Did the Pandemic Change Your Job Forever?
Half of people who can do their jobs remotely are now working in a hybrid arrangement. That means they’re working from home some days and a physical office on others. Andy speaks with NYT reporter Emma Goldberg and labor researcher Anu Madgavkar about why hybrid work is the future, what incentives employers are creating to entice workers back into the office, and whether COVID safety in the workplace has improved.
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Check out these resources from today’s episode:
- Take a look at data on how many people are back to work in physical offices: https://www.kastle.com/safety-wellness/getting-america-back-to-work/
- Read Emma’s article on what employers are doing to get workers back into the office: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/02/business/hybrid-work-from-home-office.html
- Read McKinsey’s latest American Opportunity Survey: https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/sustainable-inclusive-growth/future-of-america/american-opportunity-survey
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Andy Slavitt, Anu Madgavkar, Emma Goldberg
Andy Slavitt 00:18
This is IN THE BUBBLE with Andy Slavitt. Thanks for tuning in. If you’re like a lot of people, you have a job, you are used to showing up for work. And up until the pandemic that felt like a pretty normal experience. Get on the train, get in the car, go to the office, get the job done, see your friends, get distracted, have some water cooler conversation, go home a little bit harried feeling like you’re maybe neglecting your personal life. That was the way of things in our society for a long time. And it seems like it is one of those things that has changed forever. There are about 1 billion square feet of office space that are currently unoccupied right now. That means people that were sitting in these offices and in this space are now at home. And the people that are showing up, aren’t even showing up five days a week, very often, large percentage of people are doing what is now called hybrid work. So it is a very different situation, it is still settling out, it is confusing, there’s not one way people are doing it. But it just seems that this is one of those things that changed during the pandemic. That isn’t changing back. Exactly. And we now have experimented with what it’s like for people to work from home. And if you ask most employers and CEOs a few years ago, they would say we can’t trust people to work from home because they’ll screw off. I don’t trust that. And now that people have done it for a while, there is some evidence that not only do people not mess around all day, but they actually get more done. But they’re undoubtedly missing things as well. The changes around this are kind of profound. It’s changing the way we think about our cities, it’s going to change the way we think about our homes, it’s going to change the way we think about balance and our own personal lives. It’s going to change the way different workers and different types of jobs have different levels of flexibility. It is fascinating. And this is what I want to get into today with two perfect expert guests. The first is a new my golf car. She is a partner at McKinsey Global Institute. She’s an economist. She does research on economic growth and labor, and has done some work recently on the future of work after the pandemic. And focus also as well on the future of women at work. And Emma Goldberg is my other guest who you’ll hear from. She is a reporter at The New York Times, she has been writing a lot about the workplace and changes in the workplace, gender, racial divisions, health and social issues. And she covers these topics in a really interesting fashion. And I think the two of them are great guests, and I think a conversation about your job if you have one. How’s it gonna be different? Has it changed? Has it changed forever? And if you’re retired, then you’ve missed all this. And you get to observe it from afar but no doubt your family members, kids, grandkids, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews are facing a very different world. Let us bring in Anu and Emma.
Andy Slavitt 04:01
Welcome to the bubble.
Emma Goldberg 04:02
Thanks for having us.
Anu Madgavkar 04:04
Andy Slavitt 04:05
Okay, so I don’t know if you know, we had a pandemic that started a couple years ago. And of course, McKinsey thinks about all things that happen in the world. So you had perfect people to talk to today. I want to start by just as we think back to a lot of things in our lives, you know, seemed to have changed or maybe changing as a result of the pandemic. How do you think about how work where we work? The structures of work has changed, Emma?
Emma Goldberg 04:48
I think pretty much every rule of the working world has come undone. I think just a lot of the assumptions that structured, the times we work the places we work and the way As we work just broke open in the last three years, and it’s given us permission to question everything. And I think that’s happened. For a lot of reasons. One of them, obviously, remote work, more than 50 million people started working from home at least part time. And that’s a massive shift at an economic level and at a cultural level. And that’s also happened in the midst of a really tight labor market, which gave workers permission to hold the cards and call the shots in a lot of ways. So I think there’s been unprecedented levels of flexibility introduced into the ways we work, I think workers got a lot more leverage to challenge conditions under which we’ve worked. And I think all of those things have meant that we’re suddenly having conversations that we’ve never had before about the way people want to work.
