BOSTON (Project Syndicate) Last month, Twitter TWTR, -1.67% CEO Jack Dorsey announced that the company would allow its employees, currently working from home in accordance with social-distancing protocols, to stay there for good. Several other big businesses from Facebook FB, +1.26% to the French automaker PSA UG, -2.08% have followed suit with plans to keep far more employees at home after the COVID-19 crisis ends.
Rather than welcoming the death of the office, companies should be engineering its rebirth, in a form that strengthens its greatest asset: the ability to foster weak social bonds.
In a sense, the death of the office has been a long time coming. In the 1960s, American futurist Melvin Webber predicted that the world would reach a post-city age, in which it might be possible to locate on a mountain top and to maintain intimate, real-time, and realistic contact with business or other associates.
During the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, the rise of internet-based companies made that future seem closer than ever. As the British journalist Frances Cairncross put it in 1997, the internet meant the death of distance. Once distance doesnt matter, the logic goes, offices and, by extension, cities become irrelevant.
It may seem like we are reaching this point. From newscasters to office workers, jobs once thought to necessitate a shared workplace are being performed from home during the pandemic. And yet anyone who has been on a group Zoom call knows that, despite advances in communication technologies, engaging with colleagues remotely often remains far more difficult than meeting face to face.
The problem runs deeper than time lags or toddler interruptions.
As the sociologist Mark Granovetter argued in 1973, functioning societies are underpinned not only by strong ties (close relationships), but also by weak ties (casual acquaintances). Whereas strong ties tend to form dense, overlapping networks our close friends are often close friends with one another weak ties connect us to a larger and more diverse group of people.
By bridging different social circles, weak ties are more likely to connect us with new ideas and perspectives, challenging our preconceptions and fostering innovation and its diffusion. And while video-chatting or social media may help us to maintain our strong ties, it is unlikely to produce new ones, let alone connect us with as many people from outside our social circles: baristas, fellow train passengers, colleagues with whom we dont work directly, and so on.
An analysis of data from MIT students, professors, and administrators during the pandemic seems to bear this out. My colleagues and I built two models of the same communication network one showing interactions before the campus was closed, and the other showing interactions during the shutdown.
Initial results which will still need additional validation and peer review indicate that interactions are narrowing, with people exchanging more messages within a smaller pool of contacts. In short, existing strong ties are deepening, while weak ties falter.
We have the tools to stay connected from a mountaintop. Our challenge today is to leverage physical space so that we may regularly descend from our isolated summits.
Perhaps in the future, it will be possible to mimic physical serendipity and form weak ties online. But, for now, online platforms appear ill-equipped to do so.
On the contrary, they often actively filter out unknown individuals or opposing ideas a function that was fueling political polarization even before the pandemic. As a result, our lockdown-enforced social bubbles are increasingly opaque.
Shared physical spaces seem to be the only antidote to this fragmentation. Offices, which facilitate deeper interactions among diverse acquaintances, can be a particularly powerful corrective.
And yet demand for shared spaces seems unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels. Companies like Twitter that do not see productivity fall will be eager to lower overhead costs. As for employees, it was never going to take long to get used to living without long commutes, strict corporate schedules, and uncomfortable office attire.
This will have far-reaching implications. Even 10% reduction in demand for office space could cause property values to plummet. But while this would be bad news for developers, designers, and real-estate agents, it could also ease the economic pressures behind urban gentrification.
In any case, companies would be well-advised not to eschew offices entirely, both for their own sake new, innovative, and collaborative ideas are essential to success and for the wellbeing of the societies in which they operate. Instead, they can allow employees to stay home more often, while taking steps to ensure that the time people do spend in the office is conducive to establishing weak ties.
This could mean, for example, transforming traditional floor plans, designed to facilitate solitary task execution, into more open, dynamic spaces, which encourage the so-called cafeteria effect. (Nowhere is it easier to establish weak ties than while eating lunch in a cafeteria.)
More radical redesigns may follow, with designers finding ways to generate serendipity, such as through choreographed, event-based spaces.
The COVID-19 crisis has shown that we have the tools to stay connected from a mountaintop or our kitchen table, for that matter. Our challenge today is to leverage physical space so that we may regularly descend from our isolated summits. That means pursuing the rebirth of the office in a form that enhances its greatest asset: the ability to nurture all the ties that bind.
