Technology can enhance the work, but that’s not what’s happening for the large majority of office workers, she said.Walsh increased the pay of any of those secretaries who are now doing the work of some of those managers. This was, and remains, the dystopian reality underlying the redesign and automation of the office.Its mandate is never You figured out how to do your tasks more efficiently, so you get to spend less time working. It is always You figured out how to do your tasks more efficiently, so you must now do more tasks, for the same pay.As workers, we’ve always been assisted by technologies in some form.Those tools have become more sophisticated with time, but as their users we remain stubbornly human, and there are limits to the productivity that any body or mind can sustain.In the early 1980s, workers began to brush up against those limits but were driven into survival mode by the continued volatility of the American economy.Attempts to organize, like those led by Nussbaum and Working Women, ran headfirst into a massive wave of antilabor sentiment and legislation.It felt as if there were no recourse, no way to push back.And so a whole generation of employees internalized their employers’ quest for productivity as their own, settled for less pay and less stability, and got back to work.A runner, dressed in a tank top bearing a drawing of an Apple Macintosh computer, destroys Big Brother and saves humankind from a future of surveillance and conformity.It was time, he decided, for an office revolution.He wanted to get rid of not just cubicles but personal space altogether, in the hopes of creating a space of creative unrest.18 In one of the new offices, built in Venice, California, and designed by Frank Gehry, there would be no cubicles, no filing cabinets, no fixed desks.The receptionist’s desk was framed by the outline of bright red lips.A picture of a man peeing led the way to the men’s bathroom.The floor was covered in a rainbow of hieroglyphs.In response, Chiat would roam the halls, demanding to know if an individual had worked in the same spot the day before.With no place to call their own, employees resorted to using the trunks of their cars as file cabinets.20 People panicked because they thought they couldn’t function, Chiat later admitted.Most of it, I felt, was an overreaction.But we should’ve been more prepared for it. Chiat sold the company in 1995, and the new owners almost immediately began to soften the most outlandish and unsustainable components of the design.In December 1998, they moved the West Coast offices into a new, equally ballyhooed space in Playa del Rey.The desks were back, and so were the phones, placed in nests and cliff dwellings divided into neighborhoods lined with indoor plants.The message of the office, as Wired put it, was Stay a while.Hell, you can live here.But Chiat had misunderstood how to actually unroot his workers from their desks and incentivize productivity and creativity.You just needed to make them want to be there all the time.If your company was creating truly innovative products, it should follow that it was working out of a truly innovative space.Of course, none of these companies were any less ruthless about productivity demands on the work, and the nature of work was no less transactional.If anything, organizations actually baked more precarity into workers’ lives in pursuit of growth and shareholder value.Back in the 1970s, midwestern corporate giants like 3M and Caterpillar had designed sprawling, bucolic office parks for their thousands of employees, and early Silicon Valley companies like Xerox famously embraced the campus layout in the 1970s.And like a small liberal arts college campus, their cultures were insular, loyal, and generally easy to control.The office complexes and campuses of the last thirty years extended this notion even further.While reviewing old studies and surveys about worker habits, he came upon a study that measured how office workers spent their time between 9:00 a.m.It blew my mind, he told us.But that overemphasis on the desk, as Wilkinson recalled, had worked to the detriment of working life, trapping us in this rigid formality. And so he set out to liberate it, shifting the focus of his designs to work that took place away from the desk.In practice, this meant designing bleachers and nooks in places that were once poorly lit corridors, and spacing out desk clusters to incentivize more movement among teams.A kinetic office environment, the idea went, could increase spontaneous encounters, which would then spark creativity.Volleyball courts, valets, organic gardens, tennis courts, and soccer fields dot the campus, which also includes a private park for exclusive Google use.Unlike traditional company cafeterias, where food items are often gently subsidized, everything at Google is free.More important, it was a humane, considerate way for companies to treat employees who were working long hours and building products designed to change the world.Reflecting today, Wilkinson’s less sure of that vision.And Wilkinson’s increasingly aware of the insidious nature of those same perks.It’s clever, seductive, and dangerous.It’s pandering to employees by saying we’ll give you everything you like, as if this was your home, and the danger is that it blurs the difference between home and office.The danger Wilkinson is describing is, of course, exactly what happened.The new campus design had a profound impact on company culture.But that desire becomes a gravitational pull, tethering the worker to