Andy Slavitt 05:47
What did we learn from these 50 million people? You know, there were a lot of myths or points of view about remote work. Before the pandemic, a lot of companies didn’t like it. What do we know, Anu?
Anu Madgavkar 05:58
the first wave of surprise happened when people figured out that it was actually possible to work remotely. If you think back before the pandemic, were pretty much the same human beings doing pretty much the same work. But less than maybe 2% of all work was done on a fully remote basis at the time. And I think the first wave of shock was like, hey, you know, life doesn’t stop. But we can all adapt, you know, technology responds very quickly to need. And that ratio jumped up to something like 60%. I think the second wave of surprise or learning is the fact that even when we don’t have to work remotely, people still do kind of want flexibility. It’s not like people want to be isolated, or work remotely or on their own all of the time. But almost everybody wants some degree of flexibility, flexibility in where they work, how they work, when they work. And that coupled with the labor market, Titus, which I think is a little bit of a resettling of the equation between employees and employers, that’s really brought hybrid models of work, I should say, more as table stakes now. So the big shift is, it’s table stakes, it’s, it’s there in some degree or some shape, it’s not going to go away. And figuring out how to make it work is really the challenge going forward.
Andy Slavitt 07:21
I want to come back to the question of whether employers like it or just living with it, because as you both said, workers have a little more power these days for a variety of reasons. But maybe you can give us just a general sense of the landscape. I mean, as I think about it, for people who worked in an office setting, employers have basically three choices. You have to come back, we’re gonna do a hybrid situation, you can come back several days a week, but work from home partly or you know what, we were kind of fine with it, we kind of, we kind of get it that you can work from home. And we’re and we’re finding that we don’t like the real estate costs. Can you give us a sense of where employers are landing and roughly how many seem to be moving in each category?
Emma Goldberg 08:05
Yeah, I mean, first of all, we’re fortunate to have some good data on this. And the people at Castle, they have this work from home barometer that tracks how full offices are. Right now, just about half of people who can do their jobs remotely, are in a hybrid arrangement, which means they’re combining some office work and some remote work. And about just over a quarter of paid full time days in the US or worked from home at the start of this year. So that’s still a lot of remote work.
Andy Slavitt 08:37
Do you think that’s where it settles out? Or do you think it’s still shifting? If people are shifting back?
Emma Goldberg 08:42
I think it’s still shifting for sure. I think the last few years, what was happening is that a lot of companies were in a sort of reactive mode, like it was like a constant state of emergency. And I think that happened, especially because it felt like every time they returned to Office plans were finally set. There was another variant that pushed everything back. So right first, it was Labor Day, 2021, there was the Delta variant, then it was the kind of the holiday seasons and the start of 2022. And then there was the Omicron variant. So I think you’ve had constant curveballs. And we’re just starting to get to a place where companies are trying to formulate their permanent plans, and they’re trying to figure out when you say that you’re doing hybrid, what actually makes people come back? And does that have to be, you know, perks? Is that cold brew? Is that like beer on tap, or kombucha? Or is that surveillance? Like, are you checking badge swipes? So I think companies are kind of juggling all these different, like sticking mechanisms and trying to figure out like what’s going to make hybrid actually work, aka what will get people to show up?
Andy Slavitt 09:43
I think […] is better discussing, but I don’t think I’ve ever had it. So I don’t know. I don’t think it’s fair for me to say that. But what are employer attitudes to this I knew in their heart of hearts, would most employers really rather have everybody back and they’re just being accommodating? or do they say, You know what, this is a future we could live with and even has benefits for us. So,
Anu Madgavkar 10:06
you know, I think employers are our people and human beings, right. So there’s the whole spectrum of attitudes that we are seeing, and it’s hard to cast them in one brush. But I would say that there is a set that is thinking about this almost as a competitive advantage still. And that’s because if you look at worker preferences, and if you look at access to flexibility as a means of strengthening your value proposition, that’s actually very strong for the occupations and skill categories, which are most in high demand, or where skill shortages are the most. So if you think about digital innovators, for example, this is still a big part of what they want. And positioning yourself in terms of saying that this is part of, you know, what we offer is actually almost the same as thinking about compensation as the other way to attract people. So there are real payoffs, there could be real economic payoffs to strengthening your value proposition through ways that boost flexibility for that kind of frontier of skills. And then it has effects throughout your working model. But there are at least a good section of companies that are still thinking about it that way. And leaning into this, I would say that the it’s a minority who are convinced about the fully remote model. And I think that has its own downsides of not enough coaching and teamwork and not enough collaboration that happens. So it’s a delicate dance of being somewhere in the middle. But within that spectrum of somewhere in the middle, there are companies that are saying this is a really important part of the value proposition, it’s not going to go away, because the people that we want, actually want this.
