"Burning down parts of the city was one of the most popular solutions"
September 29, 2020 11:57 AM   Subscribe

Office vacancies worldwide are expected to peak at 15.6% in 2022. Office leasing is not expected to get back to "normal" until 2025. How does that affect... stuff?

Office plants (archive link) are still being maintained, mostly. Mold concerns are growing. Many people miss seeing other people, even if they don't miss being crammed into a too-small space with them.

The office concept, originally used by the East India Company, was always a little messed up (archive link). And the open office concept? The worst. Meanwhile co-working gig office villain/business WeWork is on its second CFO in six months.

What's changing? Malls which were already vacant are finding re-use in low-density spaces and last mile fulfilment micro-warehouses, even schools. Designers envision "the six feet office" to allow people to get back to the office. Others push for "contactless pathways" in buildings and a return to cubicles, walls, and partitions (maybe even cubes that move). The changes are both good and bad for people with accessibility needs, prompting big corporations to revisit how to maintain an accessible workplace.
posted by jessamyn (104 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
 
I just received invites to two events next year, one in spring, the other in summer 2021. Both are local/regional gigs, not requiring air travel. Each assumed it would be virtual. Neither mentioned an in-person option.
posted by doctornemo at 12:05 PM on September 29, 2020 [7 favorites]


I have been assuming an 18-month timeframe for "anything close to normal" since mid-March 2020. Now, honestly, if I were betting money on it, I would put it closer to 24 to 30 months =/
posted by andreaazure at 12:09 PM on September 29, 2020 [12 favorites]


All that space is waiting to be colonized for residences just like the loft spaces of the 90s.

I am really looking forward to visiting the first Bohemian-squatted dead shopping mall in a few years.
posted by ocschwar at 12:15 PM on September 29, 2020 [52 favorites]


Why the need to go in at all? Save the office space, convert it into residences. Everyone wins with larger, more affordable housing.
posted by geoff. at 12:22 PM on September 29, 2020 [23 favorites]


Exactly - I'd love to 'colonize' an upper-floor space in a disused Manhattan office tower, with floor-to-ceiling windows. Will these get cheap?
posted by Rash at 12:24 PM on September 29, 2020 [9 favorites]


there are two major problems with converting office to residential - sewage and daylight.

Office floorplates typically have the bathrooms ganged together in the core (it's cheaper that way, and office workers are used to communal and central bathrooms) whereas apartments have distributed facilities.

And office floorplates are deeper, because office workers have been used to a larger reliance on artificial light. Residential depths pretty much max out around 10m (32.5 feet) because anything deeper just basically doesn't get any daylight.

that being said, if office buildings become worth next-to-nothing in a depressed market, costly sewage retrofits and novel daylighting standards might pencil out for developers and speculators.
posted by turbowombat at 12:30 PM on September 29, 2020 [31 favorites]


Yes, I work in IT in our downtown and I don't think IT is ever going back to the office. Our whole company is spread across three buildings - we could consolidate into one.

Our city is looking for solutions to house the homeless before it gets too cold (thank god Covid set a fire under them to do this). I say, solution found. The city can buy or rent the empty buildings. I know it's not that simple, but winter is on our doorstep and we have accomplished so much in such little time with this pandemic. We can do this.
posted by kitcat at 12:31 PM on September 29, 2020 [9 favorites]


yeah, in a better world perhaps our cities would use eminent domain or some other mechanism to municipalize abandoned office space and convert it to a socially-positive use. And perhaps this may happen in Europe, but the history of social housing in the US suggests that it won't happen here...
posted by turbowombat at 12:33 PM on September 29, 2020


About 12 months ago, my company gave up its ~1500 sq. ft office in north London after the landlords wanted to hike the rent by 100%, and confessed they had no plans to improve the dreadful shared internet. The number of our staff in the office had been dwindling for years anyway, since we’d been hiring more remote developers, so it wasn’t hard to just rent a few co-working desks.

We did that for a few months, and while it was less hassle than maintaining an office, it wasn’t that cheap and it felt odd to be in an halfway house to being a 100% remote company. So, at the start of this year, we gave up the co-working desks and just had everyone working form home, and then maybe a month later the pandemic hit the UK.

The funny thing is, I’m actually missing seeing my colleagues, a number of whom have coincidentally moved to my home town on Edinburgh. I like zigging when everyone else is zagging so we’re on the lookout to rent a little place we can use for co-working during the day and a social hangout/events space during the evening...
posted by adrianhon at 12:35 PM on September 29, 2020 [17 favorites]


I really, really hate teleworking. It's so much easier for me to focus, get stuff done, and have a separate work/home life if I can physically go to work -- plus the bike/walk exercise, or time on transit to just relax and read, is huge factor in my mental health. There's a lot of justified criticism of "the office" as implemented, but for many people it serves a real need. I'm settling into the reality of "how do I make this work" for the foreseeable future. It has been a challenge.

Lloyd Center, once upon a time the happenin' mall place in Portland, has been dying for years. One of the wings has been slowly occupied by office space, and I think that's a great use for it. The whole structure is still too big to be sustainable in a footprint sense, and I doubt it's anywhere near where it needs to be in terms of modern seismic codes, but I'd be happy if it got slowly repurposed into mixed use.

My therapist says that on her local FB group, everyone's abandoning their offices. People will offer them up, trying to get out of a lease early, and there's just crickets. I'm expecting the vacancy rates will continue to climb as leases expire and no one has a need/ability to renew.
posted by curious nu at 12:36 PM on September 29, 2020 [23 favorites]


I suspect there's going to be a pendulum-swing that will eventually go back the other way, towards more physical co-location, but we probably haven't seen the pendulum swing all the way the other direction yet.

If teleworking continues to dominate, eventually some company is going to come up with the "novel" idea of having all its employees in one place, and since there are some real advantages of colocation (low-effort/low-friction 'water cooler' interactions, etc.) that might turn out to be a competitive advantage, and suddenly we'll be off to the races again.

Count me in as one of the people who thinks that living in a converted office, with high ceilings and lots of natural light (at least around the edges) would be pretty cool... but the problems retrofitting plumbing seem real. In some cases it's probably easier to do a teardown-and-rebuild and construct mixed-use space from the ground up than convert an office building, but that's probably not true in high-rise towers, so perhaps that's where the interesting conversions will happen.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:43 PM on September 29, 2020 [4 favorites]


time on transit to just relax and read, is huge factor in my mental health.

My workday and mental health have been so much better since I haven't started and ended it with 45-75 minutes of WMATA trying to kill me and giving me PTSD about the word "momentarily." I might have to be physically dragged back to an office. To each their own, though!

I agree about the work/life separation, and am thankful that my employer and client both took care to stress that we were not on duty 24/7 and to shut computers off and draw that line.
posted by stevis23 at 12:44 PM on September 29, 2020 [24 favorites]


there are two major problems with converting office to residential - sewage and daylight

This did not prevent the gentrification of the financial district from taking place, which has some of the best housing I've seen in Manhattan.
posted by geoff. at 12:50 PM on September 29, 2020 [7 favorites]


I've heard that in some communities with a sizeable Hispanic population, dying malls are often getting taken over and re-vamped to suit the Hispanic community, with more seating areas, a stage/community center space, and other cultural events.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:52 PM on September 29, 2020 [13 favorites]


When SFO's terminal 2 wasn't in use, some people used it as a soccer field.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:53 PM on September 29, 2020 [1 favorite]


Will these get cheap?

Yeah, instead of being $100/sqft triple net, you'll "only" have to pay $75.
posted by sideshow at 12:54 PM on September 29, 2020 [3 favorites]


I've learned through the grapevine (sorry) that some wonderful mystery person apparently watered my office plants enough to keep them alive while the office was completely shut down for months, and they've remained alive since then thanks to less mysterious but equally wonderful coworkers who aren't fully WFH like me. A bright spot in this bizarre year!
posted by randomnity at 12:56 PM on September 29, 2020 [15 favorites]


Experiments in turning office buildings into housing have not been successful: "It's like an open prison" . Those buildings are not well built to start with, even before you get to the problems turbowombat mentions above.