the office for longer and longer, and warping previous perceptions of social norms.You’re an ambitious engineer, a few years out of school.It’s easy to get to the office extra early and stay late into the night because you can always get a gourmet dinner, absolutely free, with little effort on your part.You talk about a lot of things, but you mostly talk about work.To blow off steam, you show up at one of the many company gyms for a game of three on three, or you play Frisbee in the company park.When you’re done for the day, you grab a beer on campus before riding the company shuttle back home to your apartment in San Francisco, chatting with your friends as you catch up on back emails using the shuttle’s WiFi connection.With time, your colleagues become your closest friends and, with even more time, your only friends.It’s easier to hang out and have a social life at work, because everyone’s just already there.Life feels streamlined, more efficient.Sometimes you’re just goofing off, killing time, kinda like back in the dorm room in college.Other times you’re working together, like those endless nights back in the library.Sometimes it’s a hazy hybrid of both, but it’s generative nonetheless.As earlyish employees, we quickly fell into the perks that drew us to the office longer.A weekly Thursday afternoon brews all hands was capped off by free pizza and then a collective call out to the bars.The company culture’s gravitational pull meant we started dedicating less time to other friends and fledgling nonwork relationships.It was always far easier to transition from the office straight to socializing than somehow planning a meetup halfway across town.We knew all the same people and had all the same conversational shorthand.But none of us would have thought to call it that.We love our old work friends.Those actual friendships aren’t what we regret, and never will be.When we moved away from New York, however, we came to realize how work friendships had functioned as Trojan horses for work to infiltrate and then engulf our lives.Instead, they eclipsed the idea of balance altogether, because work and life had become so thoroughly intertwined that spending most of our waking moments with some extension of our corporation didn’t seem remotely odd or problematic.But just because they can’t head to the quad for pickup volleyball doesn’t mean they’re not similarly trapped by the design and tech of the office.Email’s road to ruin is, like most technologies, paved with good intentions.No more printing or mimeographing by hand or faxing, no more hand delivering.Just push a button and send a message.But instead of dismantling the culture of interoffice memos and correspondence, email simply soaked up all of their formalities, anxieties, and oppressive mundanity, and then made them readily accessible at every moment of the day.The spread of email led to, well, a whole lot more email.A Write It Well Guide.Email might have been direct and fast, but it failed, almost immediately, to make good on its promise to kill paper in the workplace.Harper found in The Myth of the Paperless Office, published in 2001, It seems much of the information on the Web needs to be printed in order for us to read it and make sense of it.30There was still a glut of paper, in other words, and an increasing glut of email.Of course, each user paid for the service by allowing Google backdoor access to their data, but as with so many privacy exchanges the cost to the individual user seemed, at least at the moment, negligible.Nearly twenty years later, there are roughly 1.5 billion Gmail accounts in the world.Google had attempted to fix email but couldn’t save it from being corrupted by our worst impulses and insecurities.Buchheit was on email hiatus.When McCracken finally got hold of him, Buchheit was unsparing in his critique of what Gmail had facilitated.There’s a 24/7 culture, where people expect a response.People have become slaves to email.It’s not a technical problem.It can’t be solved with a computer algorithm.It’s more of a social problem.Instead of confronting the social problem that allowed email to eat the whole of our lives, we sought out ways to wrangle it, control it, zero it, put it in handcuffs.We created productivity tools to manage a productivity tool, and found ourselves deeper and deeper in a hole, desperate for the solution that promises to finally allow us to dig ourselves out.In a report from that year, its analysts found that the average knowledge worker spent 28 percent of their workweek managing email, and nearly 20 percent looking for internal information, or simply tracking down colleagues who could help with specific tasks.Most offices use some combination of social technologies in their office, but Slack is the paradigm shifter.Holdouts eventually became converts as the bulk of communication shifted from email chains to chat rooms.Between 2013 and 2019, the percentage of screen time workers allocated to email went from just under 14 percent to 10.4 percent.In reality, they just moved that time to chat apps, whose usage increased from 1 percent to 5 percent.I felt increasingly unproductive, highly reactive, and simply overwhelmed by Slack, the programmer Alicia Liu wrote in a 2018 Medium blog post.And the problem got worse the more time I spent using Slack.At some point, it begins to feel normal.But that normal feels like crap.It’s not a technical problem.It can’t be solved with a computer algorithm.It’s more of a social problem. Social problems are hard.They can’t be waved away with an