Andy Slavitt 11:45
in this shape, how people will think about work well into the future, I’ll reflect on an end of one story, which is my older son who’s turning 25, he got his first job during the pandemic, lives in Brooklyn, in a room that’s about the square footage of like a dog bed, they closed their offices, and they shipped him a chair, which I don’t think there was any room for him to sit in. And I don’t think he’s ever known any different. But that shows up in an office like his boss lives at another state. All of their meetings are in zoom. And this is literally his first working experience. And, you know, I asked myself, is there something he’s missing? I think there is, is there something that’s compensating there absolutely is, you know, he probably never he’s never commuted. Right? But so like that probably would feel to him like, oh, my God, I’ve got to get on a subway. What’s our sense for how this equation is playing out for people in the workforce?
Emma Goldberg 12:44
I mean, I think one thing it’s really important to recognize is that it’s not like we had this perfect workplace model before the pandemic, and all of a sudden that got thrown out the window. And now we’re kind of scrambling to regain some of that. I think the reality is that we were in a workplace arrangement that only worked for some people like there was always an undue burden on working parents, for example, particularly working mothers to try and be in the office to get in that FaceTime, and then rush out in time for school pickup or in time to make dinner for their kids. I definitely remember watching that with my own mom growing up like this impossible balancing act between, you know, the hours of working and the hours of childcare. And then I think when you realize that actually, like, those two things don’t need to be in constant tension. It feels like a permission to work out an arrangement that actually makes sense for you. And I think when you ask the question, is something being lost with remote work? There’s no question, right? Like, I think, staring at people on zoom all day just doesn’t feel as fun or as like interesting or as satisfying for people for a lot of different reasons. And we’re finally starting to get research that like, put some data behind that. Like, there’s a really interesting new study about how virtual communication can inhibit creativity. I did a piece this summer about people’s work friendships and what they mean to them. And that was one of the most fun stories I’ve got to report, which was just calling up dozens of people to ask them like, why do you like hanging out with your work friends, and I could go on all day, I love my work friends. You know, I think it’s really fun to go to the office and gossip and, you know, get coffee and get drinks. But I think you have to kind of like hold those two things together. And that’s I think one of the reasons people are gravitating toward hybrid is that the old model didn’t work for a lot of people. The fully remote model definitely has its challenges. So how do you try and get the best of both worlds?
Andy Slavitt 14:42
Yeah, I like what I just said about flexibility. I will say that like you know, our version of latchkey kids will now turn into memories of mom say keep it down. I’m on the Zoom. Let me take a quick break and come right back. And then I want to talk about what some This means in society a little more broadly, and then throw up some questions we got from Twitter who, who had a lot of experiences and questions, I wanted to relate to both these. So we’ll be right back. So Anu, what do you think about that now that we’re back from break, we were just talking about what work feels like these days.
