The office became a status symbol
It’s impossible to pinpoint the exact moment that the transition from white-collar to blue-collar jobs in terms of the respect afforded to workers doing them happened but that it did is not something can be disputed
White-collar jobs are seen as:
- jobs that are to be respected
- a sign that you are doing ok financially
- an indicator of your own personal self-worth
It didn’t matter that there were problems. At the time there were far less than there are now; office workers each had their own private office. Initially, it was the management of factories that had these spaces. They were a role that one should aspire to in order to escape the dangers of the factory floor.
It was the best option. Office workers kept all their fingers, didn’t risk death each time they stepped on the shop floor. The problem was that there were only a few of these roles available. They were reserved for senior people who had been at the company for a very long time and ownership.
As time progressed, automation advanced or manufacturing jobs were sent overseas, Western Economies became dominated by service-based jobs done by knowledge workers and the number of office jobs exploded. Now, for the most part, there are enough office jobs for everyone. As that has happened, the office evolved to become a worse place to work. Everyone having a private office gave way to cubicle working first. As the cost of Real Estate continued to escalate cubicles made way for open plan working. The office was designed as the optimum space to achieve issolation and focus to do deep work.
Now it’s not. In many ways, it is the worst.
The office has become a distraction factory where the instantaneous gratification of synchronous working makes it almost impossible to get any work done.
The number of meetings grows in a repeated attempt to make everyone look busy. The reality is, that in terms of the number of hours worked, office workers have never been so unproductive. What has masked this is technology which has made it easier to do more work more quickly. Now, that is a lot harder to prove, but anecdotally, anyone who has ever worked in an office knows this to be true. Whatever the estimates of productivity office workers know they are inflated.
Had the internet and technology evolved prior to the rise of office working the office would look very different. The reason it looks the way it does is because of the reasons above and the fact that the technology needed to work could only be placed locally within in an office as it’s criticality to getting work done grew. Now we have the tools to work wherever we want but remain tethered to the place that doing work become more difficult.
Two Bold Predictions:
- The office as the dominant location of work will end this decade
- A majority of the 255m desk jobs globally will be done remotely a majority of the time by 2029
The reasons for this are obvious. Remote work benefits both workers and companies.
Companies benefit through the reduction in real estate costs, the increase in retention and the ability to hire the best person on the planet to do a specific job rather than the best person they can afford within a 30-mile radius of the office.
Workers benefit from the increase of flexibility, to live in lower-cost regions and have a higher quality of life, rebalancing their life-work balance so that they can plan their work around their life rather than the other way round.
Those arguing against remote work are fighting a losing battle against improving conditions. The truth is that the office is great for a small number of people terrible for others. The excuses against it range from the criticality of the office to get work done — nonsense — to the fact that some people main social contact happens at the office — your office selecting the people you spend the most time with is a bad situation.
Change is hard and it can be scary for some people.
For remote work to increase:
- doesn’t have to be a silver bullet
- has to be better than office work
For it to become 10–100X more common than it is today companies going remote has to be 10X easier than it is right now.
Remote work will deliver the biggest quality of life gains over the next decade.