Friday, May 15, 2020

FT: "Lucy Kellaway: We will miss the office if it dies"

Following up on the post immediately below, "Real Estate: 'Manhattan Faces a Reckoning if Working From Home Becomes the Norm'".
From the Financial Times May 15:

As an FT columnist she skewered office culture — but, she argues, it is something to treasure
On my last day at the Financial Times in July 2017, the doorman who had greeted me every morning for the previous two decades enfolded me in a substantial embrace.
Take care Luce, he said.

I had been dry-eyed during the farewell speeches but this undid me. I pushed through the revolving doors for the last time, stood on the street outside and wept. What hurt so unexpectedly was not leaving a profession and a set of colleagues. It was leaving a physical place of work with its familiar habits and familiar doorman — it was leaving an office.

Offices, it seems, are now in mortal danger, rendered too expensive and too dangerous by Covid-19. For a quarter of a century, people have been confidently and wrongly predicting their demise — I remember Terence Conran telling me in the early 1990s that soon people would stop working in offices — but this time it may well be for real. If so, office workers everywhere should stand in the street and weep at what they are losing.

For 36 years I worked in an office, and for the last 25 I wrote about them. The office was a mainstay of my life. It not only provided me with a place of work and material for articles, but gave me routine, structure, amusement, purpose, many friends and a refuge in times of trouble. It was where I went to pass my days. The office was my rock.

I am well aware of the charges levelled at the office but am swayed by none of them. Offices are said to be inefficient, expensive temples to corporate vanity (which fell out of favour in 2008) and Petri dishes for pointless tasks. Workers commute to offices to use technology that they could use at home. The places are overcrowded, full of distractions, encourage presenteeism and, worst of all, infantilise workers with their bean bags and football tables. 
The water-cooler century
At first offices resembled factories;
later they became a second home.
The FT’s chief features writer Henry Mance
charts their rise and fall 
I used to be slightly sympathetic to the argument that in an office it is easy to waste a whole day in dull meetings. But now I don’t even accept this: the thought of sitting around a real table with real people — and some decent biscuits — discussing solvency ratios (or anything at all) seems pretty attractive from where I sit now.

My love for offices may be partly because I was introduced to them in the 1980s, at the end of the golden age — pre-technology, pre-uniformity, pre-health and safety. It was a time of cast-iron typewriters, smoking at your desk, heavy drinking at lunchtime, canteens selling spotted dick, tea ladies and cake trolleys.

But what I really remember are characters such as the high-functioning alcoholic in the dealing room at JPMorgan who started each day by taking a nip out of his hip flask and then applying a coat of liquid shoe-shine to his already shiny brown shoes....