Anu Madgavkar 15:38
I think we were talking about what we might be losing. Right, particularly the example of younger folks who haven’t known anything different and are growing up in the workforce in this completely different model, I do think there is a profound thing that we are at risk of losing. And that’s learning. If you look at the arc of how people learn, once they enter the workforce, there is just a tremendous amount of skill building that happens through unstructured interactions, and just working side by side with people and watching how other people, your mentors, your team members, your supervisors, your coaches, just watching them and emulating them and learning that is a huge part of learning. And it drives maybe half of all your lifetime earnings for the average worker in in any given economy, right. So if the Zoom world or the remote and hybrid world is a world in which we are much more focused. So that’s, I suppose in a sense, good, your productivity could rise, because you’re not spending time on other things, you get onto a zoom to establish a set of tasks and get them done or certain communication. But it’s not the unstructured, unpredictable kinds of interaction that are very important for long term learning. And the more you think about the way skills are moving, it’s going to be social, emotional, interpersonal skills, that really trumps everything else. And to think about learning those skills in a primarily remote world is very challenging. So getting hybrid to work needs, as Emma was saying, as well, this balance between actually showing up in person, at times when other people that you value are also showing up. And having that trust and coordination between people to make that happen, while still respecting flexibility and what people need to do to look after the rest of their lives,
Andy Slavitt 17:35
you know, subject to both, the flexibility certainly sounds nice, it just makes me question about whether or not there becomes an even greater cleavage between working class people, people have to show up to work every day, get paid, get paid by the hour, don’t get paid, if they don’t show up jobs that have to be done in person. And class of people that maybe are more educated, they have salary jobs, they have the luxury to work at home, the childcare needs, the commuting needs, the wardrobe, everything will change it. And I think what changes to the process is human empathy. You’ll see the service workers at the grocery store in the restaurant, but there’ll be living in even more different life than they already do from you. How do you think about that? I do worry about that. And it was starting with your thoughts?
Anu Madgavkar 18:27
Yeah, sure. I think the facts bear that out. If you look at the total amount of work done, or the total workforce of the US something like 50 to 60% of people would have a very, very limited opportunity to work remotely less than a day a week, less than half a day a week if that right. So there is a large segment, this is an issue for employers who are seized with this clash of cultures, or how do you think about, you know, two different standards or two different cultures for people who can or can’t work remotely? So that’s an issue as well. What is surprising, I would say is that many surveys suggest that even frontline workers, food service workers, for example, or people who are involved in caregiving in a very tactile or physical sense, do report that they have some opportunity to be flex for some part of the week, that might be just doing that paperwork or catching up on stuff. If you’re a let’s say a small entrepreneur, you know, you might carve out some time not at worksite but at home to catch up on administrative stuff or, or whatever. But even such workers do show both a desire as well as actually maybe some possibility to carve out some bit of their work on a more flexible basis. So I think it is going to be important to be empathetic to people who have needs to be flexible and figure out ways some experiments are thinking about, you know, thinking of employees as pools of people and figuring out flexible options where other people can then step up and take on tasks or activities or doing hours for other people and things like that. So bit more of a marketplace type approach.
Andy Slavitt 20:00
What do you think about that, Emma?
Emma Goldberg 20:03
I think on the one hand, the pandemic, if anything, certainly expose the fissures between, you know, the haves and have nots, if there was this great irony of which, you know, essential workers were going out and doing the most dangerous work, the work that society most desperately needed, and other people were safer than ever getting paid more to be, you know, ensconced in their apartments. And not is there’s just a deep layer of inequality. On the other hand, I think we need to question the idea that, you know, one workers gains aren’t also games for workers overall, I think, if anything, what we’ve seen in the last few years is that this is a moment in which workers have been emboldened to ask for the working conditions that they want, whether they are working in an office working from home or working in industries in which they’re not able to work remotely. And I think we saw this in the great resignation, the fact that so many people were quitting their jobs, but not just quitting, they were swapping jobs, they were getting new jobs with better conditions or higher wages. And because of all that, quitting, because of all that churn, wages went up, you know, we just went up a lot in leisure, and hospitality. And so I think workers were gaining across the spectrum. So workers were gaining flexibility, and they were also gaining wages. And, and they were gaining across the kind of the haves and the have nots. And so I think that in a lot of instances when workers are able to push back against their employers and, and gain leverage that helps workers across the spectrum. And I think we’re seeing that in certain companies in really interesting ways. Like an Amazon, for example, you’re seeing the push to unionize in warehouses, and you’re also seeing Amazon’s corporate employees push back against the new return to office policy. So I think leverage for workers can sometimes mean leverage across the board.
Andy Slavitt 21:50
Let me go to a question. I got a question from actually from Soledad O’Brien. She wants to know, what are the actual differences, i.e. not anecdotal uptake of return among different age groups of employees? I know, do you have any data or an intuition on that?
