What Took Remote Work So Long?
12/25/2022
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Merry Christmas!

Unfortunately, I don’t have any Christmas-related thoughts, so here’s an extremely orthogonal post about office work, real estate, and economic theory.

iSteve commenter prosa123 weighs in:

In one sense New York does not deserve all the blame for the current crisis. Remote work has been the Next New Thing for at least 20 years, back when it still was called telecommuting, but hadn’t become much more than a fringe movement. Then all of a sudden it became universal, and what’s more it has displayed much more staying power than anyone thought. Commuter train ridership in the NY Metro has been largely stuck for over a year at about 60% of normal levels, and keep in mind that by no means all of the riders are commuting to office jobs in Manhattan (evening and weekend ridership is actually higher than before Covid). As best anyone can tell office occupancy in Midtown is about 40% of 2019 levels, with the Financial District holding up a bit better.

San Francisco has actually been hit harder than New York by remote work, but at least it’s part of an economically dynamic state. New York State is economically a whole lot of nothing without the city.

It would be interesting to know for how many years remote work in white collar corporate offices was feasible enough to have been worth considering but tended to be ignored For Reasons? I participated in a lot of teleconferences in the early-to-mid-1990s, but found them unproductive and they failed to build camaraderie relative to in-person get-togethers.

For instance, in 1990s teleconferences, makeup for men was non-existent and lighting was poor relative to what we expected from watching celebrities and anchormen talk on TV, so we looked kind of dismal to each other in the 1990s, which is not a message you want your workers to take away from a teleconference with each other: what a bunch of ugly losers.

I think video cameras since then have made a lot of progress with filtering faces to make them look better. There has probably been a whole lot of subtle progress like this.

At some point between 1995 and 2020, remote work became technologically highly feasible, but the world didn’t much notice until it had to during the pandemic. And then suddenly within a few months in 2020, opinions around the world shifted widely to that remote work was more or less good enough.

In hindsight, it’s an interesting challenge to the Efficient Markets Theory: apparently, the remote work trillion dollar bill was lying on the sidewalk for a number of years between 1995 and 2020 and very few profit-driven organizations picked it up in any kind of enthusiastic way until the spring of 2020.

How come?

[Comment at Unz.com]

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