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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

The home office is not what it used to be. The first house I remember living in was a 1300 square foot post World War II bungalow with three bedrooms, one bathroom, a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, a wash porch, and a detached garage. We called the middle bedroom “Daddy’s den.” The massive desk faced a big wall map of the United States. Bookshelves were floor-to-ceiling around the room, with just enough wall space to display a framed bachelor’s and master’s degree. The desk had a small lamp, typewriter, and an index card file. (The Rolodex wasn’t invented until 1956). My brother and I were not allowed in without permission. To us it was a dark and mystic space.

Post 2020, the home office is in demand. In new homes, it is a designated workplace, usually near the front door. The home offices I’ve seen are well-lit and minimalist. The bulky desk is now a sleek tabletop with a computer monitor. It might face a window. The bookshelf, if there is one, holds a few books and a gadget or two. There might be framed degrees, certificates, or abstract artwork. One thing’s for sure: When I look at floor plans of new developments, I see a designated office and even more rooms with specific functions. One floor plan in Texas has an office, a game room, a media room, and a mud room.

New Texas home has a Home Office, Game Room, and Media Room (upstairs)

This pandemic came at a time when technology enabled many people to work from home. In March of 2020 both employee and company saw this as maybe lasting a few months before life went back to “normal.” Then came the variants–Delta and Omicron. As the central office opening was delayed, employees moved away from the expensive city centers and into areas where larger homes were affordable, but commuting can be 2-3 hours each way.

This week, an article in MarketWatch announced, “The Great Resistance is Here.” Two years after the initial change to telecommuting, employees are resisting spending more time at the office. Inflation has raised the price of commuting. There’s the price of gas and childcare to consider, not to mention dressing for the office and buying lunch. Employees are fighting back.

Recent News on the Hybrid Workforce

For example:

  1. Over 3,000 Apple employees signed an open letter to Apple executives pointing out, among other things, the irony of marketing products designed to make working from home more efficient, while the company pressures employees to come back to the office.
  2. Four out of five employees in the U.K. want to continue a hybrid home/office work schedule. The Bank of England admits it has to accept hybrid work as a permanent fixture.
  3. In a Bloomberg interview at Davos this week, Credit Suisse CEO Thomas Gottstein stated that it is “unrealistic” to expect employees to return to the office full-time.
  4. An article in the European Sting discusses some of the different models of hybrid work that are evolving. One model has employees going into the office 2 or 3 days a week on a set schedule. Some employers require employees to come into the office only for certain projects that require collaborative work. Others categorize each job as all-office, hybrid, or all from home. Employees on a hybrid schedule may need to reserve their desk for the times they will be in, rather than having a dedicated personal workspace at the office.

The hybrid workforce doesn’t just change the workplace. It changes the home as well. I think it may hasten the end of the “great room,” a concept that started in the late 1990’s with the idea of combining the kitchen, dining room, living room, and family room into one giant space. With the pandemic turning the home into an office, home school, gym, and entertainment center, the trend is toward more compartmentalization. Looking at floor plans of new houses I still see “great rooms,” but either they have an option to divide it up into a family room and separate dining room, or they’ve already divided it up, but kept the “great room” label. A family room by any other name . . .

With lots of options, the Great Room becomes a Family Room again. From Sommers Bend website, Temecula

Today’s Notable Headlines

Home Design: home office demand (not a nook). https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2022-05-20/covid-19-pandemic-home-house-design-how-it-is-changing/101077024

“The Great Resistance is here. Companies and employees are in a battle of wills over returning to the office,” May 24, 2022. MarketWatch. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/workers-dont-want-toys-or-free-food-they-want-a-higher-quality-of-life-the-great-resistance-is-here-companies-struggle-to-get-workers-back-to-the-office-11653281432

“Apple slammed over working from home policy in employee open letter,” iMore, May 3, 2022. https://www.imore.com/apple-slammed-over-working-home-policy-employee-open-letter

“Hybrid working grew in Great Britain even as Covid rules eased, data shows,” The Guardian, May 23, 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/may/23/hybrid-working-grew-in-great-britain-even-as-covid-rules-eased-data-shows

“Credit Suisse CEO calls a complete return to office ‘unrealistic,’ joining other European banks in embracing remote work,” Financial Times, May 23, 2022.https://fortune.com/2022/05/24/credit-suisse-ceo-thomas-gottstein-return-to-office-remote-work/

“Hybrid working is here to stay. But what does that mean in your office?,” The European Sting, May 25, 2022. https://europeansting.com/2021/05/25/hybrid-working-is-here-to-stay-but-what-does-that-mean-in-your-office/

Other Sources

Rotary Card, https://patents.google.com/patent/US2731966

“Thoughts on Office-Bound Work,” https://appletogether.org/hotnews/thoughts-on-office-bound-work

Why am I doing this?

The pandemic hit like a tsunami and the ripple effect will be felt for decades. World upheavals, deglobalization, housing shortages, the Great Resignation, supply chain disruptions–we’re navigating changes not entirely caused by the pandemic, but accelerated by it. Since March 11, 2020, this blog has examined the modern pandemic experience in the media and in everyday life, drawing on my experience as a medical technologist, a historian, and an ordinary person living through extraordinary times.

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