I Asked What it Would Take to Get Gen Z Back to the Office: “Private Offices, Man. Microsoft Gives Them to Everybody”

What? Old-school offices work better than WeWork playpens? Reinstalling private offices in the growing legions of ghost buildings may be worth a try.

By John E. McNellis, Principal at real estate developer McNellis Partners, for WOLF STREET:

The office market is grim, barreling toward grimmer. According to Newmark, the national vacancy rate in Q3 topped 17.6 percent. Downtown Oakland stands at 21.3 percent, while San Francisco is outpacing the pack at 24.1 percent. With almost no traditional financing available and a bid-ask spread wider than the Grand Canyon, the nationwide office market is at best hibernating.

Those praying for its awakening (basically, everyone in real estate) need office workers to return. This is why some office landlords are quietly applauding Big Tech’s mass firings, hoping the thousands of now unemployed engineers will portend a buyer’s market for talent, one so strong that employers can insist that the office actually be part of office work. Some landlords might even welcome another dotcom collapse, likening it to a Covid vaccination: nasty side effects at first, but a much better chance of long-term survival.

The layoffs could be having an effect. JLL reports a slow return of workers to San Francisco—occupancy rising to 40 percent since Labor Day—and BART ridership up a tad.

This big-picture scenario will likely smack a few speed bumps at the street level. As it happens, I walk past one of our Palo Alto office buildings every day. It’s fully leased to a tech company, but seldom is anyone inside. Last week, a bearded guy in mismatched sweats was swiping his key fob as I passed by. I remarked that the building appeared empty most days, and asked about its occupancy.

“Maybe five percent,” the techie replied. “Six, seven guys on average. We’re much more efficient working from home.”

“Really? More efficient? Does management agree with that?”

“Probably not, they want us back. But it’s not happening. During Covid, we learned to love the quiet at home and that lay-out inside is really noisy.” He pointed toward the rows of long tables, the typical co-working floor plan that jams dozens side by side. “We only come in when we can’t work at home. Or when we need to collaborate, but that sucks if anyone else is around.”

“Why?”

“Way too noisy. We need smaller rooms so that three or four of us can get together and work without interruptions.”

“Oh, you mean like actual offices?” Just what this tenant had ripped out when it leased the building.

“Yes, exactly. Offices our small teams could cluster in, maybe some for two guys, others for four.” He added that Google is doing this; it figured out that its engineers loathe working cheek by jowl and has been redesigning its interiors to add more offices ever since.

In suggesting that forcing a return to the office would result in house-to-house Fallujah warfare with employees, the techie jammed another thumbtack in the office coffin. He said engineers now prefer Zooming to in-person meetings. Why?  Because concentrating on numbers on your own screen is more efficient than awkwardly peering over someone’s shoulder in the office.

But the sales and marketing guys must be returning? Don’t they come together to pound their chests, swap lies about their deals and do shots in the break room? Nope, he swore they don’t come in either, and that, if anyone, it’s the finance and accounting people who reluctantly show up at headquarters.

Finally, he pointed out that Covid effectively transformed Silicon Valley from suburban to urban, freeing the techies to move much farther away, to towns where they could afford four-bedroom homes, to boondocks from which they can no longer commute. Even if office space were as comfy as home and more fun than free beer, a couple hour drive would be a deal-breaker.

In double-checking these certitudes with another techie, I asked what it would take to get Gen Z back downtown. “Private offices, man. Microsoft gives them to everybody.”

What? Old-school offices work better than WeWork playpens? And it took the virus for everyone to figure that out? That Gen Z may insist we plunge forward into the past is truly ironic, but reinstalling private offices in the growing legions of ghost buildings may be worth a try.

By John E. McNellis. He recently published O’Brien’s Law: A Romantic Thriller, taking place in San Francisco of the 1970s.

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  184 comments for “I Asked What it Would Take to Get Gen Z Back to the Office: “Private Offices, Man. Microsoft Gives Them to Everybody”

  1. Sporkfed says:

    Cubicles for all.

    • Harrold says:

      Microsoft grew out of offices for everybody back in the 90s. Before the pandemic those offices had 2 or even 3 people crammed into the space of a cubicle. I know this from 1st hand experience.

      Easy money and bull markets create millions of jobs that wouldn’t exist under “normal” conditions. Look what just happened at twitter. Musk asked software engineers to do a code review of their recent work. This is something a development team does regularly. Many couldn’t do that and they were fired. It was proof that they weren’t contributing anything.

      In bear markets and tight money extraneous jobs will go away. They must, because the company won’t be able to afford them. It’s not being “mean” or “evil”. It’s simply survival.

      • 728huey says:

        No, it was Elon who asked them to work unreasonable hours under crappy conditions for no additional pay thst cause them to leave en masse. As things sit right now Elon is deliberately trying to burn Twitter to the ground.

      • Who Cares says:

        Uh. Musk did not do code reviews. He asked all the people he thinks do coding (including a vast amount of people that support that but do not directly code themselves) to hand him 10 screenshots of their code done the last few weeks. KLOCing is the worst metric you can put on code, it invites really, really bad practices that actively make a product worse as an attempt by people to not get fired. Because the guy that handed in 10 empty screenshots since he sped up some part by removing several hundred lines of code? That one got fired for not being productive enough.

        Further it is literally impossible for Musk, who did this sham review on his own (as confirmed by people directly around him), to understand if the code in question would be good or not. There is a reason that replacements on an mature code base like Twitter take a month or two to get their bearings on the code. That is dedicated time on a, relatively speaking, small part of that code base. And not an aside that a CEO crams in a spare moment or two.
        We also know that Musk is clueless when it comes to Twitters code base when he started parroting nonsense, thrown at him by his admirers in Tweets, at the people who know the code base who then got fired since instead of going “Yes Master, Immediately Master, Shall I get the whip Master” they dared to tell Musk he was wrong and would then proceed to correct Musk (the 1000+ RPC for the timeline being the most public example of this).

        And if that isn’t enough you do not ask for 10 disjointed screenshots of code to “review” if someone is competent. You go to the repository (And twitter has one. Including one or more teams, that have been fired, just to maintain it) select the person you want to review the code from, plonk in a time period and you get all the code back they added to the repository during that time. Including a before and after and a reason for each change. That would actually allow the reviewer to see what the changes do.
        Better yet was that given the number of people that were supposed to hand in those 10 screenshots Musk would basically have had only time to open and close the screenshots of a review target before having to spend time on the next review target seeing the time between sending that specific e-mail and the time he started firing people.

        Oh and this firing is in addition to the ‘celebrate that I, Musk, became CEO of Twitter’-firing of half of the people working at Twitter without checking if they are needed, resulting in the embarrassment of having to beg those to come back. Then threaten the remaining half and then being totally surprised that most of the people not stuck on H1B visas left because even though the big players are shedding people the market is still asking more people in the roles that got booted or left on their own then there are available. Oh and the 80% removal of contractors, again without checking if they were needed and yes at least some are/were, that operated as a temporary boost to manage things like tweet floods during major events (Soccer world cup for example) and complying with government directives (Getting all the documents the FTC will ask for during the jan 2023 consent decree review).

        In case you are wondering how well all those firings of employees go just look around the world with all the lawsuits being tossed at Twitter for the way that people have been fired. The first one has already been lost in Ireland where an temporary injunction has been issued against Twitter putting on hold the ability to fire people who did not press that yes button on that work 80 hours+/week for me or get fired e-mail. And the judge in question has already indicated that based on EU/Irish labor law it is going to be an uphill battle for Twitter.

    • Dale says:

      Way back when I graduated to my own office, my productivity increased immensely.

      There are situations where the bullpen or cubicles are ok. But for intense periods of productivity they are definitely not good. Even the ability to reserve an individual office for periods of a day or two would be an improvement.