idea and a few years of dedicated coding.Back in the early 1980s, Karen Nussbaum saw just such a moment for office workers across the United States.After years of mistreatment, discrimination, and dropping wages, many workers were pushed over the edge by automation.Their offices were making them sick, they were worn out, and now their bosses were asking them to do more work for less pay.But as the last several thousand words have made clear, there is no one office design, no single technical innovation, that can actually fix the social problem of the way we’ve arranged office work.But for now, here’s our best advice on how to peel back the layers of misguided utopianism, misdirection, and distraction that have accumulated around technology and design in your office and how, in this brief and wild moment of flux, we can begin to imagine and embrace a different way forward.Stop Dreaming of the Office of the FutureIt’s possible that the secret to breaking our productivity doom loop was discovered in an office somewhere in Copenhagen in the early 1990s.Exactly which office?Harper in The Myth of the Paperless Office, is unique.Not because of what they make, or the size of their profits, or whom they employ, but because they managed to modernize an office without simply perpetuating all the mistakes and problems of the past.DanTech’s story begins in the 1980s.Employees were trained to do two or more jobs so that teams could be broken apart and reconfigured at will.To facilitate the internal reorganization, they moved buildings and physically reorganized the office space, filling it with generic desk clusters so teams could collaborate when necessary, then work separately with ease.These changes don’t sound revolutionary today, but at the time it was the equivalent of, say, giving all your employees an Oculus headset and telling them to conduct all business henceforth in virtual reality.And not all of them worked out.One of their electronic filing databases was so complicated that employees had no real idea how to use it, which meant important documents ended up lost in a digital maze.It was probably less efficient than training everyone at the company but more feasible.For Sellen and Harper, who’d been painstakingly studying paper as the primary office technology of the twentieth century, DanTech was a rare example of real change.In the disastrous Chiat redesign in 1993, the sight of a piece of paper would trigger emails chiding workers that they worked in a paperless office, even though much of the creative ad work was still done on storyboards and contracts with outside companies still needed to be printed out and signed.37 The office of the future was still very much tethered to the printer.And yet this team of Danes seemed to have stumbled into a paperless future, almost by accident.They did it by thinking about change in terms of sustainability.As Sellen and Harper explain, DanTech never set a goal to abolish paper use altogether.Instead, the company focused on ways to teach and incentivize employees to think about using paper differently.And, with time, they began to use less and less.Promise a paperless office, and you set yourself up for disappointment and failure, Sellen and Harper wrote.The Danish office in question is a lesson in how to create change in an organization that might stick.DanTech was playing the long game.The company managed its employees’ expectations.Last, as Sellen and Harper note, DanTech’s overhaul was focused on the real, underlying problems. Paper was never actually the problem.But they understood that modernization could be a means to fix the very real structural issues that had left them lagging behind their competitors.Organizations need to look at the combination of people, artifacts, and processes to assess where problems may lie and how solutions can be implemented, Sellen and Harper explained.But some companies, like DanTech, conceived of the office of the future by attempting to fully understand the office of the present.In those cases, Sellen and Harper found that the plans rarely looked like implementing conventional digital technologies.The most lasting forms of innovation don’t look great on a press release, because they’re incremental, periodically involve pausing or reversing plans, and, at least to outsiders, seem tedious.They’re honest about an organization’s failings, unprecious about tradition, yet compassionate and empathetic in their solutions.The pandemic has proven that flexible, remote office work is indeed possible at scale.But tech alone cannot make that future sustainable.The problems are deeper, messier, and far more human.And when the space is there, sitting on the company’s expenses, it’s likely that management is going to incentivize employees to use it.And after we’ve been trapped in our homes hiding from a deadly virus for well over a year, we’re starved for social interaction.Many of our former commuting and workplace annoyances now sound like tiny luxuries.Some of us miss our colleagues.Others are just sick of their homes and apartments and, yes, even their partners and kids.The only question is, how?It’s a problem that has filled Jennifer Christie’s days for more than a year now.Twitter, along with a handful of other organizations, feel like bellwethers.When we spoke with Christie in early 2021, she told us what every manager and consultant we’ve spoken with knows to be true.Remote work isn’t the hard part.It’s the hybrid, flexible schedule that’s tricky.And again, the fundamental problem with a hybrid schedule