Has the Pandemic Transformed the Office Forever?

Article Has the Pandemic Transformed the Office Forever?

Companies are figuring out how to balance what appears to be a lasting shift toward remote work with the value of the physical workplace.


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Writing in The New Yorker, John Seabrook explains office design and its history in light of technology and COVID. Many firms embrace a hybrid approach, in which staffers split time between office and home; getting the balance right is tricky. Keeping workers off-site saves money, but could undermine corporate culture. COVID safety drives office design, with special entry rooms and customized HVACs. Microsoft stands ready to customize virtual offices for companies in the cloud, offering new options and limitations. Seabrook’s analysis offers rich insight into likely future office design.

Summary

Companies are asking whether to retain office space or jettison it.

An international marketing company in San Francisco, R/GA, decided not to renew its expensive lease on its now-empty office space. Since mid-March, with R/GA staffers working productively from home, managing director David Corns wondered about the purpose of communal office space.

Since the 1990s, office space design followed organizational trends from leveling hierarchy to team-focused work. As collaboration and communication capabilities increased, the need for a co-located space changed. Numerous large companies are now reevaluating their office needs. Upwork, a freelancing site, estimated that 27% of US workers would be remote by 2021. Some 20 million members of the workforce either plan to move or have already moved – mostly away from big cities. Estimates from CBRE, the globe’s biggest commercial real estate services firm, says a record-breaking 16% of offices in San Francisco are vacant. The drop in the stock value of long-term leasing companies illustrates this trend.

Before the pandemic, communication...

About the Author

New Yorker magazine staff writer John Seabrook wrote The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory.


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