- FUTURIST: Our choices can save lives over the next six months - December 19th, 2020
- Ford futurist: 2020 brought more stress than ever but ... - December 19th, 2020
- This 'futurist-in-chief' says gaming could be bigger than the physical economy - CNN - December 19th, 2020
- Darwinism, Storytelling, and the Futurist ET Myth - Discovery Institute - December 19th, 2020
- Report: Electric Cars Could Be Cheaper Than Gas Ones in Just 2 Years - Futurism - December 19th, 2020
- SpaceX's Next Starship Prototype Could be Headed to Launch Pad on Thursday - Futurism - December 19th, 2020
- NASA Says It Will Fly a Canadian to the Moon - Futurism - December 19th, 2020
- Surgeons Who Operate on Their Birthday Appear to Kill Way More Patients - Futurism - December 19th, 2020
- Creator of Twin Peaks and Velvet Taco gets new CEO, new identity, new focus - Restaurant Business Online - December 19th, 2020
- These are the 5 most valuable skills to learn right now, says futuristand where to find free online courses - CNBC - November 7th, 2020
- Scientists Say They've Found the Missing 40 Percent of the Universe's Matter - Futurism - November 7th, 2020
- New Evidence: There Was Another Planet in the Solar System That Escaped - Futurism - November 7th, 2020
- Scientists Found a Way to Make Infrared Light Visible to Humans - Futurism - November 7th, 2020
- The Neo-Futurists: bringing theatre further into the future - North by Northwestern - November 7th, 2020
- Walmart Is Giving Up on Its Inventory Robots - Futurism - November 7th, 2020
- US Government Seizes $1 Billion in Silk Road Bitcoin - Futurism - November 7th, 2020
- Scientists in Japan Build Robot to Hold Hands With Lonely People - Futurism - November 7th, 2020
- MIT Algorithm Detects COVID-19 in the Sound of Your Cough - Futurism - November 7th, 2020
- If This COVID-Blocking Nasal Spray Works on Humans, It Could Change the Course of the Pandemic - Futurism - November 7th, 2020
- Amazon Patent Makes the Most Horrible Gamers Play With Each Other - Futurism - November 7th, 2020
- Starlink Beta Has Outperformed Most Internet in the US - Futurism - November 7th, 2020
- These are the Skills and Mindsets of the Leader of the Future - Entrepreneur - November 7th, 2020
- Our Soil is Poised To Release Billions of Tons of Carbon - Futurism - November 7th, 2020
- Martian Meteorites Show Red Planet Had Water Billions of Years Ago - Futurism - November 7th, 2020
- The Futurist art movement tried its hand at cooking, with unappetizing results - The A.V. Club - September 26th, 2020
- What could our lives be like in 2025? Futurists think Americans may eat, fly and go to school differently post-COVID - USA TODAY - September 26th, 2020
- Scientists Claim to Find First-Ever Planet in Another Galaxy - Futurism - September 26th, 2020
- Global Motorcycle Rental Market provides a futurist Forecast of the market growth in the post-COVID-19 scenario - Verdant News - September 26th, 2020
- Global Outsourced Semiconductor Assembly and Test (OSAT) Market provides a futurist Forecast of the market growth in the post-COVID-19 scenario -... - September 26th, 2020
- Earth Appears to Be Capturing a Tiny New Moon - Futurism - September 26th, 2020
- Global Floating Wind Turbines Market provides a futurist Forecast of the market growth in the post-COVID-19 scenario - The Daily Chronicle - September 26th, 2020
- Beijing motor show - Infiniti QX60 preview | Automotive Industry Analysis - just-auto.com - September 26th, 2020
- Life May Have Hopped From Earth to Venus on Asteroid, Scientists Say - Futurism - September 26th, 2020
- Tesla's "Plaid" Model S is Real and It's Fast as Hell - Futurism - September 26th, 2020
- Russia Wants to Be the First to Shoot a Movie In Space - Futurism - September 26th, 2020
- The International Space Station Had to Dodge a Piece of Space Junk Last Night - Futurism - September 26th, 2020
- The new concept from Great Wall was similar to the Volga - The Times Hub - September 26th, 2020
- NASA Is Heading to the Far Side of the Moon to Study the Ancient Universe - Futurism - September 26th, 2020
- Astronomers Spot Bits of Entirely Different Asteroid on Surface of Bennu - Futurism - September 26th, 2020
