The open office is shut down for good

IN THE EARLY ’90s, I joined the world of high-tech, working for a computer company in Silicon Valley.

I had quite a commute from the East Bay over to Palo Alto, so I was only too eager to join a task force that was proposing a work-from-home (or what we called telecommuting) policy at the time.

This company had a slogan: “The Network is the Computer,” and so it couldn’t have been a more propitious time, given the Internet as we know it today was just going viral.

The head of HR was somewhat dubious, but he gave us the green light to move ahead with a pilot program. I was one of the first to test it out, and even with a measly modem and only one land line in the house (no cell phones yet, let alone smart phones), I was able to get everything done in my job.

Over the years, I rose to executive roles and switched companies innumerable times (the average lifespan of any role in Silicon Valley is +/- 2 years).

Invariably, a discussion would arise regarding a remote work policy.

I always found the argument against working from home spurious and amusing. Most of these executives I was with were logging 200,000 miles a year on the road (more accurately, in the air). Many were out of the office more often than in.

Of course, they still had to run their staff meetings, report in to their bosses, and do all the other things they had to do in the office. They were working remotely.

Now, of course, given the pandemic, we are required to work from home. Will we ever go back?

I doubt it. What we have learned is that the office has been an anachronism for a long, long time.

That was why the office perquisites got more elaborate as time went on. We went from stale, weak coffee in styrofoam cups to fusion cuisine, laundry services, massages, hair cuts, car washes, beer bashes.

But, as the saying goes, there is no free lunch. Those freebies came at a cost: your time. They were there to entice you to work longer hours in the office, sitting at your open cubicle, trying to block out the drone of your neighbor negotiating with her mother-in-law (personal calls? Never!), or the obnoxious office gossip guy who hovers from cube to cube.

Do I need to mention the windowless, overcrowded meeting rooms, reeking of fried onions from the previous meeting, where you are trapped for a couple hours to discuss a matter that easily could have been handled in email?

And then there is the commute. Sure, working from home has its drawbacks. Kids. Crumbs. The neighbor’s gardener’s leaf blower in the middle of your presentation. But that commute from the kitchen to the converted bedroom is sweet.

The pandemic has taken the doubt out of whether or not we can survive remote work. It has proven that we will actually thrive in the long run.

And if this trend continues, it has some significant implications for the Silicon Valleys of the world, where the average 1,500 square foot home on a postage stamp size lot demands a figure in the seven digits.

If we don’t need to commute, why not live some place affordable? Already, we are seeing multiple listings for jobs that specify they are remote only. Just do a search on Glassdoor and you’ll see this list is growing daily.

It’s a brand new corporate world. There is no going back. And that’s a good thing.

What or when is the Iron Age Epilog

For a guy who spent the better part of his career in high technology, you might be scratching your head at the name of my blog. So let me explain it to you.

When I first started my career in tech, back in 1993, it was a golden time. The world looked so promising. Technology could solve so many problems. It could be the great equalizer. When the World Wide Web hit that year, we talked a great deal about the “democratization of information.”

How’s that working out do you suppose? Yes, that’s a rhetorical question.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In the world of technology, that reaction is usually in the form of what is known as an unintended consequence.

We build stuff. We put it into the market place. We have great hopes for the goodness it will bring mankind. Only problem is, we have no idea what the side effects are until we put it out there. Genetically modified foods (GMO), nuclear power, Facebook. They all sounded like good ideas at the time. Nobody expected for a moment anything bad to happen.

But, invariably and inevitably, it does.

That’s what this blog is about: Taking a critical look at the unintended consequences of our world of technology. So why the Iron Age Epilog? Well, we have been at this game a lot longer than just the past 25 or so years.

The word “smog” was coined in 1905 to describe the combination of fog and coal-generated pollution in the dampness of old London. Smog didn’t exist before then.

Well, actually it might have. In fact, it is theorized that humans first developed lung cancer shortly after taking their newfound skills of producing fire indoors, into a cave.

So we have been at this game a long time. Iron Age Epilog is just a way to describe that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Also, Iron Age Epilog happens to be an anagram for my first and last name. So welcome to my new blog. I hope you find it enlightening, insightful, thought provoking or at least entertaining.