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The Office is Actually Alive and Well, Thanks

August 17, 2020

No, you’re right, the office is dead. Let us commence the funeral for our beloved spaces and replay the memories we’ve had there, bit by bit. The chats by the water cooler, the meetings in the conference room, the joys of seeing your colleagues as you enter the building, and the bad coffee. May the office rest in peace.

You stood up from your seat and looked down on the latest selfie you took with your boss, in front of the ergonomic chairs that saved your back many times. The tear-jerking photo is unbearable, but what is more unbearable is having to Zoom your meetings forever. Distanced by a flimsy screen, reality falls apart around you like a faint echo of “I think you’re breaking up” permeates your room. To think that we’re moving away from commuting to the same place every day... to not even walking more than a few steps to your desk, tapping away, and gleaning meaning from lines on a screen.

But technology is supposed to be good, right? Yes, it makes the impossible possible, but not when it sucks you into the matrix. What is home and what is work? When you’re working 24/7, unable to fall asleep on your used-to-be comfortable bed, congratulations, you’re now a lifeless insomniac. As we’re collectively waiting for this pandemic to pass, we are also collectively losing our strongly built relationships together. Teams are starting to fall apart when Johnny found out Sam hasn’t told him about his month-long marketing project. Emails are being ignored, text messages are being misread. Let the virtual war begin.

You shift briefly from the ever-increasing conversations on your chat window to reading news and articles online. A poll last month found that the majority of employees wanted to fuse offices and remote working together. Why haven’t people thought of that first, before letting "The office is dead" permeate the airwaves, and our feeds. Because when all of this is lifted, no one will want to work in something that’s declared dead. All they’ll do is be duty-bound to visit its grave with the engraving - “Beloved by all who knew them”.

Only those who know the benefits of having an office will come to visit. Did years of "who can create the best office" competition not mean anything? Tech behemoths have been upping their office spaces ever since Google's made it a thing. Look, they have a ping pong table - we need an indoor mini golf now. They have it jungle-themed? Tell Susan to turn ours into a petting zoo by tomorrow. It does help with employee wellness, you know?

Where's the spirit now?

Some people’s social lives, maybe even their sanity, depend on the office. Having somewhere to go for work increases your appreciation for home. As offices start to disappear, homebodies with hermit lifestyles increase. But what about the others, the majority who wasn't meant for that kind of life? We now have the luxury of online shopping, working from home, having things come to your door. So, don’t limit your mobility. Humans were not meant to shelter in one place forever. Don’t let your office die.

Nothing is truly black and white. Don’t polarize the decisions to either scrap the office or return to a maze of lifeless cubicles. There is a choice. It may actually be one of the few times when you can have your cake and eat it too.

“Eureka!”, you thought to yourself, as you reflect on how you've worked and how you could work for the foreseeable future. You rushed out the door with one sock missing and headed to the train station.

Indeed, the train is filled with socially distanced people, wearing the requisite face covering. Everyone is looking around cautiously, trying to gauge distances, maybe judging not so discreetly with their eyes. Long commutes are exhausting, and as of now, dangerous too. But you think to yourself, it's only this bad because of COVID-19, right? We did this before, not without frustration, of course, but without the added layer of existential dread.

Safety is of utmost importance. But we don't have to define the status quo just yet when the "future" takes various shapes with each passing day. Why should we give more power to something that has already been ruinous, taking a lot of the world as we knew it in the course it's charted?

Burying the office alive will be the actual cause of its death, because our access to it may have changed, but it was never dead in the first place. Being in flux never meant shuffling off this mortal coil.

You felt your station approaching while blasting “Stayin Alive” by the Bees Gees. You’re nodding your head to the beat as you’re trying to understand The New York Times’ effect on man.

“We can try to understand

The New York Times' effect on man

Whether you're a brother or whether you're a mother

You're stayin' alive, stayin' alive

Feel the city breakin' and everybody shakin'

And we're stayin' alive, stayin' alive” ♫♪♪

You arrive at your station and squeeze out of the closing doors just in time. Phew. Now up the stairs and swerve your way to get to that spot in the room that looks like you could work there for some time. The seat looks comfy, it's by a window, and it is unoccupied. You take out your laptop, waving at another human across the room as he glances up at his screen. You think, "Who said the office is dead?"

Life has changed, work has changed, but they also go on. The concept, the rituals, and the culture that came with the workplace, they're still there - we just have to envision and create them anew. We have more choice in that now.

Some may not need a special place to work, to lock in all your work stresses so you can exit it without weight on your shoulders. Some may prefer navigating the mixing of realities from their couch instead of from their cubicle. And some, really just find a workspace outside the home crucial to the professional path they want to pave. All of these can be called "heading to work." All of these can be our circumstance at any given day - and now we can choose.

Not many things can declare themselves alive and well, but you can count the office as one of them.

Related:   Coronavirus hasn’t marked the death of the office – it’s just a new beginning

                  ‘Death of the office’ exaggerated despite homeworking boom

                  Is it really the death of the office?

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