Anu Madgavkar 22:08
We actually ran a survey, we run it periodically, the American Opportunity survey, it’s available online to those who want to take a look at it. It surveyed access to remote or flexible work across a gender and various other cohorts, what we did find is that somewhat older people, people who were in higher income occupations, and people with better education had kind of higher rates of access to flexible work, but it looked like the openness to do some form of flexible work was quite high across the board. I would also say though, that for younger people, the fully remote option was not is generally not so attractive. And that’s what multiple data do show they do want to get out. They do want to socialize, it’s a very important part of what they want. And I think it’s still a minority, the fully remote, you know, traveling folks who go to the beach and surf and travel the world. I think that’s still a minority.
Andy Slavitt 23:10
Yeah, although, if you can work from home full time, you could be anywhere you can. If you’ve got one working spouse and one non-working spouse, it does lend itself pretty nicely. Let me read another question. Am I addicted reflect on the prior one, of course, as well, you know, this work from home boom, allowed a lot of people to say, hey, I don’t need to be in a cubicle anymore. I could work from home. Do we have any evidence of what that’s done for their productivity?
Emma Goldberg 23:41
Well, I’m not question we do have some indication from studies so far that work from home actually boosts productivity, there’s at least one study that showed that when people are working from home, they take fewer breaks. And then you know, it’s possible that maybe the breaks that they do take are more, you know, refueling, like maybe they go for a walk or they cook lunch, or they do something that kind of helps them recharge, as opposed to when you’re at the office, especially in an open floor plan. You’re kind of constantly getting sucked into other people’s like last minute asks, or their meanings or their conversations. So I think for some people, especially introverts, it can be pretty draining. The other big thing is time savings, there was a really important new study that came out in January, that showed a lot of time has been saved when people forgo their commutes. And 40% of that goes back into work. So there’s, you know, some sign that employers are actually gaining a lot from people not having to commute anymore and then putting that time back into their work and whatever way they’re able to do that. So that’s interesting. I think the jury is still out and a lot of ways on productivity and remote work and there’s a lot of studies on going to figure that out. I was gonna say on the generational question. I do think that, you know, from reporting conversations I’ve had, you got really surprised thing things on all sides of the generational division because I would say I talk with a lot of young people who really want like the social buzz at the office, they want to have work friends, they want the gossip they want, you know, all the kind of fun parts of office life. And then I also talk with people who, you know, I’ve never really known a life in which they have to commute and they don’t want it. I’m saying with older people, you know, I talk with people who are so happy to be able to kind of de-center, the place that work held in their lives like they no longer identify as like workaholics now that they don’t have to go into an office and then I talk with other people who can’t imagine working in any way except commuting and being in the kind of routine and structure of the office. So I think when you actually have the reporting conversations, the generational questions, cut in sometimes surprising ways.
Andy Slavitt 25:50
Let me do a final break and come back, read more of your questions, and then ask the question, what has happened to people now as they show up in the workplace? What is different about the workplace than it was before? We’ll be right back. All right, back with Emma and Anu. Okay, so there are a lot of people that are now back in the office that weren’t before, as you said, it’s you crossing the halfway mark, what feels different? Is it emptier to people not have their own spaces that are more that quote unquote, Hotelling? What’s changed about the environment? Including what’s changed about how people are thinking about protecting people from COVID? Do you have a sense of that, from your reporting? Emma?
Emma Goldberg 26:50
Well, I think first of all, a lot of employers are taking a lot of steps to rethink what offices should look like, in order to make it worth people’s time to commute. Because I think a lot of companies have realized that people can be productive at home. So if they’re going to commute into the office, what they’re looking for are opportunities to collaborate, to socialize, to find mentorship. So they’re looking for kind of like the office as a social outlet. So I’ve talked with a lot of offices that are doing kind of redesigns, to have some spaces that are more kind of library focused spaces, and some spaces that are much more collaborative, kind of like lounge type areas. So there’s that a lot of offices are doing the kind of physical rethinking. But then I also just think that culturally and socially, there’s a lot more permission for people to kind of come in and the time of day when it makes sense for them to and leave in the time of day, when it makes sense for them to do so. And I did a piece on that was kind of about the rethinking of the workday, we called it working nine to two and then again after dinner. So it’s you know, Microsoft has found this people are working 20% More after traditional working hours. So I think people can kind of come and go out of the office as they please a little bit more. And as it makes sense for them to with childcare with the understanding that maybe they’re waking up a little bit earlier, or logging on after they put their kids to bed or whatever else to make the workday actually make sense for them.
