants that employing doing and not something else. Information overload is what Big Data brings.
Interesting. In my experience, face-to-face interactions tend to make people less comfortable with me.
Here in California, at least, companies are required to cover employees’ work from home costs, and there are good signs the government is actually enforcing the mandate. Rather than just moaning about it, we need to do what we can to force companies to do better.
Ways I am optimistic about these changes:
There has been in the last 30 years a bigger push to build commercial properties in major cities instead of residential. With the realization that office space is not a necessity and that workplaces can function decentralized, the need for commercial buildings should shift to building more residential (apartment and condo skyrises) in various markets. If I was in charge of HUD, this is what I’d be doing to confront the housing crises happening in too many states/cities right now.
Lowering the number of people commuting during the same hours/same highways to and from work should help with traffic flow. A permanent shift towards office work from home would reduce travel stress, gas consumption, car emissions, etc. Lessening of traffic might give cities the chance to adjust certain roadways into pedestrian and bike paths.
This is an opportunity to redraw employer/employee dynamics, and breaking free of the standardized 9-to-5 workshift to allow families to cope with child-rearing and schooling on flexible hours, without rushing straight from work or straight to home.
Good predictions. We should all know that Things Change after major disruptions. There’s never any going back.
Still, every time I’m on a VTC and go through all the various issues (crappy bandwidth over VPN, “you’re still on Mute!”, “I don’t know what happened, but …”, “well Jane just lost her connection”, people talking over each other, distorted audio, etc., etc.) I think that the Brave New World isn’t as close as TV commercials would have us believe.
There’s still a huge shortage of and high demand for housing (and especially affordable single-family homes). Too many units were converted to rentals back in the AirB&B bubble days. I’m not going to cry for the CRE MotUs – they’ll convert the buildings to condos and do just fine if they can’t get companies to rent them. But I expect companies will rent them – once the price falls enough (or the incentives are high enough). Putting stories in the news like this is a way to get bargaining power when leases are up for renewal.
Dorothy A. Winsor
My critique group used to meet in the library that’s next door to my building. For a year now, we’ve been on Zoom and people have come to like not having to make a half hour drive at the end of a work day in the winter dark. It sounds as if we’re planning on going hybrid–an in person meeting with a zoom option available. We’ll see how that works. I like FTF because I read people’s reactions better that way, but obviously it’s easy for me to walk next door.
I agree that hybrid will probably win out for many kinds of office jobs. Whether or not working from home is practical and efficient depends a lot on what you do, but when I really, really had to get something done, I would email, “I’m not coming in today, I have work to do.” Even ten years ago that would not have been very practical, but eventually every resource I needed for churning out written work was available on line, and my computer and monitor set-up were usually better at home. The only thing missing was Zoom or the equivalent, and now we have that too for better or worse. I was a lawyer (now recently retired), and there were tasks of course that either required attendance or worked better with people in the same room, but there is a lot to be said for home when you need to be productive. Live meetings with colleagues, informal coordinating, running problems past one another, having lunch together, joking around, celebrating birthdays, brain-storming, etc. all have their places, but they can be time-sucks as well. And nothing can match ditching the commute, which eats up 10 percent of some people’s day. I don’t think I ever had a worthwhile idea getting to or from work.
Some people need a routine and a “second place”. I have always found office life to be pointlessly demeaning, and cubicles are at the top of the list as to why I’ll never work in an office again.
Oh shit, they’ve stopped stocking the free soda. Here comes the bust-out….
I agree with the part that Covid will be stalking us for the foreseeable future.
I read somewhere that there were periodic local Spanish Flu flare-ups in for a number of years after the two we are usually told it lasted — IIRC, about five or six. Poor Anne Laurie, in four years she will still be posting, “Hospitals in Peoria and Timbuktu have both reported new Covid cases the first time in a year. Meanwhile, the outbreak in Sydney appears to have run its course.”
Tussle ongoing at my workplace–we had a reorg that broke my office in two and shoved my half into another division. That division wants everyone to return to work 50% (which, we’re assured is a magic value that makes synergy happen or some shit). No real reason and in contradiction to what the high muckitymucks have said.
My boss and boss’s boss are both pissed and pushing back, but can’t get so much as a written policy statement. We’re at a standoff.
In the meantime, a new HQ is being finished and supposedly ready for summer occupancy. It features far less square footage per worker than the existing space; conversely, an HVAC system designed in the 21st century and not in the Kennedy Administration. So while we’d be Covid-close there would be continuous fresh air (per the specs, anyway).
I’m fine with the sofa, thanks.
@Enhanced Voting Techniques:
Big data says middle management spend an inordinate amount of time in their offices surfing the internet.
I think you are correct for big city office clusters. Other than face to face meet ups with customers, how much really has to be done in a big city office? And how much of that can easily be moved to a computer which is anywhere? I’d bet that for big city, big corp office work, most of it can be done offsite.
Now let’s talk about smaller businesses, retail, personal services, transport equipment services, production facilities, health care, recreational, food service, and I’m sure there are others that don’t fit into the above categories. Most of these types of businesses require some face to face interaction. Sure we can make Jeff richer by ordering more stuff at Amazon, but much of needs are met face to face, with desires being able to be met by delivery? A business like I work at once again, machining metal, can not be done remotely, it is a hands on job, even with computer controlled machinery, someone has to set it up and run it, and make adjustments at the machine. Or an auto mechanic. This won’t likely change in your lifetime.
As I write above, many businesses can not work remotely. I’d ask, how many people in LA work in the kinds of office that John talks about? I’d bet it’s a rather small percentage in LA, likely larger in NYC. How many large office buildings are there in LA? Quite a few, but nothing like NYC. We are spread out and while yes there are businesses that are big enough to have a large office staff, I’d bet the majority do not. I worked in professional sports and there were 90 people that worked in one office building. A few of us were on the road more than in the office. And even there a number of the staff could have worked from home, with reliable, reasonably fast internet. At the end of that job I really didn’t need to be in the office more than 2-4 days a month for most months, all I needed to finish my office work was good internet. We had employees that might come to the office once or twice a year, but we also had 4, 1 hr phone conferences each week, to insure that we were in contact with all the upper level people, like me, that didn’t even work out of the office, which for job reasons I had to do on occasion. And this was 16 yrs ago, when I quit. IOW I’ve done work, not in the home office, or any office and did that for over a decade. It can work a dramatically lot better today. When I first started I had a pager and ATT card and would call in either from my motel room or a pay phone. About 1998 we got cell phones, and that made things a lot better. In 2001 we got laptops, and that made life even easier and far less often even I had to be in the office.
I’ve been working remotely for almost a decade, and I will never go back to an office. I know that a lot of people prefer working in an office, and that’s fine! If working remotely doesn’t work for you and working in an office does, do it. But for a lot of people, including, remote work is preferable. And of course, a lot of jobs require your physical presence.
Other supplying a laptop, my company doesn’t subsidize our home offices in any way. But I still save money in commuting and parking costs.