      • Mike G says:

        Sharing everyone’s noise, everyone’s visual distractions and everyone’s germs. And absolutely toxic to concentrated individual work like programming. Cubicles were a corporate-crapification cost-cutting measure mendaciously cynically pitched as a productivity improvement.

  2. cas127 says:

    The “open plan” office floor was always an asinine idea for 90% of situations.

    A prior employer tried it and *everybody* had 2 immediate thoughts –

    1) Just how financially f*cked is this place, that they have to sell/stop leasing the friggin *cubicle partitions*?

    2) What genius doesn’t realize that the noise level will triple, making productivity much worse? We aren’t goddamn elves in Santa’s workshop.

    • Shiloh1 says:

      WillisTowersWatson (commercial insurance broker) has 3 consecutive CEOs from McKinzie. Likewise current at Aon.

      Guess how their offices are set up.

      Who thought that commercial insurance work was like that of a west coast dotbomb?

    • Nissanfan says:

      Same people who advocated “multi tasking” … 100% attention / 2 tasks = 50% attention for each task. Also known as “half a** job”.

      • RepubAnon says:

        100% attention and two tasks means 45% attention to each task, plus 10% attention to switching between then two tasks. Each new task adds an additional 5% switching cost – add enough tasks, and all one’s time is spent trying to juggle the different tasks – no useful work is done.

    • Boneidle says:

      It’s been my experience after management implement the “open office” concept all the creative and most productive staff leave.

      After “open office” came the “Hot Desking” concept.
      Even worse.

      Then “The Thing of 2020”. WFH.

      Manangement deduced that the whole country could be run from head office in the Big Capital City.

      Local staff made redundant, client meetings over Teams etc etc. the only staff kept on were the facilities and maintenance staffs.

      I worked for a major Property management group in the facilities area.
      50 story buildings formerly occupied by call centres became 5-10% occupied.

    • SpencerG says:

      I remember an elementary school built in my area in the mid-1970s that had no interior walls. If you can imagine the chaos of keeping 25 to 30 munchkins under control in a single room… imagine trying to get any teaching done with 250 to 300 of them in the same room all day long.

      Parents were coming to school board meetings and DEMANDING that their child be switched to a traditional school. My dad was on the school board and fixing that problem was WAY UP on the agenda of their next bond issue.

      • JohnnySacks says:

        Win-win for the public sector capital improvement industry. Earthy crunchy open concept school design and construction. Then float the bonds to undo it 30 years later and lay it on the property tax base. Same as my town with one of those bizzarro schools. Any chance we’re in the same Boston suburb?

        • SpencerG says:

          No… I am so far in the Deep South that I can walk to a point ten minutes from my house and look at the Gulf of Mexico. Nor did it take my dad and the rest of the school board 30 years to find that money… more like five. People were really angry about it… one of the few bond issues that had widespread support.

    • Valerie from Australia says:

      “We aren’t goddamn elves in Santa’s workshop.” Thanks for that really great laugh. It is so true! I have never understood how people could work productively in such a noisy environment. The biggest perk my husband enjoyed when he was promoted to head of his department wasn’t the extra money, it was having his own office.

  3. Depth Charge says:

    A nasty recession which makes them fear for their livelihoods. We’ve never needed one so badly.

    • OutsideTheBox says:

      Gad…..you are big on fear.

      Whatever scared you so ?

      • robert says:

        He never said he was scared. Actually, the opposite.
        Recessions/depressions just restore the natural pecking order. Industriousness at the top, entitlement at the bottom.
        It makes people try harder.

    • Auto-outsider says:

      The constant drumbeat on Wolf’s comment boards for bad economic times to “teach people a lesson” is a major negative taking away from the value of the constructive comments. Be careful what you ask for.

      • DocMo says:

        Agreed. There’s pain and suffering and often abuse when dire economic conditions unfold. Hoping for that to boost one’s returns is a sign to take pause and reflect.

        • Bobber says:

          Dire? Markets reverting to long term trend is normal, not dire.

          We will be back to normal after asset priced drop another 40%.

      • Depth Charge says:

        Recessions are healthy. They eradicate the speculative excesses which stifle the economy. You should educate yourself a bit before you get on your high horse.

        • ChuckTurds says:

          So now your story changes to needing a recession to remove speculative excess? Lol. So we’re you serious about wishing these workers would be fearful of losing their jobs? Sounds like sour grapes to me. Change your line of work if you don’t like it. Dare I say, go learn to code? ; )

        • Depth Charge says:

          Are you new here? Because I haven’t “changed my story.” I’ve been saying the same thing the entire time.

        • kramartini says:

          Recessions may kill the grasshoppers, but they are healthy for the ants…

        • Auto-outsider says:

          Recessions are healthy when all involved “do the right thing “. Classic example is the post WW1 recession. If anyone is paying attention, they would realize the gubmint and feral reserve have generated the third speculative bubble in the 21st century, now coined the everything bubble, through ZIRP. THEY make the rules AND THEY ENJOY THE SPOILS (along with a few ants). It’s easy for me to imagine that the US will have currency problems when these folks generate the next bubble, because THEY WILL. Then all those smart pesky ants will lose anyhow as the rules will be changed. I don’t wish for recession, I wish for no more excessive monetary policy. There never should have been a decade+ of ZIRP. Thomas Jefferson had a prescient quote about central banks. Thanks for schooling me.

        • Mark says:

          Depth Charge …

          plus 1,000 % you bet

        • NBay says:

          “I’ve been saying the same thing every time”

          I certainly won’t disagree with that.

        • NBay says:

          Excuse me, “the entire time”.

        • perpetual perp says:

          Nope, Depth charge. Recessions increase income inequality. Great times increase income inequality too. Funny, how that works out. Eh? It’s a one way street, in either scenario, funneling whatever profits there are to the same old Oligarchs.

      • cas127 says:

        It isn’t so much “teaching a lesson” as,

        “Your fantasy land has been financed by the G confiscating other people’s savings’ earning power…for *many* years.”

        The gutting of careful savers has been going on for two *decades*…for little more than the political benefit of DC and the fleeting benefit of factions they lead/deceive.

        • Ed7 says:

          I have repeatedly seen posters here call for a recession to teach the younger generation “a lesson”.

          I think the people who post that are at worst extremely unkind and at best misinformed about whether todays young people work. In general — as it has ever been — they do. I know of no so-called “quiet quitters” at my office. Have I ever? Once. Almost 20 years ago. But then that would be last generation.

        • Apple says:

          The posters here seem to trend towards the oldest generations who imagine life was so much more better when they were younger.

      • Swamp Creature says:

        Taking away saver’s money to finance government’s prolific spending via runaway inflation didn’t work in Germany in 1922/1923 and it won’t work now. We need a recession like 2008, without the bailouts, to wake people up and clean out the excesses and malinvestments that have accumulated over the last 14 years as a result of the corrupt Fed zero interest rate policies and runaway government and corporate borrowing and spending.

        • jm says:

          No. It worked very well in Germany. The German government had intended to pay for the war with indemnities wrung from the nations they expected to defeat. When they lost, their solution was to wipe out the debt through inflation. The power elite, owning hard assets, came out OK.

          The Japanese government took the same approach after WWII. Prewar, a yen was worth about $0.50. Postwar, less than a third of a cent. There used to be a smaller unit, the “sen”, 1/100th of a yen, and an even smaller unit, the “rin”, 1/10th of a sen. In 1871, 1 yen was 1.5 g of gold, later decreased to 0.75g.

          Currently, gold is $56.60 per gram. The value of an 1871 dollar is estimated at $24.43 in current dollars, about 0.5g of gold.

          In the mid-1800s, a $10 gold coin contained 15.03g of gold (currently worth $850).

        • Apple says:

          You need to re-read your history books.

      • rojogrande says:

        Why would comments expressing a certain view be “a major negative taking away from the value of” what you believe are “constructive comments”? How do you define “constructive comments”? However you define them, how are those comments less constructive if other comments express contrary views? You’re actually free to dismiss viewpoints you disagree with, without devaluing those you think are constructive. Personally, I’m glad the comment section isn’t an echo chamber.

