Roger Marolt: Trying to push fewer elevator buttons
We were in a jam work wise. We had outgrown our offices with a year and a half to go on our current lease. We were looking at new spaces to rent. We were negotiating with our landlord on expansion possibilities. We were considering buying new space.
Yes, we were desperate enough to entertain the economic unreality of ownership in this fantasyland of commercial real estate pricing.
It wasn’t a lighting bolt of inspiration or a light bulb going off in our heads that changed everything; it came from a virus. COVID-19 sent us home to work. And, a funny thing happened after a couple months of quarantine requirements were lifted and they said it was OK for us to go back: we didn’t (at least not completely.)
Prior to having no choice in the matter, I was a firm believer that my desk job could not be done effectively from a home office. This was in spite of my wife having done it well for years, as she took on the arrangement of raising kids in the same structure where she built her tax practice. She’s smarter than me. She’s better at focusing amid distractions. I was only a common man who needed the structure of a traditional office 45-minutes-of-rush-hour-traffic away where the modus operandi depended on a certain amount of shared stress to keep my juices flowing all day.
The transition wasn’t super easy. I might not even have made it, if it had not been mandated by state ordinance. I would dive down to my office in the basement with the best of intentions only to resurface in the kitchen for another snack or cup of coffee about every 20 minutes. I enjoyed this. Then I realized how far behind on my work I had gotten with this loose schedule. It was this — and the day I decided to wear pants that didn’t have a drawstring — that brought change. My favorite belt had seemingly lost a notch since the last time I’d cinched it and, come to mention it, my jeans felt like they’d shrunk, too.
Adjustments were made. Literally and figuratively, I buckled down. When I focused on being productive, I figured out that the hour and a half of commuting time I wasn’t doing any longer could effectively be used for fun stuff at the end of the workday. I didn’t need all the stupid 5-minute trips to the pantry to make it to 5 p.m. I could get things done and then go for a bike ride instead of sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
I am not going to lie and say that all the stress in my job went magically away. It stayed about the same. But, with what felt like an extra hour and a half added to the day, the amount of quality, personal time increased so the scale is more balanced.
In this forced experiment, we also learned that our employees liked working from home and our clients were happier to meet via electronic video transmissions and trade documents digitally. Who knew that pretty much everyone dreads our abundance of traffic and dearth of parking spaces in town and would rather avoid unnecessary trips, if possible?
All said, we still recognize the value of having people together in the office. Personal interaction seems the most effective means of building camaraderie, coordinating project plans, informally exchanging ideas and teaching. We don’t want to lose those opportunities.
We have considered all of this in our grand new experiment to avoid expanding our business’ penny loafer-print. We are going to try sharing offices between two people on alternating days while the officemate works from home. We’ll get rid of the one big desk in each office and put smaller ones in opposing diagonals so that each employee can personalize their own workspace. A small round table in the middle will serve for client meetings by simply turning both office chairs around to face the center. I think it will work. Our staff is eager to try.
I know more than a few office-centric businesses have had similar experiences and thoughts throughout the pandemic. There also are benefits for helping clean up the environment by reducing traffic and downtown congestion. Who knows? This revolution, if it is one, might even lessen stress on the local affordable housing program. I think the only thing I have to lose in this are the few extra pounds I’ve put on.
Roger Marolt knew there would be light at the end of the tunnel, but didn’t expect the turns inside of it. Email him at email@example.com.