Thoughts
August 5, 2020

I Miss the Office, But it’s Not Time to Go Back

I’m an extrovert. I love seeing and interacting with people, it gives me energy and makes me a happier, more productive person to be together with others. I miss seeing my co-workers, my clients, my students, and these past 130-some-odd days have been tough.

But it’s not time to go back yet.

New York has been a bright spot since emerging from our darkest hour in the spring. Streets and parks are coming to life with New Yorkers exploring anew what lies beyond their doorstep. We have more bike lanes, more open streets, and more outdoor dining. It’s been a bit of a miracle, but we are still living with the gnawing, discomforting potential of another looming outbreak.

Magic can happen in shared spaces. Chance encounters can turn into lifelong relationships, ideas can self-assemble from their component parts living inside multiple heads, and we can better understand and empathize with each other when we can grasp the fullness of each other’s existence. I’m a big fan of the office, the classroom, the cafe, or whatever other room in which we gather to achieve things.

However, as we inch to re-open and some people are stepping back into their offices, I have to ask: why?

If we can’t share a conference room and if we need to put barriers between us, we lose the ability to collaborate freely. If we’re staggering members of different teams, then we lose the ability to pop-in to ask a question or chat over an idea. And if we’re forced to wear masks and sanitize everything constantly, we lose our sense of safety and security that is needed to bring our best to the workplace.

I understand that for many people, they don’t have a choice like this. If you work with the public, need access to specialized equipment, or need to take care of people or property, you’re forced to be either at work or out of work. But for those of us fortunate enough to have “laptop jobs,” which can be done from anywhere, we should stay home to help keep them safe. We help them, and our whole community, by lessening the load on our subways, streets, elevators, and sandwich spots.

Patience is wearing thin, and many people just want to get back to their normal life. I want to go back too. But we must wait, for right now we just can’t make an office a true workplace.

About the Author

Ben Guttmann ran a marketing agency for a long time, now he teaches digital marketing at Baruch College, has a book coming out in 2023, and works with some cool folks on other projects in-between all of that. He writes about writes about how we experience a world shaped by technology and humanity – and how we can build a better one.

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