I'd rather get rid of the office buildings, recycle the materials, and rebuild real housing or real community resources like parks, youth centers, childcare facilities, schools, mental health clinics, club houses for elderly people, men's sheds...
posted by EllaEm at 12:59 PM on September 29, 2020 [14 favorites]


I'm "essential" and so have been in the office the whole time, but the bulk of our 25 story building has been vacant since March. It's been horrifying to see the sharp increase in the number of cockroaches since they aren't routinely being pushed out of spaces that were once occupied. We're adjacent to the building maintenance crew who has mentioned lots of problems with unused bathrooms drying out (letting sewer gas and other nasties out), as well as abandoned workspace kitchens being overrun with stuff that never got cleaned out in the haste to empty the building. Their job now entails going around empty spaces to check in on them and do the bare minimum to keep them occupied.
posted by msbutah at 1:01 PM on September 29, 2020 [8 favorites]


geoff -- agreed. But there were some other factors in play as well, and Lower Manhattan is a crazy edge-case outlier by any reasonable definition of the built environment...

Firstly, office real estate south of Chambers was basically worthless after September 11th. I started working on Park Place in October of 2005, and between grants from the city and rent deferrals, my employer was paying about $10/sf/yr for penthouse office space. There were similar grants given to residential developers - and the delta between their acquisition costs and the market rates for rentals and condos was eye-popping in most cases.

Secondly, apart from the Philippe Starck project on Water Street (the exact address escapes me) the majority of buildings converted were pre-war pre-air-conditioning buildings. Which meant shallower floorplates to facilitate natural ventilation, which in turn was better suited to residential conversion.
posted by turbowombat at 1:01 PM on September 29, 2020 [9 favorites]


The office is dead! Long live the office! I actually taught a design studio years ago about adaptive reuse of office towers into mixed use neighborhoods. Our local code has balcony requirements and other factors, aimed at maintaining a minimum level of habitability, that makes reuse complicated (but certainly not impossible). Another factor is that many of the towers built in the 60's and 70's are reaching end-of-life in their envelopes and mechanical systems, so there's actually some possibility for renewal as many owners are facing multimillion dollar reinvestment just to keep it as an office. However, realistically this probably wouldn't (and hasn't) happened without the property undergoing a change of hands as typically owners of Class-B towers don't have the deep pockets to enable that kind of renewal.

Amazon is now looking at repurposing dead shopping malls as delivery centers as they have large interior volumes, staging area, and good access to transportation infrastructure. In twenty years I'm expecting to see them announce a New Development in Retail - fulfillment centers with spaces you can use to browse, select, and take home the product of your choice!
posted by q*ben at 1:02 PM on September 29, 2020 [33 favorites]


there are two major problems with converting office to residential - sewage and daylight.

While the plumbing is being fixed, it's worth noting that multifamily residential uses ~3x the water of office -- the hot water boiler in an office building could never supply a building's worth of hot morning showers.

Here in Calgary, where entire A class office buildings were sitting empty (including one at 600K sq ft, 37 stories) the month before the pandemic started and office vacancy was 25% with residential vacancy at 4%, there has already been one conversion of a small office building to residential last year; it happens to be near me.

It was a perfect candidate; a small, aging class C building located a 15 minute walk from the downtown core but across the street from a supermarket. In addition to the plumbing, they had to redo a fair amount of the skin; putting in windows that opened, as well as vents (for the kitchen and dryer). Here's the rental site if you want a sense of the floorplans. They're not the standard that is typical on the market here, but I've seen weirder. This is a small building though; the bigger the floor plate, the harder it is to have decent units.
posted by Superilla at 1:04 PM on September 29, 2020 [12 favorites]


q*ben -- Amazon has certainly taken over the dead mall down the road from me. Acres of parking lot literally full of Prime-branded sprinter vans as far as the eye can see...
posted by turbowombat at 1:04 PM on September 29, 2020 [2 favorites]


My workday and mental health have been so much better since I haven't started and ended it with 45-75 minutes of WMATA trying to kill me and giving me PTSD about the word "momentarily." I might have to be physically dragged back to an office. To each their own, though!

For sure! My transit routes have always been pretty chill, and I know a lot of people don't have that experience.

My dad has worked from his home office nearly full time for.. 25 years? He's in IT, IBM mainframe support. It's his preferred way to work. Some of my coworkers are also completely happy to never go back to the office. I am intensely curious about what the key factors are in someone's psychology that makes them more or less happy in different work environments.
posted by curious nu at 1:05 PM on September 29, 2020 [1 favorite]


The lease for my office (which I haven't been to since March) is scheduled to expire sometime next year so we're actively looking in to what to do. I and many other people would prefer to stay working from home. Our productivity hasn't really dropped and the benefits of no commute/not buying lunch/better headspace far outweigh the need for a physical location. But the higher ups don't see it that way. They've talked about getting a smaller building and having people come in part-time and so on but I really think they're just stuck in the mindset that work is supposed to be done in an office. Some things (like training) do work better in person but for anyone who has been with the company a long time there's no reason to be there. Still I expect I'll have to go back sometime and I'm dreading it. It's backward. I don't care if the commercial real estate industry collapses. Good riddance.
posted by downtohisturtles at 1:07 PM on September 29, 2020


Empress: We have a large Chinese population in this area, and mall near us is slowly turning into a Chinese cultural center similarly to what’s in your link, but it’s been much more organic, with a Wushu studio and Asian clothing stores taking up unused storefronts over time.
posted by KGMoney at 1:09 PM on September 29, 2020 [6 favorites]


I've spent a lot of time over the past few months talking to my colleagues and peers about the "future of work" (tm) and for every positive inspirational anecdote about eliminating commutes or the emergence of flex-time for everyone there's at least one downright dystopian anecdote.

My favorite of these so far was from a large multi-national engineering firm who is anticipating that remote work will save them between $5-7M in FTE costs each year by eliminating their front desk staff.

Or another large firm which is removing salary enhancements for expensive cities because it's now "a choice" to live in the Bay Area or NYC.

The point is that there have been and will be many many breathless articles about the positives of this brave new world presented by those who stand to benefit from it -- but it's unlikely we will understand the hidden costs of these radical reconfigurations until much later.
posted by turbowombat at 1:13 PM on September 29, 2020 [11 favorites]


My dad has worked from his home office nearly full time for.. 25 years?

I'm just coming up to 15 years of working from home. I hope I can make it 25, then retire, because at this point I'd ditch my career before I'd commute to an office again.
posted by pipeski at 1:18 PM on September 29, 2020 [13 favorites]


I cannot at all relate to anyone who misses their public transit commute (I just dropped a few hundred dollars on winter cycling gear so I can avoid it year-round), but a friend of mine said that while he doesn't miss the actual experience of getting from home to office and back again he realizes now that it did at least provide him with time to mentally transition from Work to Home. Now, he just pushes his chair back from the desk and that's that...or it would be if there were clearly marked lines between Work Time and Home Time while he works from home, which there aren't.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:23 PM on September 29, 2020 [9 favorites]


I've heard that in some communities with a sizeable Hispanic population, dying malls are often getting taken over and re-vamped to suit the Hispanic community, with more seating areas, a stage/community center space, and other cultural events.

Near Atlanta, Plaza Fiesta is a great example of this. (Originally the Buford-Clairmont Mall - they really weren't trying too hard with the naming.) Here's a profile of it from the local NPR station.

I could go for some arepas, and my kid could probably go for some climbing on their giant jungle gym, but hanging around inside just doesn't feel right right now.
posted by madcaptenor at 1:28 PM on September 29, 2020 [3 favorites]


Now, he just pushes his chair back from the desk and that's that...or it would be if there were clearly marked lines between Work Time and Home Time while he works from home, which there aren't.