I will venture that a lot of that unused office space will go to other uses, like housing. But that will take a while.
@John Cole: Is that fuck y’all or fuck all y’all? It matters.
The trend had been companies leaving their suburban campuses for city offices to attract younger workers. Cheaper commercial space is very attractive to companies that were on the fence about moving.
John Cole @ Top:
Well, anoher way in which it will play out is that lots of people without a home computer will find it difficult to get a job, and, of course, without a job, they won’t be able to afford a home computer.
It’s a catch-22 that will keep a lot of people unemployed and/or stuck in an underclass.
And, of course, it will lead to conservatives saying anyone who can afford a PC doesn’t need gov’t help – the same way they complain now about people who need gov’t help who have a cellphone or TV.
Enhanced Voting Techniques
@L85NJGT: Which is a sign their job is futile and they know it.
that’s because some of the current rich will make the investments to stay ahead of the changes and some won’t. The first will make the money and the latter will no longer be rich.
I think we all know that we will never go back to the way everything was pre-pandemic. That’s a given. And some of the disruption will be good — better for the planet maybe if there is more work from home and less commuting.
But some won’t. My former employer, a big NYC law firm, was dead set against people working from home. Most of us could — and were expected to be at the very least on call if not actively working nights and weekends when we weren’t in the office — but except for occasional circumstances like sick kids or waiting for a delivery it was never allowed. Now of course, everyone has been working from home for a year, and somehow they’ve managed to consult and collaborate and get their work done just fine. And management has realized how much money they could be saving on their exorbitant Manhattan rents if they embrace some rotating schedule of working from home going forward.
I’ve heard similar stories from friends working in similar companies. It sounds like a win-win. But, I can’t help thinking about the thousands and thousands of businesses that rely on those workers — restaurants, cafes, pharmacies, salons. There were at least a hundred places to eat lunch within a five-minute walk of my office. Many of them have already closed and will never reopen. If the workers don’t come back, many of the rest will be gone too. That’s so many jobs that aren’t coming back.
I think this disruption is going to be much bigger, and last much longer, than we expect.
@Ohio Mom: I’ve onboarded two employees virtually since the start of the pandemic. There are some tough issues to resolve but they aren’t insurmountable. You do need a corporate culture that values the effort it takes to do so (mine does). My company will also be going down from three office suites to one when its current leases are up in 2023. Like it or not, a significant work from home culture is here to stay.
Other types of businesses than the standard warren of offices and cubicles will eventually move in to the empty spaces. Some office buildings will be converted to a combination of business and residential. High rise commercial real estate abhors a vacuum.
Agreed. Its been challenging for a lot of folks, especially since many plans seem geared to content consumption — high download, low-is upload speeds.
All right, fine. I’ll do some work.
I view increased home work being on balance a good thing. Commuting is expensive, in time, CO2, and money. We will be, on balance, better off if we do less of it. Sure, there will be some losers and as a society we should look at supporting them but don’t give up on some big potential gains.
Shifting some growth from strained megacities to less strained metropolises is also a net gain. It’s such a waste to be bulldozing homes in Detroit and Cleveland while building luxury highrises in NY and SF. Bad for equality too, as newer housing is more expensive.
The best long-term fix to lessened demand for public transit is to increase residential densities. With less commuting traffic becomes less of a problem and so we can live closer and save space for the natural world.
Maybe some of these office spaces could be reworked into living spaces for people who want to live in the inner city. With more living spaces, cheaper rent prices might be possible. I was appalled at the price of a tiny apartment my son lived in when he was in New York.
As a de-officed SF area employee whose company has basically given us all the choice of how often we want to go to the office, I’m expecting that many of these buildings will be converted to apartments. For those who like the city lifestyle (of which there are many), you’ll be able to live and work downtown without needing to go the office – just to the living room. Or to a local cafe. Which probably means a much more ecologically sound distribution of energy, rather than it being concentrated in a few buildings for a few hours a day.
Mingobat (f/k/a Karen in GA)
I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s particularly relevant here, so: I applied in July for a job with a company I never would have considered in the past — the commute was too far to do every day, and I’d have had no life. But they had publicly announced that everyone would be working from home 2-3 days a week after the pandemic, so when they posted an opening I was qualified for, I applied. Got the job, and now it looks like I’ll only be in the office one day a week post-pandemic. Also, I got a salary increase of over 30% — far more than most employers near me are paying.
This is the first time I’ve been a new hire and had to learn the job remotely. But my employer is actually typical of a large corporation, with different roles already scattered all over the world, so this wasn’t the first time I had to get answers via email or messaging rather than walking down the hall and asking someone. It’s really not much of an adjustment.
I love this arrangement.
Yes, selling office space is going to be hard. And converting office space to residential, or even retail, is non-trivial. And this will all reduce demand for mass transit, which is chronically underfunded already. But it’s not all bad.
If the demand for office space drops low enough, then it *does* become worthwhile to convert it. Higher supply for urban real estate will lower prices, allowing new categories of people to live in the city and *walk* everywhere they need to. Walking is even better than mass transit. I used to have this luxury when I lived in a college town. I’ve had coworkers who were able to walk to work and to most other things they needed, and they *loved* it but in larger cities that option was often limited to high-earning (mostly tech) folks. Imagine if more middle-income people could do it too, everywhere. That would be glorious.
If we can get the zoning right (I know that’s a big if) then depressed demand for office and traditional (e.g. big-box) retail could actually work out very well even for non-rich people. Not saying that’s what I predict, but it’s certainly *possible*.
Have said before that allowing municipalities to enter the market of providing connectivity service is vital.
That’s great, for California. As a resident of Wisconsin (and red Legislature/Governor states in general), I don’t see that being replicated without it being a federal requirement. Your state has so many workers rights laws on the books compared to most other states that you get your own dedicated call-out in company HR documentation. I know my last job had an entire SOP subsection on the manager level intranet dedicated to the topic.
Changing tax law to redefine what constitutes a home office is also something which needs to be undertaken.
I wouldn’t necessarily count on that. Maybe those offices will be empty, but it’s very likely something will replace them. Maybe it will be offices of different companies that think having a physical office is important. Maybe they’ll be turned into condos. But unless the buildings wind up vacant, somebody is going to wind up occupying that space.
And even if the buildings become vacant, the people who used to work there are still going to be working somewhere else. There’s a good chance the people who liked going out for lunch when they worked at the office will still like going out for lunch, or having lunch delivered, when they’re working from home. That will mean the jobs providing lunch will still exist, just in different businesses and different kinds of businesses.
Disruptive, yes. Destructive, not so much.
It seems to me that the professions of people commenting here skew toward ones that allow for remote work.
Because anyone working in a job that requires their physical presence, hands-on efforts and face-to-face interactions is not commenting at 4:00 on a workday.
Also, plenty of the older buildings aren’t built to the standards of modern business, and needed major changes anyway.
