All those empty offices

When it comes to discussing what to do with all the empty offices of today, there are several schools of thought of this.

The Executive’s Plea

The Executives at many companies plea for everyone to return to the office (RTO). Regardless of any new perks (carrots) or threats to fire/layoff those who do not RTO (sticks), many office buildings remain empty. How many quarterly losses will it take to realize most commercial office buildings are no longer needed for the number of people that are willing to RTO? How many egos will need to be checked before they offload most of this burden that was once considered an asset?

I keep telling employers if you want me to come to your office as a 100% virtual digital knowledge worker, I will resign.

Virtual employee and employer working from home

Over the past few years, many have learned how to work from home (WFH), regardless of who their employer happens to be. Many of the tools to do the work virtually have been there for years well before we took WFH seriously and even as a necessity.

The major exception involves work have to move physical objects as part of our daily work whereas virtual work is not possible: brick-and-mortar stores selling physical products including restaurants, hospitals, factories, warehouses, shipping, and delivery, etc.

Why are they happier?

More choices. Their own individual choices. Not choices made for them.

Ultimately, work wants work done. If you can get the work done virtually, it no longer matters where you are to get it done.

No more waiting for a meeting room. A scheduled meeting is 2 clicks away. An unscheduled meeting is 1 click away. Collaboration is virtual and more visual for clarity today.

The employee’s distress and employer’s disconnect

For those who long for the commute, time at the water cooler (mostly alone), the shared bathrooms, concessions, or a presumed sense of belonging by being in a shared office space or cubical farm, many of the offices still remain open today for you come to in and work just as you did at home. Once there, you may have plenty of space to reconnect via Teams or Zoom, with the rest of your local, regional, national, or global co-workers from your office desk. Maybe you will realize the difference between home and office as well as the advantages of each. Maybe you can list them both out and see for yourself.

Maybe you miss the printer, copier or fax machine. Maybe it missed you since it needs a good dusting. My printer went to the trash a few years ago and I have no reason to get a new one since I don’t print anything, even as a published author.

You might have a short-lived thought that being in the office is better than being in your workspace at home. This is likely nostalgic or a space issue. Maybe we had a few years to figure out a better way while working remotely and take those steps to improve our own workspace.

Maybe you are assuming you can impress someone by RTO, being the first one there or the last one to leave. Maybe you think someone will notice or care. Maybe you think it shows that you are dedicated while most don’t see you except on virtual video conferencing calls and through your own work results.

Maybe the technology is too complicated to connect when a scheduled event occurs. Maybe the employer never checked with employees to ask if anyone needed help with the “new” technology. Maybe the employees never spoke up to ask for help or seek it within the software’s help menu.

Maybe you miss the whiteboards. Maybe no one shared that this feature exists on virtual video conferencing calls, allowing remote collaboration among participants. These virtual whiteboards can be saved and shared after the call unlike physical dry erase boards that require a smartphone to capture and send at the end of the meeting.

Architect’s Dream

The architect’s dream is the present state: beautiful office buildings untouched by people.

Is it worth the expense of the art? Is the art of the office building dead yet?

The hard questions to answer

Are the intended purposes of a commercial office space overstated, outdated, or simply unnecessary at the present scale?

How will we continue to justify the commercial real estate burden for unused commercial office space year after year?

When will we do the hard thing, even when something was purpose-built for yesteryear, and stop ignoring the obvious next step? Dump it. The next question is how much do you need to keep if any? Keeping read

Since there is no compelling reason to RTO in order to do the work, why do employers need employees to RTO when they are happier and more efficient while they WFH?

Stop imposing.

Ask what everyone in the company wants to do (WFH, RTO, or a hybrid of both) and the obvious next step can happen from the results.

What do you think we should do with all those empty offices?

How do I: pick a space for deep work

Doing deep work like writing a book, or planning out the details of a new project can be some of the solitary work we face at some point. There are a number of factors that help you find or create the right space for your own deep work. See if these factors apply to you.

Work Space

You decide how much room you need to work. Working remotely has its advantages since a desk is optional. If it is just enough space to hold a drink and a laptop, go for it. Some prefer an airplane seat with that size table just for their laptop. If you need a massive table, seek one out or use the floor. Having a focus-friendly workspace is key.

I finished a book in a matter of a few days at an outdoor cafe where I was able to order breakfast, lunch, dinner, and limitless drinks since that was just what I needed for that amount of deep work in order to be more efficient.

