We are Working In Ghost Towns

I have recently had the opportunity to visit several of our companies other corporate offices as well as several of our customers at their locations. It was during these trips that I realized how much we had in common with our customers, and what the new norm seems to be in business. It seems that we are all working in ghost towns.

I visited major corporate offices in both the East and Mid-West and was surprised by how close to the front door I could park. I just pulled in and was only a few steps from the door. Initially I put it down to the fact that I prefer to get into the office a little earlier than average. It usually gives me time to get prepared for the day’s meetings.

During the day I had the occasion to look out the windows from one of the upper floors at the parking lot, and it didn’t look any better. It was far less than half full. This got me to thinking. I started to pay a little more attention to my surroundings in the building. It was quiet. Too quiet. There wasn’t a soul around.

I started to walk down a few random aisles. Most of the cubicles and offices were dark, with no name plates on them. The only real sound was the uneven whine-hum of the air conditioning system. If a tumbleweed had blown by I would have thought I was in one of those high plains desert westerns.

It was very similar at our customer’s locations as well. There were very few cars in the parking lot and even fewer people to be seen around the building.

I can remember back to a time (not so long ago) when if you were not at the office early in the morning there was a very real chance that you might not find a parking space. I can also remember (not too fondly) having to wait my turn through multiple elevators to make my way to an office on the upper floors of a building. It was a very lively and busy time.

I understand that the Telecom-Technology markets have had a reset, and that there have been some significant staff reductions. Some poor decisions by some companies and the general business downturn have helped to create a reduced resource demand. Companies no longer have or need the staffs they once carried during the market expansion periods.

I also think that we are now starting to fall victim to the very technology we have created to help increase our productivity. As a mobile business society we had to create the capability to be productive in those times when we were not in the office. In most cases this meant when we were out on the road. We needed remote access and all the other applications that we used when we were in the office. And we got them.

We got so good at working outside the office that it seems we have never gone back to it. It now appears that even people who live very close to their companies offices are choosing to work at home. In many instances companies are encouraging this arrangement. They are seeing the opportunity to reduce their overhead allocations for office space by having fewer people in the office. This helps the business unit’s bottom line by reducing the corporate overhead allocation for office space, but doesn’t seem to help the overall company since the office space is still there, but now it is just sitting empty and idle.

This brings me back to my topic. Our offices were once centers of activity. Teams worked, shared and collaborated face to face in the past. There was energy in the office and a general feeling of optimism. Now for both technical and economic reasons there far fewer people in the office. This seems to be the case with most offices. You walk around and there is no one there. It is quiet.

It doesn’t sound, look or feel like there is any activity or work being done in the office. If it doesn’t feel like there is a positive feeling for those of us still in the office, what can the feeling be for those who are outside the office? Those that are connected to the office through remote access technology (alone in their homes, or out on the road) surely can’t feel anymore, and in most cases are feeling much less comfortable with the progress of the business. Those that are now unemployed feel fully disconnected and are even less comfortable about it.

The office needs to be the center of our business activity. The office needs to be a place where people work and share their insights and opinions. I think we need to start getting people back into the office. We need to start by reducing the acceptability of remote and virtual office utilization. We need to encourage people who live near the office to come to the office. We need to increase both the activity and the activity level in the office.

We need to consolidate our office structures so that we do not have these vast stretches of empty, dark cubicles and offices reminding us of how good times were in the past, and how they are not so good now. We need to at least start to try and put energy and positive attitude back into the office if we are going to expect energy and positive attitude from the business in general. The only way that I am aware of getting energy and positive attitude is with people.

When the people are not there, neither is energy. The offices are relatively empty and dark without people. The convenience of virtual offices seems to me to be something of a contributing factor to the low energy and less than fully positive attitude that appears to be the norm in the office. Without people, working in the office is like working in a ghost town.

We need to start getting the people back in the office.