Posted on May 02, 2021
Joseph Goebbels said that if you repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth.
And for some time now, and magnified by Covid, we have seen that happen in our media with regard to the concept of working from home – or “WFH” as the media likes to call it. Possibly because there is an aversion to words with more than 5 letters, or more likely because of the idea that if you turn something into an acronym, it somehow becomes more believable.
The media has trumpeted this idea that in the future that we will all be working from home. And that offices will be a thing of the past. I have never quite grasped how a diesel mechanic, or a vet, or an airline pilot, will work from home. I know that you can fly a drone from your phone. But, when I finally get to fly to the south of France for a holiday, I don’t want the pilot of my plane to be doing his job from his kitchen table. I’ll bet there are plenty of others who think the same way I do.
There may well be some people who do spend 100% of their time inside an office, and could conceivably set up a home office. Aside from the obvious distractions (I am sure that participants in zoom meetings would not be interested in seeing my pet parrot sitting on my shoulder) there are advantages in a formal office (with other people in it) that home offices just cannot provide. From an employer’s perspective, being able to see that the employee is in the office doing something is a good start. They may be viewing porn on their computer – but at least they are in the office. But there are real advantages that an office offers, that a home office cannot: the interchange of ideas with colleagues and the access to alternative views, institutional history and experience are not nearly as accessible from outside the formal office environment. Collaboration is an important element in producing quality work at any level, but particularly salient for younger workers starting out in an industry.
Demand for office space may have fallen. But a lot of that is because of specific industries ,such as the international education industry, being impacted by Covid. It is not the impact of masses of workers gleefully preferring the kitchen table to the collaboration and conviviality of a real office.
My prediction is that if office occupancy falls post-Covid it will be as a result of increased use of technology in the workplace, rather than kitchen table sharing. In the 80’s the accepted ratio of office to warehouse/factory was 25%. Prior to that it has been even greater. But with the adoption of computers, and then cloud software, over the next 40 years that ratio has generally dropped to 10%. In short – we still need offices – and people to work in them.