Limiting Distraction

A door can (sometimes) keep with distractions with legs on the other side of it.

If a door is not an option, noise-canceling headphones reduce noise distractions.

Mentioning to people around you that uninterrupted time to focus on a deep work task for a scheduled period of time can be respected. After all, respect is either mutual or non-existent. Don’t forget to respect your own time when focusing. Do not waste your own time.

Seating

Having comfortable supportive seating is key. Nothing too hard or too soft. High enough so legs do not fall asleep. Not causing back or neck strain. Ergonomics is a domain that I won’t cover here beyond seating.

Standing desks can work for those brief “stand up” meetings if the standing desk option is used.

Some people believe having some discomfort may actually help motivate you to get the work done, however, I don’t believe suffering from bad seating or poor posture due to seating should not be part of that. Your neck and back will thank you if you pick a good ergonomic seating option for your workspace.

Lighting

Find a well-lit spot for work. Not too bright that you need sunglasses. Not too dark that you need a flashlight to see the details. The right amount of sunlight can be very beneficial to your state of mind.

Sound

Quiet is excellent, if obtainable. The white noise of a coffee shop is sometimes welcome, but not optimal. Sometimes I need to wear noise-canceling headphones or listen to music with no lyrics (that does not put me to sleep). Deep work is not sleeping, however, rest is very important.

Temperature and humidity

Regarding temperature, I noticed that I get significantly more productive when it is cooler, but not too cool. Above 55 degrees and under 82 degrees is my preference, especially when working outside.

The air should not be too humid or dry. The humidity of 50% to 60% can feel great.

Airflow

Air in motion is a big factor while in a deep work state. Stagnant air rarely helps deep work.

Well-ventilated area. An open window. A ceiling fan can be ideal whether indoors or outdoors.

A screened-in porch with a ceiling fan works well too at the right time of the day in the right weather.

Other factors?

What other factors help you find or create the right space for your own deep work?

Also, this book about Deep Work by Cal Newport could help too:

Tools I Use: speech to text

In the tool kit of accessibility functions most computers have today that I use often is speech to text.

Once enabled with a quick command, all you do is annunciate and the computer will write what it hears you say.

I have to emphasize that you do need to annunciate, not simply mumble what you say to the computer and expect it to understand what you say, including syntax. Period. Editing comes later anyhow.

Thanks to advances in speech recognition, speech-to-text works quite well now. If the speech recognition is trained on your voice and the way you say things based on a script you read to train it, the speech-to-text function can work even better. The best speech recognition tools can learn based on your edits and corrections.

In the past, I wrote about text to speech to save time reading/reviewing electronic documents and articles. Speech to text is just another productivity superpower you can use on a daily basis.

Most of us can speak rather than type since our hands are already quite occupied. This computer function can save you time and energy by potentially making you more productive like it does for me.

Do you use speech to text daily?

How do I: take notes

Since I listen to podcasts on my smartphone, I often listen and pause the podcast episode that just mentioned something worth noting, since memory fades for everyone. How do I take notes?

I open up my “note-taking” app on my smartphone which is as simple as emailing myself and/or someone else who would benefit from this note along with the podcast episode link (or the source of this information) and when I heard it (timecode in the podcast). I would rewind the podcast 15 seconds or more as needed and play that part a few times to be sure I wrote down the memorable points for the note to reference in the future.

The same applies to note-taking conference calls. Note major points or action items with who is responsible. If it is due by the next scheduled meeting, I would include assignments per name in the schedule calendar invite as long as they are smart assignment.

Beyond podcasts and meetings, if any ideas are worth noting because they have value to you as needed/wanted experience, inspiration and/or knowledge, then capture them for future reference. Those ideas can spawn more ideas in the future. If the ideas and points shared have no perceived value to you, don’t note them. Note-taking is a value judgment and not an ego stroke. If you follow the ABC methodology (Always Be Capturing), then purge periodically. Not everything has value.

Do I use paper? Nope. Paper will get lost, ignored, and is not transferable to others without writing/copying it again electronically. Twice the effort is not worth it. Instead, formulate an email that can have your notes in that email shared with all in the meeting by the end of the meeting. No doodling needed. That email may include images of any whiteboard (virtual or physical) annotated as seen or links to slide decks/images/videos shared.