        • Motorcycle Guy says:

          rojogrande,

          Great comment. I think everyone should read “Who moved my cheese” (or the summary available via a search) to understand the basic difference between those who are proactive and those who are set in their ways.

      • Bobber says:

        Responsible freedom-loving people want decision-making to have consequences. It’s NOT mean-spirited to want markets to correct and bad decision-making to fail. Frankly, it’s what’s needed to keep democracy working.

        Most people want to see society’s wealth distributed based on quality/quantity of work and creativity, aka “merit”, not scam, bloodlines, or crazy speculation.

      • Motorcycle Guy says:

        Auto -outsider,

        You need to read the Fourth Turning.

    • ChuckTurds says:

      Why? It bothers you that they found a mode of work that they prefer over what they had before the pandemic? It saves them commute time and gas, for many it’s more efficient and it allows companies to pay for less space. Only ones who suffer are those in commercial real estate or micro managers who now have nobody to harass constantly.

      • NBay says:

        Yeah. It’s pretty ecologically sound, humane, and energy saving, provided the end results of whatever it is they are doing is.
        Could easily be part of a badly needed Green New Industry Program.
        If they miss the teamwork and comradeship, they can play sports.

    • Leo says:

      More things that are broken with office returns (Seattle area):
      1. Rents near office went up 25% from pre-pandemic while salary went up only 7%! House prices went up 50% and despite correction are still up 28%.
      2. Due to lack of accountability of remote admin staff, office infrastructure is often broke: printers don’t work, accessories are hard to find. E.g. Your mouse stops working, you have much better chance of finding spare at home than in office.
      3. Salaries have not kept up with inflation for junior staff (executives faired much better) and this makes junior staff feel that they should be allowed to work less.
      4. Continuous remote work has made teams fragile and distant with lot of mistrust. Gen Z is oversensitive to political beliefs of their teammates and often fail to get over it to create a good work relationship.

      • LeClerc says:

        Of course the printers don’t work!

        They haven’t been maintained since before the pandemic!

    • Shiloh1 says:

      You mean the managerial class C-Suiters?

    • makruger says:

      “If we’re right, people lose homes. People lose jobs. People lose retirement savings, people lose pensions. You know what I hate about !@#$%^ banking? It reduces people to numbers. Here’s a number—every 1% unemployment goes up, 40,000 people die, did you know that?”

      — Ben Rickert, The Big Short

      In America it seems like compassion and empathy are in short supply. Everyone seems to assume the worst about everyone else.

      • NBay says:

        Unregulated capitalism, consumerism, and corporatism can do that….and pretty damn fast.
        What if this time, the peasants don’t want to die, or tear up their own neighborhoods? Like occupy on meth?

  4. w.c.l. says:

    Just wait for the recession to hit and the real layoffs to happen. There’ll be large “Come to Jesus” moment when these people realize they’re just a e-mail away from termination. Do I understand right that Boeing just outsourced a hundred plus accounting positions to India?

    • Tony says:

      They also outsourced their 737 max software, that seemed to work out real well for them.

      • Apple says:

        Boeing moved their senior executives to Virginia. I’m sure they’ll keep a good eye on things from 3,000 miles away.

        • SreveO says:

          All the money is in DC. The senior folks in VA can harvest the federal dollars.

      • Lune says:

        Bigger issue was them outsourcing their managers to Chicago. Far worse damage from that.

        Best solution would be outsourcing Boeing’s management to Toulouse, France (aka takeover by Airbus, which seems to be firing on all cylinders finally, after the A380 debacle which at least wasn’t a safety debacle, merely a poor marketing and planning one).

      • Mike G says:

        Those $9 a hour software contractors, poorly managed by Boeing, ended up costing them about $20 billion, not to mention over 300 lives.

        The $10b cost of a clean-sheet 737 replacement they balked at, doesn’t seem such a bad deal now.

    • somethingstinks says:

      Right, the circle jerk top management that knows best… didn’t 2 brand new planes pancake into the ground/ocean due to faulty code. The problem is sitting right there, but its a tree in the forest.

      Like it or not, government needs to step in and regulate the top brass at all public companies. Bent upper management takes on debt while whittling the company away, does stock buybacks instead of spending on innovation, lays off productive workers while retaining the lying, brown nosing, scum in middle and upper management. Someone please explain to me what the top scum also known as the CEO does? More than half of that scum is useless, and can be easily let go without any negative side effects. The remaining need to get their “benefits” re-examined.

      If it is a public company with a chance of using other peoples money via crooked money managers managing pensions or 401ks; that company needs to have government oversight. Upper management have proved time and again that they cannot be trusted to do the right thing. Same deal with the shady mafia behavior called private equity leveraged buyouts.

      • Mike G says:

        This has been Michael Burry’s point lately. With index investing so prevalent there is little price discovery anymore, and little discipline on self-serving managers. If you’re in the S&P 500 for example, your stock gets bought by the index funds regardless of whether you’re a shite operation.

    • Big Joe says:

      This has been happening under the radar for a while now. With remote work companies realized they don’t need people like accountants in the office and if they don’t need to be in the office do they even need to be in the country?

      It’s also becoming more common for companies to do stuff like engineering work (design work for capital projects for example) in India. All they do is send the drawings over here and get a PE to put their stamp on it. Done.

  5. Nathan says:

    Happy Thanksgiving and the option for a joyous return to real offices (corner with a view, please) for those who choose!

  6. Halibut says:

    Open floor plans to “foster collaboration”. The genius that dreamed up that boondoggle should be keelhauled along with the inventors of mobile homes and chain link fences.

    • cas127 says:

      Hold on…mobile homes may actually be a realistic way out of the moronic financial morass that 20 years of reality-denying ZIRP gave us.

      And chain link fences are inexpensive and practical (that is why they are used).

      Somewhere along the line, Americans traded financially sustainable, practical solutions for doomed, empty grandiosity.

      Mobile homes and chain link may not be up to some people’s elevated aesthetic sense, but they will keep a family housed and their possessions safe.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Galley slaves, who were seated in similar arrangements, were collaborating very well, all rowing in the same direction, to the beat of the same drummer. I think that became the model for Corporate America to get folks to collaborate and be productive 🤣

    • Shiloh1 says:

      How many workplace ‘me too’ claims the past 30 months?

    • SpencerG says:

      It depends. In my most recent job at a call center I started off at the office after training. It was LOUD but if you had a problem you could simply signal a supervisor or ask any of three co-workers next to you for an answer. A month later I was moved to WFH and it works out OK… I have a quieter space than most of the call center employees do… but if I want an answer to a question I have to post it on a chat board and hope someone sees it in a timely manner while I do some tap dancing with the customer. And forget any real cross-training other than listening in to another agent’s calls… no examining how they have their cubicle or computer screens set up or anything.

      In my case WFH works out okay… as long as management is willing to live with the problems. You can’t really penalize or otherwise hold accountable the staff for call length metrics… which is OK with this company because they prioritize “Guest Experience” anyway.

    • Cem says:

      Frank Loyd Wright designed the original open office design ethos. Individual desks, GATAGA had that exact style of office in the movie.

      Slowly over time cafeteria style came into play and it is not great to say the least. The original design however I could see myself liking. There is a couple really interesting articles on the evolution of “open offices” that give an idea of where it all started and how far removed from that design it’s become.

      • Mike G says:

        Let me take a wild guess the original concept had some positive points, then it was perverted and subverted to cut costs and increase employee intimidation.