Andy Slavitt 28:13
What is different about working now than was a few years ago,
Anu Madgavkar 28:17
I do think that the allocation of physical space is changing, and will continue to change from a mix of about 7030, which the typical office would have had with 30% in terms of spaces for either collaboration or just hanging out, you know, the cafeteria and things like that, that was typically 30% I think we are looking to, you know, trends that will take that up to 60 to 70% or more and, and we’re seeing signs of that already, in terms of just the way Workspaces are being reallocated or when offices are being renovated and refitted, they’re being done in a completely different way. The second thing we’re seeing is I think technology is improving in offices, because one of the maybe prolonged periods of readjustment we’re going to have is just, you know, some people in the office, and then some people outside the office. And the dynamics of those interactions can be very challenging and painful. If technology doesn’t really support it. It’s very hard. If you’re sitting on the outside to follow what’s happening in a room full of people, it’s much easier to do this in a Zoom Room, with 10 people on the screen rather than being the only one or two people outside and, you know, a discussion happening physically in the room. So how is technology being upgraded and oriented to, you know, following voices or just having more cameras or just making this whole hybrid interaction a lot more conducive, and possible? I think we’re seeing investments happening on that front. And then finally, I think there’s this weird dissonant feeling on some days you will find offices very empty. On other days, you actually are struggling to get office space because everybody wants to be in office on the Tuesday or the third Today and do things together, and then on the Monday or the Friday offices are actually quite empty. So I think balancing loads out is not a trivial challenge. Some companies have left it to teams to figure out, you know how they schedule and adopting a more organic approach to doing it. Others are trying to do it in a more explicit way that prescribes which days who comes in, and people are still learning. But I think that that feels a bit weird, you expect sort of a lower occupancy, but that’s lower occupancy, on average, it can move a lot up and down during the week or during an hour of the day.
Andy Slavitt 30:35
Let me ask about people who are worried about getting COVID, there are plenty of people who live with elderly parents, they’re putting people who are immunocompromised, there’s plenty of other reasons for people still to be worried. Do we find that most workplaces, Emma are accommodating people in those circumstances? Or is it mostly, hey, we’ve done the bare minimum. And, you know, this is over. And I’m talking about things like ventilation, I’m talking about things like making sure people don’t show up to work sick, talking about kind of those kinds of precautions.
Emma Goldberg 31:12
I think that’s one of the remaining kind of challenges in return to Office planning is that, you know, in person activities have rebounded to a huge extent, whether it’s eating out, sports games, theater, like people are doing a lot more in person activities. But on the other hand, you have across the workforce, a really wide spectrum of different kinds of risk calculations. And you have people with all different challenges, like you said, like people with immunocompromised family members, or, you know, just a really broad range of challenges and risk appetites. And so I think companies are struggling to figure out how to communicate around that. And in some cases, they are still kind of putting out masks and, you know, making those kinds of like tools available to people, but I think they’re struggling to figure out how to meet people where they are.
Andy Slavitt 32:03
Got it, what to talk about a couple of larger societal second order effects. Before we finish up. We talked a little bit already about the haves and have nots, that’s one of them. But I’m also interested in the culture of the urban core of the downtown, the sort of office district centers, you know, we have hundreds of millions of square feet, which is a lot of spaces up for sublease, which means it’s sitting empty. So you know, your corner deli, your corner barber shop, everything that exists the pub, you go to after work for a beer, but those are obviously impacted as well, as well as the sort of cultural vibrancy of cities. If you guys looked at the implications here, and what are we learning? And what do we expect is going to happen in some of these areas that were such a core part of urban identity?