Outlier here. The general work of my organization–health care–is mostly better conducted F2F; many (but by no means all!) of the folks we serve cannot utilize telehealth (no equipment, no privacy, no reliable internet, no data plan, no knowledge of how to utilize it), and some health care really needs to happen in person, so we will have to have a F2F option for the foreseeable future. For the non-patient-facing folks, like me, they actually ARE giving us a small stipend to cover phone/internet, and we continue to discuss what “going back” would mean. On one hand, nearly everything can be accomplished remotely (and, later this week, three of the four of us will live w/in a few blocks of each other, so could actually meet for coffee), and, much as I did not used to like WFH, I like the benefit of being able to take 2 minutes to commute–and I had a short commute before that. OTOH, there are definitely some things that get accomplished better when you run into someone at the microwave/kitchen area. One team member started a year ago, and getting up to speed completely remotely has been a challenge. What I suggested to my boss is some spaces set up at our admin offices, with two monitors, keyboard, & mouse–because the big thing for me/my team is that our work really needs multiple monitors, and those can’t be lugged back & forth. Basically, set up standard cubes, and folks can book them. Truthfully, and I NEVER thought I’d say this, I slightly prefer this arrangement. It has its downsides, for sure, but at 5:01, I can be making dinner. And on Saturday, I could log in for two hours and take care of some stuff w/o having to schlep. That said, I live alone, have good internet, don’t have kids, etc., so I also know that what works for me absolutely will not work for everyone. What I do appreciate is that my org seems to be asking what we really need, rather than relying on people who want everyone in the office to set the standard.
Dorothy A. Winsor
@Ohio Mom: You might think so, but when I was working in an office, I occasionally checked my online sites. We all need breaks!
@NotMax: Municipalities would be a good start for bringing cost down. But what’s missing is widespread coverage of the more rural areas (like mine). Either it’s extremely limited availability or it’s very substandard quality – often both. That’s where a big part of the changes will have to be focused.
@narya: ETA: having enough space for folks was an eternal issue for my organization, too, especially us office folks. The past year has relieved some of that strain, and has enabled leadership to be more intentional & thoughtful about what can work and how to facilitate it.
@Baud: who knew that pants were so integral to establishing positive social impression eh?
Like tom I have been working remotely (at software development) for a while now (since 2003!) and I will never go back into an office. I have been there for my children as they grew up and even today can manage to take the dog for a walk at lunchtime and make dinner for the family since my wife also works. I totally understand those who need the office space but for me it has been a way to keep my sanity in a stressful job. That said there are tradeoffs – the nights you work to catch up on things or the challenges of juggling home and work together but I think many of those challenges always exist – it’s just they get shifted off to taking the kids to daycare, or eating late, whatever.
I don’t know how this is going to affect the younger generation in the long term – my gut feeling is we may be able to as a society find a slightly better work/home balance than before.
@John Cole: You’re adorable.
They’ll just trim the on-site work force 40% and stuff everyone left into an office. So land use will be the same, but office layouts will change.
My experience with work from home is that just means they can call you with impunity at 8 o’clock at night.
@WaterGirl: On the bright, at least he’s pessimistic about the long-term instead of obsessing over the present.
@Dorothy A. Winsor: Right there with you. When I’m on mid-day it’s either because I’m on my lunch break or I’m taking a breather for a couple minutes. I’m at my desk for maybe two hours a day reviewing production legal hardcopy charts. This is a task that can’t be done remotely, so whether I’d like to work from home or not I’m still commuting an hour and a half into and out of work each day and either on the floor or working at my desk on-site.
Agreed. Going back to the Reagan tax cuts when they got rid of the personal investment credit, made depreciation harder and killed a whole bunch of stuff I used in my self-employment side bidnez I was asking how this was supposed to help bidnez growth?
“Not for you, pipsqueak.”
Treating a portion of one’s home as an office and an expense it is REALLY complicated, at least in California. You have to carve out the square footage, which you treat separately from the rest of the home in order to depreciate it, etc. but woe unto you when it comes time to sell the place.
World War II and Brown v. Board of Education were the seminal events in the 20th Century that changed everything about American life. They created suburbia and the (mostly white) middle class and much of the patterns of American life and education that reverberate today.
I expect that Covid is going to be a similar watershed event in the 21st Century for both American life in general and education. Everything will be pre-Covid or post-Covid just like everything was pre-war or post-war. Or pre-white flight and post-white flight.
The companies bitch about it, but somehow it doesn’t seem to keep them from doing business here. I would go so far as to say that our favorable legal environment is a big reason California is so good for business. Great businesses need great employees, and great employees want to work in places that are employee friendly.
I actually think the biggest thing here in California is that it strikes a reasonable balance between protecting employee rights while encouraging competition. For example, California is an at-will employment state (good for employer flexibility) but not a right-to-work state (good for employees). Interestingly, California is very skeptical of non-compete clauses. That’s obviously good for employees, but a lot of employers don’t like it. OTOH, it is good for new and growing companies, who don’t have to worry about non-compete contracts when hiring. I don’t think the tech sector would work nearly as well as it does if it were tied up with non-compete contracts.
I think this is the wrong take. For one, disruption rarely favors the rich. Disruption throws away the business models that current rich people rely on and create new ones to create new rich people. But they weren’t rich when the disruption happened. Better to stay that disruption takes down the previous generation of wealth and replaces it with a new generation. That’s not necessarily the goal we may seek, but at a minimum it beats keeping the old systems in place.
Disruption is good, but government needs to learn how to recognize it and regulate it a lot faster than they do now. It is possible to see it coming.
But the transit take is wrong. It’s important to understand that commuter transit is practically a completely distinct thing from non-commuter transit. This is because it doesn’t self-regulate. If your job expects you to be at work at 8AM, then that’s when you use the transit, even when its mobbed. That leads to massive overproduction of peak transit, and underproduction of baseline transit. So you get money going into widening freeways, but not paving local roads, or transit from suburbs to cities, but not from homes to retail. There are entire categories of transit that could go away if non-public-facing jobs stopped commuting. At a minimum that would free up money for better general use transit. Of course, you need the political will to do that.
J R in WV
I love you, Baud — never stop being you~!!~
For the past couple of years I have been working for a company which is all remote work. There is no main office, as far as I know. I have found that there are temp workers and contract workers who adapt to and seek out remote work assignments. They also find odd ways to build a support community. People would give new people like me tips on good headsets for remote work, suggestions on setting up a home workspace, etc
I am not saying that this is a perfect brave new world, but it is interesting to see how some people prefer and thrive in a remote work setup.
BTW, since I am a contract employee, I am sure that there is still office politics, but I don’t know how it operates.
The story John quotes refers to Manhattan. Our daughter working in New York is pleased not to have to commute into the city, as will all those suburbanites with multi-hour commutes. Other regions may have different responses.