  7. Frank says:

    Many have offered alternate solutions, partial in-person workweeks, flextime, and other various on this theme, all of which makes work better for both employer and employee, but the problem is that the building costs are 24/7. The less you use it the more it costs per man-hour. The 40hr work week was the previous standard, anything less cost more unless one shrinks the office. But then one has to balance the occupancy, enough space when folks do come in vs. not too much that it is significantly underutilized. A hard nut to crack given real estate’s inflexibility. We’ve always had this problem to an extent, i.e. when does one lease new office space for anticipated expansion, but now at a whole new level of difficulty.
    What will ultimately decide the question is of a workplace is more productive/creative/profitable when all are in the office, partially in the office, or none in the office. But this data will not be in for a long time, and the answer will likley be different for different companies and/or industries.
    I for one would be a bit worried that if I could work from home – then why not outsource my job overseas for half the salary?

    • DocMo says:

      The building costs you refer to are fixed, in which case, the utilization rate is a gauge of value. If one uses the building they pay for, they’re getting value for the expense. However, companies may continue to gain value from their buildings, even when employees are not utilizing the building itself. For example, prestige value or presence value in a locale, etc.

      Excellent point about outsourcing.

    • Ed7 says:

      Outsourcing is a fact of life. At my last job my whole (productive) team got told that my company’s workers in India earned 1/3 what we did and we would all have to work “harder”.

      I was shocked because working harder hardly seemed possible, but as I indicated it turned out the manager told the whole team this.

      What happened? He accurately delivered the substance of management’s message but failed to put it in corporate speak. A week later he mailed his whole team to apologize saying he had meant to say work “smarter”. Baloney. That was the same message. Sorry. Not sorry.

      U.S. knowledge workers compete against the world now. And not just other comfortable first world companies in Europe.

      • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

        Ed7-…and, more than ever, relying on a common global natural resource base, at an increasing rate of extraction and use, to support it’s technoindustrial civilization…

        may we all find a better day.

  8. PoCk3T says:

    Google is absolutely NOT laying out 2 or 4 person isolated collaboration spaces; it’s all very much open floor and at best there are very small “phone booth” to have meetings in solo & privately (hold on a sec, wasn’t the purpose of the office to collaborate face to face?)

    Source: Googler “located” (not going) on one of the big California campus

    • Jcohen says:

      My daughter changed jobs to work for Google 6 months ago . One of her requests was that she telecommute from her home in Northern Colorado, even though her group is located in CA . Would she ever agree to working in Ca.
      Not a chance .
      I feel as though Mr McNellis is reflecting the attitude of the real estate industry in SF and not the attitude of tech employees who are telecommuting .

  9. Mike says:

    Keep dreaming baby boomer. The office is dead. Thank fucking God.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Mike,

      You’re Exhibit A of how the power has shifted from employer to labor over the past two years. I have covered this most astonishing development here many times. Thank you for providing this colorful illustration.

      And you’re also Exhibit A why the Fed will raise rates until you’re happy to have a job, and happy to go to whatever crappy office to do that job.

      Powell read your comment too, and he just now pivoted even more hawkish, LOL

      • Depth Charge says:

        “And you’re also Exhibit A why the Fed will raise rates until you’re happy to have a job, and happy to go to whatever crappy office to do that job.”

        I just said the same thing above but got excoriated because I’m Depth Charge and not Wolf. Why are people so triggered by truth?

        • OutsideTheBox says:

          Because Wolf is a true gentleman.

          You…..not so much.

        • drg1234 says:

          Lol.

          It’s a huge step in personal growth, to come to terms with the fact that one is an asshole.

          Was for me, anyway.

        • Depth Charge says:

          Isn’t there somebody else you can become infatuated with? Because your fascination with me is disturbing.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Depth Charge, you’re iconic here. So take the potshots like an icon :-]

        • Zero Sum Game says:

          Depth Charge, Wolf has a good point about your obligation to take potshots like an icon.

          Just think of all the times you’ve lobbed numerous potshots at J-Powell and the Fed. Hasn’t Jay stoically taken your potshots like a champ all this time?

          If you protest all the shots taken at you, you unwittingly place yourself lower than Jay Powell. This is your chance to stoically exert complete emotional inertness and to rise high above the rest of us common folk. The proof is in the reactive pudding and the choice is yours.

        • Depth Charge says:

          “Depth Charge, Wolf has a good point about your obligation to take potshots like an icon.”

          Oh, don’t worry about me. I was merely pointing out the lunacy of these people. They’ve been following me around for years.

        • Prairie Rider says:

          PEN America celebrated its 100 year anniversary this past September. PEN America’s mission is to defend the written word and the fundamental rights that make free expression possible — the world over.

          As part of this celebration, for five nights in a row, quotes from authors were projected onto Rockefeller Center at 30 Rockefeller Plaza & 610 an 620 Fifth Avenue. Two of my wife’s quotes were part of this celebration.

          From ‘Speech Itself’:

          “Story allows us to fearlessly dip our toes at the edge of an experience other than our own. We share space through story.”

          “The power of writing can be used to enlighten or ignite oppression. While we cannot force people to absorb or connect with our words, we can write and know that we plant seeds and the garden will come.”

          Thank you Wolf for allowing readers to write comments!

          Write on Depth Charge!

        • Lune says:

          Here’s the difference: Wolf is saying what the Fed will do, not that he agrees with it (although he might; he just doesn’t say it here).

          In your post, you said *you’re* hoping for it to happen. There’s a big difference.

          I fully 100% agree with Wolf: what always gets the Fed worried is wage inflation. Every other type of inflation at worst is no big deal, at best is actively encouraged. That doesn’t mean I agree with them.

        • Harvey Mushman says:

          @drg1234,

          “It’s a huge step in personal growth, to come to terms with the fact that one is an asshole.

          Was for me, anyway. ”

          That’s really good! I’m going to write that one down. :-)

        • NBay says:

          With great fascination goes great responsibility.

        • Depth Charge says:

          “In your post, you said *you’re* hoping for it to happen. There’s a big difference.”

          And so, I would presume, is Wolf. It’s the only way to actually fix the situation and help people in the long run. Inflation destroys the working class and the poor.

          I am absolutely shocked by how myopic and short-sighted people have become, and just how clueless they are as to what’s going on in the greater economy. Let me guess, you like “free money” because it “helps with inflation?” Good lord, wake me up when this idiocy has been culled.

        • Lune says:

          “It’s the only way to actually fix the situation and help people in the long run.”

          No, it’s not. There’s different types of inflation. What’s been killing people for the past 15 years (since the GFC) is the massive inflation in the cost for essentials such as education, housing, and healthcare, with no commensurate inflation in their wages. The Fed has been A-Okay with this and indeed let it rip talking about the “Wealth Effect” which is just trickle-down economics with a new name.

          It’s possible to have wages rise faster than people’s costs. But that would take more than the Fed. It would take policy changes by the government such that increases in productivity are shared back with the workers rather than being hoarded by the owners of capital. That would increase people’s wages without their costs also going up.

          “Let me guess, you like “free money” because it “helps with inflation?” ”

          Let me guess, you like “slaves” because it “helps with productivity”? Two can play at this game of sticking words in each other’s mouths.

          For the record, I was against the stimulus packages after a few months into the pandemic when it became clear that most people weren’t losing their jobs; and outside of targeted assistance to people who did, more money would just lead to inflation.

          That doesn’t mean I think the only way to cure inflation is to throw people on the streets and threaten to starve their children unless they accept whatever crappy job the sacred “job creators” deign to throw at them.

          Even now, wage growth isn’t keeping up with the rest of inflation. IOW, the average person is experiencing negative wage growth. It’s not the wages that are the problem. It’s everything else in the inflation basket. Killing wages and firing people isn’t going to all of a sudden make housing cheaper, or healthcare insurance premiums come down. But somehow, that’s always the solution touted to everything from the pilot shortage (gee, how about training your own pilots?) to those poor, poor office building owners who might face losses in their investments. I guess people must lose their jobs to make those investors whole; capitalism for thee, socialism for me.