- Scientists Claim to Have Proved That Crows Have Conscious Experiences - Futurism - September 26th, 2020
- NASA and the US Space Force Are Officially Teaming Up - Futurism - September 26th, 2020
- Astronomers Discover "Pi Earth" Planet That Orbits Every 3.14 Days - Futurism - September 26th, 2020
- SETI Team Increases Number of Stars That Might Host Life by 200x - Futurism - September 4th, 2020
- Fauci: We Could Cut Trials Short and Give Out COVID Vaccine "Right Now" - Futurism - September 4th, 2020
- Chadwick Bosemans Wakanda: Afro-Futurism Is in the Present - Common Dreams - September 4th, 2020
- Scientists Are Running Out of Primates to Test Vaccines On - Futurism - September 4th, 2020
- What Goes Right and Wrong When We Predict a High-Tech Future - Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence - September 4th, 2020
- Futurist says coronavirus could last for years 'like the Great Depression' - Mirror Online - July 5th, 2020
- Climate Change Threatens 60 Percent of the World's Fish Species - Futurism - July 5th, 2020
- This Scientist Says He's Built a Jet Engine That Turns Electricity Directly Into Thrust - Futurism - July 5th, 2020
- One Particular Spot on Earth Is Getting Colder Instead of Hotter - Futurism - July 5th, 2020
- The Large Hadron Collider Just Discovered a Brand-New Particle - Futurism - July 5th, 2020
- Scientists Say They've Found the Exact Center of the Solar System - Futurism - July 5th, 2020
- When Futurism Meets With Disaster: Max Brooks' Devolution - tor.com - July 5th, 2020
- Extremely Dubious Scientist Believes There's Mushrooms and Lichen on Mars - Futurism - July 5th, 2020
- This Forest Fire Was So Huge, NASA Spotted It From Space - Futurism - July 5th, 2020
- 5 Ways Brands Can Take Meaningful Action During This Time - Forbes - July 5th, 2020
- NASA Invents Wearable That Scolds You For Touching Your Face - Futurism - July 5th, 2020
- Researchers Say You Can Improve Your Eyesight by Staring at This Specific Type of Light - Futurism - July 5th, 2020
- Even With Insurance, the COVID Drug Remdesivir Is Shockingly Expensive - Futurism - July 5th, 2020
- Augmented Human: 5 Times Ive Used Technology To Augment Myself - Forbes - July 5th, 2020
- A Giant Star Appears to Have Winked Out of Existence - Futurism - July 5th, 2020
- Introducing the Campus Technology Insider Podcast - Campus Technology - June 24th, 2020
- This is What Sunsets on Other Planets Would Look Like - Futurism - June 24th, 2020
- Astronomers May Have Discovered First-Ever Black Neutron Star - Futurism - June 24th, 2020
- NASA: Next Moon Astronauts Will Hike 10 Miles on Lunar Surface - Futurism - June 24th, 2020
- As fashion resets, its algorithms should too - Vogue Business - June 24th, 2020
- China Is Building a Genetic Database of Every Man in the Country - Futurism - June 24th, 2020
- The Death of the Open-Plan Office? Not Quite, but a Revolution is in the Air - Nextgov - June 24th, 2020
- Freestyle Acquires Divos!; Docs The Prison Within & Superhuman Find Homes; Random Media Takes Opus Of An Angel Film Deal Briefs - Deadline - June 24th, 2020
- Nicholas Mallis' Final Station, And More Music News and Gossip | Flagpole - Flagpole Magazine - June 24th, 2020
- Renewal Shows the Possibility of a Better World Post-Covid - Press Release - Digital Journal - June 24th, 2020
- Futurist site: Flamingo Land thanked for 'sticking with us'; remarketing the site 'would not be appropriate' says council's deputy leader - The... - June 20th, 2020
- How a global pandemic is changing the world: Part 1 - SmartBrief - June 20th, 2020
- Step into 2030: Join The Drum's futurist session to hear what the next decade holds - The Drum - June 13th, 2020
- This Flying Car Looks Like the DeLorean From "Back to the Future" - Futurism - June 13th, 2020
- Bad News: Another Deadly Virus Is Spreading in the US - Futurism - June 13th, 2020
- This Guy Accidentally Took a Photo That Crashes Android Smartphones - Futurism - June 13th, 2020
- Coronavirus live updates: Here's what to know in South Florida on June 12 - msnNOW - June 13th, 2020
- Scientists Claim the Universe Is Actually Flat - Futurism - June 13th, 2020