Life is Change
How it differs from the rocks
I’ve seen their ways too often for my liking
New worlds to gain
My life is to survive
and be alive
@Roger Moore: You’re likely right, at least from what I’ve seen. My old employers had multiple facilities in California and wouldn’t have done so if it wasn’t favorable for them. Still, the disparity between how California employees were treated and how Wisconsin (or heaven forbid Georgia & Missouri) employees were treated was night and day. Which doesn’t surprise me. My state legislature is constantly finding new and creative ways to screw over blue collar workers in favor of the investor/boss class and then yelling “they’re taking your guns!” to get re-elected. And it works. The company was okay with that because they can get away with doing so. Which is why I think any response to ensure workers aren’t the ones left picking up the tab for this disruption needs to be federal.
I worked from home for 15 years building online courses. I retired and this shit came down. Same as it ever was.
This in no way distinguishes it from my on-site job. The difference is that in an emergency I may be required to go to work in person at an inconvenient time rather than just doing something at my computer at home.
@Roger Moore: Oh, incumbents love using non-competes, because it’s a talent moat – it keeps people on that could do better work elsewhere. Startups and market leaders benefit from the prohibition of non-competes because they can tip up a lot of expertise very quickly. Of course, everyone wishes they could have it for their exclusive use, but I know of two startups that moved to CA specifically so they could poach specific employees from other states that were under non-compete there.
But a nice datapoint for whether a company believes they are ascendant or not is their view on non-competes. Not unlike political party views on voting rights.
Thousands of new businesses will start in the places where they couldn’t afford rent before. I am looking forward to a renaissance in New York.
@John Cole: LOL – I agree with you to an extent. For me, working from home has sucked. I’m an extrovert and also prone to depression, so the things that give me energy are not feasible during a pandemic. Also, have a small house with spouse working at home as well as a teenager and can’t afford to remodel to make 2 home offices, so I’m’ stuck with a make shift arrangement that is not a good situation for me (spouse has more online meetings, so needs the guest room converted to office space more than I do).
Very much this. Disruption is very bad for rentiers who are just trying to milk the system for all it’s worth; getting rid of them is one of the reasons people like disruptive change. The problem is it’s also bad for the working people who depend on their jobs in the disrupted industry. The rentiers have gotten very good at using our concern for the working stiffs as a means of blocking disruptive change that will interfere with their rent seeking. We need to come up with better ways of helping the working people without protecting the obsolete industries they work in.
@PenAndKey: We’re happy to siphon your economy off of you.
People are always shocked to learn that Los Angeles is the largest manufacturing hub in the US. We’re having this national minimum wage debate and in my city minimum wage at McDonalds is now $19/hr. My McNuggets are always delivered with a smile.
@Nicole: I got dahlias….
@Roger Moore: I’ll add that replacing the wages is a lot easier for workers to deal with than replacing the benefits which is much more disruptive.
I’m having this discussion with my wife regarding retiring and 90% of our hesitation is having to move from our current health insurance to the exchange. Not that our actual coverage would change much, or even who provides it, it’s just the hassle. Health insurance is almost as powerful a worker lock-in as non-competes are.
So with universal health care, disruption is much easier on workers. That said, workers need to learn to see the disruption coming so they aren’t blindsided by it.
A lot of screen shares where I work. Not very effective, to be honest.
Most of the disruption will come from accelerating trends that have been used hesitatingly for short periods before rather than as a full time switch. Remote work, online medical visits and online shopping, plus food delivery and grocery delivery finally made some real penetration and continued long enough to work out some of the kinks.
Things like cutting hair or manicures will still be in person services. And probably a host of others. Gee, those tend to be lower paying jobs than those that can work from home. Surprise. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It didn’t get to adage status by being untrue.
What is needed is for those states to realize that having those laws doesn’t create a non business environment. What does is not being able to attract good workers, because the job pays squat and other states do respect the employee far more. When people didn’t travel as much and didn’t know as much about other cities/states they would work for less but that seems to be a sore issue in a lot of places that will slowly change.
@JoyceH: My commute is 30 minutes each way and pre-pandemic I’ve been carpooling for about a decade.
I’m still 100% onboard with full-time work from home. It would be great if I could deduct my home office off my taxes but honestly the upside of wfh more than makes up for it.
The upside to the firms in NY & SF shifting to a ‘work from where-ever’ mode is that it might release the housing pressure a smidge in those cities and FSM knows both cities could use it.
Except my heating and cooling bills have been almost double. It’s harder to keep an apartment cooler in winter and warmer in summer when I’m in it all day.
@Dan: The renaissance will come the day after private vehicles are banned in Manhattan and the streets are reclaimed for pedestrians.
These are federal rules that an area must be solely and exclusively used for business. I don’t see how California suffers more than any other state.
Yeah, this can be a drag. But in the real world, a lot of people just ignore this when they sell their personal residence. And doing the sale right is not that hard with tax software.
I’m not sure you are correct that disruption always favors the rich. I think a lot of rich people talk a lot about “disruption” and how they want to be “disruptors,” but I don’t think that word means the same thing as what actual history tells us about disruption. Disruption is usually caused by disasters and/or wars and the economic challenges those create. I’m pretty sure that the disruption that occurred in Western Europe after WWII did not necessarily favor the rich as much as the status quo pre-war did. You can say the same of post-WWII America, what with the rise of the middle class of the Fifties and Sixties. Or you could say that about America during Reconstruction. You look back in history and see many other examples of this being a moment of social, economic and political gains for non-rich people. And then we get inevitable backlash, like Jim Crow or Richard Nixon/Ronald Reagan.
I think the big players in tech have more or less accepted that they aren’t going to be able to depend on non-compete clauses and adapted their business models to deal with it. I believe very strongly that California law on this point is a key reason for the growth of the tech industry. It’s tempting to favor the established players, but it’s the new innovators who really drive things. Similarly, California labor law on personal services contracts has helped performers in the entertainment industry, who can’t get locked into contracts for more than 7 years. Again, I’m sure the studios and record companies would love to have longer terms than that, but the opportunity for artists to pursue their careers on their own terms is better for the industry even if it hurts the individual employers when they can’t hold onto someone they want to keep.
Just got off the phone with my doc, doing an online appointment.
Much easier than driving to the office, waiting, talking for the same amount of time, and then driving back. Also much cheaper, as I either have to drive 42 miles or take 3 trains and a bus ride. And I’m not willing to ride the trains/bus at the moment.
@Ruckus: Those of us who can get out do so, and the rest either don’t know better or get bitter about it. I’d prefer to avoid getting even more bitter than I already am, but until I can convince my wife that out kids can handle moving and that we don’t need to live right next to family we’re stuck here while Martin takes all our jobs ?.
Adjustments will need to be made for this if remote work continues to be a big thing.
BTW I note that in the summer I loved going into the office because the air conditioning was much better than what I had at home.
Yep. People are always shocked that California (and the rest of the West Coast) doesn’t have a separate, lower minimum wage for tipped employees. They wonder how restaurants in California can stay in business. There are two key points:
It shouldn’t come as a surprise but frequently does that having dedicated, long-term employees is better for business than pinching pennies.