My kid is in day care and I find that going to pick her up and drop her off helps with that separation. (This is not a good reason to have a kid though.)
posted by madcaptenor at 1:31 PM on September 29, 2020 [6 favorites]


I am really looking forward to visiting the first Bohemian-squatted dead shopping mall in a few years.

I've just had a great idea of selling mall kiosks redesigned as tiny houses! DON'T TELL ANYONE.
posted by JanetLand at 1:45 PM on September 29, 2020 [14 favorites]


My separation ritual is going downstairs, feeding my dogs and then enjoying half an hour outside on the front lawn with my wife, my dogs, and a beer or other cold drink. It's been quite a nice way to end the work day.

It's hard to say for certain, but I feel like work from home will only feel nicer when the pandemic is over. Right now the hardest thing is that I miss "going out" and "seeing people", but if that's an option and I'm still allowed to work from home? I'll absolutely take it.

I'm not going stir-crazy, I'm just crawling with residual anxiety because of how the world is falling apart, and being in the office wouldn't help that.
posted by explosion at 1:48 PM on September 29, 2020 [16 favorites]


there are two major problems with converting office to residential - sewage and daylight.

Not sure about daylight, but some new urban housing is built around cost savings from communal kitchen and bathroom space, which seems amenable to the aggregated plumbing found in office space.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 1:49 PM on September 29, 2020 [1 favorite]


Experiments in turning office buildings into housing have not been successful: "It's like an open prison" . Those buildings are not well built to start with, even before you get to the problems turbowombat mentions above.

That seems like a grand statement:
Here are ones that have been successful, just in Baltimore:

Baltimore Office Conversions

I have personally rented in 2 different buildings that used to be offices. They were both fine.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:50 PM on September 29, 2020 [7 favorites]


Basically, office to residential (or hotel) are pretty common across the US.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:52 PM on September 29, 2020 [1 favorite]


> It's hard to say for certain, but I feel like work from home will only feel nicer when the pandemic is over. Right now the hardest thing is that I miss "going out" and "seeing people", but if that's an option and I'm still allowed to work from home? I'll absolutely take it.

Hear me out: "going out" and "seeing people," minus the "work" part.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:52 PM on September 29, 2020 [8 favorites]


Shifting from Work to Home in sixty seconds has been a piece of cake and intensely desirable as far as I'm concerned, but I did go through a period of intensely struggling with the lack of transition from Home to Work in the morning. I hate commutes of any duration, but came to realize a few weeks into COVID that my morning drive had helped way more than I'd realized in subconsciously shifting me into Work Mode and forcing me to get mentally organized for the day ahead. None of that came as easily when I just down at my computer and dove right into triaging emails and reading Slack messages and so on (and no, forcing myself into a brief walk around the block like so many WFH listicles advocate did not even begin to fulfill the same purpose). Just having that realization helped a lot, though.
posted by anderjen at 1:54 PM on September 29, 2020 [2 favorites]


It's hard to say for certain, but I feel like work from home will only feel nicer when the pandemic is over. Right now the hardest thing is that I miss "going out" and "seeing people", but if that's an option and I'm still allowed to work from home? I'll absolutely take it.

As a long-time WFH-er, can confirm. It's been irritating to have everyone assume that my life hasn't changed at all in the pandemic because I was already working from home...like, sure, but I also used to be allowed to have a life outside of work/home.

I don't really have a separation ritual so things all just blur together in an endless day that just ebbs and flows and sometimes is dark and sometimes is light? Probably not ideal. I used to try and end my work day with a run, but then I would always come home to more pings and more work and it was just extra annoying because I had mentally prepared to not-work, so now I just kind of call everything "awake time" and it contains...stuff.

To be clear, having an office would solve exactly none of this. Having a nation that wasn't in active collapse, though, that might.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:54 PM on September 29, 2020 [16 favorites]


Or another large firm which is removing salary enhancements for expensive cities because it's now "a choice" to live in the Bay Area or NYC.

As a WFH person for awhile now, the key to avoiding that is to pick Bay Area or NYC firms. I realize in a perfect world you shouldn't have to but that's always worked for me. Also if you don't have to commute in NYC it gets a lot more affordable when you're picking housing not convenient to public transportation. That might get into what's the point of living there territory, but if you're not rushed out the door to make a train the extra ten to fifteen minute walk is definitely not that bad except in the worst of winter or summer.

In any case smart firms know that NYC/Bay Area is more than a convenience and has a lot of networking opportunities not afforded elsewhere. Much like actors don't have an office to go into they still manage to end up in LA. Whether you want to consider a giant sprawl of LA with no need for a central business district as a good thing or not is a different subject matter altogether.
posted by geoff. at 2:04 PM on September 29, 2020 [1 favorite]


Morning separation ritual: Playing Animal Crossing for 15 minutes.
Evening separation ritual: Going for a 7K run.

I try very hard to encourage people in my company to have well-defined starts and ends to the day, while also ensuring they have the flexibility that life requires. Part of that is setting a good example myself – I don’t message or email anyone after I or they’ve finished work, and I also stay away from the group company Slack channels.

I won’t pretend we’re perfect but we’ve put a lot of effort into anticipating and reducing future spikes in work. Probably just as important is that we make games we sell directly to players, whereas in the past we used to work for clients and it was important to answer their emails at seemingly all hours of the day.
posted by adrianhon at 2:11 PM on September 29, 2020 [2 favorites]


I don't think WFH post-pandemic is going to get any traction. My office was starting to pay for travel again pre-pandemic; we have been quasi-WFH for many years (many full time) and they were consolidating to a limited number of areas with full-time back in the office. The bosses aren't really happy with data security with WFH, sales are in the toilet without face to face.

Also if you don't have to commute in NYC it gets a lot more affordable when you're picking housing not convenient to public transportation

Does it, assuming you still need to leave the house, or do you change the cost from an appreciating asset (your home) to a depreciating one (your car?).

I mean, in a world where commuting is no big deal and proximity doesn't matter, then NYC should be done and generica places like Orlando, Houston, and Salt Lake City will be even bigger winners because they have more room to spread.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:12 PM on September 29, 2020


Well if I'm in say, Bay Ridge, you don't need a car and you're 20 minutes from downtown NYC via ferry. I still don't need to own a car.
posted by geoff. at 2:15 PM on September 29, 2020 [3 favorites]


Office floorplates typically have the bathrooms ganged together in the core (it's cheaper that way, and office workers are used to communal and central bathrooms) whereas apartments have distributed facilities.


I’ll bet that enough renters in, say, NYC or San Francisco would be willing to share bathrooms in exchange for a more reasonable rent.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:16 PM on September 29, 2020 [5 favorites]


Playing Animal Crossing for 15 minutes
Are you trying to completely tank my workday? Flagged as Satan's productivity tips.
posted by q*ben at 2:18 PM on September 29, 2020 [13 favorites]


The office concept, originally used by the East India Company

I imagine the first boring office guy, striding up to ye olde cubickal and asking the occupant “pray tell, dost thou toil hard or hardly toil?”.
posted by dr_dank at 2:21 PM on September 29, 2020 [57 favorites]


q*ben: So I can find the daily DIY recipe bottle; get the in-house villager recipe; hit all the rocks; find the shining soil and plant a money tree; dig weeds; pick fallen branches; and check in at the shop – all in 15 minutes! It’s like a tube commute but more “productive”.
posted by adrianhon at 2:23 PM on September 29, 2020 [4 favorites]


Meanwhile, Legionnaires' disease likes unused buildings.
posted by trig at 2:25 PM on September 29, 2020 [6 favorites]


My last office was between two landfills: one with nuclear waste and the other on fire. I don't miss it.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 2:25 PM on September 29, 2020 [10 favorites]


