Out of Office

Funny thing. When we sent out our monthly newsletter this week, we received one out-of-office message. One.

In a normal month, we get enough to populate a nice corner of town. This month, however, while few people are really IN the office, all of them, save our one, are available and checking email from home.

We’ve set up all kinds of in-home offices. My husband confiscated our set-aside office room for his own work-from-home activities, which is fine with me—he likes to work with the TV on, and I prefer silence. I set up in the little-used living room, where I happily work to the occasional sound of the kitchen ice maker and little else. One of our adult-and-in-their-own-home children chose her kitchen/dining area, while another said he’s just fine with his laptop perched on his knees in bed. They, of course, are working around children, with their own needs and schedules—and a high degree of tolerance from coworkers during conference calls.

It’s made me think about offices in general. If you’ve ever toured a museum you might have seen the founder’s original office, entombed behind glass and showing what was important to the man (always a man) who became so influential. A globe, a stack of books, a ledger, photos on the table, paintings on the wall, possibly an ink pen and blotter. None of which we need now (OK, maybe the artwork).

Now, all we need is a digital connection and a device. Take your pick—computer, tablet, phone. Want to share your recent edits on a document? Just open Google docs or your app of choice. Need to check timesheets? You know what to do. And a globe? Uh, just google it. We’re working with email (still), chat functions such as Slack, conferencing with programs such as Zoom, and text messaging in lieu of face-to-face. For some, particularly those in businesses spread over multiple locations, it may not seem like a lot has changed in the last month or two. Perhaps it’s not as much change as we see from the museum offices to now, but don’t fool yourself—there is change.

My inbox has been inundated with tips and attempts to sell me on new office furniture and accessories. While I’m not tempted, getting set up at home is obviously top-of-mind for many people. Articles are also proliferating with ideas for how to work without distraction, or how to find space in a small home, or simply how to work remotely.

We’ve spent years advising people to get up from their desk and go have a conversation. Solve problems in person. Manage by walking around.

And now? We’re finding digital solutions to communication.