Home-cooked lunches and no commuting while we deal with coronavirus can’t compensate for what’s lost in creativity.
The author of this New York Times column argues working from home has more downsides than working in an office. As social creatures we need contact with others and work colleagues. (This is why the current social isolation measures are difficult for many.) In the 20th century, knowledge workers lived relatively close to their offices. But in the latter half of the century, the automobile and cheap fuel and a desire for suburban living resulted in their living in communities separated from their offices.
By the 21st century, metro transportation systems became overwhelmed by all the automobile commuting – the preferred way of getting to the office. Pushed beyond their design specs, commutes got more congested and longer — and sucked more and more time out of the lives of commuters. Adding more traffic lanes only kicked the proverbial can. The commutes are growing even longer as housing costs close to offices put them out of reach and send workers to the outlying metro areas in search of more affordable housing. And another thing humans need as well as socialization: contact with nature. The “rush hour?” Three hour daily round-trip commutes are not unheard of anymore.
The 20th century daily commute to office model is headed for obsolescence. We won’t be able to achieve a balance – and reduce the environmental impact of daily commute trips – by adhering to the 20th century model and the tyranny of time and distance that comes with it. A new model of performing knowledge work is needed that leverages information and communications technology instead of transportation to allow knowledge workers to exchange ideas as easily as they might by bumping into each other at the office. While at the same time providing opportunity for socializing with colleagues in person from time to time.