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the death of the urban office building


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Guest cherzeca

Covid's most lethal effect will be on urban office buildings imo.

 

anecdote:  a family member lives in NYC and works for a firm with national operations but whose executive offices and most of its operational staff work from a NYC office.  they have found that they are doing quite well with remote working on zoom etc.  HR did a survey and among other questions asked, "would you consider living someplace other than NYC if we went to remote working as a possible permanent option?"  50% of the 150 staff who replied answered YES.

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Covid's most lethal effect will be on urban office buildings imo.

 

Not the 350,000 dead people?

 

I'm being slightly unfair but I think the point is that you have sensationalized the topic of reduced office space.

 

Personally I don't think there will be a "death of urban offices", but I do think we will see a measurable reduction in office space. How much? I would guess maybe 10-15% over the short term. And further, I think we will see companies rethink current and future processes to reduce their reliance on physical office space.

 

But the counterpoint is that for most people, work is a part of our identity and we are social creatures. So we will want to work around our colleagues.

 

From a selfish point as a REO in a  Tier 2 city (Denver), this would somewhat benefit me.

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Covid's most lethal effect will be on urban office buildings imo.

 

anecdote:  a family member lives in NYC and works for a firm with national operations but whose executive offices and most of its operational staff work from a NYC office.  they have found that they are doing quite well with remote working on zoom etc.  HR did a survey and among other questions asked, "would you consider living someplace other than NYC if we went to remote working as a possible permanent option?"  50% of the 150 staff who replied answered YES.

 

Agree in the short term. Disagree in the medium to long term (> 5 yrs). The powerful economic forces that have been making large cities grow even larger, especially over the last 30-40 years (shall I hazard to say at least a 100 years) are not going anywhere. This is a bump in that process. Large cities like London survived bouts of plague in the distant past. Modern cities like SF and NYC survived spanish flu, HIV etc. Asian cities like Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Singapore survived SARS (far more deadly than this current SARS-CoV2) and grew nevertheless in the last 20-25 years.

 

That doesn't mean there won't be damage and bankruptcy in real-estate tied to offices in the next 1-5 years. But I don't see long term trends changing, especially when this virus does not hit the young and urban crowd hard. The old folks living in cities or nearby crowded suburbs may move out at faster pace. Frankly that is desirable because at least in Bay area housing and construction is depressed partly due to NIMBY supporting older folks and outdated zoning laws. Young people are far more receptive of changing zoning and allowing construction of both residential and office buildings.

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Agreed with LC that the thread itself is sensational.

 

Would retail space or hotels or AirBnB-dependent properties not be harder hit?

 

The counterpoint to your belief in the death of office space is how much space will exist between workers in the office of the future?

 

Will cubicles or open office spaces that saved space be a thing of the past? If that is that case, then won't companies need more office space to hold the same number of workers? Wouldn't that actually cause demand for office space to actually grow?

 

Like LC, I also agree that people are social and many would like to be in an office.

 

I also think that the sample size of the last 2-3 months when people are scared for their jobs and have few alternatives for their time is perhaps not a good data point to extrapolate from. Almost every industry is facing some degree of challenges, so if you're one of the lucky ones to have a job, you're probably pretty engaged with work right now. 2 years from now when things get back to "normal", maybe those same hard workers will not be working so hard, and maybe when more options are open outside the home some will decide to attach a fan to their mouse at 4 and head out for an early happy hour.

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They didn’t have Zoom back then though.

 

A lot of knowledge work (marketing, accounting, finance, law, programming) can be done remotely.

 

Programming is a very good case study. Webex has been around for 20 years. Skype has been around for 15 years. Yet the image of a lone programmer coding away on a Hawaii beach is (mostly) a myth. Yes there are those, but very small percentage of overall number. If anything despite the new age tools, co-location was driving innovation in the software world. Now there is always an argument that webex and skype were clunky. But they were better than nothing during early-mid 90's, and still the co-lation of software engineers into city centers accelerated after that.

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Guest cherzeca

appreciate the comments.

 

I think face to face business meetings will remain important.  but cubicle to cubicle daily work arrangements will be proven unnecessary by covid.

