Are you really ready to rush back to the office? Take a moment to reflect before you answer. I’m not asking how desperate you are to get out of the house, since we all know the answer to that question. As the country singer Alan Jackson wrote, “The workday passes like molasses in wintertime. But it’s July, I’m getting paid by the hour, but older by the minute.”
But I’m wondering why, for millions of us and our companies as well, it just hasn’t been that much of a challenge to resist the urge and the tantalizing temptation to get right back into the groove and the grind. Most people I talk to just aren’t in a hurry. Taking care of business and taking the train back to work are two, very different concerns.
In my conversations with entrepreneurs around the country who are juggling any number of challenges and are often concerned about their very survival, worrying about how soon they can get back to the bricks and mortar barely makes the list of pressing matters.
I understand that for retail operators it’s more top of mind, but even those people have increasingly discovered the cost efficiencies and other wonders of the online world. Furloughed folks who work for larger companies are hesitant because they aren’t sure that their employers are playing straight with them; or that, once they return, their bosses aren’t gonna quickly ‘fess up and tell them in a timely fashion when there are enough Covid-19 issues at the office to require sending everyone home again.
My guess is that we won’t see much of a massive movement until February 2021 at the earliest. And of course, some of the biggest tech firms are pushing their return dates out even further and also talking about letting people work remotely permanently. We’re learning a lot about working at home (WFH) every day and many of the most valuable lessons aren’t apt to disappear any time soon, which is actually pretty good news.
If and when we do head back to the office, it won’t be about bouncing back. It’ll be about moving forward. Not resilience, but reinvention. We’ve seen that many of the old ways of doing business were wasteful, unproductive, and time-consuming without adding any real value to the enterprise. Meetings, memos, and meals come readily to mind. Snacks, pool, and ping-pong tables were already on the way out. Hopefully when we do go back, we’ll take care not to drag along the tired old baggage and other time sinks from the past.
But if you really want to know what’s slowing us all down, I’ll give you four good reasons.
WFH Is WPW (Working Pretty Well).
It’s much better than we imagined overall for the white-collar business community. Sadly, it’s almost a complete bust for our K-to-12 kids in terms of their educations, even if they have sufficient computer resources and connectivity–which so many don’t. And of course, the pandemic (and the ongoing lies and denial from the dolts in Washington, D.C.) are still killing essential workers and endangering millions of others in the workforce who don’t have the privilege and luxury of staying home. But for the moment, inertia at home is continuing to overwhelm new initiatives.
No One Wants to Be Last.
Amazingly and beyond prescient, Bruce Springsteen wrote about this concern in 2007. He talked about the cities burning, “faces of the dead at five,” and the wise men who were all fools. And he concluded, like we all have as we relive the nightmares today, that, “no one wants to be the last to die for a mistake.” No one really wants to be the first either: Not the first ones back, not the first ones to try the vaccine, and not the guinea pigs for anyone’s latest experiment in herd immunity. It’s scary enough to have to risk sending your kids back to school. Putting yourself back into the suspect soup just raises the odds of someone in the family getting sick.
The Main Street Economy Still Sucks.
Forget the stupid and inexplicable performance of the stock market and its crazy fluctuations. And the morons who believe the Con-in-Chief’s lies about the rapidly returning and magically robust economy. I’m talking about the millions and millions of people still unemployed. I’m talking about what you see every day with your own eyes on your own streets: Stores shutting down for good, more homeless people all over the place, cities unable to meet the demand for basic safety and sanitation services, and hospitals regularly overrun. No one’s in a great hurry to re-explore stagnant marketplaces and make fruitless and frustrating calls to prospects and former customers, who aren’t buying much of anything now. We’re all feeling the weight of the Great Wait.
We’re Praying for the Nightmare to End.
Whether you want to admit it or not, each of us is praying for the national nightmare of bigoted bile and BS that we’ve lived through for the last four years to end, one way or the other, so we can try to get on with our lives and our businesses. For me, it would conclude in a fashion that would also allow us to start repairing and rebuilding the nation as well. But there are no guarantees. The result is that we’re all stuck until late January 2021 at the earliest in a limbo that is debilitating, enervating, and contagious. No one really has the energy or appetite for much of anything at the moment.
When the final accounting occurs (and who knows when that will be), this miserable and omnipresent malaise that sucked the life, energy, and optimism out of so many people in our country will be the most lasting and sad legacy of our country’s foolish, feckless, and fraudulent leaders.