We’ve written that it’s not quite true that we know nothing about “the other side” of this global pox, and currently holding the pole position among things we abruptly realized will look different is that as of, say, 10 weeks ago, we all were used to large-scale, grand and frightfully expensive office space because, well, because we were used to it—and now we realize we had only the most tenuous grasp of why that should be the case.
“The office” will never be the same.
I’d be surprised if any of our thinking readers doubts this, but here’s a wide range of observations on this topic. According to a comprehensive article in The New York Times earlier this week:
- Facebook and Google have extended their WFH policies through the end of this year, Microsoft through at least the end of October.
- Twitter told all its employees a few days ago that they could work remotely “forever” if they want to and their position allows for it.
- James Gorman, the CEO of Morgan Stanley, said the company had “proven we can operate with no footprint. That tells you an enormous amount about where people need to be physically.”
- At the investment bank Jefferies, the firm’s C.E.O., Rich Handler, and president, Brian Friedman, wrote in a memo to staff. “We will not be bringing anyone ‘back’ to work because, as best as we can tell, none of us has stopped working.”
- “In Hong Kong there have been no cases for three weeks so we’re also thinking about moving back,” said [Wim] Dejonghe [global managing partner of Allen & Overy]. “But there is no need for any of our people to return to the office. There are very few people in these offices and it’s voluntary.”
- Eversheds just announced that it will be repurposing a substantial portion of its real estate spend to technology.
- And finally, for unmatched brevity, we offer the response of an AmLaw 10 COO in response to partners’ pestering about when the firm’s offices might reopen: “What’s the rush?”
The lone dissenting voice came wanly and unconvincingly from Steven Roth, chairman of Vornado Realty Trust, one of the largest commercial landlords in New York: “We do not believe working from home will become a trend that will impair office demand and property values. The socialization and collaboration of the traditional office is the winning ticket.”
If nothing else, this proves how remarkably adaptable human beings are. So adaptable, in fact, that we are already at risk of forgetting how quickly we have all adopted brand-new views on this, essentially opposite the conventional wisdom ca. March 1st. According to an unsourced Managing Partner Forum survey, “90% of managing partners said they believed that working remotely reduces productivity.” Quite the reverse: Actual experience during the lockdown has been zero dropoff at worst and measurable improvements at best.
So the real-estate genie is out of the bottle; maybe there are others ripe for release?
But those are other columns; this one is about the office.