      • sfgoldenhandcuffs says:

        It’s fascinating to me that “the City” passed a family friendly workplace ordinance that includes telecommuting back in 2014 covering most businesses in the City (not commissions, feds, state, schools), and with a cost based justification for refusal. I never see it mentioned, even with the twitter stuff. The City itself and management avoided talking about it for years and some were even saying telecommute requests would be denied until after the mayor announced her pivot from scandal to covid lockdown. I’m sure the City will clamp down with the next downturn, and have already heard of various depts dragging people back four-five days (politics being what they are), but at least there’s something for those that know. I’ve been in IT since the pets.com era…and even before that I knew rural IT telecommuting full time in the 90s. It’s just ridiculous at this point for some roles, and in IT, which already has regular outsourcing and changes such as with virtualization, you should either keep the people that know and support the business or in the long term lay them off. There’s a lot of other dead weight before IT, but there are siren songs and $$ and image to sway crooked middle and upper managers and general idiots…so they will probably just target IT and then everyone will pay for overpriced subscriptions and contractors. Or force the second career IT staff to come into the office, easy way to do layoffs without having to layoff. Anyway, thanks for the blog, you and reynolds rap are old faves.

      • Shiloh1 says:

        I remember in the ‘gloomy haze’ of the 2008 GTC when Geithner came to Downtown Chicago for some bailout meeting with the local TBTF dignitaries.

        Powell wouldn’t be caught dead there now.

    • cas127 says:

      It really is the long commutes that killed it…and those commutes are a function of insane housing prices in the most CEO-popular metros.

      If the CEO is pulling down 7 or 8 figures, he cares about fundamentals like access to live theater and Michelin starred restaurants.

      He *doesn’t* think about $36k+ per yr 1 bedroom apts…hell, the corp may be paying for *his* housing.

      It is of course stupid and wasteful…but hasn’t everyone been observing American “leadership” for the last 60 years?

      • gponym says:

        One way to look at such CEO self-interest is via their lack of local roots: these days they are not so often tied to the community/ies where their employees live, isn’t that so?

        A lot of us are like that anymore – far away from “home” – it’s just that the highly paid needn’t worry about as many of the consequences.

        Not that I think C-suiters are ogres by comparison with the hoi polloi – both classes have the good and the bad – just that they have great power which is no longer so connected with the welfare of the community at large. It’s easier to turn away from local problems when you have no family or old friends doing the suffering. Especially when your imperative is to serve disembodied shareholding “owners” – who are even less locally invested.

        • DanR says:

          Maybe the local community has expanded to include the country or the whole world.

      • somethingstinks says:

        Why such gwaddamn reverence to the damn ceo… thats the most worthless position in the company. All they do is parrot some stupid strategies while taking a huge share of the pie. I bet you could dress up a 3rd world clown real nice for 1/100th of the price, give them the accent and they will parrot all day long. Heck the clown can be a ceo of multiple companies since all they need is a script to read from. A friggin townhall everyday. Atleast the clown will not immediately zoom off in the private jet to play expensive golf and thousands of dollars worth of stay/food all on company’s dime.

    • phleep says:

      SBF, is that you?

    • Jos Oskam says:

      @Mike

      The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.

      Sincerely yours,
      Office

  10. Swamp Creature says:

    This WFH model works for some businesses and doesn’t work for others. For example, my insurance company announced a year ago in one of their annual reports that they had all of their 25,000 employees working from home. They used to work in one common location and could collaborate. Questions were answered and if not, they found someone nearby to provide the correct information. Their claim service and customer service was pretty good. Now the adjusters are all over the country working at home in different cities. No one can answer a question that is not on the computer. The claims service is awful. I just cancelled my auto and homeowners insurance with them and went with a local provider who has their HQ here in the DC area, 2 miles from my house.

    Some of these die hard WFH proponents seemed to have forgotten about what makes a successful business, and that is the quality of customer service. A lot of businesses neglected this when they went WFH and didn’t implement the new model to provide the same level of service. They are going to find out the hard way when they lose a lot of their customers to businesses who operate the old fashion way.

    • Apple says:

      Losing a few customers is probably worth it considering the savings in rent.

      As more long term leases end, I think more companies with look at the potential cost savings.

    • Shiloh1 says:

      The turnover in some corporate offices has become like that of a fast food joint.

      That’s a problem whether it’s WFH or jockeying an elevator in a 100 story office building in Chicago to get their SBUX and gossip fixes.

  11. Wolf Richter says:

    BTW, John McNellis, the author of this article, also wrote what I think is a financial thriller, in addition to being funny and “romantic”; it takes place in the “swinging” 1970s in San Francisco. A fun read: “O’Brien’s Law: A Romantic Thriller.”

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0B7Z21KHD

  12. Mema says:

    AI will take care of the WFH model. if the work can be done from home it can be outsourced to AI. Give it 18-36 months and we will be there.
    All the techs hired AI talent. Now they purge the loose leafs and keep the meat. How many auto industry jobs are done by robots now vs 70’s? It always makes me chuckle when they talk about auto industry job layoffs and show 5-10 assembly line workers with robots doing all the labor.

    • Stymie says:

      The AI/WFH model is insightful. The term artificial intelligence (AI) is a catch-all for any form of algorithm that can be run a computer; many folks think of AI as a kind of sentient algorithm, like HAL 9000. It’s a question of how much a given worker does that has been reduced to practice and could be coded into an algorithm. Then it is the cost of employee time compared to the cost to run a computer. What’s the factor? It ends up being roughly the cost of electrical power to run a computer. Human power is 100W (of which the brain is 20W), and assume that an algorithm could be run at the same 100W.

      “The average electric price a business customer in the United States pays for electricity is 13.45 cents per kWh. Nov 2, 2022”

      The ratio of cost, human to computer, is 0.01/100 ~ 0.

      50 years ago, a 100W computer could not do much; it is a very different story in 2022. So yeah…do I power a human for $100 per hour at 100W, or a computer at $0.01 per hour for the same 100W?

    • Publius says:

      Depends. Is this the AI that bought homes for Zillow?

    • andy says:

      18 months? I’ll give you 18 years. How many robots does it take to change a lightbulb?

  13. Swamp Creature says:

    A while back I had to take a mandatory course from my HR department on how to fire an employee. The course was 8 hours long. One of the themes I remember was that you had to make the employee feel good that you were firing them. That you were providing a career enhancing opportunity for them to advance, by seeking a better job, instead of stagnating in their current dead end job.

    Now fast forward to 2022. A similar course could be given in 5 minutes or less. The course would consist of one slide. You, as the manager would go to the System Administrator of the target employee who is probably a WFH dude in India or Bangledesh and have them delete the user_id and login password from the system. Mission accomplished.

    I’ve heard that Musk and Zukerbucks have already implement the 2022 version. They haven’t lost a single night’s sleep and could care less.

    • Nathan says:

      The class action employment lawyers may just be the straw that breaks Twitter’s back.

    • Apple says:

      Musk laid off all his workers in India and Ghana.

    • w.c.l. says:

      S.C.
      Don’t they just have some program (the Robo-Fire 3000) or something where they pick a department and the number of bodies to cut and the algorithm chooses the victims, fires off the e-mail (after hours), and then terminates all their accesses? Quick and cold blooded.

    • Shiloh1 says:

      Musk should move the whole thing to Wooster Ohio. Great work ethic. As far as ‘woke’ I think some get out of bed at 4 a.m. to start their work day.

      The whole FB thing should be flushed down the toilet with Zuck face-first.

      • Kenn says:

        Wooster Ohio?? That’s too cosmopolitan. Put it in Mesopotamia, Ohio in the middle of the Amish country.

        • Kenn says:

          And now Google Maps is wondering why people are looking up Wooster and Mesopotamia, Ohio.

    • Swamp Creature says:

      I like the Trump method of firing people. Rex Tilleson, the CEO of Exxon and former Sec of State, was sitting on the toilet watching a TV. He was was fired right then and there. I wonder if they are going to teach this method of firing people in my next HR course.

