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 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
- SpaceX Trying to Figure Out How to Land Starship on the Moon - Futurism - June 13th, 2020
- Scientists Claim to Have Recreated Earth's First Life - Futurism - June 13th, 2020
- Collapsed Star Proves Another of Einstein's Theories - Futurism - June 13th, 2020
- Elon Musk: Teslas Semi Truck is Officially Going Into Production - Futurism - June 13th, 2020
- This Quasar Warps Itself Into a Ring by Distorting Spacetime - Futurism - June 13th, 2020
- Justice League: Who Is the DC Universe's Tony Stark? | CBR - CBR - Comic Book Resources - June 13th, 2020
- A Futurist's Advice on Navigating through the Technology Valley of Death - CEOWORLD magazine - June 13th, 2020
- A Futurist Explains What Emerging Jobs Will Be Necessary Post-Virus - Hit 107 - June 6th, 2020
- Experts: Protests Unlikely to Cause Huge Wave of COVID Cases - Futurism - June 6th, 2020
- After Explosion, SpaceX Still Hoping to Launch Starship This Year - Futurism - June 6th, 2020
- NASA InSight Lander Finally Manages to Bury Its Probe Into Mars - Futurism - June 6th, 2020
- Evidence Suggests That the Entire Early Universe Was Rotating - Futurism - June 6th, 2020
- Elon Musk Just Absolutely Roasted the Russian Space Program - Futurism - June 6th, 2020
- Study: More Than 500 Vertebrates Poised To Go Extinct - Futurism - June 6th, 2020
- Allison Fine Featured in The New Yorker - Philanthropy Women - June 6th, 2020
- MSN Fires Journalists, Replaces Them With AI - Futurism - June 6th, 2020
- What will design look like in 2030? We asked 3 futurists - Business of Home - June 1st, 2020
- Interstellar Visitor May Be One of Rarest Objects In Universe - Futurism - June 1st, 2020
- Vancouver Island's long road to recovery will have a few bumps - vancouverislandfreedaily.com - June 1st, 2020
- 5G Technology - The Cybersecurity Implications of Widespread - tripwire.com - June 1st, 2020
- Half the Visible Universe Was Missing. Scientists Just Found It. - Futurism - June 1st, 2020
- The New Reality: Future of shopping malls in jeopardy as COVID-19 pandemic pushes shoppers online - cjoy.com - June 1st, 2020
- Only One in Two Americans Say They'd Take a COVID-19 Vaccine - Futurism - June 1st, 2020
- Watch the Astronauts Give Their Kids Virtual Hugs Before Launch - Futurism - June 1st, 2020
- Changing face of Liverpool city centre and the shops we've lost along the way - Liverpool Echo - June 1st, 2020
- Folk's Jason Wilber Examines the World Through a Futurist Lens in 'Time Traveler' (album stream) - PopMatters - May 29th, 2020
- The Conversation: Beware of Unemployment Insurance Scammers - Hawaiipublicradio - May 29th, 2020
- The long road to recovery will have a few bumps Victoria News - Victoria News - May 29th, 2020
- The stakes have never been higher as America reopens. What can a post-coronavirus world look like? - USA TODAY - May 29th, 2020
- On the Futurist Cookbook - Apollo Magazine - May 14th, 2020
- UWO alumnus and renowned futurist: 'There has never been more opportunity to make a difference' - UW Oshkosh Today - May 14th, 2020
- What will the world look like after corona? - ISRAEL21c - May 14th, 2020
- US Officials: Chinese Hackers Are Targeting Vaccine Research - Futurism - May 14th, 2020
- Dock a SpaceX Spacecraft to the ISS in This Amazing Simulator - Futurism - May 14th, 2020
- WHO: The Coronavirus Might Be Here Forever - Futurism - May 14th, 2020
- Documentary Spaceship Earth resurrects stranger-than-fiction story of utopian Biosphere 2 experiment - ABC News - May 14th, 2020
- Scientists Have a Promising New Idea to Defeat the Coronavirus - Futurism - May 14th, 2020
- Fauci: Reopening Too Soon Could Lead to "Suffering and Death" - Futurism - May 14th, 2020
- Augmented reality giant Magic Leap is closing its Seattle office amid layoffs - GeekWire - May 14th, 2020
- How will you re-introduce your business to customers? - Trinidad Guardian - May 14th, 2020
- There's a Resurgence of Coronavirus Cases in China - Futurism - May 14th, 2020
- Futurism | Definition, Manifesto, Artists, & Facts ... - April 30th, 2020
- 7 Top Futurists Make Some Pretty Surprising Predictions ... - April 30th, 2020
- The White House Is Trying to Shut Down NASA's Last Mars Rover - Futurism - April 30th, 2020
- Free DNA Test Claims to Warn Whether COVID Is Likely to Kill You - Futurism - April 30th, 2020
- New Zealand Claims to Have Eliminated COVID-19 - Futurism - April 30th, 2020
- The Laws of Physics May Break Down at the Edge of the Universe - Futurism - April 30th, 2020