James E Powell
I am almost two weeks post-second shot, so I’m feeling pretty good about life.
This gave me a fit, not of pessimism but rage like the rage of Achilles and a strong desire to make sure everyone I know hears this audio.
They are evil assholes and they must be stopped.
@Roger Moore: Second this. I was permanent on-call. Back in the beginning there was no call in capability period, your fixes needed to be compiled from card decks. The only difference at the end was that the computer itself put out the mayday call when a job aborted. I still got the call because I lived closest. If some of the people who used to call me are now getting calls themselves, fine by me. That is not to say that many of the people I worked with did put in long hours themselves fixing things that weren’t in my wheelhouse, but I got every department’s problems, plus any programming ones.
La Gata Gris
@Baud: Who does the status quo favor? The rich! Yeah…I think most scenarios favor the rich. Except the one where the desperate rise up and eat the rich but I wouldn’t recommend eating the rich as 1)that’s a way to get parasites or a prion disease ewww 2) I doubt the residues of cocaine would be healthy to consume either.
Chacal Charles Calthrop
@Ohio Mom: touche
@moops: Yes, yes, yes and yes.
@PenandKey: Tell your family it’s lovely here. 77 and I’m working at my patio table.
@La Gata Gris
The wealthy class is adept at reacting to changing circumstances by pulling a Kobayashi Maru – changing the rules so they continue to benefit.
@Ohio Mom: On plus side, there’s less risk of being replaced by someone working in another country with lower overall wages or a nationalized healhcare system. While there’s been some exporting of “white-collar” jobs overseas, I think WFH will accelerate that trend.
* Re problem with page navigation using the backspace key *
I found that my backspace key no longer worked for page navigation in Balloon Juice after I upgraded to Firefox 87.0 (Win10) sometime last week. Finally got motivated to troubleshoot it—amazing how often my muscle memory had me punching that key to go back to a previous comment, etc.—and found the (simple) solution.
Mozilla disabled the backspace key for page navigation to prevent data loss when filling out forms. You can reënable it by going into the
about:configtab and changing
browser.backspace_actionto 0. Details here under “Changed.”
(To get to
about:config, open a new tab and type “about:config” as the target URL. Further details upon request.)
That’s because they haven’t been staying in business. Not in California or other states. Before the pandemic, there was a noticeable increase in restaurant closures in California. Some of this was more due to rising lease and food costs than to labor costs, but businesses responded by laying people off, reducing hours and trying to shift more to breakfast fare. This even affected fast food restaurants, which began to invest more in kitchen equipment methods that required fewer people to do food preparation. More use of prepackaged food items that only required reheating.
J R in WV
Is “onboarding” similar to hiring? ;~)
But seriously, haven’t ever heard that usage before…
J R in WV
I was an IT manager, and so spent a lot of time “surfing” IT sites. I was prepared to justify 95% of my surfing as related to my work, being able to make good decisions regarding our software development shop and staff.
But really, no one cared.
My boss frequently called me into his office right next door to watch video from Mars, military info, etc… stuff that interested him, and vice versa, I would ask him to step over to see something I thot he would care about. We had a pretty good working relationship.
@J R in WV:
It’s waterboarding for folks who don’t live on a coast.
What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us?
@PenandKey: I’m in the opposite situation. I have a live-in mother in law who was our dog walker in the before times. She has her own house but even before the pandemic the only weekday she wasn’t here at our place was the day I teleworked, and honestly it was getting to the point that she really didn’t always bother going home that day. So we had to leave the heat turned up for her all day anyway (before the dog I’d turn it down before leaving for work). So I haven’t seen much difference in my utilities.
The problem is that if CRE prices crater, there will just be a fire sale on buildings as owners try to cash out rather than negotiate much lower leases; new owners may come in, but they will ask for huge property tax reassessments. Restaurants and other businesses that cater to office workers will close, also hitting the tax base. Then it’s just a race to the bottom for city services, police, fire, mass transit, etc. If you’re going to invest in converting a bunch of former commercial real estate into residential, you’re going to want to make luxury condominiums, not cheap pads for lower and middle-income workers. So you’ll end up with no housing, high crime, homelessness, and crappy city services. Who wants to live around that?
My bet, however, is that a lot of companies see themselves having an edge when their employees work together and meet with clients in person. Sure, some will see the cost-benefit analysis break the other way, but I think they will be in the minority. Over the summer I think companies will look at their operations and then at their competitors and there will be a race on to show they’re the ones back behind their desks or wherever giving clients and customers in-person attention.
Sister Golden Bear
One of the interesting after-effects is that disability advocates are pointing out that the pandemic has shown that the sort of work-from-home accommodations they’ve been seeking do in fact work. Corporations hadn’t been hiring people with disabilities who could do the work, but needed to do so from home. Hopefully, the After World will open up more employment possibilities for them.
Myself, I’m waiting to see what things look like. Starting the new job in two weeks and I’ll have a clearer idea then what their long-term plans are. When I interviewed, there was talk that they’d reopen offices this summer, unclear whether that’s five days a week or hybrid. Really hoping for the latter. I could use some in-person interaction (since I live alone), but spending 1.5-2 hours every day commuting is something I really would like to avoid.
Another potential downside of extensive work-from-home is that I’m hearing through the grapevine that our Silicon Valley overlords are looking at this as an opportunity to drive salaries down. Since the applicant pool is bigger, they’re looking at hiring more people who live in places that are cheaper — and less inclined to pay the higher wages needed for a comparable salary here in CA. Don’t like, then you peons can just move.
The Moar You Know
Rarely say this but John: you’re flat out wrong. Not about CRE, which was getting killed even before the pandemic. But you just don’t understand the boss/CEO mentality, and bless you for that.
CEOs want slaves on the farm. A slave working from home isn’t their property. Just a hired hand with way too much power to do what they want. No, these folks, and their overseers (management) want their slaves where they see them, yell at them, watch them…watch their property. Make sure they’re not getting uppity. You are going to be floored at what the CEO/bossman class is going to be willing to pay to make sure that happens. In leases, in utilities, in services, in medical bills, in lives. They will spend what it takes because owning another human being is a rush like nothing else. And they will stop at nothing to get that back.
You watch. I’m not wrong about this. All you people who were working in offices will be working in them again full time, five a week, within two years unless you “retire”. I guarantee it.
ETA: tech and supervision of remote workers has staggering costs of its own and can’t be done very well. That’s another issue that the CEO/bossman class will cite, with some justification, as being the reason everyone needs to go back. But fundamentally, they just want their human property back.
Disability activities have been asking for WFH positions for years. Unfortunately companies still don’t want to hire them.
Sister Golden Bear
Not just younger workers, any new employees without social capital at their new job.
I’ll be facing that myself, as I’m starting work at a large corporation.
Some Silicon Valley companies realize this an issue and are trying to figure ways to mitigate it, but from what I’ve heard no one’s really been hugely successful in doing so.
What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us?