    • Swamp Creature says:

      I heard that Zuckerbucks had all the e-mail server files of the fired employees confiscated and sold to third parties for marketing purposes.

    • Kenn says:

      Ahh – the “good old days”. One of my previous employers had the “Career Transition Program” for people being booted out the door. Of course, the laid off galley slaves would abbreviate the phrase by telling others “I’ve been CTP’d”.
      Most did not feel good about the forced career transition.

  14. phleep says:

    Some folks work well in an analog, face to face setting, some less so. So, at my college, we offer both. I have taught both ways. I opted to keep teaching in classrooms, but having a “hybrid” as I do, with much of the content online, works, I think, very well for some students. They have the option to enroll either way.

    In that setting I am interested in offering whatever people want, like, and thrive on, rather than heaping scorn on some other model that is a bad fit for some.

    • Whatsmynameagain says:

      phleep, I like you. About 9 months ago we had to go back in, and I’m back to working many nights and weekends (which I was able to stop doing during the pandemic) to get the same baseline level of work done. Commute + family responsibilities + unavoidable in-office nonsense (for instance, we have open door policies / culture across the office which is a real drain on time throughout the day) make going in, for my job, extremely inefficient.

      The two years WFH over the pandemic were the best two of my career in terms of effectiveness, work/life balance and overall personal fulfillment. It feels like a dream and I hate this dystopian crap we’re back to.

      I also get that some people love it and thrive with it, though, or specifically do NOT thrive working from home. So I wish we were given a choice, and then judged on how effective we are regardless of where we are doing the work.

    • Swamp Creature says:

      I used to work in computer security and we needed face to face meetings to get networks accredited, especially those in the Top Secret level. No way this could be done virtually.

      Now, working on home inspections in the Swamp. No way this can be done virtually.

      I’m getting tired of reading all this BS about WFH taking over the entire business/employment model. Some essential jobs have to be done face to face. I may add, a lot of these so called great WFH jobs that people love will be gone via the Musk/Zuckerbucks method of firing in the next recession or depression. ENJOY.

      • Whatsmynameagain says:

        Swamp Creature, what are you on about? Nobody is saying it has to be all or nothing, both mine and phleep’s comments specifically pointed to a preference for choice based on what’s best for the individual and the requirements of the role. You seem like a grumpy old man who doesn’t like change and just wants things to be done your way.

        • Swamp Creature says:

          Whatsmynameagain

          “What’s best for the individual???? ” BS

          It should be “What’s best for the customers you are supporting in your business”.

          Too many businesses forget that and they lose customers and wind up going out of business.

  15. OutWest says:

    At home or in a remote location, you can work off a laptop with two larger monitors. Everyone does it since it is efficient.

    In an meeting or group setting, much of that productive information to share or discuss is less available. Office ‘bull pins’ suck and a lot of bright people won’t go back since they have alternatives.

    Remote work has been around for quite some time. It helps to be IT savvy…

  16. Ryan L says:

    At my work place we have to come into the office 2 days a week. I love it! When I’m onsite meetings are still on video conferencing software!

    My very conservative company understands the value of both. There are times when I need to be there to see things but 80% of the time everything I do can be accomplished at home or offsite. Now this only works for certain jobs at my company other people have to be there 100% of the time because they’re doing physical labour.

    I was recently promoted to management and some of the older employees don’t like the changes because they feel that since they suffered being onsite for most of their career (me too) that everyone should continue to suffer even if the change make practical sense!

    I would be very sad if we went back to 100% onsite work!

    • Swamp Creature says:

      When the next severe recession hits, companies will begin outsourcing every job they can to India and Bengledesh to cut costs and save office space. Many WFH jobs, especially those in customer service, will be the first to go since the broad band connections are just as good to India as to right next door.

      JPM/Chase used to service my mortgage. The service was terrible using domestic agents somewhere in the USA. Rude and incompetent. Then Chase outsourced the customer service to India. The service improved 1000%. The reception was so clear you would thing you were talking to the house next door to you. Unbelievable! The agents in India were also more polite and knew what they were doing.

      • Happy1 says:

        My experience is completely the opposite. Heavily accented overseas help hard to understand and surly like a Chicago teamster. US based help speaks English and much more polite.

  17. Gabby Cat says:

    This conversation is missing the biggest factor in the WFH model – ESG savings. With corporate investors, like BlackRock and Vanguard, many boards are using the WFH model to show decreased carbon footprints. This allows them to borrow money cheaper as the ESG affects credit scores. None of this matters to anything but the bottom dollar. The only way commercial real estate to get back into the game is to do away with the ESG credit lending standards. I think we will be in this model for years to come otherwise.

  18. Shiloh1 says:

    McDonalds former office campus in Oak Brook.

    McDonalds current office in Downtown Chicago.

    Any questions?

    • Nissanfan says:

      Its nothing short of politics, which was going on for decades. I could counter your argument with Motorola or United Airlines. Latter is moving big part of staff from crown of Chicago (Sears/Willis Tower) to Arlington Heights. Those that are moving Into Chicago are usually downsizing in process CVS, Walgreens etc

  19. Zero Sum Game says:

    With this work from home and commercial office discussion, I’m reminded of the compromise some oil fracking companies in North Dakota took during the early boom years (2008-2013 or so).

    They would have worker gangs live in nearby ‘work camps’ where everyone had their mini private quarters, perhaps with a common kitchen or restroom area for the roughneck oil rig workers. Maybe a similar setup would work in other corporate settings, albeit each living area having private kitchen and baths. These gentrified work camps would be larger and better suited for small families, and the corp could lease them out to the workers as they go along.

    Maybe a bad idea, but something different for brainstorming.

    • somethingstinks says:

      I was reading that Foxconn factory in china has similar setup. Workers don’t get to go home. Definitely will work out great here in the USA.

  20. eg says:

    One brother gives me regular updates on Toronto finanz sector foot traffic. Currently 40% of 2019 is a mid-week high water mark.

  21. Michael Engel says:

    From an organized community of 200K/y – 300k/y programmers or engineers packed like sardines to a private cockpit at home, WFH, with two computers and five monitors.

  22. Michael Engel says:

    A year ago, on Nov 22 2021, Catya Nergila cashed in and the whole thing
    fell apart.
    QQQ plunged from 406 to 260, under a red cloud.
    Silicon valley are ghost towns.

  23. Kentucky says:

    This is how I see the future labor market in conjunction with office space: The Covid pandemic created paradigm shifts with daily work habits. More people started working from home. The future will be an ongoing messy mixture of business’ needs/wants colliding with employees’ needs/wants. Big businesses need employees for mind numbing “clock watcher employee” type work. These type of jobs are less about tenacity and critical thinking skills. At the same time, “maverick employees” are needed to spur creativity, new products and services.”

    By nature, the mavericks will want and demand more autonomy and perks than the clock watchers. You will lose mavericks constantly to their own endeavors and new job opportunities if company protocols force “butts in seats” versus independence. And the clock watchers will be jealous that the mavericks aren’t in the office.

    What’s the solution? More and more automation to reduce the clock watchers. Big offices are dead. The genie has been let out of the bottle and what is needed for big businesses does not align with antiquated office buildings.

    Customers (both biz to biz and biz to consumer), now more than ever, demand superior customer services and experiences.
    Gone are the days of employers having their cake and eating it too with a loyal, don’t ask questions labor force.

    The hard truth is the sheer size of businesses with regards to numbers of employees is becoming an antiquated business model too. Businesses have bloated to sizes to become less efficient and more transparent in their follies. Large corporations will/have become wobbly wheels that get constantly beat up on social media (by customers and their own employees). These type of companies will not attract and keep mavericks. The mavericks will find ways to start their own businesses.

    Small businesses, that stay small, is where I believe the future is headed (no giant office space needed). Yes, the Amazons will exist for distribution, but more and more small, independent businesses will pop up that deliver exceptional experiences and value to their local customers.

