Monday, December 14, 2020

Why the Office Isn’t Going Away

 By Peter Cappelli

The giant work-from-home experiment that no one wanted has been under way long enough to ask: What happens to the office now? Do we really need it?

History reminds us that the early days of the Industrial Revolution began with people doing commercial work from home. Since then, we have been remarkably, some might say stubbornly, committed to the idea that work should be centered at the office, even when it could have been done remotely. We invested huge amounts of money in office real estate equipped to help us be efficient. We also asked employees to spend lots of time and money traveling to those offices.

A lot of people seem to think it’s time to completely overhaul that model. But I’m not convinced that is really what is going to happen.

It is hard to know for certain, but by some counts as much as 40% of the American labor force is working remotely—more people by far than are still at work in offices, given the massive numbers currently unemployed. No one seems to think it is a good idea for college students to keep doing distance learning once the pandemic has receded or to keep having religious services virtually. But a lot of people believe that continuing remote work and at least paring back physical offices is sensible. It seems like only yesterday that the tech companies were the models in doing everything they could to keep employees from leaving their campuses. Now some, like Twitter, are suggesting they never have to come back. Why is that?

The idea of getting rid of offices, or at least scaling them way back, is of course to save money. This could be like Uber for office jobs: Get employees to provide and pay for their own office, which they have anyway (i.e., their kitchen table), and save a lot of company money on offices and real estate. Also, if people relocate away from expensive areas like Silicon Valley and New York to work remotely, we can pay them less, the thinking goes. Besides, employees seem to like it, and the work is getting done.

The problem with that view begins with the fact that the current situation is so strange that it is unlikely to tell us much about how things would go after the pandemic.

Read the rest here.


  1. Before this pandemic extensive research was done with home workers and the biggest problem by far was "depression". People need the company of others. No amount of talking to people over zoom etc, is going to resolve the depression problem. I believe most people will want to travel to work one or two days a week just to break the week up and get through the depression factor. If it works I believe it could be good for employee and employer.

    1. Only the truly saddest people rely on office for human contacts...

      This is more likely due to massive disruption of the normal social contacts in the coronaplague fear-afflicted.

  2. Been working from home 5 years and wouldnt trade it. This is just hopeful thinking on Peter's part. Those with skills of value will not permit a move back to shared office.

  3. While I enjoy working from home. I sure wish I had my own space/office to do so.