@craigie: We could telework 1-2 days per week pre-pandemic but it wasn’t “when I feel like it” – we all had approved days when we could telework and you had to arrange in advance to change those. It doesn’t have to be “I feel like teleworking today so I’m gonna”.
I will also say that my organization loves meetings…so many meetings. It was virtually impossible to find conference rooms for all of them in the before times, but with online meeting space that’s not an issue. Honestly the virtual meetings are also more productive IMO. We’re better about staying on topic and having people prepped in advance to provide the information we need. I’d still like to see everyone IRL one of these days.
@Brachiator: So, yeah. Wages are generally no more than 30% of costs for restaurants, and under 25% for most. It’s rent that kills a lot of restaurants. In my area it’s often landlords that decide that italian doesn’t fit this center, denies them a lease extension, and attracts a greek restaurant instead. So we have a TON of turnover of restaurants, but they’re never, ever vacant. I mean we have loads of restaurants that either always, or often, have lines outside.
A surprisingly large variable is whether the restaurant needs a fryer or not. That adds massively to the rent because of the necessary fire suppression, disposal, etc. So if you have a kitchen that doesn’t need one – why Subway and Starbucks were able to expand so rapidly and into spaces that you couldn’t put a McDonalds – your location options are substantially broader. Another reason why reheating has become more common – it gives them more space flexibility.
Not sure how this varies by state, but in CA that fryer kills a lot of restaurants.
Jane [email protected]:
“online shopping, plus food delivery and grocery delivery” may make lives easier for some of us but the people working the supply line, from the farms and slaughterhouses, to the factories, to the warehouses to the delivery vehicles, and every step along the way I’ve left out (starting with the road crews clearing away the snow), sure aren’t working remotely.
I remain unconvinced that private vehicles could be banned from Manhattan. Too many ultra-wealthy people want their private cars, people with mobility issues are dependent on their cars, lots of people need their vehicles for their jobs (for example, salespeople making visits to multiple customers), and you try dragging young kids on public transportation (my mother did, and I remember many of the return trips home were the special treat of a taxi ride, which was a budget buster for us). New York is a working city, not Disneyland.
An even bigger disruption is when the community they live in is heavily dependent on the industry that’s being disrupted. In that case, the disruption can wipe out not just the jobs but also the support structures people depend on to get through hard times. It’s bad enough to lose your job. It’s far worse when half the people you know have lost their jobs, too.
J R in WV
We have a sat dish up on the ridge, behind the next door neighbor’s house. There are two of them, actually one for them and one for us. T is a biologist and hydrologist, as well as the network manager for the farm.
Which is great!
But in reality, when we sit down to dinner, and Wife wants to watch MSNBC news (which she watches all the time, former news correspondent for 35 years.) our connectivity usually will not support steaming video as people all over the continent sit down to surf and watch movies.
Just reading text like Balloon Juice can be quite difficult at time, and of course adverse weather of any kind can shut connections down hard! Let alone extended power outages~!!!!~
What I’m saying is the Sat connectivity is a lame excuse for real work connections…
Sister Golden Bear
@J R in WV:
I realize you’re joking, but “onboarding” is slightly different. It refers to getting employees up to speed after their start date. Both the typical HR /first-day orientation stuff, but also the formal and informal “here’s how to do your job” learning, getting to know your team members, etc.
In the user experience world, it’s also used to describe getting new users up-to-speed the first time they use an unfamiliar app or complex website. Definitely harder to do when you’re not in an office, especially the building up social networks (social capital) part.
@lafcolleen: Sounds just like my workplace. I’m in Brooklyn at an LSC funded legal services provider.
Even if you ban private cars, you’ll still need streets for delivery, construction, and emergency vehicles plus public transit and probably transport services like taxis. So you’ll only be able to take back part of the streets for pedestrians.
And yet Jobs was one of the ones secretly screaming the loudest for non-compete agreements:
As driftglass reminds us: “There’s a club, and you’re not in it.”
Also too, if no private vehicles allowed, maximum capacity of public transport during rush hour would be exceeded multiple times over, leading to epic congestion.
Dude, calm down. People are going to get sick of remote and want to be face-to-face again. People are going to be sick of being cooped up at home and want work-day social life again. Remote will be a new part of the mix. Maybe it will be used sensibly, maybe assholes will find new ways to make it oppressive, but there’s also the possibility we’ll end up with the best of both worlds.
Or three years from now people will be saying, “Remember remote? That sucked!”
George Carlin was saying that when driftglass was still a gleam in someone’s eye. (okay, maybe not that long ago)
So, the plan that is developing for me is to give up my office for a cubicle that I’ll hot swap. I’ll go into the office once a week for standing meetings, and I’ll remote in the other days.
Part of the motivation is that we can’t secure space fast enough, and given the cost/sq ft not just of my office but also parking (because offices stack better than cars, the car takes up more land space than my office does) we’d rather telework people like me and hire faster or put that space toward more productive uses.
We just completed a 200,000 sq ft building and it was completely allocated 2 years before it was finished. If we had built a 2nd 200K sq ft building that too would have filled by the time it opened.
Sister Golden Bear
@The Moar You Know:
Don’t necessarily disagree, but that doesn’t always play out in the trenches. At my last job, one of the CEOs pretty anti-WFH, but in practice most of my team usually was remote around once a week with our immediate manager’s blessing. We just weren’t supposed to send team-wide emails announcing we’d be WFH. Kind of a corporate “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. So I’d just tell the relevant team members in person.
Cole residing within commute distance of Pittsburgh, it should be yinz, not “y’all” at all.
David ? ☘The Establishment☘? Koch
DOJ – Under New Management
@la caterina: Are you union, too? NOLSW here.
@Ohio Mom: Oh, I used to live there. Those are all solvable problems. You expand bus service now that the streets are more clear. There will be solutions for people with special needs. The city already has a shit-ton of restrictions on commercial vehicles. Salespeople would either have a commercial vehicle or use mass transit. I mean, mail carriers have been using the subway for a century. Kids use them to go to school, etc.
But 25% of the land area of Manhattan is dedicated to cars. The amount of land that would be opened up to restaurants and retail to expand into pedestrian space would be massive. The food trucks wouldn’t have to deal with illegal parking.
Yes, of course there would be challenges, but the upsides are orders of magnitude greater.
@Sister Golden Bear: I think it also has to do with how it is no longer ‘here’s your time-card, there is the clock’ and now it is ‘Here’s your network login, call IT for your first temporary password, here are the 401k forms for you to fill out, please watch this anti harassment video, this corporate compliance video,etc…
I suspect that if more places allow work from home that it will mean people will be more likely to live in exurban areas (more than they already do).
I wish I could work from home. I did last summer but when we went back to our original programs/websites I could only access them from a .mil address so access from home was impossible. Nothing in my job otherwise requires me to be at work and I’d just as soon not me.
Not for me. On the other hand, it is difficult to run a theater without being able to have audiences or in-person rehearsals, so I guess I’ll have to get used to being around people again.