 

as to sensationalism, keep in mind that as to mortality rates, Minnesota has had more covid mortalities for people over 100 years old than for people less than 50 years old.  the fourth leading cause of death in US is nosocomial (medical/hospital malpractice).  the human species is imperfect, and sending covid infected people from hospitals to nursing homes is an example, should you need one.  so if we cant have an intelligent conversation about the long term effects of covid, then so be it...

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appreciate the comments.

 

I think face to face business meetings will remain important.  but cubicle to cubicle daily work arrangements will be proven unnecessary by covid.

 

as to sensationalism, keep in mind that as to mortality rates, Minnesota has had more covid mortalities for people over 100 years old than for people less than 50 years old.  the fourth leading cause of death in US is nosocomial (medical/hospital malpractice).  the human species is imperfect, and sending covid infected people from hospitals to nursing homes is an example, should you need one.  so if we cant have an intelligent conversation about the long term effects of covid, then so be it...

 

What this situation has proved beyond a reasonable doubt is that for many industries and types of workforces working from home is doable and productive.  What remains to be seen is whether or not people will want to long term, or whether management will let them.  My CEO just told us all that we probably will not ever return to an always in the office way of doing things and that working from home will be a large part of how we operate going forward even after this is all over.  I think in tech at least office space will be much reduced in the future.  Tech people being probably the least social (as a general rule anyway) and the work most doable from home, the effects should be most visible there.  I've talked to my uncle who is an insurance executive in Boston and he was saying how shocked he is how little having everyone working from home has effected their day to day business.  The work is all getting done and he would never have predicted that.  He doesn't like working from home personally though, but the company being headquartered in downtown Boston makes it problematic to re-open anytime soon since most of their employees take transit to work.  So who knows which industries and/or companies will change permanently, but what has changed is that it is no longer about whether or not it is possible.

 

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They didn’t have Zoom back then though.

 

A lot of knowledge work (marketing, accounting, finance, law, programming) can be done remotely.

 

Today's brief can easily be written remotely.  But how does a law firm develop tomorrow's partners, i.e., business generators?

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They didn’t have Zoom back then though.

 

A lot of knowledge work (marketing, accounting, finance, law, programming) can be done remotely.

 

"Can" and "will" are two different things. At the very most I think a lot of companies will revise their work from home policy to be more flexible. Other than that nothing will change 5 years out. When in all of history have cities not been the driving force and focal point of business, commerce, industry, development, entertainment, athletics, and the arts? Never

 

So maybe some companies will consolidate office space down to accommodate part time wfh operations. What does that mean? Probably that you'll see more companies moving to big cities soaking up the new office space (if there truly is consolidation). 

 

For every 1 New Yorker looking to find a permanent wfh gig in the suburbs, you will have 100 driven individuals from Timbuktu looking to kick it in a high rise office.

 

Lastly the customer/client aspect and the effect offices have on them is not being mentioned. If I'm looking for a lawyer and paying them a lot of money, you can be damn sure I want to meet them face to face in a nice professional office instead of their "quaint" little home office that probably smells of baby diapers, dogs, or whatever they had for dinner the previous night. Skype has it's limitations as well. 

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In order to understand the future of commercial real estate we must draw a distinction between companies’ shrinking demand for office space per employee and the market’s demand for office space. Companies take advantage of technological improvements to cut costs and reduce the amount of office space each worker occupies. As they cut costs, they become more productive; that is, the amount of value each worker adds to the enterprise goes up.

 

More productive firms can increase profits while expanding their market share by lowering the price they charge customers. These lower overall prices expand the market and existing businesses add employees. Because there are profits to be had, new businesses start up and office space remains strongly in demand even though the space per worker at individual firms goes down.

 

https://economics21.org/coronavirus-upends-nyc-commercial-real-estate

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Guest cherzeca

They didn’t have Zoom back then though.

 

A lot of knowledge work (marketing, accounting, finance, law, programming) can be done remotely.

 

Today's brief can easily be written remotely.  But how does a law firm develop tomorrow's partners, i.e., business generators?

 

this is a good question and as a long time attorney at big law firms I do have a view.  there is ALOT of learning by watching as a lawyer, whether deal negotiation or litigation...some of this actually can be facilitated by zoom meeting. a young associate lawyer I know says she is getting more face time with partners on zoom than in office...but my point is that for most office-based businesses, I can foresee a reduction of office space requirements of as much as 50%...I think covid showed up that we can do that, a silver lining in a dark cloud 

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They didn’t have Zoom back then though.