I am checking my work e-mail from 4:00 AM until 10:00 PM. And this is progress?
posted by SPrintF at 2:40 PM on September 29, 2020 [2 favorites]


adrianhon, I'm now aware that my work habits and my gaming habits might share some affinity. My attempt would be "find the daily recipe... have I seen that tree before? wait, it's midnight."
posted by q*ben at 2:46 PM on September 29, 2020 [3 favorites]


I got the electricity bill for the working from home period I spend through the Australian winter. It’s pretty chunky. My boss paying for power is a solid pro-office argument.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 2:53 PM on September 29, 2020 [3 favorites]


That article about the East India Company inventing the office seems pretty eurocentric, at minimum, but this etymology is amazing:
Mary Beard, professor of classics at Cambridge University, notes that elite Romans strived to switch off as much as possible. “Our division between leisure and work is reversed in the Roman world. What we mostly do is work and, when we’re not working, we’re at leisure.” In Rome it was the other way round for the elite: “The normal state of play is otium, it’s leisure. And sometimes, you’re not at leisure, you’re doing business, which is negotium.” Though the English word “business” has an inbuilt aura of action and industry, the Latin neg-otium – literally “not leisure” – has an almost grudging sense of pleasure denied.
posted by trig at 2:58 PM on September 29, 2020 [39 favorites]


Haven't read this all yet but personally my pie-in-the-sky dream for abandoned office buildings is retrofitting them into urban greenhouses ... There's a lot of interlocking problems in the way of that, it's totally pie in the sky, but. Benefits incluse low skilled steady employment* for locals; fresh fruits and vegetables, not easy to come by in a city; those two factors could seriously enrich, say, a poverty level food desert neighborhood; and there's lower transportation costs, including carbon costs, financial costs, and the social cost of huge delivery trucks blocking up the street. And producing food without subjecting more wilderness to cultivation.

*Agricultural work is not unskilled labor, as much as people think it is, but even in a greenhouse it shouldn't require a college or even high school degree - just training. But also a side benefit of greenhouse work is that it should be steady like a factory - it's not seasonal like a farm and there's no need for fucked up shifts like in retail. There's the potential to treat labor with dignity.

Problems include the structural problems of just the sheer load of soil and water, that requires some specialized architecture. But that can be solved with plain old capital. More importantly there's a shortage of human capital wrt ag labor in the US, and a real lack of greenhouse expertise; and there are deep cultural attitudes towards farm labor, and cultural ideas about what belongs in a city. You have to justify why some potentially very expensive land is put towards a "lower-class" and materially low profit endeavor. You have to justify why that land isn't housing. Et cetera. I wish it was easier to incorporate ecology into cities, but it ain't.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 3:01 PM on September 29, 2020 [5 favorites]


Hello, I am the weirdo office lover. I miss the office so much. I had an office with a door that closed. I also have co-workers that I like a lot. I miss our giant printers. I miss having lunch with my work friends. I miss going down the hall to talk about a case with someone. I miss unlimited office supplies. I miss never doing work at home. I miss completely reliable internet that someone else pays for. I miss my desk and chair that don't hurt my back. I miss seeing people face to face.
posted by Mavri at 3:02 PM on September 29, 2020 [42 favorites]


As a person who moved into the city center specifically to avoid the horribleness of commuting, all this remote work is a negative. My coworkers are enjoying all their newfound time, their backyards, and their home offices. I get none of these things, plus all the negatives such as increased crime, taxes, and noise are just going to get worse as the recession drags on.

I also get a front-row seat on all the businesses that supported all those offices going belly-up.
posted by meowzilla at 3:03 PM on September 29, 2020 [12 favorites]


There are a bunch of office buildings converted to apartment buildings here in Downtown Pittsburgh. They're all pretty high-end, $1300 for a 1 bedroom, but they seem pretty nice.
posted by octothorpe at 3:12 PM on September 29, 2020


I don’t much miss my office, but a rare book and manuscript curator who can only look a pictures online is like a kid outside a candy store.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 3:18 PM on September 29, 2020 [10 favorites]


Also if you don't have to commute in NYC it gets a lot more affordable when you're picking housing not convenient to public transportation. That might get into what's the point of living there territory, but if you're not rushed out the door to make a train the extra ten to fifteen minute walk is definitely not that bad except in the worst of winter or summer.

The pandemic has definitely made clear a divide among my colleagues between people who live in NYC because it's where they live, either because they made an explicit choice, or it's just where they landed, and people who are only here because they see some "value proposition".
posted by hoyland at 3:30 PM on September 29, 2020 [7 favorites]


I manage a portfolio that includes almost every type of real estate except residential so keeping buildings running (tenants or not!) is my job.

I'm the person keeping the lights on, the trash collected (oh, how many times have I changed our trash pick up during the pandemic based on the ups and downs of who is open!), the sidewalks swept, the HVAC running, the elevators going, the garage doors working (thank god the garage door broke during the pandemic rather than when every business was open), the trees pruned, the landscape mowed, and the fire life safety systems operational.

We've had a lot of our tenants shut down permanently during this pandemic, but we've also had them extend leases and even some new retail tenants. That others are hopeful makes me feel a little better.
posted by vespabelle at 3:31 PM on September 29, 2020 [7 favorites]


My work just started a pilot program to bring people back into the office. They produced a slick video demonstrating what that would be like, including shots of the salad bars disappearing from the cafeteria, the coffee machines disappearing from break rooms, no more than two people at a time in elevators and stickers marking six feet apart on staircases.

Thousands of people work where I work. There aren’t many takers for this pilot program.
posted by emelenjr at 3:39 PM on September 29, 2020 [5 favorites]


(Rainbo Vagrant: something like Luca Locatelli’s The Future of Farming imaginings?)
posted by progosk at 3:39 PM on September 29, 2020


I deeply want some sort of hybrid model, but I just can't figure out how to make it work. I would love a situation where, say, everyone is in the office one or two days a week (and it has to be the same day for all, to get the benefits of in-person meetings, water cooler chat, etc. - if people come in on different days, then there will be some people you never see!). Then the rest of the week, office work is optional: those who need or prefer the office can come in, while those who prefer home can be home.

I'm someone who generally vastly prefers the WFH life, but I can acknowledge that some valuable things have been lost. This has dramatically decreased social interactions and network-building at work, not to mention the slower communication and what a headache meetings have become.

Unfortunately, I think my hybrid-model dream is a worst-of-both-worlds situation for a lot of people. (Having to have office space for the whole company but much of it sits unused most of the time... maintaining both a home and a work office... lugging computers around... etc.) Oh, well. That's my pie-in-the-sky dream.

Anyway, my biggest fear in going back to the office is the fridge. I'm scared of what could be going on in there. Do we just chuck the whole thing? I went in to the office in April to rescue some plants and other items and I thought about cleaning out the fridge, but I had no idea if the custodians were even taking out trash anymore. Better to contain the rot in the fridge than to let it all rot in the trash can.
posted by mandanza at 3:53 PM on September 29, 2020 [1 favorite]


My workday and mental health have been so much better since I haven't started and ended it with 45-75 minutes of WMATA trying to kill me and giving me PTSD about the word "momentarily." I might have to be physically dragged back to an office.

You and me both. Commuting in the DC area is a nightmare, riding Metro every day used to be by far the most stressful part of my day, much worse than my actual job. The whole experience is just exhausting, and that's with a 45-minute (without delays/fires) commute - I don't know how the real long-distance commuters do it.

I've been in the workforce almost 20 years and was never able to WFH before COVID (combo of job duties that couldn't be done remotely and very old-school employers) so the last six months have been a novel experience for me. And I've never been more happy, productive and stress-free. I know a lot of that is just my personality - I just cannot focus with the constant background chitchat in an office, and am not an extrovert who wants/needs water cooler conversations. Unfortunately I am not senior enough to have an office with a door.

