Where Is My Office?

Not necessary relevant for all authors, but certainly of interest to authors with day jobs.

From The Wall Street Journal:

For much of the past century, work has been a place where people went. For big organizations, a workplace meant “concrete, steel and glass monuments built to service commerce and Mammon; commanding the skyline of the modern cityscape and dominating the lives of the millions of people who work in them.” So observes corporate real-estate veteran Chris Kane in “Where Is My Office?” But now, he says, “the world of work is changing.” Office work especially is “no longer anchored in one place.” Indeed, he notes, work has become a thing that people do and not a place where people go.

So what is to become of those monuments to Mammon? And how about all those workers whose lives were dominated by them? Mr. Kane explores this question in his intriguing, if meandering, book on “reimagining the workplace for the 21st century.”

Much has been written on the future of work, mostly by management gurus. Mr. Kane comes at the question from a different angle, with a background in the property business—mostly, though not exclusively, in the U.K. He calls himself an “industry provocateur” who has spent his career persuading the people who finance and build offices to think about what their tenants will actually want. (Oddly enough, they don’t seem to want the “uninspiring spaces of beige, grey or off-white” that the industry delivers.) He has also helped large companies rethink their property portfolios, urging executives to see that property can be converted “from a cost centre into a value creator.” He observes that “a well-designed and well-run workplace has beneficial effects on the performance of its occupants.” They collaborate. They feel inspired. They don’t quit quite as quickly. Handled well, property can be a strategic tool.

. . . .

Mr. Kane is also keenly aware that many past attempts to rethink office life have resulted in ideas that are questionable at best: Witness seas of soul-deadening cubicles or the attempts to do away with assigned seating completely that ended up with much-hated “hot desking” policies—everyone has to fend for herself every morning to score a workable spot.

While noting that companies will want more flexible spaces to scale up and down and shorter leases, Mr. Kane wisely doesn’t endorse no-personal-space policies that seem unaware of human nature; nor does he recommend shrinking square-footage requirements to save money and then hoping for the best. He argues that smaller, fluid spaces can’t just be about cutting costs; they should be “about choice of how and where we work.”

The options include renting space in commercial co-working spaces such as WeWork and working from home—something companies were loath to allow in the past, since “many managers insist on being able to see their staff and have them physically present in the same office.” Managers fear that “no work gets done unless they can see their staff at their desks.” Mr. Kane is quick to argue against this fear, but 10 months into Covid, much of this debate seems moot.

The proportion of Americans who had ever worked from home doubled in the span of about two weeks in March 2020. There is every reason to think that, even if “normal” life returns, many companies will aim to keep at least part of their workforce away from central hubs and office towers and that many employees will refuse to endure commutes after a year or more of skipping them. To what effect? one wonders. While Mr. Kane refers to the pandemic from time to time, “Where Is My Office?” feels as if the bulk of the manuscript was written before this game-changer. He says that “the corporate sphere now needs to take a Darwinian approach—adapting and evolving in order to cope with uncertainty.” But the BBC’s new spaces were created with the idea that employees would show up at them more days than not. Now it’s unclear how many organizations really need a gleaming headquarters—no matter how well-designed the headquarters happen to be.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

PG has seen more than a few articles discussing how former office workers should set up and outfit their home work spaces. This type of information can also be helpful for any author who writes some or all of their work at home.

A short, non-comprehensive list for PG would include the following:

  1. A comfortable chair that won’t make you ache if you sit in it for several hours a day.
  2. A good keyboard.
    1. As a sidenote, at his mother’s wise insistence, PG took a typing class in high school and became the fastest and most-accurate typist in his class (it was a very small class).
    2. PG’s typing skills were valuable for him in college since he earned money by typing papers for other students at exorbitant prices because he could start typing a 20-page term paper at midnight and get it finished in plenty of time so the procrastinating student paying him could turn it in at 8:00 AM and PG could get some sleep before his own 8:00 AM class the next day.
  3. PG typed the answers to all of his law school exams (essay questions were standard) as well as the essay portions of his bar exams. Since he could type far faster than he could write (legibly or illegibly), PG could put a lot more of the extensive information he pretended to have in his head into these exams.
  4. While PG did a lot of dictating while he had a more typical law practice than he has now, he also did some typing on documents, or parts of documents, that required particular attention and detail that was not conducive to efficient dictation.
  5. When computers first came into law offices, PG bought the first computer for himself so he could amply explore its potential uses in his practice. Typing well meant he could experiment quickly. After this learning process, PG gave his computer to his secretary and provided suggestions about how she could use it efficiently (PG always hired the smartest secretaries he could find and paid them well so they stayed with him for a long time). Of course, PG bought the latest faster and more powerful computer available for himself to replace the one that migrated to his secretary’s desk. Whenever he bought a new computer, his secretary got the one he had used before that was typically about a year old, so everybody stayed up to date.
  6. This is a very long explanation of the basis upon which PG recommends a good keyboard for anyone who spends much time typing. The difference in cost between a good keyboard and a cheap one is relatively small. PG has used ergonomic keyboards for a long time because he finds them more comfortable and faster. Currently, he uses a wireless keyboard to reduce the substantial clutter on his desk a tiny bit. If you want to do all your writing in a coffee shop, you will want to use a laptop. For PG, however, the keyboard on laptop computers (he has owned and used many) are definitely second-rate. At times (like on an airplane), using a separate keyboard is not feasible. However, it’s not difficult to slide a small cordless keyboard into a canvas briefcase, backpack, carry-on bag, etc., so typing is better when your not on a plane or in an airport.
  7. For fellow keyboard nerds, yes, PG does miss the old Northgate keyboards with their lovely key-switches, but we all have to move on from tragic losses like that.