Emma Goldberg 32:58
Yeah, I mean, the last time I looked at the data, it was like 998 million square feet of empty office real estate. So it’s, it’s huge. And the second order effects are enormous in terms of like, what is a downtown, what is the downtown supposed to be? And economists talk about something called like a doom loop, which is, when fewer people commute to these downtown or to the Midtown commercial areas, then there’s fewer people to use the services to use the retail to use public transportation. Eventually tax revenue drops, eventually, it starts to feel less safe. So even fewer people go downtown. So it’s like, the second order effects is like when fewer people commute even fewer people commute. And it leads into this kind of downward spiral that can be really tough for downtown’s. And I think downtowns are so important. They’re these places where people come together, whether it’s, you know, the workers commuting in from kind of far flung suburbs or coming in and they’re subsidizing the coffee shops and the cafes, and you know, all of the other businesses that then employ lots of other workers. So it’s something that’s been really integral to the health and life of cities. And I think a lot of cities are finally starting to ask, like, what comes next? And, and how do they need to reimagine the way these economies work. And there’s really interesting task forces being set up that are bringing together cities that are really at the forefront of thinking about these questions, whether it’s Philadelphia, or DC or Seattle. And I think one of the most kind of exciting options is housing conversions. And how do you think about turning some of these big empty office buildings into houses? And then on the other hand, the challenge of that is that if you’ve ever been in an office, you know that offices are not really set up to be converted easily into houses, right, like the bathrooms are on opposite ends of the of the floors and the floor plates are massive and the elevators are, you know, kind of spaced out in the wrong places. So basically, in a lot of cases, turning an office into housing means gutting it completely. And so it’s really expensive.
Andy Slavitt 34:57
To kind of like the warehouses that turned into lost. You see a kind of a similar type of thing.
Emma Goldberg 35:02
Yeah. And I mean, and we’ve seen it done before. I mean, lower Manhattan is a really good example of an area that used to be way more commercial, and now has it’s much more mixed use, it has a lot of housing. That happened because of tax abatement programs that happened in Philly as well. So I think it’s possible, but it takes a lot of political will and a lot of mobilization to rethink what the economy is going to look like.
Andy Slavitt 35:23
Sure, and Anu, when you picture, an economy kind of a future state economy, where half the workers that were showing up in offices are now working from home, help us think about what else is different about that economy, I was listening to the CEO of IKEA talk the other day about how they’re just selling so much more home office equipment, I think about the CEO of AutoZone, talking about how, you know, people aren’t going to be driving as much to be able to keep their cars longer. There’s all sorts of like things that just don’t come to mind every day, that we’re just, we’re just sort of used to thinking about this sort of, I’ve got work, and I’ve got home. And therefore I’ve got economies and services that have developed around my needs, and being in both places and getting from one to the other. And that changes is that shifts, what else about our world will be changing as a result?
Anu Madgavkar 36:17
Well, on a positive note, the one thing I would say is that we’ve seen a tremendous polarization of economic wealth and growth and job creation in the so called superstar cities of the country. And in a positive sense, this could be a way to boost a slightly more, you know, flattered more democratized sort of spatial structure of development, if you will, by not putting the poles of, of job growth in just a few parts of the country. So if people are willing to, to move or willing to live and work from those locations, you should see greater demand for local services in in those areas. And that would include, you know, places where they could go hang out maybe satellite offices and hubs of various kinds, and a whole host of local services that could emerge from, you know, less economic concentration, if you will.
Andy Slavitt 37:15
Let me finish with asking you about the same question. You could take him in turn, I’ll start with you. I’m an it’s a little bit of where we started. But now that we have kind of more detail I want to read back to it, which is have people’s jobs changed, forever, is working now, something different than it used to be in a way that just won’t go back?
Emma Goldberg 37:39
100% I think people have new permission to question conditions that don’t work for them. Because I think there’s an understanding that just because something’s worked this way for a long time doesn’t mean it’s a certainty. And it doesn’t mean it’s, it’s like the architecture of the way work needs to happen. It just means that it’s the way it happened to be constructed. And I think people are realizing you can take that construction apart and re piece it together so that it works better for you whether that has to do with wages, whether that has to do with the location that you do your work, whether that has to do with the hours you do your work, or the power dynamics and relationships that flow out of that. And I think, you know, there’s been important research to about black knowledge workers expressing a preference for remote work because of microaggressions that they associate with the office. So and you know, some people expressing a preference for remote work because of cliquishness, or, or a lack of productivity in like loud social spaces. So I think people are just realizing that work doesn’t need to be, you know, run counter to your interest just because your boss has said that’s the way things have worked in the past. I think people are asking big questions, and that’s changing the experience of work and the relationships that come out of it fundamentally.