Unfortunately my employer is already making noise about needing us back in the office, and are still moving forward with office relocation plans to cram in more contractors (which will move my team to a windowless basement with no cell service, oh joy). There does not seem to be much motivation to expand WFH options, despite the obvious cost savings. Hoping part-time WFH at least remains an option but I'm not holding my breath.
posted by photo guy at 4:10 PM on September 29, 2020 [5 favorites]


WFH has been mostly great for me, but it would be a lot better if my employer could make a decision about the future. Right now I'm in a less-ideal living situation, although better than some. Pandemic makes it worse because we have no outdoor space so I only see the outdoors maybe once a week to go to the grocery store [sidewalks are full of people many not wearing masks, so there's no real safe outdoor space and "real outdoors" is an hour drive away with no restrooms].

My ideal would be to move out of the city, but that means my employer has to commit to either allowing fulltime WFH or at least allowing "you only have to come in 1 or 2 days a week". The latter would allow me to move a lot further out, I'd be fine with a 2+ hour commute each way once or twice a week in exchange for a nice living situation. Fulltime WFH would open up even more options of course.

But right now it's "trapped inside 24/7 in a not-tiny but not-generous space with 2 people and 4 cats".
posted by thefoxgod at 4:25 PM on September 29, 2020 [5 favorites]


Having to go back to the office after months of working from home is my biggest fear.

Someday this war pandemic is gonna end.
posted by freakazoid at 4:27 PM on September 29, 2020 [6 favorites]


I gave up the lease on my small (3 employees including me) firm's office space in August, and I doubt I'm ever going back. The only situation I feel I would need to be in the same space with an employee would be training somebody with very little experience. I keep a strict work/not work distinction, and don't answer work emails or whatsapps after 7pm.
posted by signal at 4:40 PM on September 29, 2020 [1 favorite]


I like working from home, but I don't know whether I will continue to like working from home when I'm not in such a strange emotional place. What I don't like is that I'm subsidizing my employer by paying for internet, power, and all my technology. I also don't love that I've lost any separation between my personal technology and my work life. I'm a state employee, and it is literally illegal for me to use anything work-related for partisan political activities. So, for instance, I can't do anything political using my work email address or my work Zoom account. But every day I need to log in to my work Zoom account on my personal home computer. So if I forget to log out of my work Zoom account and into my personal Zoom account before I attend a political meeting, I'm literally committing a crime. Which is both infuriating and worrying, and it's not something I've had to worry about in the past, because I had a strict rule that I didn't use my home computer for work stuff. The only reason I'm ever on my work Zoom account on my personal home computer is that work expects me to subsidize them by providing a computer to work from home.

So basically, I wouldn't mind working from home if my employer assumed responsibility for all the things that they assume responsibility for at the office, like providing me with a computer and internet access and paying for any power that I use. But that's not how it works.

I do hope that this somehow kills off the open-plan office, because that is the worst idea ever and is good only for tormenting employees and encouraging sales of noise-cancelling headphones.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:46 PM on September 29, 2020 [12 favorites]


You and me both. Commuting in the DC area is a nightmare, riding Metro every day used to be by far the most stressful part of my day, much worse than my actual job. The whole experience is just exhausting, and that's with a 45-minute (without delays/fires) commute - I don't know how the real long-distance commuters do it.

Oh hell yes, same same same. I suppose I miss the exercise -- I had switched to entirely bike to work because it was literally faster than taking public transit, and considerably more pleasant. Yes, even in November. In the rain. And the wind. But even that was getting pretty awful, as my choices are Alaskan Way (where I got doored last summer and messed my hand up, and was regularly being passed with about four inches of air between me and the very impatient vehicle) or the bike lane on 2nd Ave (which is...fine, but uglier than Alaskan Way and also involves constantly dodging construction as far as I can tell?) I can go for a walk or a ride in the evenings/weekends/over lunch if I miss it so bad.

Maybe helping things was only being WFH 3 days a week even pre-pandemic. Mandanza, we had pretty much the exact good stuff/bad stuff trade-off you envision! My employer somewhat ameliorated that by renting a space that was way too small to hold us all comfortably. I don't recommend it. We just moved out of that space into one that's smaller and intended only to store some testing rigs that we need, and for the one person who lives near the (cheap, suburban) location to go in and work, as is his preference.

I don't want to say that my mental health is better, because, well, everything, but I'd been hoping this would be my last job where I ever had to go into an office, and I'm still hoping that. I adore WFH. I get so much done, I get to have a good cooked lunch, I can clean and do laundry and snuggle with the cats and lie down on my breaks and I feel so, so much more recharged. I'm pretty hard-core about having a work/life separation (and lucky that my employer encourages it!), with clear start/stop times. One thing that helps a lot -- I have a secretary-style desk, and although I work usually by roaming from spot to spot with a lapdesk and poor posture, at the end of the day everything gets put away and the desk put up, and that's that. It's lovely.

Anyway. I'm hoping that being a data analyst will mean a ton of WFH jobs, especially as I'm planning to move out of the city in a few years. Even if I wasn't, I am so, so excited for a future of no commuting, or blocking out the noise of an office or just...eurgh. Forward the new day!
posted by kalimac at 4:47 PM on September 29, 2020 [1 favorite]


As someone who has spent a lot of time both working at home and commuting to an office I personally much prefer working from home. I'm currently working for a WFH friendly subsidiary of a Fortune 500 that's historically been averse to full time WFH.

Having had everyone work from home for the last 6 months, I don't think my employer is going to ever expect everyone to go back in. They're already consolidating all of their San Francisco offices into one office, which is being completely redesigned to have a much smaller workforce on site. No permanent desks, etc. The same thing is happening in every other location. It feels like people are going to get the space to work if they need it (and I fully get that some people really need and want an office to work out of), but otherwise people may go in for meetings only post-COVID, with the option to go full time remote.

I've been planning on leaving the Bay Area for a while, and even with the drop in pay from moving out of it I think I come out ahead. I'll be able to afford an amount of land I could never get here, it'll be quiet, and my "commute" will be taking a walk on a few acres of land in the morning and evening.

I'm not going to criticize anyone's choice, what works for you works for you, I'm just extremely happy that the people who REALLY REALLY don't want a commute or to live in a crowded city anymore will finally have more chances to earn a living somewhere more rural. And I'm happy the people who enjoy their commute will one day get to return to it. I hope this is a lasting shift and we figure out how to get along better as mixed teams going forward.
posted by mikesch at 5:14 PM on September 29, 2020 [3 favorites]


I didn't mind my commute to DC via WMATA when I had a job in the city. Blue Line for one, Red Line for another. Then I got a job out in Reston and oof. Morning drives were okay, but in the evening contrary to what you'd think the traffic was always a standstill. The thing I was looking forward to was the Silver Line opening up another station to make taking the train feasible again. That's a reverse commute I could get behind.

I've been in my apartment pretty much 24/7 since March, but the getting up at 8:30 and being done at 5:00 with no lost time to a commute has spoiled me.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 5:18 PM on September 29, 2020 [1 favorite]


My division is pushing to have a "soft" reconstitution of the office starting next week. I am not inspired by this, as I do not trust all my coworkers to comply with social distancing and other public health measures while out of the office, regardless of how well they may behave while in the office.

So I doubt I'll be participating in it much, although I do rather miss the office. For one thing, I love to bake, and having an office to bring goodies to was useful. And the commute (as unpleasant as it sometimes was) did help me get my steps in every day.

On the other hand, I am getting an extra hour of sleep every night, which is vital, given how poorly I am sleeping because of election- and pandemic-related stress. Having the alarm go off at 6:30 AM instead of 5:30 is a lovely thing.

In any event, it's clear that at some point my employer will want everyone in the office at least occasionally -- they basically don't trust everyone to do their jobs without oversight. So I will have to get used to the idea, and invest in some good city-bicycling gear for the commute so I can avoid the bus.
posted by suelac at 5:29 PM on September 29, 2020 [2 favorites]


I also wanted to say that employers with boundary issues are not an inherent problem of WFH. An employer expecting you to check email from first thing in the morning until bedtime is a bad employer, it's not that you happen to be home and available. Plenty of employers respect personal time. I spend weeks on call where I'm available 24/7, but outside of those weeks if I get called on an issue it's because something major has come up and we help each other out. If I'm out of pocket at a particular time, it's not an issue. Even voluntarily working after hours on a project because you want to get it done is frowned upon because something has broken down somewhere if you feel you can't get it done between 8 and 5.