Public meetings, on the other hand? I hope there’s always a remote option to cover those for the newspaper, because I could go for quite a bit longer not being FtF again with the assholes currently running our county.
I started remote working (again) when I needed to move so that RandomMrs could be closer to her family. It’s worked out pretty well for me and the company, and I think the pandemic experience has made the company even more comfortable with larger numbers of remote workers.
Cole’s genius at endless pessimism is a wonder to behold. Looks like in practice most of the currently approved the covid vaccines are more than 95 percent effective in protecting people from severe covid or hospitalization. New peer reviewed research published this morning gives strong evidence that they are also very effective at preventing transmission, and any viral escape unlikely for at least several years (so plenty of time to plan for boosters if needed).
See Monica Gandhi’s twitter today for details, links and explanations.
Cole does have a point that we have to fend off the GOP wrecking crew to avoid turning a potential win-win-win situation into another scheme to funnel more money and resources to the uber rich. But OTOH, people who own property in city centers will be figuring out how to get some rental income flowing.
In SF Bay, there are plans to grease the wheels for conversion of commercial property into residential housing, and multipurpose business zoning, where that is feasible. And we don’t really know yet whether or not business will go back to normal. Some research showing that productivity took a serious hit due to excessive work from home. We’ll find out as business that stick with a lot of work at home have to compete with those that don’t.
But redevelopment financing, zoning, etc., is more local than most policies, so people showing up for that in their county and city will have more leverage than for a lot of public policy. And contact Congressfinks to encourage and hector them into Uncle Joe’s plans to send some federal $ to get the job done.
I read in the papers that Joe wants to be the next FDR, so we need to make him do just that.
@different-church-lady: I loved it for 15 years!
I don’t know about staggering…
“The part that gets me about the shift to “work from home” is that, for those that even have that option, you can’t even deduct the expenses for doing so from your taxes anymore. It’d be one thing if companies chipped in to help their employees pay for the increased home utilities and expenses, but you know damn well they won’t. At least not most of them.”
It’s likely that you will make that up in commuting expenses.
@J R in WV:
Onboarding, i.e. bringing someone on board, is what happens after hiring. It’s the process of getting people the resources they need for their new job, giving them the new employee introduction, teaching them about policies and procedures, etc.
@lafcolleen: Me too! LSSA 2320 is our shop.
We’ll see. I think companies that have offices and have their coworkers actually working side by side will still do better in the long run than companies that decide to do everything virtually and from home. This won’t be true all the time, but I think the tendency will exist. Even if their entire company is about digital stuff.
I’m not even basing this one some vague sense of camaraderie or office space magic. It’s simply more tasking to coordinate teamwork via purely digital means.
@J R in WV:
Yeah, it’s a thing now. It was a thing when I started this job 10 years ago. More like new employee orientation than hiring.
@lafcolleen: The judges I practice before are NOT going back until everyone’s vaccinated. Two very beloved judges at our courthouse died early on in the pandemic.
@raven:was that the triffids singing?
Hey, nattering nabob of negativity John Cole is better than no John Cole at all, so we shouldn’t expect him to be all multilevel roller derby and yoga studio explosions in downtown Manhattan.
What we have here is a failure of imagination. I think bars and restaurants reopening this summer will be like the invasion of Normandy, The John Coles of the Internet storming the beaches with their float buddies and national parks looking like Bourbon Street on Fat Tuesday.
I’m retired, so I haven’t been affected by this, and for a long time before I did retire I did work-from-home software consulting with occasional client meetings or stretches of on-site work. So it has been a very long time since I had a regular office job. But I can see the changes from talking to friends and ex-colleagues.
One friend works for an organic foods coöperative/wholesaler and is based in Portland, OR, although he is on the road about 60% of the time. He called me last week to ask what I thought about Las Vegas as a place to live. His company is closing their Portland office, as well as those in two other cities, because the spaces have basically been sitting empty for the last year. They have decided that almost everyone can work from home, and they’re not picky about where that is. So my friend is looking for a place somewhere in the West with good infrastructure and amenities and a good airport. Low taxes and good housing prices are a plus.
Another ex-colleague specializes in setting up and maintaining computer networks for small and medium-sized companies—ones that don’t have an IT staff or just have one or two tech-support caretaker types. My friend got worried when some of the companies closed their offices because of the pandemic, but what he found out was that his work didn’t go away, it just changed substantially—from maintaining office networks to making sure the employees had what they needed to work from home. Some just needed their home setups tweaked a bit, but others needed upgrades and a lot of help. My friend’s still in business, but it has changed quite a bit.
@What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us?:
One question I have is how online work spaces are going to work if people come back into the office. My personal experience is that you can only have one computer on a call from a given physical space. If you try to have two or more computers close together, you need headphones and very good discipline with the mute button, or you’ll wind up with terrible feedback.
“Still, every time I’m on a VTC and go through all the various issues (crappy bandwidth over VPN, “you’re still on Mute!”, “I don’t know what happened, but …”, “well Jane just lost her connection”, people talking over each other, distorted audio, etc., etc.) I think that the Brave New World isn’t as close as TV commercials would have us believe.”
That’s because we have internalized things like an hour door-to-dor to workfor an hour then go to another building then come back then …… and finally drive home for an hour.
And that’s in good weather.
“Well, anoher way in which it will play out is that lots of people without a home computer will find it difficult to get a job, and, of course, without a job, they won’t be able to afford a home computer.”
Swap car for computer.
I think it’s going to depend critically on the job. I think it’s going to be big for tech and for a lot of kinds of jobs where working free from interruptions is important. Too many businesses are foolish and try to cram those people into cubicles rather than giving them quite, distraction-free work spaces. Rather than making things harder by inhibiting free-form interactions, it will make things easier because those free-form interactions get people out of the flow.
As NotMax points out, there is a limit to NYC’s subway’s capacity, under the best of conditions (rarely obtained for long).
There is this idea that Mahattan is always congested. Not all of it (there are many neighborhoods, it isn’t all midtown) and not all the time, either.
It is true that the traffic has gotten much worse in recent years, and that is due to the proliferation of Lyft and Uber. Maybe *those* private cars could be banned (seriously, not sure how that could be accomplished). And before Covid, there were definitely too many tourists crowding the sidewalks. My last few visits home, the number of tourists (easily identified) was astounding.
Just One More Canuck
@Fair Economist: Working from home has been a godsend for my wife. She no longer has to get up at 5 or so to get ready to rush to the train, fighting the crowds, then getting her full day in before having to pack her working materials and lock them away (no permanent desks at Big Ass Accounting, so nothing could be left overnight) and then rushing back to the train so she could (if she was lucky) be home by 530. Now she gets up at 7 or 730, and is far more productive in what she does
And yet most companies that switched to remote work continued to make a shit ton of money.
And one of the biggest cost savings was the expense and time of a lot of business travel, which could be easily converted into remote conferencing.
Remote working may not be the solution to everything, but it can increase productivity and efficiency in many areas.
