In Thursday’s op-ed, Merrill wrote that she had discussed the downsides of remote work with fellow chief executives and estimated that unofficial office duties such as “helping a colleague, mentoring more junior people, celebrating someone’s birthday — things that drive office culture” made up 20 percent of their work.
The public health restrictions that shut down centralized commuter offices (CCO) shone a spotlight on the high cost of maintaining an office-based culture. There’s the direct cost to knowledge organizations to keep all that brick, mortar and glass that house cube farms occupiable.
Then there’s the indirect commuting cost that has historically been externalized onto workers. The predominant management mindset pre-pandemic was staff chooses where they want to live. How far away that is from the office or how long it takes for them to get here Monday through Friday is not our problem.
But housing choice isn’t fully within the control of knowledge workers. High housing costs in metro cores have forced knowledge workers farther from them in search of affordable housing. That leads to longer commutes — borne directly by knowledge workers who sacrifice time that could otherwise be spent on health promoting activities such as exercise, sufficient sleep, and home prepared meals as well as in their communities and with their families.
Now that so many knowledge workers have been freed of these personal costs during the pandemic, their value has become very clear. They’re understandably reluctant to surrender the personal time they recovered. Particularly since their organizations have gone on functioning largely without the CCO for more than a year, thanks to advances in information and communications technology.