How Has Your Workday Changed?

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It’s been a year. For twelve months we’ve been (or at least many of us have been) working from home. Even those fortunate enough (or unfortunate enough, depending on your perspective) to have returned to the office have discovered there’s no going back to what once was.

If you can take a moment (do you even have a moment anymore) to sit back and consider the evolution of work, it may strike you we’ve come full circle.

Skipping caveman times, let’s accelerate right up to what is known as the “Agricultural Economy.” You remember learning about that in school, don’t you? It existed pretty much from the dawn of civilization through the late nineteenth century. Families subsisted on what they grew. Everyone played a part in the family farm. It wasn’t quite 24/7, but it was sun-up-to-sun-down/7.

Mind you, at some point in the Middle Ages we saw the emergence of the trades. These were generally (but not always) itinerant folks who traveled from job to job, from town to town, from city to city. Like their food growing counterparts, they worked as long as the sun allowed them to.

As the marvels of machinery morphed into monstrous manufacturing mills, we saw the advent of the Industrial Economy. Once Thomas Edison successfully captured electricity, this age tried to go the 24/7 route, albeit in 3 shifts. Bowing to the Judeo-Christian norms of the time, it quickly conceded the most it could hope for was 24/5.

That changed everything. With the arrival of the 5-day work week came the birth of the weekend. This allowed for regularly scheduled leisure activities which eventually evolved into professional sports leagues. We could plan rest, we could plan recreation, heck, we could even plan (or at least hope for) a retirement the Agricultural Economy would never permit.

With these new lifestyles came a demand for not only new goods, but new services as well. Services depend less on factory space and more on office space; hence, the Industrial Economy gave way to the Office Economy. With that, the 24/5 work life morphed into the 9-to-5 we’ve long become accustomed to.

Here’s the thing about 9-to-5: By working shorter hours, some of those weekend activities could became evening activities (theater, dinner, etc…). Our leisure consumption therefore multiplied. This was especially true for those pursuits that let us relax, sit back, and enjoy the show. Books and periodicals, radio and records, as well as television and movies – in other words, the media business in general – exploded in popularity during the Office Economy.

After a century of rapidly consuming growth, the tail began to wag the dog. Increasingly, consumer demand shifted more and more of that office space once devoted to goods and services towards the creation of content; consequently, the Content Economy emerged from the cocoon of the Office Economy.

In the Content Economy, we slowly returned to 24/7. We remained somewhat shielded because we were still 9-to-5 in our office and could “turn it off” when the whistle blew at 5 o’clock. The barriers began to break, however, when social media took over our lives. We were at once content consumers and content creators. It was only a matter of time until…

Covid hit like a ton of bricks. We didn’t gradually move from the Office Economy to the Covid Economy. We quit the former cold turkey and immediately jumped in the deep end of the latter. We did not pass Go. We did not collect $200.

In the Covid Economy, we’re not at the office, the whistle doesn’t blow, and the only thing that doesn’t make us go non-stop 24/7 is sun-up-to-sun-down.

Everything old is new again.

And that might not be a bad thing – unless you happen to be in those travel and leisure industries that grew exponentially beginning with the Office Economy. I’ll explain.

A couple of weeks ago I had the honor to interview several high-ranking officials of the New York State Restaurant Association. You can imagine their tales. We see it all around our community. Favorite eateries have shuttered or are on the precipice. The same can be said of movie theaters and other gathering places. This is the situation across the nation, but more acute in states like New York that have adopted Draconian measures.

Contrast this with a recent Zoom call I had with someone working at a traditional office job. (Yes, “Zoom” et al is one of the changes that has become the new norm and will probably stay that way as I’ll outline in a moment.) This person hasn’t been to his office in a year. He’s been working at home… and loving it! He is watching his two young daughters grow up in a way that would have never been possible had he stayed office bound. Will he go back?

Will any of us go back?

As odd as it sounds, this new 24/7 has created an unexpected work-life balance benefit. We may be working through lunch or dinner, but we no longer have to waste time traveling – whether to the office or to various work-related meetings. While you may read of “Zoom fatigue,” it really has made our lives more efficient and has increased our productivity.

What’s the best evidence for this? You’ve probably already heard that people are moving out of New York City, but there’s a better indicator for the resiliency of the change wrought forth by the Covid Economy.

According to a survey recently published by the Wall Street Journal, pre-Covid in 2020, the top “preferred place to start a technology firm for long-term success was the San Francisco Bay Area (at 41.6%). In the 2021 “Covid Economy” the top place is now “Distributed or Remote Working From Day One” (at 42.1%). By comparison, San Francisco dropped to 28.4% in 2021 (it was the only city in double digits versus four in 2020) and Remote Work rose from 6% in 2020.

That’s a big change.

How can you benefit from it?

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