I also see a lot of people lamenting the loss of commute time to clear their head and get ready for the day. There's nothing preventing you from doing that. My commute to work involves letting the dog outside and going to the bakery to get a pastry. My commute home is sitting in a particular chair and reading a book for 30 minutes or so. Neither of those things require being crammed into a BART car that smells like an onion and diaper sandwich with 100 of my closest friends.
posted by mikesch at 5:32 PM on September 29, 2020 [8 favorites]


Or another large firm which is removing salary enhancements for expensive cities because it's now "a choice" to live in the Bay Area or NYC.

I have the "opposite" problem. I have folks in SFO saying they're moving to Colorado Springs or Phoenix or some ranch 50mi outside of Salt Lake City, but completely expect (indeed, demand) that we will continue to pay them 2x to 5x or more than local equivalent salary. Which, of course, leads our folks already in those places to ask when they are getting their 100-300 percent raises.
posted by kjs3 at 7:16 PM on September 29, 2020 [2 favorites]


In any case smart firms know that NYC/Bay Area is more than a convenience and has a lot of networking opportunities not afforded elsewhere.

The myth that the only place in the country where any business of value is done is NYC/SFO once again surfaces. Smart firms know that's not true.
posted by kjs3 at 7:20 PM on September 29, 2020 [1 favorite]


I manage a portfolio that includes almost every type of real estate except residential so keeping buildings running (tenants or not!) is my job.

My wife was in the same biz as you before the last time the economy took a giant dump on commercial real estate. You have my deepest sympathy.
posted by kjs3 at 7:23 PM on September 29, 2020 [1 favorite]


[Please note this is a post made as part of MeFi's Fundraising Month. Read more about this project here.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:28 PM on September 29, 2020 [2 favorites]


I am checking my work e-mail from 4:00 AM until 10:00 PM. And this is progress?

The first rule of WFH is don't do that. I think every video, article, training session, sidebar conversation and casual mention about the transition to WFH I've been subjected to starts with "set boundaries between work time and personal time". If you weren't accountable for checking email from 4am to 10pm before, don't allow it now.
posted by kjs3 at 7:29 PM on September 29, 2020 [8 favorites]


I don’t love working from home but I see it continuing for a fair while. If it really turns into a more permanent thing I’ll need to figure out a way to afford a larger place—what is comfortable for living is feeling cramped with working from home.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:34 PM on September 29, 2020


If I had an office with a door that shut, coworkers with whom I regularly had lunch, and reliable fast internet at the office. I'd miss it a lot more. As a long time WFH, what I miss is having the house to myself, quiet, able to spend a day patching and rebooting the router, take a shower when I want.
posted by wotsac at 8:50 PM on September 29, 2020 [5 favorites]


I'm really liking WFH! In terms of a work/life balance, I don't have much of a life so I would feel loser-ish and lonely staying at the office after everyone else had left, but now I can sit at my desk from 10AM to 8PM and only stop when I decide to.

One downside is that I started a new contract role at the beginning of this month and no one ever turns on their cameras in Zoom meetings! I've seen video/images of three out of my ten(?) coworkers, but even then only once or twice.

Another reason I hope to be able to continue WFH is that I discovered that four countries currently offer Americans remote work visas, Barbados, Bermuda, Estonia and Georgia. I researched them all and decided to move to Georgia if enough future uncertainties align to make it feasible.
posted by bendy at 10:00 PM on September 29, 2020 [3 favorites]


there are two major problems with converting office to residential - sewage and daylight

Easily solved. Carefully drill some holes in windows or outside wall, put open pipes on a slant through them, and hook 'em up to the waste water plumbing. If it worked for medieval cities, no reason it can't work now. And if we try it out in San Francisco, nobody will even notice the difference.
posted by happyroach at 12:14 AM on September 30, 2020 [2 favorites]


I would like to see apartment buildings and houses everywhere go mixed use for quiet stuff like offices. If you owned a suburban house with an office open to the street, you could use the office yourself or rent it to others. The daily commute for a lot of people should be a matter of people going about on foot or by bicycle from one house or apartment building to another nearby, maybe with a stop at a shop that someone opened on the ground floor of their own building. It would do good things for neighborhoods.

Let glass towers take care of themselves. If half of them aren't needed anymore, they'll be redesigned or replaced with something that makes better sense.
posted by pracowity at 1:57 AM on September 30, 2020 [2 favorites]


Hello, I am the weirdo office lover.

It's not just you. I actually really liked going in a lot. I had a pleasant five-minute walk down the hill to the tram stop, ten or fifteen minutes on the tram, and then a two-or-three-minute walk to my office from my work stop. The only thing I didn't like about the process was the walk back up the hill on the other end, but at least it all got me a little bit of daily exercise.

I miss my office. It's all the way at the top of the building and all the way in the back, so it's relatively quiet. I share it with only one other person, and we're separated from each other by four monitors, a huge array of house plants, and about ten feet of space. I sit right next to a window that lets in quite a bit of natural light. I've got a giant whiteboard behind me I can use to keep track of things I'm working on.

Speaking of monitors, I miss my giant ones. I've been working from a small laptop screen for the last six months, and it's been kind of hell on my eyes, reading glasses or no. I've got it up on a stand and I have an external mouse and keyboard, so it's not as bad as it could be, but still. Management is only just now making noises about letting me back in the building so I can retrieve one monitor, and they've finally agreed to paying for one of those adjustable monitor arms that you can clamp onto a desk. (My desk at home is too small for an additional screen.)

I miss seeing people. I miss seeing walls that aren't my home office's. I miss the tree outside my office window. I miss being able to just poke my head into one of the offices down the hall if I have a question or problem. I miss going to the pub on Fridays with my coworkers.

I am going not a little bit stir-crazy, is the short version.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 3:58 AM on September 30, 2020 [7 favorites]


What I don't like is that I'm subsidizing my employer by paying for internet, power, and all my technology.

Our electric bill is way up because we had to run AC all summer since we were home all day and the water and sewer bill too because of the extra toilet use. And there's coffee and snacks that the company supplied at the office but now I have to buy myself. I only had a ten minute commute when the office was open so I'm not saving much from working from home.
posted by octothorpe at 4:34 AM on September 30, 2020


I am DELIGHTED to work from home for basically ever if possible. I'll probably always need some in-person component as a lobbyist (although the Capitol complex has been closed since March and we're doing just fine so....maybe not? I hear more and more staff are going back in because the Members rely on the face time and walk and talks though), but every day? Nah, man. I can read the Federal Register and call people from anywhere. I don't need to get on Metro and deal with that nonsense every day.

I feel lucky that we bought a small house in a suburb last fall, so even though I despise home maintenance and having to walk further or drive to everything, having easier access to fresh air, some neighborhood parks and trails, and enough room for a desk for each of us and a proper chair - not in the room where we sleep - was a lifesaver. Having a real desk and real chair with a real external monitor, and decent headset, helped so much. I've saved money not buying coffee/lunch when I feel like it. And we don't have kids, so we aren't dealing with simultaneous Zoom school.

What I don't love are the pandemic specific parts everyone has mentioned. I worry about the businesses downtown. Work is around the clock, because my coworkers with kids are forced to work at 5 AM and 11PM and some of them are my bosses, so there's a certain expectation of responsiveness. The grinding anxiety and despair sucks. I miss casual conversation, but everyone is so OD'ed on video calls and dealing with childcare, so I almost never get to just talk to people I like without feeling like I'm imposing. I miss being able to bring in a tin of treats from whatever city I just went to a conference in. I miss GOING PLACES AND DOING THINGS AND SEEING PEOPLE. Like, if I could work from home but also sometimes hang out at the coffee shop or meet friends for drinks in the evening or do things around town on the weekends or go on vacation, that would be great! And I think would help with the burnout I've been experiencing. But the isolation and being trapped have been part of this whole package deal. I don't even feel good about walking to a cafe in the morning for coffee because it feels unnecessarily risky for everyone.