 

A lot of knowledge work (marketing, accounting, finance, law, programming) can be done remotely.

What?

 

Finance and law are probably some that for practical reasons are very hard to do remotely.

 

For those that think it's easy, let me paint this scenario for you.

 

Meet John. John is bight law associate working for Skadden Arps. John works from home under Skadden's new "Fuck the landlord" policy. John jumps on a zoom meeting for a live deal he's working on.

 

10 ft away in their 600 sqft NYC apartment is his roommate Andrew. Andrew is an ambitious 2nd year M&A associate at Morgan Stanley. He's working from home under MS's new "why should we pay rent policy".

 

John and Andrew don't want to move to Toledo where they can each afford their own place cause in Toledo the chicks are fat and in NYC the chicks are keeping it tight.

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They didn’t have Zoom back then though.

 

A lot of knowledge work (marketing, accounting, finance, law, programming) can be done remotely.

What?

 

Finance and law are probably some that for practical reasons are very hard to do remotely.

 

For those that think it's easy, let me paint this scenario for you.

 

Meet John. John is bight law associate working for Skadden Arps. John works from home under Skadden's new "Fuck the landlord" policy. John jumps on a zoom meeting for a live deal he's working on.

 

10 ft away in their 600 sqft NYC apartment is his roommate Andrew. Andrew is an ambitious 2nd year M&A associate at Morgan Stanley. He's working from home under MS's new "why should we pay rent policy".

 

John and Andrew don't want to move to Toledo where they can each afford their own place cause in Toledo the chicks are fat and in NYC the chicks are keeping it tight.

With a NYC salary in Toledo, John and Andrew each buy a new house and have their pick of the top 5% of chicks there. They don’t  care that 80% of the chicks in Toledo are fat.

 

Anyways, jokes aside, I think any shift might be more driven by the companies than the employees. If the companies get the idea they only need some trophy RE to show off and scuttle 60% of their footprint after their digitized and virtualized their company, they might go head and just do that. While they are st it, why not benefit from a much larger labor pool, much of it in low cost areas and get people to work for less, adjusting for the lower cost of living.

 

And once there, why not hire employees from another country for much cheaper doing the same thing. All this could’ve done before, but once most business process are virtual, and location truly doesn’t matter, it’s a logical next step. Seems pretty bearish for white collar salaries to me.

 

 

Some enterprising remote workers pay it back by having two remote jobs at once and their bosses never find out.

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...why not hire employees from another country for much cheaper doing the same thing. All this could’ve done before, but once most business process are virtual, and location truly doesn’t matter, it’s a logical next step.

 

As an expat working from home (in-Kingdom) during this, I wonder if my employer might come to believe I can work as well from home in my home country and save themselves the expat (in-Kingdom hardship) premium they pay.

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appreciate the comments.

 

I think face to face business meetings will remain important.  but cubicle to cubicle daily work arrangements will be proven unnecessary by covid.

 

as to sensationalism, keep in mind that as to mortality rates, Minnesota has had more covid mortalities for people over 100 years old than for people less than 50 years old.  the fourth leading cause of death in US is nosocomial (medical/hospital malpractice).  the human species is imperfect, and sending covid infected people from hospitals to nursing homes is an example, should you need one.  so if we cant have an intelligent conversation about the long term effects of covid, then so be it...

 

Sorry you thought the responses were so unintelligent to your click-bait thread title.

 

If I’m going to bet on one thing, I’m going to bet on human beings being social creatures and no pandemic is going to reverse millions of years of evolution in a couple years just because technology enables it.

 

There are so many reasons people will work in the same offices together again. Want to get a promotion? Good luck trying to do that and being a leader of people remotely. What percentage of your friends that you speak to regularly live within the same metro area as you?

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They didn’t have Zoom back then though.

 

A lot of knowledge work (marketing, accounting, finance, law, programming) can be done remotely.

 

Today's brief can easily be written remotely.  But how does a law firm develop tomorrow's partners, i.e., business generators?

 

I've seen this and been involved with it first hand...

