“The Office” was a place where most people went to work their entire lives. If something had to be done, the employee would drag himself in early to complete the task or stay late to complete the mission. Those were the good old days.
One of my daughters hasn’t been to her office since a couple of years before Covid. Another of my kids has an office but works from his home or his country place a couple of times per week. One is a mother of a grade schooler and between she and her husband, one is always available to watch their sick kid or be around for school days off.
After spending my early working life in restaurants, it seemed almost a privilege to go to an office to toil. No extreme heat even in the summer because of air conditioning. No standing on your feet and working under at best stressful and chaotic conditions. For someone with blue collar roots, it was the envy of many of my family.
What was also true was the camaraderie of a shared work environment. Lunches with office mates and even better the boss while he (and in those days it was always he) mentored you. Your supervisor could see your perseverance and reward it with a salary increase or a promotion.
At first, my office was a short subway ride to Midtown Manhattan from my apartment downtown. Then as I became a homeowner, the trek took a bus and a subway.
Once I became a managing agent, I had properties in 4 boroughs, Long Island, Westchester, and New Jersey. Then I would drive my car to the subway, find a parking space, and hop on the subway to my office in Manhattan to be there by 7:00. I would usually leave about 1 pm, visit a few properties not in Manhattan and then head home about 6.
Eventually, I became a business owner and drove into the city to park in a ridiculously expensive garage. But that was success!
All work activities revolved around my centrally located office. There were rows of file cabinets with the building and individual tenant folders. The rent ledgers with the recorded deposits. And of course, the staff was a big part of my social interaction.
But sometime in the first half of the 1980s, word processing made its debut. Those early computers even had primitive math capabilities. I remember finally getting one in the house. I also had a dedicated fax line installed at home that doubled as a telephone for business. There was still no internet. Occasionally I would work from home. But the volume of files you would have to bring with you was large and something was always missing.
When I moved to Connecticut, I created a home office, and that’s where everything was. The internet had arrived and slowly everything migrated to the cloud. Bookkeeping, rent collections, leases, and communication. By the time I decided to live in Florida, I was virtual. Long distance phone charges had gone away. When I retired, the office was wherever I wanted it to be located. It was all within my reach because of the cell phone.
True even in those last few years, I still needed to visit properties, see people face to face, and occasionally wanted the opportunity to look at a wider world. The pandemic sped the evolution of office work from a centralized location to the home. It didn’t start the process, just accelerated it.
How we finally adapt to this amorphous work culture will be interesting. I know I lived through vast changes during my work life. The greatest fear I have is that the isolation fostered by remote work will be deleterious to society. It may breed more self-centeredness or reduce the idea of compromise because there is no need for accommodation of others.
Welcome to the world of isolation.