My company reopened its office on an extremely limited basis and about 20 percent of people went back so they could have real internet or get away from their families or leave the house for once, and I totally get it. But I don't think I will unless forced.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 5:33 AM on September 30, 2020 [5 favorites]


ArbitraryAndCapricious: "What I don't like is that I'm subsidizing my employer by paying for internet, power, and all my technology. "

I'm giving my employees a 12% covid bonus for this reason.
posted by signal at 6:07 AM on September 30, 2020 [12 favorites]


Converting offices to residential buildings in the UK is not turning out to be such a great idea. Less "spacious loft apartments", more "modern slum tenements".
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 6:18 AM on September 30, 2020 [1 favorite]


Our office in London was set to reopen this week - limited reopening, a couple of days a week with only a fraction of the desks in use. We had the "here's how it's all going to work" all-hands meeting the same day the government asked everyone to flip back to working from home if possible. One quick change of plans later, the office is not reopening until further notice.

I'm appreciating saving the 3-4 hours a day and £500 a month on the commute, I love not having to get up early and not having to care about the train timetable, and it's nice not having to spend any time in a carriage full of people coughing, sneezing or watching videos without headphones. And it's much easier to concentrate in the silence of my home than it ever was in our crowded office, and my desk here is bigger. But set against that, I've had a grand total of one hour of in-person social contact since early March, which can't be healthy; and without people around me encouraging me to step away from the computer and come for a drink, I've found it horribly easy to shift my working hours from 10-18:30 Mon-Fri to something more like 9-midnight Mon-Sun. Which definitely isn't healthy.

And there's plenty to miss in switching to full-time WFH. Workwise, I miss the ease of talking to the people I need to talk to, and being able to just bring them over to my desk to point at something on my screen. I miss the 5+ miles of walking I used to do every day (I've never been so inactive in my life), and my friends in the office, and having people to share my baking with. And surprise. Perhaps most of all, I miss surprise. The only surprises lurking for me within my house are bad ones (Surprise! There's a water leak! Surprise! The oven's stopped working!). Heading into and walking through London every day, I might find interesting plants or wildlife, or quirky new graffiti, or someone riding a penny-farthing, or a van with an amusing advertising slogan, or a great little cafe down an alley I'd never spotted before, or a poster advertising a film I really wanted to see, or something brilliant in a gallery window, or a fantastic view of the skyline.

I miss my weekday lunches too. People have been characterising the "go back to the office to support the businesses that need the footfall" stuff as "go back to the office in order to save Pret!" but London is full of little independent coffee shops, cafes and street food stalls, which I loved eating at, and they must be hurting so badly.

I'm perfectly OK with carrying on working from home full time until it feels safe to take a train again - and my employer is OK with that too; we've been told that if the office does reopen, nobody will be required to return until next year at the earliest - but I'll be sad if we never get to go back to the office at all. In an ideal future world, I'll get the choice.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 7:11 AM on September 30, 2020 [4 favorites]


Haven't read this all yet but personally my pie-in-the-sky dream for abandoned office buildings is retrofitting them into urban greenhouses

Like this one: It's not a retrofit, it was a new build, but it's green houses on what is basically the 3rd story of an office building.
Texas A&M Agrilife Extension college - Richardson TX
The google map is a shot under construction, but it looks pretty cool completed.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:16 AM on September 30, 2020 [1 favorite]


About 12 months ago, my company gave up its ~1500 sq. ft office in north London after the landlords wanted to hike the rent by 100%, and confessed they had no plans to improve the dreadful shared internet. The number of our staff in the office had been dwindling for years anyway, since we’d been hiring more remote developers, so it wasn’t hard to just rent a few co-working desks.

We did that for a few months, and while it was less hassle than maintaining an office, it wasn’t that cheap and it felt odd to be in an halfway house to being a 100% remote company. So, at the start of this year, we gave up the co-working desks and just had everyone working form home, and then maybe a month later the pandemic hit the UK.

The funny thing is, I’m actually missing seeing my colleagues, a number of whom have coincidentally moved to my home town on Edinburgh. I like zigging when everyone else is zagging so we’re on the lookout to rent a little place we can use for co-working during the day and a social hangout/events space during the evening...


We were looking at ditching our office near st pancras (used to be cheap but not now that Google has moved in) anyway earlier this year when we realised that at its busiest it was about 60% occupied. We've always had a culture that promoted working from home a few days a week anyway and many people came in one day a week on Thursday or Friday for meetings and after work pub.

None of us have been into an office since March and we're moving to a much smaller but much nicer office in The City which will just be for in-person meetings, talking to clients etc. I don't know if I'd like to be remote-only but I certainly don't intend to ever go back to lugging my laptop from my study at home to a desk in the office for the sole purpose of plugging it in and doing the exact same work there.
posted by atrazine at 7:35 AM on September 30, 2020 [1 favorite]


there are two major problems with converting office to residential - sewage and daylight

And yet... when there was a ton of loft space available after deindustrialization, people somehow found a way. Granted, the building stock was different, but people’s tastes have a way of changing. Was “warehouse chic” even a thing before the 60s/70s/80s?

I mean, everyone loves natural light, but if say you were getting a ton of space in exchange for less natural light, that might be worth it.

I deeply want some sort of hybrid model, but I just can't figure out how to make it work

I don’t see why this is so hard to imagine. Granted, I work in tech, so take this with a grain of salt — my viewpoint is very tech-centric. But a lot of the work my team does is fairly solitary. What we do miss is the ability to meet up in the same place and collaborate on something. A lifestyle where we work from home like 75% to 80% of the time, and then meet up in the office on an as-needed basis? That would be great!

Honestly right now the biggest issue at my specific workplace is oldschool upper management types who refuse to accept that remote work is the future (or at least the present) and are demanding that new remote employees relocate after the pandemic is over. Definitely not the direction the tech world is going in, and I sincerely fear for our ability to hire in a world where all the other companies are happy to let their employees live wherever they damn well please.

I’ve always thought the resistance to remote working (on the part of management) is symptomatic of poor/absent management skills. They say they doubt people can work effectively in a remote context — I think the truth is more that they have no clue how to manage remote workers, and they’re scared.
posted by panama joe at 8:43 AM on September 30, 2020 [2 favorites]


> Hello, I am the weirdo office lover. I miss the office so much. I had an office with a door that closed.

The 30+ favorites (including mine) suggest that you might not be as much of a weirdo as you think. In fact, I posted an Ask MeFi question several years back lamenting the decline of office buildings with actual offices in them, and asking if it was time to give up on my dream of finding another job with one. (The answer turned out to be "yes", as I was able to find almost everything I wanted in my new job except an office of my own, although the indefinite work from home for COVID has certainly softened the blow there.)

COVID is a global tragedy, and no amount of creative destruction can ever make up for that, but if it heightens the contradictions of how poorly we're using space in our cities and office buildings, well, that part won't be so bad.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:04 AM on September 30, 2020 [1 favorite]


A lifestyle where we work from home like 75% to 80% of the time, and then meet up in the office on an as-needed basis? That would be great!

Indeed...that's basically what I had pre-covid. I've had the WFH option for about 5 years now, and while I fully support it, I also feel it doesn't replace face-to-face time. I have a couple of folks that we're committed go-to-office folks, a few WFH only, but most people would come in once or twice a week. I would generally come in 1-3 half days from 10am-2pm or so to miss traffic (20m commute instead of 60-90). And the extended team knew we generally went to lunch on Friday together and one of us managers would often pick it up. Worked well.