 

Some of the more nimble & "forward thinking" law firms are "in shoring" from Boston, NYC, LA & SF to say Detroit.  Specifically, they are moving low-end, low value work to a Detroit location.  In Detroit, you've got mail, power, interweb, and most other modern amenities.  You've also got VERY cheap office space, and most importantly of all, you've got hordes of desperate attorneys who are willing to work for $20 to $25 an hour reviewing & sorting & doing basic prep work on large cases.  You've got plenty of people fresh out of law skool, desperate to bring in some money, but you've also got seasoned attorneys from firms that disbanded after GFC.  You've also got attorneys downsized from government, all types.

 

Some of these cases that get farmed out will literally have MILLIONS of documents that need to be sorted & analyzed and have grunt work done.  Perfect for the Detroit attorney!

 

Detroit is not the only place, Chicago, Charlotte, Houston, Atlanta are other hot spots.

 

The high end work still gets done in NYC, along with client meetings (most of the time), and the partners and people on partner track.  So shrink down NYC 75%, keep the high end there, but move out most everything that can be done elsewhere.

 

This has been going on for the better part of a decade though.  I think it will continue to accelerate and why not spread to other sectors of the economy?

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Guest cherzeca

They didn’t have Zoom back then though.

 

A lot of knowledge work (marketing, accounting, finance, law, programming) can be done remotely.

 

Today's brief can easily be written remotely.  But how does a law firm develop tomorrow's partners, i.e., business generators?

 

I've seen this and been involved with it first hand...

 

Some of the more nimble & "forward thinking" law firms are "in shoring" from Boston, NYC, LA & SF to say Detroit.  Specifically, they are moving low-end, low value work to a Detroit location.  In Detroit, you've got mail, power, interweb, and most other modern amenities.  You've also got VERY cheap office space, and most importantly of all, you've got hordes of desperate attorneys who are willing to work for $20 to $25 an hour reviewing & sorting & doing basic prep work on large cases.  You've got plenty of people fresh out of law skool, desperate to bring in some money, but you've also got seasoned attorneys from firms that disbanded after GFC.  You've also got attorneys downsized from government, all types.

 

Some of these cases that get farmed out will literally have MILLIONS of documents that need to be sorted & analyzed and have grunt work done.  Perfect for the Detroit attorney!

 

Detroit is not the only place, Chicago, Charlotte, Houston, Atlanta are other hot spots.

 

The high end work still gets done in NYC, along with client meetings (most of the time), and the partners and people on partner track.  So shrink down NYC 75%, keep the high end there, but move out most everything that can be done elsewhere.

 

This has been going on for the better part of a decade though.  I think it will continue to accelerate and why not spread to other sectors of the economy?

 

what you say is accurate, but this takes it one step forward.  contract work for doc review and discovery searches are being "offshored" at cheap rates to contract attorneys hired on a deal/case basis, but this new twist would have the important work done by all attorneys be done remotely...until there is a need to meet in person over something...this is happening now due to covid and there is no reason that wont continue imo

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They didn’t have Zoom back then though.

 

A lot of knowledge work (marketing, accounting, finance, law, programming) can be done remotely.

 

Today's brief can easily be written remotely.  But how does a law firm develop tomorrow's partners, i.e., business generators?

 

I've seen this and been involved with it first hand...

 

Some of the more nimble & "forward thinking" law firms are "in shoring" from Boston, NYC, LA & SF to say Detroit.  Specifically, they are moving low-end, low value work to a Detroit location.  In Detroit, you've got mail, power, interweb, and most other modern amenities.  You've also got VERY cheap office space, and most importantly of all, you've got hordes of desperate attorneys who are willing to work for $20 to $25 an hour reviewing & sorting & doing basic prep work on large cases.  You've got plenty of people fresh out of law skool, desperate to bring in some money, but you've also got seasoned attorneys from firms that disbanded after GFC.  You've also got attorneys downsized from government, all types.

 

Some of these cases that get farmed out will literally have MILLIONS of documents that need to be sorted & analyzed and have grunt work done.  Perfect for the Detroit attorney!

 

Detroit is not the only place, Chicago, Charlotte, Houston, Atlanta are other hot spots.