18 thoughts on “Where Is My Office?”

  1. From someone who’s been working from home for 25+ years, I’ll add another tip to PG’s list:
    X. Have a good, color-calibrated monitor screen.
    I work on an iMac (the biggest they make) and I’m continually changing my screen’s Brightness and Color settings depending on what I’m doing, how late it is, or how tired I am. It’s well-known that out-of-the-box computer screens are just too bright (and cold) for extended use and can lead to eye strain, among other ailments.

    So I use a colorimeter to create preset monitor profiles for different Brightness/Color settings (on a Mac it’s: System Preferences > Displays). Then I just do a quick switch to change the screen. If I’m editing photos or doing other color-critical work, I use one of my brighter 6500K settings. If I’m working on my writing for hours at a stretch (or late into the night), I’ll choose the much-warmer/darker 4000K setting. It gives me a cozy, warm-tinted screen where the whites end up a bit like the tan background behind this comment.

    Can you dig it?

  2. My office customization is the monitor:

    Because VESA mounts use a square pattern I can assemble (or reassemble) the monitor as a portrait display. Working in portrait makes the usable space a couple sizes bigger, especially for word processing and surfing. I don’t do video in the office so that is no issue. I also increase the screen metrics to 150 dpi or higher so I can sit at the ergonomically recommended full arm’s length. Easier on the eyes.

    It beats paying extra for a rotating monitor, if you can find one. Any half-decent monitor will do.

    • Sounds like a deal and a good way of getting Herman Miller quality and design, DM.

      I’ve used a couple of Herman Miller Aeron chairs that other people paid for during past lives and loved them, but, like you, I balk at paying anything close to the price of even discounted new Herman Miller products.

      One of the things I sometimes do for products like this is to search Google for “alternatives to ____________” to see what I can find. That search with Herman Miller Setu inserted disclosed a couple of interesting office furniture websites:

      https://ergonomicshealth.com/herman-miller-alternatives/
      https://chairsalternatives.wordpress.com/

      • My 15+ year old office chair died about 18 months ago and the replacement, selected after careful study of the specification and reviews on amazon.co.uk, died one week after its twelve month guarantee expired. The only satisfaction I got from this was posting a “DO NOT BUY” one star review explaining that the design of the attachment of the back was not fit for purpose. Since then I’ve been using a cheap “junior clerk’s” chair which has served for a few months but is only temporary.

        Despite being on the other side of the Atlantic I’ve found the links you provided very useful and am once more buckling down to tha task of selecting a new chair, though the choice is too wide and the quality hard to assess.

        • I’m pleased to hear you find my links helpful, Mike.

          The other evening, my wife and I were remembering our most enjoyable past trips to the other side of the Atlantic. Florence is still my favorite place in the world, but Oxford, where we have spent several weeks over various trips is a close second and Cornwall will always have a special place in my heart.

          • I got my degree from Oxford and my wife studied midwifery there, so we both have very fond memories of the city (a lot has changed since the 1960s – including the hospital my wife studied at having been raised to the ground – but so much has stayed the same). We last visited in summer 2018 – my younger son’s wife had a medical conference there so they flew over and we all met up for a week – and decided that it remained a favourite place.

            We’ve not visited Cornwall for years, but have very happy memories of renting a cottage there for our first holiday after our honeymoon, though the thing that really sticks in our minds in a large pig falling out of a field practically on top of us, which we rounded up and returned home. (nb. anyone who has driven along Cornish byroads will understand how pigs can fall out of fields.)

        • When startups, etc, go under they are scavenged by business liquidators. One of them is where I got my $650 setu for $100 in $20 bills. I returned some months later to buy two Steelcase “think” chairs for work and school at $200 each. If you have anything like what I do, it is a cavernous space filled with a random assortment of office furniture, and worth a visit.

  3. The best part about setting up your own work environment is you can do whatever you want.

    A few years back, PBS did a very good series where they interviewed each Supreme Court justice for one hour. Each episode showed the office of the justice, and the interviewer asked about the history of the office and the justices who had previously occupied it.

    Justice Stevens waved a hand at the office, dismissing it. He was 88 at the time. Paraphrasing…My office, he said, is wherever I have my laptop computer. This place doesn’t matter. My office can be at the beach or at home. Anywhere.

    The next week they interviewed Chief Justice Roberts. He was about 55 at the time. He waved a yellow legal pad and pen. Paraphrasing… This is where I do my work, at this desk. I write it all out in long hand.”

    I’m in the Stevens camp. I wander about. Office, living room, patio, pool, beach, Starbucks, park, hiking trail… IMac, PC, ChromeBook, iPad, extra big screen, files in the cloud, iPhone, wind cancelling earpiece, hot spot. It has always amazed me how I can gain clarity on a project by simply moving from one spot to another.

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