Obviously, we can't do that now. Just like now I can't travel to be face-to-face with my non-local folks. It really sucks. I find that it's hard to build the same camaraderie with the folks who have joined the team post-covid, because they're a voice on the phone. Not sure how to fix that.
posted by kjs3 at 10:05 AM on September 30, 2020 [1 favorite]


Converting offices to residential buildings in the UK is not turning out to be such a great idea.

Terminus House; of course. I grew up in Harlow in the 70s/80s and even then it was a tired and grim office block, hunched over a multistory car park, accessible from the town center only by a concrete walkway over the bus station. Surprises me not one little bit that it became a grim tower block. It should have been demolished, not repurposed.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 10:38 AM on September 30, 2020 [1 favorite]


Pleasantly surprised that this has turned into a WHF chatter thread.

I mostly work from home and have since I started working for MeFi. However some of what I do is travel to libraries or travel to places and give public talks. That is 100% over for now (which is mostly fine) but it's caused me to have to get sort of creative in how I bound my time. Previously, I would leave town every few weeks which always gave me some new impetus to do some of my irregular "Hey clean up the house so it's nice when you get back" work, and clean my clothes and car for the same reason. I've got a stable desktop computer and an office in the living room and I live alone so that has mostly worked for me.

And yet! The camaraderie of the people I would meet in the places I would go, either talking to local librarians or talking to people who came to my talks, and the sort of happenstance interactions of running into someone at a conference (I'd go to between 4-8 a year usually) is something that has really affected my professional with-it-ness, and I feel that absence acutely.

I've always kind of idealized having an office, a place where I could keep my work books and my home books separate. A place where I wasn't wandering in to sit at my computer with something from the kitchen. A place where I could hang diplomas on the walls and have a picture of my partner on my desk the way he has one of me on his. A place that I worked so that home was more for not-work. And yet! I am temperamentally unsuited to an office--loud noises disturb me, other people's boundaries around workplace discussions are exhausting for me to navigate, I HATE GETTING DRESSED, and cleaning and dressing myself "professionally" even moreso. It's been really interesting for me to read about people's thoughts about offices, thanks for sharing them.
posted by jessamyn at 10:43 AM on September 30, 2020 [4 favorites]


As a freelancer, I miss working in coffee shops soooo much. Not just getting out of the house, but being around other people and not having to interact with them unless you want to is the perfect daily sociability balance for my personality. It's such a relief that some have reopened in Portland with outdoor seating. Dreading the arrival of winter.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:47 AM on September 30, 2020 [3 favorites]


I am about to join the WFH community for a month - albeit not from Covid, but because I broke my knee a couple days ago, and my commute involves a five-block walk and the four flights of stairs down from and back up to my apartment, which will suck on a knee recovering from surgery.

Fortunately (blessedly) my boss was expecting that would be the case, and he was actually in a meeting with the head of our IT department when I called him with an update so he just turned to him and said "Hey Frank, can we run EC over her laptop and maybe a monitor to set her up for this?"

I'm pretty isolated as it is - I'm the assistant to the Chief of Staff at my company, and the bulk of my job consists of keeping him on time for his various appointments and occasionally taking meeting minutes and doing his expenses; I somehow ended up with my own office, and so I've sort of been chillin' in there.

Where to PUT my temporary set up will be the biggest challenge, as it will need to allow for me to have one leg stuck out straight in front of me and there are few places in the apartment that would allow for that. I may just have to perch everything on a TV tray in my bedroom.

It'll cut down on sartorial concerns, but so will "holy crap I can only wear pants that fit over a leg brace".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:58 AM on September 30, 2020


We were looking at ditching our office near st pancras

Ha, small world; we were also edged out of an office near St Pancras by rising rents. Thanks, Google.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 1:54 PM on September 30, 2020


Not just getting out of the house, but being around other people and not having to interact with them unless you want to is the perfect daily sociability balance for my personality.

YES THIS EXACTLY, I miss just being in public, basically. I don't wanna have conversations, and I especially don't want to have them about work. But I miss that thing where you remember that there are other people in the world.

I recently moved into a large courtyard building, which in the Before Times I would never have done -- and in part it's just so that I look out and see other peoples' lit-up windows, their flower arrangements and cats. Sometimes I hear snippets of other conversations, or music, or TV. Previously I would have considered this all a downside but now it just reminds me that humans exist.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:28 PM on September 30, 2020 [4 favorites]


I miss just being in public, basically.

Yes, I would like to be able to go back to sitting in a cafe, inside or out, and watching the people go by without worrying about whether they are going to kill me.

But I don't miss the office.
posted by pracowity at 2:37 AM on October 1, 2020 [2 favorites]


My team vacated the office early in March after a group chat about what we were hearing from friends and family in Europe and Asia...we were in the middle of a conference call with management about how they were 'monitoring the situation', and it was 'business as usual' until further notice. We were packed and in a van before the call ended.
Based on the messaging from our execs, we'll likely be home for a full year before there's any kind of return to the office, and even then, it'll be strictly voluntary for most people.

I do miss a lot about the office socially, especially in the summer when we could round people up and get food truck lunches, etc. My team also has a real craft approach to documentation, meaning before the latest round of us joined, everything was in binders and passed on in drips and drabs as needed. We were starting to make some headway with wikis and knowledge transfer, but holy hell, getting anything done when we can't just turn the chair around and ask how to set up a new [X] card when there's already a [Y] in the [Z] switch is murder on productivity.

Our theories so far, based on what we parse out of the Management Oracle, and what similar organisations around us are doing, is that it'll likely be a mixed model in the long-term post-vaccine future. People would work fully from home, or fully from the office, but most will be some mix of the two, in proportions that work for the individuals and teams. Most of us would like to be in the office a few days a week, and we'd likely try to co-ordinate those.

We're also in a place with a climate that will literally kill you in the winter, though, so I suspect in-person attendance will nosedive once we hit -40 a few times.
posted by Kreiger at 7:40 AM on October 1, 2020 [1 favorite]


I think one factor (certainly far from the only one) behind differences in how effective people feel at the office vs. home is how their company was operating before COVID. My company has offices all over the world as well as a lot of remote employees, and the projects are not cleanly divided by geographical location. So even when our offices were fully operational, the idea of just walking down the hall to ask someone a question was largely a fiction for me. Every meeting involved people on Zoom or the phone, and most questions had to go over Slack or email to include people who aren't physically in the same place. So in terms of communication overhead, the transition to having the entire company at home was relatively minor. On the other hand, if people are used to having only a single office (or at least all of the people you work closely with in the same office), it's understandable why the transition is much harder.

During my career I have had jobs where I worked from home 100% of the time, jobs where I had my own private office, and jobs where I worked in an open floor plan, bullpen, and cubicle. They all have their pros and cons, and I don't think there's a single solution that will make everyone happy (well, almost everyone can agree on their hate of open floor plans). So I'm not expecting or hoping an outcome where every "office" job turns into a work from home job. But I do sincerely hope that this experience causes more employers to realize that many employees can be productive from home, and that there are benefits to letting them keep that arrangement.
posted by primethyme at 12:23 PM on October 1, 2020


My wife works for an org that moved all employees "who could" to WFH back in March for what was originally six weeks, before the term was extended and extended again. The latest WFH update was that the org hasn't just paused its transit benefit (who needs subsidized mass transit when they're not going anywhere) but is trying to figure out how to replace it with a more general subsidy that could be used for any sort of combination of commuter or WFH expenses. (I'd imagine the difficulty is that tax law hasn't quite caught up to the intent of such a thing).

We've got FIOS and really good wifi. When somebody recently tried to argue for a "command center" back at their office for some upcoming stuff, she had to point out that her network experience is better here than it was at her office. She misses her monitors but not enough to deal with the permissions and procedures required to go get them. We had one spare big monitor, but she had two at her office. (We also have a big iMac with its own second monitor, so when she really needs to spread out she just uses two computers at once).
posted by fedward at 7:06 PM on October 1, 2020


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