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.

Time is of the essence

I am a stickler for punctuality. It’s a bad habit I learned from my father, an engineer by trade and an eager advocate of time-motion study. He is the only person I know who had a stopwatch dividing a minute into one hundred increments. I inherited the stopwatch (along with his slide rule and micrometer, of course). I also inherited his habit of perpetual hurriedness.

He used to set our clocks (analog back then) ahead 10 minutes to ensure we would never be late. So somehow I absorbed that notion of time and still prefer to arrive 10 minutes before a meeting’s scheduled start time. If you’re there at the top of the hour, from my perspective, you’re already late.

Yes, I’ve been late to meetings, my own and others. The difference is that I am consumed with anxiety at doing so. That feeling is only exacerbated when I subsequently see others waltz in after me and they are oblivious to their tardiness. In my book, late is never fashionable.

At least I know I’m not alone. President Obama apparently was a 10-minute-early kind of guy and he attributes his success at least in part to this discipline. I can’t quantify what it’s meant to my career. I only know that’s how I operate.

The biggest challenge to those of us in senior management positions is that our day is usually stacked from morning to night with meetings. If one runs long, the schedule collapses like a proverbial stack of dominoes. Some companies have instituted the 10-minute rule (i.e., meetings should end at the 50 minute mark) to provide people time to scurry to the next confab. That’s a good start.

And for any company out there that is considering making such a change to keep people on schedule, my only advice is there is no time like the present.