 

The high end work still gets done in NYC, along with client meetings (most of the time), and the partners and people on partner track.  So shrink down NYC 75%, keep the high end there, but move out most everything that can be done elsewhere.

 

This has been going on for the better part of a decade though.  I think it will continue to accelerate and why not spread to other sectors of the economy?

 

what you say is accurate, but this takes it one step forward.  contract work for doc review and discovery searches are being "offshored" at cheap rates to contract attorneys hired on a deal/case basis, but this new twist would have the important work done by all attorneys be done remotely...until there is a need to meet in person over something...this is happening now due to covid and there is no reason that wont continue imo

 

yes, I forgot to mention that most work is now being done remotely.

 

I'm not sure how long that will last?  There are some clients that are NOTORIOUS about security.  Of course, it depends on the client and the firm.

 

In the past, remote work was rather rare...now it is rather common.

 

With the remote work, I would imagine you've got all sorts of potential problems, security & confidentiality being near the top of the list....then you've got technical problems....then you've got group dynamics and cohesiveness.  When I was working projects, the first few days were critical, as attorneys would discuss different theories, different things that they were seeing, and would try to act in a synchronized fashion.  Then you would have the group interfacing with the partner on conference calls.  I guess some of this could be done with dispersed work groups, but I would think that quality and efficiency would take a hit to some degree.

 

Pre-covid, there were some attorneys who were REAL germophobes.  There would always be Lysol wipes & dis-infectant.  Some of the women were really particular about this as we had shared workstations.  If those people were antsy about germs before all this happened, I can't imagine what they are like now.

 

I think we will know a lot more in a few months, if this is permanent, or if people start going back to offices.

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In my opinion this work from home thing is actually proving to me why we NEED offices.

 

You can't form relationships over Zoom. You might be able to maintain them, but you can't form them. You can't truly build trust. You can't learn by watching how someone manages their day. You can't have spontaneous discussions by the coffee machine.

 

Let me take something like Shopify as an example, and many tech firms are in this position. They are saying that in the future they will have more employees working from home. Now I've been to their office. Free food and drink, including alcohol, for everyone, all day long. Once you've given this benefit to people, it's hard to take it away. This is a "get out of jail free" card for them. A way to take away this costly benefit without the blowback from employees.

 

If you have a job you can do remotely, and choose to spend most of your time at home, you are just a step or two away from having your job outsourced to India. Get in the office. Form and strengthen relationships. Learn. Mentor. Lead.  You can't do this shit from your kitchen table on Zoom. Sorry, you just can't. Unless you have no aspiration other than to be a cog in the machine.

 

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In my opinion this work from home thing is actually proving to me why we NEED offices.

 

You can't form relationships over Zoom. You might be able to maintain them, but you can't form them. You can't truly build trust. You can't learn by watching how someone manages their day. You can't have spontaneous discussions by the coffee machine.

 

Let me take something like Shopify as an example, and many tech firms are in this position. They are saying that in the future they will have more employees working from home. Now I've been to their office. Free food and drink, including alcohol, for everyone, all day long. Once you've given this benefit to people, it's hard to take it away. This is a "get out of jail free" card for them. A way to take away this costly benefit without the blowback from employees.

 

If you have a job you can do remotely, and choose to spend most of your time at home, you are just a step or two away from having your job outsourced to India. Get in the office. Form and strengthen relationships. Learn. Mentor. Lead.  You can't do this shit from your kitchen table on Zoom. Sorry, you just can't. Unless you have no aspiration other than to be a cog in the machine.

 

This thread and people in it are just rehashing the same arguments again and again that were already rehashed in other threads.

 

Not to (particularly) pick on you: I know two people in tech company who did the fastest career advances while working completely remotely. Closest office within maybe 100 miles or so. And yeah they learn, mentor, lead, etc. And they went up the career ladder way faster than people in the office who can schmooze, etc. So perhaps you should be more open minded.

 

Although I mostly agree that offices will survive.

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Office buildings are still required - it's just much less NYC Grade-A space, much more Detroit Grade-B space, and much less TOTAL space. We still socialize, work the office-cooler, etc - but in the Detroits, not NYC. NYC/London/Paris etc still have the elites - just not as many of them (posers failed the cut).

 

BUT - we no longer need the cast of thousands anymore.