@John Cole: all of the specified examples are NY city where the rents are high. I don’t know that I agree in general. I think there will be local specific situations. My employer brought us back after just 3 months and I thought it was unnecessary risk for no point because we still see students just on zoom and stay in our offices with the door shut. So why? Well many managers just don’t like change and not all decisions are logical. I miss interacting casually with my coworkers and I am not getting some detailed info that I would the old way plus the social aspect. I actually liked working from home better than this new version of at work where we stay in individual offices….it’s worse than before times working in the office. I would prefer some kind of hybrid. I don’t think it will happen because the bosses don’t want to deal with that. I suspect they think some people will goof off and don’t want to have to defend allowing some to be home, some to be required to come in even though it has become obvious some jobs could be home and others it would be less successful.
High powered super competitive NYC professional offices are run by more flexible people than my office. I bet a lot of places will go right back to normal for awhile, and only later think about maybe making a few small changes. Then things will change a little more each year but not equally in all parts of the country. High rent areas should be the ones thinking about this the most.
Besides the subway system, same overwhelming of capacity limitation holds true for Amtrak (commuters from Connecticut and New York north of the city proper), LIRR (Nassau, Suffolk and Queens), and maybe especially for ramshackle PATH (New Jersey). Laying additional track and ramping up rolling stock a whole other world of complexity than laying asphalt.
I think it isn’t quite right that the rich will benefit. I’m pretty sure our pets will benefit as well. In fact, I think there will be a surge of pet ownership.
I also think that WFH might go extreme in one direction and then move back – people do like to interact with each other. But might want to WFH to get real work done without any distraction. I’ve always thought that WFH was good I don’t want people coming into my cube asking questions and the like.
I know when I’m at work, I’m a social butterfly – I can’t help myself. ;-)
@Ohio Mom: We had a very new person in our firm when the office closed down and she never really had a chance. I did my best to help her with special training exercises, etc., but new hires need face time (not on Zoom) with the people they are now working for. She finally left and got another job.
Will add as a side note that upgrading rail lines is, to put it mildly, time consuming. More than a century since the LIRR began electrifying its lines there are yet sections which have not been begun and still rely on diesel engines.
@raven: Thanks, Raven.
A woman from anywhere (formerly Mohagan)
@Gravenstone: I live in a rural area and I have a DSL line from AT&T for internet access. This is the best speed available and it is not impressive. Since I am retired, I was not affected by having to work from home, but I am effectively locked out of all the streaming services for shows I would like to see (The Crown, etc.) because the speed and reliability are simply not there. Our connection routinely drops out on a daily basis, too. If it stays down for more than 30 minutes, that’s my cue to call AT&T for a service call because a squirrel has chewed line wires again. No, I’m not kidding. Sigh. I really feel for those poor people who have to remote teach/learn/work with a bad internet connection.
You can have my job. I’m retiring in 2 to 3 months. Don’t have a hard date but I’m already 71 and still working. I never thought, decades ago, that I’d still be working at this age. But you will be welcome to my job when I am gone. Hell I know lots of folks who didn’t make it this far, working or not.
@J R in WV: LOL. In my line of work, onboarding means training, introducing employees to their colleagues, making sure they get adjusted, etc.
@A woman from anywhere (formerly Mohagan)
Will be slow to complete on DSL but it is possible to download full episodes or entire movies from Netflix and Prime on to your computer or tablet rather than stream it and watch within a certain time frame (IIRC 30 days) at your leisure. Note that you’ll still have to open your Netflix or Prime app in order to enable access to the downloaded data, however there will be no buffering, freezing or stuttering.
Funny how payroll is not all that critical in a business making money.
My dad paid on the high end and I did the same when I owned the company. Better working conditions are not just bottled water or the like, people work for money and they like more of it rather than less. As long as I accounted for the payroll, rent/land ownership, taxes, material and machine payments in what I charged my customers, I made money because my customers understood as well, it takes more than just bodies to deliver a product/service. And it takes motivated employees to deliver a great product/service.
The people working for you are the product. Everything else is what they do to earn that.
Imagine if someone making $120k/year could live in a small town that they wanted to rather than having to live in a large city because that’s the only place their skills are utilized. Think of what that could do for some small West Virginian towns.
@A woman from anywhere (formerly Mohagan):
I ran my last business over DSL, because there was nothing else and streamed Netflix over it OK. Now it wasn’t great for sure and what I have at home now is far faster/better but it still worked. I wonder if those squirrels have done a lot more damage than your provider is willing to admit to.
Friend here lives way, way out in the boonies and all he can get is DSL, at a whopping (on a good day) 3 mbps. Still he can watch Netflix with minimal frustration. Netflix will configure to a dropped down version (720p rather than 1080p or 4k) to do their best with pokey connectivity. Not much they can do about any last mile digital potholes on the information highway, though.
I live in SoCal and we have 2 rail lines for local transportation. One is the all electric system on a revitalized railway, with overhead electrification added. Modern cars etc, the stops are more akin to a local transit system. The second set are all diesel and all end at LA Union station and the routes go to the north and south coasts, and the north and south deserts, covering over 500 miles. Before Covid they were often standing room only at rush hour times. They sometimes have $10 weekends, where you can ride all the routes, all weekend for $10. All of the right-a-ways have been there for decades, most of them were in disuse for a long time.
Of course the flip side of this is that once Management figures out that they don’t need to have workers in an actual office, they’re gonna quickly figure out that they don’t even need workers that live in the same country anymore. Then, look out.
Yep that’s what they did for me, it worked OK on the smaller TV I had then, but I was gifted a 65 in flat screen a couple of years ago and it is amazing. 720 on that would not be all that great.
We already tried that. It failed the last time because of the time delay.
My wife works for a company where almost all of the employees work from home. They supply the computer and phone she uses. They’re still hiring, so if you know anyone in medical billing, let me kow.
Yeah, I can see where it wouldn’t work in all cases. But there’s Mexico and SA. And there’s a lot of work that doesn’t have to be done all simultaneously.
@Roger Moore: The way it worked at my last job, where I was remote before the pandemic, is that those who are in the same place will get a conference room and use the setup there. Which is even worse than all-remote IMO, because the people who are in the room have side conversations and make noise next to the microphone and draw on the whiteboard and leave no gaps for anyone remote to say anything, because none of these things affect *them* negatively. It creates a two-tier system favoring those who are physically present, and I think that’s what we’ll end up with in many offices when they reopen. Anybody who wants to remain remote themselves should plan to find a company where everyone’s remote.
Once the businesses that go to more telecommuting start getting their assess kicked by the companies that stay with a more traditional format we will see a re-discovery of the Allen Curve and the migration will reverse. Bet on it.
@lee: Long before the pandemic, I deducted working from home on my taxes. I could not do any contract proposal work on the client site -and my company did not have desks for all of us in their office. So they gave me a letter authorizing me to do work from home – and I deducted the man cave in my house as a home office.