Reimagining the Office
The COVID-19 crisis seems to be accelerating a shift toward remote work. But, rather than welcoming the death of the office, companies should be engineering its rebirth, in a form that strengthens its greatest asset: the ability to foster weak social bonds.
BOSTON – Last month, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced that the company would allow its employees, currently working from home in accordance with social-distancing protocols, to stay there for good. Several other big businesses – from Facebook to the French automaker PSA – have followed suit with plans to keep far more employees at home after the COVID-19 crisis ends. Will the office be yet another casualty of the pandemic?
In a sense, the death of the office has been a long time coming. In the 1960s, American futurist Melvin Webber predicted that the world would reach a “post-city age,” in which “it might be possible to locate on a mountain top and to maintain intimate, real-time, and realistic contact with business or other associates.”
During the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, the rise of Internet-based companies made that future seem closer than ever. As the British journalist Frances Cairncross put it in 1997, the Internet meant the “death of distance.” Once distance doesn’t matter, the logic goes, offices – and, by extension, cities – become irrelevant.