“Return to Normalcy” was Warren Harding’s campaign slogan in 1920, about re-establishing ordinary life after various disruptions, including the horrendous 1918-1920 flu pandemic. We – meaning the country as a whole, New York, and OSE – are in something of a similar mood right now, despite the fact that the Covid 19 pandemic continues. The pandemic is already a tragedy of vast proportions, with more than 600,000 people dead just in the US, but with the spread of both vaccination and reduced or eliminated restrictions on ordinary life, things are returning to some version of what they were in 2019. There have already been many, many articles on what this means, and they’re all guesses. No one really knows what it means or what will happen. So I want to take a few days to outline what I see ahead for us, for our small business, as we move on. If anyone thinks I’m wrong, or otherwise has comments, I’m happy to hear from them, because I don’t know what it means or what will happen any more than anyone else.
I have lost track of the number of articles I’ve read on the topic of remote work versus in-office work. They run the entire spectrum from “everyone will return to the office, happy to escape working in their bedrooms” to “no one will return to the office, happy to never again wear pants.” Like a lot of people, I think the reality is somewhere in the middle. We had to adjust very abruptly to having our entire staff working from home about 17 months ago. Because of various quirks in our office set-up (to be discussed tomorrow), it wasn’t as bad a transition as it might have been. Because I live walking distance from the office and someone had to pick up mail and deal with the bank, I was in the office for almost the entire time.1 Other people have slowly returned to the office and, now that everyone at OSE is vaccinated, there are days when it almost looks like 2019.
But, realistically, I don’t think we’re ever again going to have the default that all desk work must be done in the office. Because a good amount of our time – depending on which person and which week, anywhere from 4 to 20 hours per week – is spent outside the office anyway, we’ve always had to rely on scheduling and communication other than face to face. I don’t see that an engineer writing a report is more efficient in the office than at home, particularly since the last year has proven that our people accomplish the work regardless of where they are.
As for “serendipity” of casual conversation in the office, I think Jason Snell said it better than I will: “But we’d all be better off if the fantasy of the miraculous conversation by the coffee pot was dispelled once and for all.”
We’re in the middle of our lease, but when it comes time to renew, we will have to study how much space we really need.