is inadvertently creating a new hierarchy based around physical face time.Hybrid work threatens to deepen those divides.Single parents, workers with elderly family members, disabled employees, and those who simply don’t want to live in proximity to the office risk being overshadowed by those who come in every day.And even if a manager is careful, a recency and proximity bias might emerge.Ambitious, competitive employees will sacrifice remote flexibility and work relentlessly in person, while remote employees, motivated by the anxiety of not seeming productive, will live in fear of managers and compensate with overwork.Both sides end up driving the other to misery.This is the nightmare scenario for Christie and the focus of much of Twitter’s early hybrid work planning.You need to eliminate the idea that you’ll miss out if you’re not in the office, she told us.For a long time we’ve rallied around office perks and keeping people around and in the building, she said.And it starts with the way the office is arranged and the expectations for people within those spaces.At Twitter, everyone inside the conference room will be asked to have an open laptop and dial into the meeting to make sure that remote participants can see all faces clearly and hear those who, in a different configuration, might have traditionally been far away from the conference microphone.Twitter is simply incentivizing teams to coordinate when they come in, aiming to create episodic moments of collaborative work.We don’t want to be remote first or office first, Christie continued.We want to level the field.And that means we have to stop doing some things in the office that we do well, like the current way we do food service.But, at least in its earliest stages, Twitter seems to understand that merely layering remote work atop the current workforce is paving a path to dysfunction.You have to commit your entire culture to this change, Christie said.Early in the pandemic, Melanie Collins, Dropbox’s chief people officer, helped gather internal data on the company’s productivity patterns.Like many software companies, Dropbox’s product life cycle was undisturbed by the remote shift.To that end, the company would redesign and build a new style of office, dubbed studios, in four cities where the company previously had an official office.Employees wouldn’t have desks assigned to them, or any other spaces that would encourage them to camp out and establish unofficial office space.They’re meant to facilitate collaboration, not function as shadow offices.But all of that is subject to change.The only way to design a collaborative space is to do tons of surveying, Collins told us.We have a hypothesis informing the design, but we’ll learn a lot more when people get into them.We already know that sales and engineering have different needs, but we’ll need to ask, ‘How are people using the space?What’s the utilization look like?Are rooms for team bonding used that way, or are they taking on a different role?’ And we’ll make changes accordingly.Collins stressed that no company, Dropbox included, knows what these plans will look like in two or three years.Not all employees are going to work well with that sort of transformation, and Dropbox realizes as much.And we know some employees didn’t choose this when they joined.If you think you can just auto flip a switch and all of this just happens, it’s not going to work, she said.That intentionality especially applies to groups that are usually left out of the design process.For leaders in the disability community, the remote work shift can feel fraught.But there’s also a very real concern that the ability to work from home could end up making actual office spaces less inclusive.It’s far too easy to imagine companies offering hybrid work but treating their disabled workers as fixed remote employees, thereby reinforcing the segregation of disabled people in the workforce.If we get into this world where we have fewer centralized offices, it literally means that employees are exposed to fewer people that are different than them, Town said.There’s a lot of cultural value in having people show up at work and be visibly disabled. She used herself as an example.Town says her cerebral palsy is most visible when she’s moving around in a space.During the pandemic, my disability has been completely erased.All you see is my head in a little Zoom box.Town stressed to us that creating opportunities for visibility and community engagement among disabled employees is crucial and will require delicately balancing those concerns with the necessity to make more jobs available for telework for those who need it.That’s because physical offices, at least in the short term, aren’t going anywhere.Which means that even before the pandemic companies were looking for solutions to the problem of their real estate holdings.The sudden onset of work from home simply accelerated that desire.Still, Poleg is bullish that office spaces will continue to exist in some form but their location and utility will shift dramatically.Most office activity will not move to homes or to the cloud, he wrote in The New York Times.Instead, it is likely to be redistributed within and between cities, with a variety of new employment areas popping up and saving many people the trouble of simultaneous commuting to a central business district.39What will that look like in practice?But if you shy from that work, you will likely find yourself outmatched by those who don’t.If you miss this window, you won’t be a great company for long.