If all your notes are not accessible to you at all times, portable at all times, and transferable from anywhere to anywhere, they have little value. Those recorded ideas can be as distant from you as your smartphone.

The idea behind note-taking is to make those ideas are available for future reference, not perfection. That future reference might be hours, days, weeks, months, or years later. Without such notes, all these fleeting ideas become forgotten details disappearing as fast as time today.

Things I Don’t Use: Paper

There have been a lot of efforts to become paperless over the past few decades. If a company has piles of people, that is hard to make it a paperless company you mandate being paperless unless you make it a chore to print anything.

If we can clearly display what might be printed on a large enough screen that is the first step. Users, readers, and reviewers of said content still need the ability to:

  • annotate
  • approve
  • assign
  • collaborate
  • edit
  • iterate
  • read
  • share
  • sign
  • view
  • write

on the content that could be printed but rather not today. And all of these actions can be achieved without printing anything by any number of productivity software suites we are all familiar with by Google, Microsoft, and others. Printing on paper makes little sense nowadays since it, by definition, limits the uses and viewability of the printed content. Again, if you want to limit its viewability, do not print it in the first place assuming the content is born-digital.

Unless the point of printing something is to reduce distribution today and/or limit royalties without the means to actually track its readership, printing on paper has no further purpose.

Print for work

I have worked with organizations that have at least 1.2 printers per person which only encourages printing. Most of the printing was done uselessly unless the print out was a project deliverable…instead of soft (digital) copy. Having printers next to you without getting up from your workspace promotes endless printing for senseless reasons. Remove the printers and remove the urge to print pretty quickly.

I have worked within very few companies that have no printers available anywhere unless you hunt for them, then get permission to output paper for some other (often useless) reason. The harder you make it to print anything that can just be seen or worked on a screen, the less likely anyone will print something.

Print to read

Some people think it is required to print something in order to read something once or maybe twice. We realize after that, the paper gets lost or trashed. Some print something to hand the paper to someone rather than sharing the content to that same person electronically. I have spoken to quite a few university professors that are guilty of this phenomenon.

Awareness

It has nothing to do with retention nor archiving because that grossly assumes organization and that this paper can be found quickly again for reference.

It is not a luxury to print on paper, but rather a selfish mindset to print uselessly. It is a point of awareness to not print at all. You don’t actually have to hold it in your hand in order to read, sign it or pass it on.

Signatures

No one (aside from maybe ourselves) pays any attention to our own signatures. Yes, that’s right. Physical signatures are useless.  Complete wastes of time. Authentication via e-signatures with the date, timestamp, IP address, and GPS location from where it was authenticated is much more specific than anyone’s handwriting will ever be. Courts of law accept e-signature far more than handwritten signatures. Why? Ever heard of forged signatures? You can literally draw anything instead of your own handwritten signature and no one will pay any attention to it today. Including your bank and your credit card company today. Same reason why many merchants don’t require any signatures for payment anymore. Signatures are a total waste of time and resources to supply the means to sign. Even printing receipts which are rarely kept and can not be archived since they are often printed on thermal paper where the writing fades after one year.

Some people print something in order to sign it, then scan the signed paper, only to email the scanned PDF to someone else. E-signatures resolve all this. All useless by today’s digital-first and remote-first work standard now for those who actually care about their workforce since their own work does require them to move anything physically.

Nostalgia

Already a distant memory. Forgotten for the same reasons as writing checks. If you remember writing checks as a means of payment, you likely remember what fun it is to stand in line as each person drafts a check from scratch as you wait and watch. Slow, cumbersome, and useless today.

Payment

Fraud not only led Europe to ban all checks years ago, while the US was getting chips on credit cards.  Contactless apps transfer funds faster anywhere in the world or locally down the street.

Handwriting

Remember all those handwriting lessons from elementary school? Well, they don’t even go to school anymore let alone learn to draw their own name with characters. Typing on a screen is the norm. My handwriting is illegible, just like a medical doctor’s handwriting. I will let you guess which one is more important to be clearly understood. Just another reason to get rid of handwriting altogether.

Why USe Paper?

So why use paper? Paper does not help to organize anything we do. We are clearly terrible at using it properly, storing it, archiving it or finding it again in an efficient and effective manner. We don’t need to use paper to read, write, collaborate, iterate, sign nor transfer its contents to anyone. I loath paper and avoid using it at any cost.

There is one use for paper products that may have a future unless we go back to older ways before toilet paper existed.