Everyone is their own personal business, and the firm paying you is just ONE OF MANY - and a temporary pay cheque

 

SD

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Guest cherzeca

They didn’t have Zoom back then though.

 

A lot of knowledge work (marketing, accounting, finance, law, programming) can be done remotely.

 

Today's brief can easily be written remotely.  But how does a law firm develop tomorrow's partners, i.e., business generators?

 

I've seen this and been involved with it first hand...

 

Some of the more nimble & "forward thinking" law firms are "in shoring" from Boston, NYC, LA & SF to say Detroit.  Specifically, they are moving low-end, low value work to a Detroit location.  In Detroit, you've got mail, power, interweb, and most other modern amenities.  You've also got VERY cheap office space, and most importantly of all, you've got hordes of desperate attorneys who are willing to work for $20 to $25 an hour reviewing & sorting & doing basic prep work on large cases.  You've got plenty of people fresh out of law skool, desperate to bring in some money, but you've also got seasoned attorneys from firms that disbanded after GFC.  You've also got attorneys downsized from government, all types.

 

Some of these cases that get farmed out will literally have MILLIONS of documents that need to be sorted & analyzed and have grunt work done.  Perfect for the Detroit attorney!

 

Detroit is not the only place, Chicago, Charlotte, Houston, Atlanta are other hot spots.

 

The high end work still gets done in NYC, along with client meetings (most of the time), and the partners and people on partner track.  So shrink down NYC 75%, keep the high end there, but move out most everything that can be done elsewhere.

 

This has been going on for the better part of a decade though.  I think it will continue to accelerate and why not spread to other sectors of the economy?

 

what you say is accurate, but this takes it one step forward.  contract work for doc review and discovery searches are being "offshored" at cheap rates to contract attorneys hired on a deal/case basis, but this new twist would have the important work done by all attorneys be done remotely...until there is a need to meet in person over something...this is happening now due to covid and there is no reason that wont continue imo

 

yes, I forgot to mention that most work is now being done remotely.

 

I'm not sure how long that will last?  There are some clients that are NOTORIOUS about security.  Of course, it depends on the client and the firm.

 

In the past, remote work was rather rare...now it is rather common.

 

With the remote work, I would imagine you've got all sorts of potential problems, security & confidentiality being near the top of the list....then you've got technical problems....then you've got group dynamics and cohesiveness.  When I was working projects, the first few days were critical, as attorneys would discuss different theories, different things that they were seeing, and would try to act in a synchronized fashion.  Then you would have the group interfacing with the partner on conference calls.  I guess some of this could be done with dispersed work groups, but I would think that quality and efficiency would take a hit to some degree.

 

Pre-covid, there were some attorneys who were REAL germophobes.  There would always be Lysol wipes & dis-infectant.  Some of the women were really particular about this as we had shared workstations.  If those people were antsy about germs before all this happened, I can't imagine what they are like now.

 

I think we will know a lot more in a few months, if this is permanent, or if people start going back to offices.

 

with encryption, I dont see security being an issue.  management will have to be more alert though. it cant look at card reader reports anymore for associates etc leaving the office at 11pm...

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Guest cherzeca

In my opinion this work from home thing is actually proving to me why we NEED offices.

 

You can't form relationships over Zoom. You might be able to maintain them, but you can't form them. You can't truly build trust. You can't learn by watching how someone manages their day. You can't have spontaneous discussions by the coffee machine.

 

Let me take something like Shopify as an example, and many tech firms are in this position. They are saying that in the future they will have more employees working from home. Now I've been to their office. Free food and drink, including alcohol, for everyone, all day long. Once you've given this benefit to people, it's hard to take it away. This is a "get out of jail free" card for them. A way to take away this costly benefit without the blowback from employees.

 

If you have a job you can do remotely, and choose to spend most of your time at home, you are just a step or two away from having your job outsourced to India. Get in the office. Form and strengthen relationships. Learn. Mentor. Lead.  You can't do this shit from your kitchen table on Zoom. Sorry, you just can't. Unless you have no aspiration other than to be a cog in the machine.

 

this is a great post, but it addresses what associates and junior executives have to do...senior execs may not feel as strongly about the social/management aspects, and care more about the bottom line cost savings effect on their bonuses...

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