Like just about anything since the pandemic started, COVID-19 has changed the way corporations in America are thinking about office space. The corporate office has been a staple of business life for many Americans for roughly a century. Meetings in boring, dull conference rooms, sitting at a desk wedged in the corner of some nondescript office building for eight hours a day, commuting by train Monday throughFriday to get to said nondescript office building. These experiences have shaped the way corporations function on a day to day level forever, but that may be up for a change.
Since employees have been forced to move out of the office and on to Zoom because of the pandemic, companies have continued to realize that much of the same work that was done in the office could be done online. Employees are able to work with a more flexible schedule, which for some is a welcome sight. Not having to commute to the office five days a week means an increase in time spent with children, more opportunities to spend time at home with a significant other and a generally less stressful weekly schedule. Some may say that they would rather have it be how it was, arguing in favor of being able to work better in an office environment. There is certainly no denying that workplace comradery cannot be replaced with a few Zoom meetings. Leadership development amongst employees, those intangible social skills and interactions which ultimately can determine a company’s future, are skills built in an office space. Not to mention the impact having an office space with people in it makes on incoming employees. There are certainly sound points to be made on both sides of this argument with a solution somewhere in the middle.
As for what corporations themselves are interested in, downsizing office space and cutting costs will be the name of the game. Many economists have described the COVID-19
pandemic as being one of the worst economic recessions in human history. Several important industries which almost completely lost their business, such as travel and tourism, will look to cut down on the amount of office space they need in order to save face financially. Other industry sectors least affected, like technology and e-commerce, had already been moving in the progressive direction of giving employees the option not to come into the office. Seeing an opportunity to cut cost will only move companies like Twitter, who have already told employees they can work from home on a permanent basis, further in the direction of ridding themselves of office space. A receding economy has historically proven not to be the place for expansion in corporate America, rather it has been a time to find every possible way to cut budgets across the board.
The relative ease of working from home in conjunction with the dollars corporations can get back by downsizing their office space suggests a change is in the works. Outside of saving money on physical office space, there is less incentive for companies to send their employees all over the country and world to travel for meetings when they can meet potential clients, investors or other corporate interests online instead. The social determinants of change in this situation, money and convenience, far outweigh the social determinants of maintaining the status quo, to which there are few outside of pure want to be social with colleagues again and maybe to help groom future employees for leadership positions.
The American office space, a concept so dear to our hearts we have made entire television shows based around it, is not going away in its entirety. However, trends and data would urge the average worker to watch as corporations downsize what office space they have and encourage them to work where it is most profitable: at home.