Are Offices Becoming Extinct?

Berkshire Hathaway held their annual meeting on Saturday- via live stream from an empty arena.  For the event, Warren Buffet put on a tie for the first time in seven weeks. During the four hours of the presentation, Mr. Buffet questioned the need for office space and predicted a significant change in the supply and demand.

This week, the Economist’s Catherine Nixey put it more bluntly in her article titled “Death of the Office.”  Even before the coronavirus hit, office space use was changing.  A combination of the digital revolution, increasing rents and increased demand for more flexibility had resulted in over half of the U.S. workforce working remotely, at least some of the time.  Across the globe, working from home (“WFH”) has been increasing as well.  Now, COVID-19 has dramatically accelerated the trend.

Ms. Nixey believes the first large push into offices was started by the East India Company (founded in 1600 and dissolved in 1874).  Their offices, inside of buildings featuring Palladian pillars and marble steps, were not simply to get work done, but also to demonstrate East India’s profitability, strength and efficiency.  Large organizations, like East India and governments, required a lot of “paper to be pushed” and managing proved easiest when all the workers were in one spot.  The Industrial Revolution (1760-1830) produced an explosion in business and a huge increase in demand for office workers.  New steam team trains brought needed office workers into the city to sit behind desks to fill the growing needs of the developing professions of finance, law and retail.

Mary Beard, professor classics at Cambridge, believes that the amount of time our generations have spent in offices would have been unheard of in earlier societies.  Today, most of us spend more time working than at leisure.  For the Romans, it was the opposite- primarily leisure and only sometimes business.  Romans didn’t need to go to an office. Their tablets and styluses were very portable and the Romans were able to spend much of their time outside and never behind a desk.

Fred Taylor, who pioneered time-and-motion studies in the 1890s, determined that workers performed best when seated at lines of desks with flat tops.  He is considered the father of the “open-plan office.”  Fast forward 130 years, and current time-and-motion studies have found that office work not only takes up the bulk of our time, but the best part of it; when we are most alert.  Furthermore, most managers have been spending at least 20 hours per week in meetings.

It’s no surprise that writers including Balzac, Dickens, Flaubert, Melville and Kafka have satirized the office and office workers.  T. S. Eliot, who once worked in a bank, saw of the crowds of commuters crossing London Bridge similar to Dante’s vision of hell: “I had not thought death had undone so many.”  Walt Whitman sneered of clerks as men “of minute leg, chalky face and hollow chest.”

In the last few decades, to make the experience of an office worker more palatable, changes have been made.  There are many different new designs-office buildings shaped like beehives, baskets, rocket ships, and fish.  Inside there may be ping pong tables and other amenities; many of them brightly colored.  Some companies provide free food.  Designer Thomas Heatherwick suggests that the office building needs to be an inspiring “temple in which to toil, places of beauty that we can admire, even love.”

Love may be going a little far, but there are some key advantages of going to the office.

Lucy Kellaway, who wrote a newspaper column about the “absurdities” of office life, has written about the “great artificiality” we embrace when we step into an office.  We become professionals.  That’s not exactly how it feels at home; particularly if the children are there, you are unshaven in sweat clothes and living in chaos. Ms. Kellaway says that “putting on our business clothes and going to the office allows us to become a different person.”

The escape to the office has been out of reach for many for almost two months.  Online encounters are fine and save driving time.  But, it’s not the same as being together in the office. The relationships and collaborations we have in person, whether with family, team members and clients, are different than those by phone or online.  Yes, humans need offices.  Certainly, there will be changes in how companies use offices, but working from home, for many, is not feeling quite as great as they thought it might be.

The situation reminds us of Mark Twain.  When asked by a reporter about his obituary which was mistakenly reported in a newspaper, Mr. Twain quipped: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”  No one can predict the future, yet it seems that while office space and use will continue to change, offices will not become extinct any time soon.

https://dwmgmt.com/

Zoom – A Saving Grace During the Covid-19 Crisis

When Social-Distancing was first announced, a lot of people did not take it seriously. As the weeks went on, and we headed into March, we realized this Covid Crisis was not letting up anytime soon. Businesses were panicking, schools were moving to online classes, vacations were cancelled, and families were not recommended to go visit each other. Here at DWM, we were devastated by the news that it would be safer for our clients not to walk through our doors, as we love having face-to-face relationships. We are quite familiar with webcam applications that let you video conference with people, as we have used one for years with our clients around the US, but Zoom came into our horizon at DWM at just the right moment!

