The New Zealand Herald is bringing back some of the best premium stories of 2020. Today we look at The New York Times OOO series which investigates the future of the office.
The office will never be the same
This year provided the revolution many workers had been seeking: giving people control over where and when work gets done, instead of demanding face time at the office and rewarding those who spend the longest hours there.
But this office-less utopia has been nearly impossible to achieve. It requires throwing out almost everything about how white-collar work works and rebuilding it from the ground up.
That's never been doable, because most employers saw no reason to change when the old way had been making them money. Then, all at once, the pandemic has forced it on them.
He can't quit the office
At the very beginning of April, Steve Swanson drove from his home to his office in Chicago. He told himself it was just a one-time thing, a visit necessitated by his need to collect files not accessible by computer.
But it was more than that. It was a fix.
Within two weeks, he was going to his office regularly, three or four times a week.
Swanson, 53, is a lawyer. But his profession is irrelevant. Our professions are often irrelevant in explaining why — despite everything we may have believed until mid-March, when many of our emotional associations with the office turned to good-old-days nostalgia — some of us long to return to our physical places of work.
Will we ever touch (professionally) again?
The handshake has been through a lot.
Forged in antiquity, the preferred office greeting of the corporate era has survived the peace-sign-as-hello 1960s; the deal-clinching high-five 1990s; and the bro hug of the past decade (a manly-man micro-Heimlich ascending all the way from the playing fields to the Obama White House).
But will it survive the coronavirus?
Office gossip lives!
Researchers define gossip as "talking about someone who is not present" and, according to a 2019 metaanalysis, people spend an average of 52 minutes a day doing it.
But that gossip is not always negative. In fact, as the study found, most if it was neutral. (Contrary to stereotypical images of a conniving older female info-hound, young people and men tended to be more snarky, according to the study.)
Which has made gossip, in a workplace, both omnipresent and useful. As the other saying goes, information is power — and sharing information can help spread the power around.
Behold, 'workleisure': The fashion of working from home
Let us consider, for a moment, the Zoom sweater. Or rather, the ideal Zoom sweater. Will it be thick and reassuring, or thin and wrappable? Pullover or cardigan? Round neck, V-neck or high-neck? These are not immaterial questions.
The Zoom sweater is, after all, the seasonal next wardrobe step after the Zoom shirt: the garment that stays draped on a chair and tossed on for meetings as the long, hot, summer of the pandemic segues into cooler, more unpredictable months.
For some, this may seem liberating: A final declaration of independence from the suit, and proof that after months of dressing for ourselves — and our perch in the corner of the couch — we have been freed from the constrictive suiting of white collar yesteryear (and all the antediluvian fashion rules they represent).