  24. Michael Engel says:

    Young people in their late 20’s/ early 30’s are becoming projects mgr, stores mgr, bank mgr…
    In order to advance, move up to a higher rank, hiding behind WFH isn’t good enough.

  25. makruger says:

    In addition to all the other various causes for why people don’t want to work in conventional settings, Vox media recently wrote a nice essay about how demographics (low birth rate) is deeply affecting small colleges. It’s probably affecting the unemployment rate as well if there just isn’t enough people to fill these slots. Perhaps it’s time to begin rethinking immigration policies.

    • CreditGB says:

      Do you mean the 230k “young professionals” that have walked across the southern border in October 2022? The politicians think those are the future of the country’s workers.

      We need to stop providing a no work income and life for those who refuse to work or who demand certain conditions before they will consider working.

      1930s showed millions the value of a job, any job, at any location, doing just about anything for a pay check.

      Someone said recently, the US Citizen has not yet suffered enough to focus their minds on what is important and necessary for survival.

  26. Michael Engel says:

    1) Gen Z, ages 10y – 25y, front line start to graduate from colleges. Their
    prodigy might not be hired, after paying 80k/y to elite colleges.
    The few hired will go strait to the office. They will replace millennial and foreign contractors.
    2) When millennial WFH monitors will go dark they will drive Uber.
    3) If the Dow will close Nov 2/9 2020 gap, the banks will repossess the empty buildings.
    4) There is an econ 101 plan to save SF from becoming a new Johnstown or Braddock PA.

  27. George W says:

    To get me back to the office, I will require a personal secretary…

    Miss Moneypenny, “hold my calls”.

  28. David Brewer says:

    Plus ça change…

    Writing 72 years ago about the characteristics of a desirable office, John Williams of RAND said:

    “I believe that the qualities that are more desired are, approximately in the order of importance:

    privacy;
    quiet;
    natural light;
    natural air;
    spaciousness.”

    Seven decades of BS about the virtues of open plan, teamworking, hotdesking, etc. haven’t changed this one bit.

  29. Al says:

    I was involved in the first open office experiment at my large fortune 100 company months before COVID started.

    They crammed a bunch of engineers shoulder to shoulder and wondered why I couldn’t concentrate on the important task at hand. I spent most of my days scurrying about, finding a private corner or sitting in a glass walled individual room. Thankfully, COVID came in and sent me home for two straight years, during which time my already high performance (I’m a humble man after all) sky rocketed as I could focus, eat whatever I wanted and take a decent shit.

    If we need to reduce real estate to save money, then just keep me home. We returned to work part time after two years and 90% of meetings are still taken on teams. What a waste of fucking time.

  30. R2D2 says:

    Workers now know “working” from home is no such thing. The genie is out the bottle. There is no way workers are going back to the office. Ever.

  31. ART says:

    The debate over returning to the office is very funny to me. I’ve been working 100 percent remote as a software architect/engineer for about 12 years, except for 1 year when I foolishly accepted a consulting contract with a large company and they insisted I come in every day to an office with hot-swap desks. It was utter hell due to the constant noise and distractions, and I would never ever consider returning to the office, even if they gave me a private office.

    I earn a salary within the top few percent of all software engineers (about $300k per year plus very generous benefits), work whatever hours I want, and travel rarely. I live in a relatively low cost area where the top local job salaries are probably 50% lower.

    What’s funny is that when I started working remotely I was worried that it would limit my earnings potential or the quality of jobs I could pursue. Instead, even 10 years ago my earnings, have been much higher and the companies I’ve worked for are much, much better overall.

    • George W says:

      You are an employee, you do not own your own income stream.

      Just like that, someone can decide that you are no longer needed and poof, that 300k is gone.

      The Fed is taking things seriously and so should you(IMO).

  32. AV8R says:

    WFH is a luxury. And in typical envious fashion everyone who saw someone getting away with it wanted it too.

    Then everyone saw their kids getting educated by a teacher working from home and had the Emperor’s New Clothes moment.

    Social infrastructure just can’t function on a WFH model. Sure some administrators maybe. Hospitals, Sanitation, Utilities, Crime and Punishment you pick the it, doesn’t work when people think they can WFH and do just as good a job. Factor in the Service Economy and I think its safe to say a very small percentage of the workforce can actually deliver an adequate product from home.

    No tears for coddled techies that now have to rejoin the traditional workforce. Welcome Back.

    • phleep says:

      Student punctuality and attendance in my college classes has collapsed. I tell them a wealthy and high functioning society is one where everyone shows up on time, on budget, with training and tools in place, and ready to deliver, every time. Many cannot even make it 2 weeks without screwing up right and left. It used to be certain foreign students who lacked this training. Now it is the majority of students in a majority caucasian, suburban area.
      I have missed 5 days from my teaching job in 38 years. One guy crashed a car, missed a deadline, and proceeded to tell me my business class was a joke.

      • AV8R says:

        Hope you gave him an F.

      • Prairie Rider says:

        When I was 13 & 14 years old, the coach of my bantam hockey team, who was by far the best coach I ever had, drummed into us the importance of punctuality. If you were late to the rink or arena for a practice, and the cut-off time was 30 minutes prior to hitting the ice, you were going to do some “Herbies.” (named after Herb Brooks, and a series of down-and-back wind sprints)

        But if you were late for a scrimmage or a game, you sat out the first period. No exceptions were ever made.

        Our Falcon Heights, Minnesota team was tough, hungry and disciplined. We out-worked our opponents, and by the third period, we could still skate because our coach had drilled us relentlessly each and every practice.

        Life lessons that I carried with me every day in business were learned as a boy playing hockey.

        phleep, I am with you & you gots my respect!

        1) Answer the phone
        2) Be on time
        3) Be honest
        4) Be polite

    • pstuartb says:

      I’m a partner in a law firm, close to retiring, classic boomer profile. I love working from home and I have no intention of going back to the office. I save at least a couple hours a day by not having to put on a suit and commute back and forth. In our firm’s microcosm, age doesn’t seem to be a factor in preferring WFH or working in the office. We have quite a few secretaries and paralegals in their 50s and 60s who’ve said they don’t ever want to commute again and will never work in an environment where they are required to come into the office.

      We also have young people who prefer coming into the office. That’s often because they have kids at home, the spouse is the primary care giver, and their home environment is too noisy and distracting to get much done. Others have kids who are taking classes online, and they prefer to work from home to make sure their kids aren’t wasting all day on the internet.

      Preferences are highly individual and all over the map. I probably collaborate more now in phone calls and video calls with younger lawyers in the firm than I did when we were all in the office. I’m sure this varies by industry, but it works for me. Productivity, measured by billable hours, is as high or higher than when everyone was in the office.

      Some partners want everyone to come back to the office because they’re lonely and the office feels desolate. Also because we have a few floors of expensive space that we pay for each month, that we can’t sublet very well, and that’s about 80% empty.

      But as a group, we’ve decided to let everyone do as they want–stay home permanently, come in periodically, or come in every day. As long as the work product stays top notch, the hours keep getting billed, the clients are happy, and employees sound reasonably content when you give them a call, it ain’t broke as far as I’m concerned.

      There is all that wasted office space, but when our lease is up, we’ll probably shed most of it.

  33. Neil says:

    Funny, I feel the same about the “open concept” floor plans in new homes/McMansions. What ever happened to private kitchens and more intimate spaces in one’s own home?

  34. CreditGB says:

    A regrettable part of working at an office for 40 plus years is the constant interruptions by the “floaters” who seem to stop for a chat at the wrong times.

    Late in my career, I’d use phone ring tones as my email and text notifications and leave it on loud. I used to get well over a hundred emails per day so it would go off every few minutes. Great tool to say, “excuse me I have to take this call” and send the chatty guy down the hall. Sometimes it was a higher up guy so you can’t just insult them into leaving.

    • Apple says:

      I’ve worked with several people whose social life seems to be wandering around the buildings talking to everyone for 8 hours a day.