Anu Madgavkar 39:02
Well, I think work has changed fundamentally I agree with that. I think one of the biggest ancillary changes is how managing work has changed and will need to change because we’re talking about a paradigm in which flexibility fundamentally means more autonomy, more agency, people can figure out, you know, they have more freedom to figure out what works for them and what doesn’t. But in that new paradigm, you need new agreements or a new social contract about what trust means, what collaboration means. How do you respect time? How do you coordinate with other people, these are not sort of rigid ways of norms of working that that we used to live with. But now everybody is free to figure out their own norms. And in that context, the role of managers particularly, I think, team leaders and team managers to make the system hum with these new bonds of trust and collaboration, evolving in new ways, is going to be a big, I almost think about it like a retooling or rescaling challenge for the workforce.
Andy Slavitt 40:09
Let me summarize the takeaways you guys just keep at us tell me if I’ve got it right here. So positive things it sounds like are happening. One is sounds like more power in the hands of labor versus capital, great resignation work from home, shortages of labor. All are very interesting, very interrelated, and it’s caused wages to go up. Secondly, another form of wages appear to be going up. And that’s flexibility. We know that people value flexibility. And while one person’s socialization could be another person’s distraction, the ability to sort of decide more for yourself, it feels like a form of increased compensation. It also sounds like I’m hearing you say that the job of a manager or team leader has gotten more complex, that there’s gonna have to be an adjustment and that that adjustment period is going to be felt in all sorts of ways. And then finally, the spillover effects. It sounds like we’ve named a couple here. One is this continued separation in society from those who are more educated in work. salaried jobs, versus those who work hourly jobs are late or more hard labor jobs, which is something we really have to watch out for, because it’s caused all kinds of disruptions in our country, including political disruptions. Second, that culturally, the experience of a city will change and is changing. The third that culturally, people having more balance in their lives. I think it’s important for parents, for working women, you mentioned that there’s differences in race, which are very interesting to explore. And finally, the economy is going to look a bit different. And you guys have both said, that you think these changes are more permanent than they are temporary. Did I summarize that right?
Emma Goldberg 41:47
Anu Madgavkar 41:49
I think so. Yeah, that was great.
Andy Slavitt 41:51
Okay, well, I think we’ve all learned a great deal. So thank you for being in the bubble, Emma, and thank you for being in the bubble, Anu.
Emma Goldberg 41:58
Thanks for having us. It’s fun to be here.
Anu Madgavkar 42:00
Andy Slavitt 42:15
Okay, thank you for tuning in. Let me tell you what we have coming up later in the week. We have a show Wednesday. That is about the shortages in diabetes drugs that are happening because they are now being used to prescribed off label for obesity. And that has broad ranging implications. I think for a couple of things, how we think about obesity, but also drug shortages, that I think concerning, and this sort of off label use. And then on Friday, we’re going to take a deep dive into extremism in this country. We know it’s there. It is a reality that I think is showing up in a different way, in a more pronounced way. And that’s something that I think we have to have a deeper conversation about. So that’ll be on Friday. I really hope your week is off to a good start. We’ll talk to you on Wednesday.
Thanks for listening to IN THE BUBBLE. We’re a production of Lemonada Media. Kathryn Barnes, Jackie Harris and Kyle Shiely produced our show, and they’re great. Our mix is by Noah Smith and James Barber, and they’re great, too. Steve Nelson is the vice president of the weekly content, and he’s okay, too. And of course, the ultimate bosses, Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs, they executive produced the show, we love them dearly. Our theme was composed by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill, with additional music by Ivan Kuraev. You can find out more about our show on social media at @LemonadaMedia where you’ll also get the transcript of the show. And you can find me at @ASlavitt on Twitter. If you like what you heard today, why don’t you tell your friends to listen as well, and get them to write a review. Thanks so much, talk to you next time.