I was on KCRA’s “Press Play” yesterday, talking with Madeleine Brand about the 40-hour week, remote work during COVID, and the future of work. This write-up by Amy Ta is pretty comprehensive.
There was one question that I feel like I whiffed, though, about what the office of the future is going to be like. I said some generic stuff, but after reflection it seems to me that there are several big changes that are coming that are going to play out in virtually every workplace:
Offices will get smaller. As more people work remotely, relocate from San Francisco and London and Dublin to cheaper areas, and as corporate HR embraces remote work as a way to expand the talent pool while reducing costs, companies will abandon big temples to capitalism for smaller offices. This will have a bunch of implications for real estate developers and the commercial real estate market, none of them very positive. Also expect all
The open office will die, thank goodness. The open office has become the default, mainly for cost reasons (though some people actually do believe that stuff about open offices facilitating serendipitous encounters and more creativity). But it’s also an amazingly efficient vector for communicable illnesses; the recirculating air, abundant common spaces and surfaces, crowded elevators and conference room, are all very welcoming for viruses.
Health will shape design. Office designers will have to think more about the public health implications of their work. This is actually going to be really hard: nobody I’ve talked to knows how to redesign elevator use during rush hour. Right now, every ride has the potential to be a super-spreader event.
Offices will be movie sets. Zoom is here to stay, and everyone is going to have to up their video conferencing game. This means better-quality cameras, setups that are more ergonomically friendly and more flattering, and more attention to background. It’ll also be another factor pushing against the open office.
So Madeleine, if you want to have me back to talk about the future of offices, I’ll be ready!