Zoom is a leading application software that specializes in online meetings, video webinars, virtual conference rooms, phone systems, and cross-platform messaging with file sharing abilities. Their online meetings are quick and easy to access from any type of device; phone, ipad, computer, with simple applications for each that enable quick use. Their video webinar tool allows you to host up to 100 video participants with interactive capabilities with emojis and chat options. Zoom’s chat feature is available in any package. This makes collaboration easier during meetings by having a chat box where people can silently communicate and even ask questions to the host without interrupting. The chat feature is great for team communication and saves time by having all messages related to the topic in one place. For more information, please visit the Zoom website!

We are grateful to have already experienced great Zoom meetings with some clients here. The video quality is very clear and the voice quality is exceptional. When in a Zoom meeting, there is a section where a participant can share their screen, showing other members what is on their computer. This is really neat and helps when discussing documents all together, like we do here at DWM! We have pulled up investment documents on one screen, shared it to the meeting, and everyone is looking at the exact same picture, every scroll and every mouse change! In the chat box, you can also share files there to where everyone in the meeting has access of opening it up individually and personally looking at it, with the option of saving it straight to someone’s personal computer. This is an easy tool that saves time by not having to email documents to people, just drop them in the chat box! These feature have really made a difference in the efficiency of our tele-meetings here at DWM.

Here are the steps to having an amazing Zoom meeting…

  1. Be on the lookout for an email from us at DWM with the Zoom information. It will look something like this…

Join Zoom Meeting
https://zoom.us/j/756525649?pwd=ZlpYV29qWWVxVk1Wdk4zc2F2REZqZz0

Meeting ID: 756 525 649
Password: 274689
 

  1. From there you will click on the ‘https//Zoom.us’ and it will ask you to download and run the Zoom application.
  2. Once you have the application open, it should direct you straight to our Meeting, if not, enter in the ‘Meeting ID’ shown in the email.
  3. Enter in the password we provided
  4. Enable your microphone and video camera to utilize our Zoom meeting to the fullest.
  5. Enjoy face-to-face conversation!

We are aware of some articles released recently exposing Zoom for issues regarding customer service, data-mining strategies and intruders in meetings. Zoom’s customer service has been deemed almost useless as Zoom has grown over 1000% since mid-February. They are trying as hard as they can to post resources and FAQ’s on their website to tackle their booming clientele with limited employees, when hiring is on the backburner during COVID-19. Their data-mining strategies with Linkedin and Facebook put them underfire. Zoom was linking user’s names and emails so they were able to be found on Linkedin if you had the Sales Navigator premium Linkedin package (mostly used for sales prospecting) and also sent that information to Facebook. Zoom has disabled these features. Lastly, Zoom had a huge issue with hackers joining public Zoom meetings and posting inappropriate content on the screens and chat, also known as ‘Zoom-Bombing.’ Zoom created password protection on meetings and a ‘waiting room,’ where every user has to be admitted in by the host, to prevent that, after the FBI started investigating the issues. These are only some of the issues that Zoom has claimed and reacted to, click here to read a full statement by CEO Eric Yuan.

Here are some tips of what DWM does, and what you can do to help make your Zoom meeting as efficient and safe as possible…

  • Operate Zoom on trusted Wifi
  • Password Protect Zoom Meetings
  • Keep an eye out for unrecognizable people in the ‘Waiting Room’ area asking to join
  • Closely watch for new articles and news regarding tips, safety and even flaws
  • Limit confidential information in the chat section of a meeting

Millions of people have downloaded Zoom as Covid-19 has unfolded, for different uses. Local dance studios are teaching interactive classes over Zoom, colleges are maintaining that face-to-face interaction between student and teacher on Zoom, bands are hosting live concerts and people are doing home workouts and yoga classes with the guidance of their instructor. One of the best reasons for Zoom during social-distancing is being able to talk to multiple family members at once and all feeling connected regardless of being in separate spaces.

Here at DWM, we believe that Zoom is going to be a ‘Saving Grace’ for us to meet with clients during this crazy time. While we are aware of some of some of the security issues Zoom is currently working through, we are comfortable and excited to use it with our clients with the safety precautions mentioned above. If you are not comfortable with Zoom, a speaker phone meeting will also do the trick, but face-to-face meetings help keep that personal relationship we all desire and strive for, successful. We are looking forward to seeing our favorite, familiar faces over Zoom in the upcoming weeks. Stay safe, and stay healthy!

https://dwmgmt.com/