March 17, 2020 was the day Hanson & Doremus officially moved online, everyone working from home. The big question was, could business still function without the office?
The reassuring answer was yes it could, business has continued quite seamlessly and mostly uninterrupted. In discussions with employees the consensus is that we are just as productive if not more so now than before. Smart phones, the internet, VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) and an office computer system that allows for very secure but remote access has meant no drop off in service. For meetings we have all learned how to use Teams, the secure Microsoft version of Zoom, and we have rediscovered the effectiveness and joy of the good old telephone.
What are the advantages of locked down home working? It cuts down significantly on commuting, up to 45 minutes each way for some. Dressing for success in the office takes time and dry-cleaning bills. ‘On the internet no one knows you are a dog’ is the old cartoon line. Similarly we do not need the ‘fashion police’ to see how employees are dressed now during business hours. A real time saver for everyone.
Working from home is for some a wonderfully quiet experience. It has been said there are two types of people: those who need to read something to believe it and those who need to hear and see. For those who are readers the quiet time at home now is a business blessing. Barton Biggs, the now deceased portfolio strategist at Morgan Stanley, was fond of saying, you do your best thinking when “you have time heavy on your hands.” You have that now.
On the other hand many miss the office for the social aspect, the hearing and seeing. It’s nice to see people and trade stories and ideas. And the office has ‘the goods.’ You don’t run out of supplies in the office as you do at home. The office also has the firepower of dual screens, a faster printer and a faster scanner. And maybe the biggest admin problem is the mail. It is now delivered off site to one employee who then has to coordinate who gets what and how. A lot of running around involved.
Working from home means you are at HOME. For employees with young children and with spouses also working from home, this means life is a true three-ring circus. As one employee said, I have never appreciated so much how hard teachers work. Trying to teach an elementary school child for just one hour is exhausting. And then you have to do your own work, cook dinner and break up the endless number of sibling entanglements! Surprisingly, however, employees feel they are sleeping better and exercising more now.
So what will Hanson & Doremus look like after the lockdown? It won’t be the old Normal. If present thinking continues, many of us will be working a little bit from home and a little bit at the office. On some days no more than half the staff may be in the office. All the work will get done and all the meetings will be held, just more flexibly. We think a lot of businesses will be working this way. Commercial landlords may suffer as companies need less space, but businesses will still be efficient and productive. Welcome to the New Normal.