The death of the office — 5 reasons why it won’t happen

The COVID-19 pandemic took us by storm and fundamentally changed the way we interact: social distancing, face masks, sanitizing gels, and of course, remote working.

Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash
Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash
Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

The logistics

Can you hear me?”, “Can you see me?”, “You froze, can you repeat from…” , “my browser crashed, where were we?” — sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Let’s face it: domestic internet connections are cheap and available, but they’re not reliable nor redundant.

Domestic internet connections are cheap and available, but they’re not reliable nor redundant.

Office buildings have on-site technicians, disaster recovery policies in place, redundant internet connections, sometimes from different ISPs, all with premium support. Outages can be fixed in a couple of hours. A broken laptop or phone can be replaced in less than 30 minutes.

The social aspect

Work has an important social aspect. The 8–9 hours spent in the office are the longest activity we do on a daily basis. More than we spend with our loved ones, our friends, our pets, our Playstations.

The 8–9 hours spent in the office are the longest activity we do on a daily basis. More than we spend with our loved ones, our friends, our pets, our Playstations.

In order to establish a long-lasting meaningful friendship, we need common values and enough time together to form a bond. Early in life, friendships are formed on the playground, school, or university. Because that’s where we spend enough time together. Later on, it’s the office environment that provides that opportunity.

The lack of effective communication

Psychology tells us that 55% of all communication happens non-verbally. Body language: position, gestures, use of space, eye movements. All these get lost over video-calls. We just see each other’s heads from weird angles.

Not all employees are straight-forward about their problems. Actually, I would say that the overwhelming majority of employees are not straight-forward about their problems.

You seem a bit distracted lately, is everything okay?” — a question that managers should ask their reports when they feel something is off. Hard to do when all the interaction happens over Slack.

The difficulty of offering fair compensation

Without the need of going to a physical office, the geography becomes irrelevant, especially across compatible timezones. Which brings us to the Holy Grail of remote working: living somewhere cheap — and preferably hot, like some tropical island — and receiving a Silicon Valley salary.

  • Barcelona 43k USD / year
  • Bucharest 24k USD / year

What is the definition of “equal pay” on a global scale? The actual number on the payslip or the associated purchasing power?

But what exactly is the problem from the company’s perspective? While the concept of and need for fairness can be debated, there are more pragmatic concerns to be considered.

The security

According to their activity, companies need different levels of information security, some of which are incompatible with working from home. Trade secrets, confidential information that can affect the stock market, sensitive personal information that needs to be protected — all this data cannot be stored on employees' computers in their homes and rely on good faith to keep it safe.

The human part has always been the weakest link of information security.

Yes, we have firewalls and VPNs in place, but physical security plays an important role. It doesn’t matter how strong the encryption is if an unauthorized individual gets access to the computer. It can happen at any time: during a house party, a friend of a friend, a flatmate. Or even the employees themselves. Insider threats are more difficult to mitigate when they happen from the comfort and protection of one’s home. The human part has always been the weakest link of information security.

So no working from home?

I think a flexible schedule is a way to go. The possibility of remote working is an important perk when looking for a job, but so is a cool office.

Trust me, I used to be an engineer!

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