Mark Hammer

Where Bloomberg, Mayer, and Branson differ in their perspectives really comes from the sorts of jobs and enterprises they are thinking about when rendering their respective opinions.

The folks who call you from Mumbai about your cable bill will continue to work in offices for the forseeable future, because their management will not be all that interested in work-life balance. Indeed, any organization who isn’t automatically making money hand over fist, or subsidized by a (for the moment) bottomless money-well, will remain interested in having some direct monitoring of staff.

My own agency is moving to a new building later this year, and the workspace is a fraction of the current size, with negligible space for paper or books of any kind (apparently my workspace will be roughly about 4′ x 6′). The “vision” is that we will be working on tablets or from home. I have it on good authority, though, that the new approach to workspace handed down to us, is driven primarily by the perceved need to reduce the federal real estate costs – the least building for the most people. It has precious little to do with optimal work environments. Indeed, no one ever asked us about what we need to do our jobs. They just keep telling us, and when we go “Okay, fine, if that’s how it has to be…”, it gets interpreted as our yearning for what was imposed.

My sense is that Richard Branson is also thinking about bricks and mortar as a business cost, not a place for people to do the best job at their job. There certainly will be jobs and people who don’t require a formal office, and who can telework, or be another one of those homeless laptop-people I see in Starbucks and Second Cup, tappity-tapping away. But there are a lot of jobs, enterprises, and people, for whom that is not optimal, and maybe even counter-productive. Being able to work from home when it’s a snow or PD day, or when the kids are sick, is a terrific thing, but a significantly large segment of work will still require the presence of multiple people cooperating with each other in the same place. There will be paper, and objects, and face-to-face meetings, because that is how most of the world works.

And while I am happy for Mr. Branson that he leads an event-filled, exciting, free-form life, one should remember that there are a great many regular people who continue to work past pensionable age, because it is nice to have a structured day where you have somewhere to go, and familiar faces to schmooze with. Telework cuts them off from what they crave.

You know, we have so much isolation in our lives, we shouldn’t squander what little contact we have left with each other.