  35. Brian says:

    Working at Google in Site-Reliability-Engineering (the “IT” group that runs services in production), open-office was useful. When there was a problem, having instance access to your colleagues while all being at your own workstations was essential.

    Later, in Software-Engineering, a more private space would have been more beneficial. Any distraction can cost 10 to 60 minutes of “context switch” time.

    It really depends on the job you’re doing.

  36. Ricky says:

    Maybe this WFH movement will usher in a new wave of workers, with similar skills and less experience, who see an opportunity to come in and re-fill the office space and bring the back the healthy energy that a productive office generates?

    The company can work the numbers to retain it’s best to train the new, who are hired for their authentic attitude and trained to fill the experience gap?

    If it works, then you revive the beehive and a new, centralized workforce can usher in an updated version of the old school office culture. The scattered WFHer’s can remain disconnected and continue to drift away.

    Could be worth a look if office culture is truly a “value” and not just more corporate BS.

    • phleep says:

      Good workplace culture is a thing of functionality, pleasure and, yeah, a kind of beauty. I suppose it is a plague if all my pals on my feed tell me so. This gives a great opportunity to heap scorn on it, and declare it obsolete, dead or stupid, which seems to be the go-to national sport now. But it is a pre-adolescent mentality that uses such responses to everything, playground throw-downs, to masquerade as intelligence.

  37. PixelPusher says:

    Game developer here. This is simply an anecdotal observation. I have been a long time advocate for the open floor plan. I’ve worked in both closed and open environments and still prefer the latter when it comes to moving fast. Open floor plans, in house dining, floating work stations and room partitions became very hot concept in game dev in the late 90s and early 2000s after games started becoming famous for raking in billions on making pixels move around a screen. The approach in the game industry continues to proves to be very effective in keeping teams closely collaborating in the quickly changing creative environment. While all of the complaints about openness and distractions persist in this industry by a lot of game devs, the positive effects have long outweighed the negative of having to put on headphones or slip away into a booth to focus. I won’t wax on about the reasons why, but since the pandemic productivity has slumped, targets have been missed again and again by teams all over the industry and its not at all a surprise that remote is effecting our ability to easily communicate.
    I won’t make claims why the open environment is conducive for games and not all tech related industries, but I remember a 2009~2011 (can’t recall exactly) Game Developer Conference micro talk where an architect studied the game industry office pattern and mused how team productivity could be boosted by projecting the creative approach to offices around the globe. The results of the adaptations over the last decade have been fascinating.
    After saying all of this, I still prefer remote work, despite it slowing teams down.

  38. Xavier Caveat says:

    Who would’ve thought the movie Home Alone was actually a how-to manual for the new normal of working?

  39. dougP says:

    Was the “Voodoo medicine” comment removed for a reason?

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Lies of this type should be posted on Twitter. That’s what Twitter is for. And it’s open for this type of business again, I hear. Zero tolerance for people trying to abuse my site to spread lies.

  40. AverageCommenter says:

    Cubicles were designed just so the business could always have someone peeping over the shoulder of the worker. And have them spying on each other. All I know is these office space leases need to drop some more, I have a couple of LLC’s that need a new brick and mortar home.

  41. Kentucky says:

    These responses speak for themselves – a mixed bag moving forward for workplace environments. Young companies with leaner overheads will entice new workers with flexible working arrangements. Larger and more established companies will need to money-whip self starters and critical thinkers to keep them on board. However, to keep A-team talent on board will inevitably reduce profitability. This the conundrum: How do you keep talent from leaving that simply don’t care about a company’s legacy and still stay profitable?

    Years ago, I saw this one picture cartoon that showed two guys wearing black ties and white dress shirts with their sleeves rolled up. One guy was energetically looking at the other guy and said, “Let’s work harder to make the boss look good!” Those days, whether fantasy or not, ain’t coming back.

    Social media and constant news feeds prove to Gen Zs (and everyone else) that adulthood doesn’t bring maturity. Companies and politicians don’t play fair so don’t expect employees to be loyal and grateful servants. The workforce will be much more transient regardless of workplace environment. It’s already happening.

    Ultimately, can you (or should you?) build a healthy, ethical, and large scale business model around employees that aren’t blindly loyal and still make a profit?

    Bigger isn’t always better. Quit trying to figure out how to rearrange office furniture and rethink better business models to the chagrin of office space holders and stockholders.

    The sheer fact that the tech companies are laying off by the thousands is proof bigger isn’t better. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should grow. Yes, for a moment in time, the unbridled growth that companies experience is intoxicating, but there is always a reckoning. But the dilemma is shareholders want and demand growth.

    Solution: More privately held smaller companies (that are locally owned – not private equity owned) that have employee profit sharing and aren’t trying to take over the world one venti at a time.

  42. George W says:

    Trickle down economics…

    Who doesn’t love economic theory?

    With all this inflation, who isn’t loving the trickle?

  43. Kmonster says:

    I love you John, good article but bad crash and burn covid analogy.

    I read your novel, keep ‘em coming!

    • John McNellis says:

      Thank you, K. Delighted that you liked the book. I’ll work on my analogies… though I do think that one isn’t far off the mark j

  44. Jon says:

    They need a massive recession from hell to scare the sh**t out of them. Need a repeat of 08 or 01 to make them grateful for their jobs.

    • Lune says:

      I bet your sentiment will change when it’s you who’s laid off.

      My job’s pretty secure but I look forward to your sacrifice to help make my favorite restaurants have more compliant servers. We all need to do our part, right?

    • Swamp Creature says:

      I like JP Morgan’s chief Jamie Diamon approach. Report to work in the office by such and such a date or you’re fired.

  45. Ed7 says:

    Among educated people, only OTHER people are said to have been “triggered” during an argument. And I’ve never seen it said face-to-face in a civil conversation.

    That’s because to be triggered is to have had one’s feelings hurt and probably hurt easily, by the slightest of touches.

  46. Lune says:

    I think there are 2 separate issues here: WFH vs. office and then, what type of office layout is best?

    IMHO, lots of people like WFH but not everyone is good at it. Everyone assumes they are, but it’s not true. Aside from the people secretly working 2 fulltime jobs and that type of scamming, lots of people need the structure of coming to the office everyday to get their work done. Motivating yourself to get your work done when there are plenty of diversions at home (not that there are none at the office, but there are fewer) and no peer pressure to finish your work means many people’s productivity slacks off.

    I’ve seen this at my company. There are people who are great working from home, responsive, productive, just as present in terms of decision-making and interacting with colleagues (albeit now with Slack and email and Zoom rather than face-to-face mtgs). And there are others who we secretly suspect are only putting in a few hours a day and taking the rest of the day off.

    The difficult part is predicting who will fall into which category. The easy answer is let them all WFH and then fire the ones who aren’t productive. But the truth is, many of those people would probably do well in a structured environment in the office, so why write them off so quickly?

    Regarding what type of office, I 100% agree with the Zoomer. Private offices should be the default, with scattered large rooms for 4-5 people if there are teams that want to work together (either permanently or temporarily for a specific project).

    This whole open office thing was a move to reduce sq.ft. per employee and nothing more. Everything else was nonsense to sell the plan to their employees. Why do I say that? Because if the CEOs actually believed that BS, that somehow workers would be happier and more productive surrounded by their “teammates”, then they’d have given up their own corner offices and worked in a cubicle.

  47. Swamp Creature says:

    The IRS went to a WFH model recently due to the pandemic. They took 6 months to process my Fed tax return which could have been done on a 3 x 5 card. Great service from a great organization.

  48. Swamp Creature says:

    The dude that was selling hot dogs from a truck across from the IRS building on Pennsylvania Ave told me the other day his business was off 80% because hardly anyone from the IRS was reporting to work. I told him after they hire 87,000 IRS agents most of whom would be WFH they would have extra people to come after him to make sure he pays every dime in taxes.

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