I have been working from home as long as I’ve been keeping this diary. It’s been mostly fine, but a little lonely. I miss my coworkers and some of the conversations and collaboration that comes from just bumping into someone. I’ve been particularly bummed out by the lack of Fantasy Baseball conversations with my co-worker Luke who was always good for a water cooler debate about keeper leagues.
As of this morning we are working remotely for the next fiscal year, which is frankly a lot to wrap my head around and simultaneously the right decision. It isn’t so much that our leadership thinks no one will be able to go to work until July 2021, but our lease is up at the end of next month and the uncertainty of when we will need office space and for what is enough for us to hit pause for a little over a year.
Frankly, while I’m sad and anxious about what this means for any number of reasons I’ll talk about in a second, I am also feeling relieved. I have spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about how I would get to work once we were back in the office. As much as I’d love to be back at work with my team the prospect of 60+ minutes on the CTA each day was downright terrifying. The thought of spending that time in a Lyft or cab wasn’t much more comforting. I can theoretically walk/run/bike 5 (ish) miles each day, but Chicago weather doesn’t always allow that.
It wasn’t just the commute, we have team members with children who have no idea when childcare or schools would be open again. Additionally, there is no guarantee that there won’t be stay-at-home orders periodically throughout 2020. I’m tremendously grateful to work for an organization where I can work from home and the leadership understands the flexibility we need right now.
I’m also worried about what this means for cities like Chicago. It was less than a week ago that Twitter announced they would give employees the option of working from home “forever.” As I was drafting this piece Square followed suit. This isn’t just a trend at businesses Jack Dorsey owns. Google and Facebook employees will mostly work remotely for the next calendar year and a piece in the New York Times last week identified half a dozen businesses following suit.
Urban centers like Manhattan or the Loop aren’t designed to be residential areas. Thousands of small businesses exist on the daily foot traffic of workers. As more businesses settle into remote work for the long haul those businesses will have a hard time surviving even after the stay-at-home orders are lifted.
Beyond that, there are millions of square feet of commercial real estate sitting vacant across America and it is starting to look like they will not be filled any time soon. Just three companies in Manhattan lease over 10 million square feet of office space according to the aforementioned New York Times piece. Extrapolate that out to the number of companies in a city and the taxes each of those companies pay and it’s easy to see how this trend will further hurt the economy:
Entire economies were molded around the vast flow of people to and from offices, from the rush-hour schedules of subways, buses and commuter rails to the construction of new buildings to the survival of corner bodegas. Restaurants, bars, grocery stores and shops depend on workers for their survival.
Real estate taxes provide about a third of New York’s revenue, helping pay for basic services like the police, trash pickup and street repairs. Falling tax revenue would worsen the city’s financial crisis and hinder its recovery.
“I get worried that the less money that is coming in, then we can pay less in taxes and less in services, and it becomes a vicious cycle,” said Brian Steinwurtzel, the co-chief executive at GFP Real Estate, the largest owner and manager of small tenant office and retail buildings in the city.
I love living in Chicago and am worried about how these decisions will change this wonderful city. The pandemic is going to reshape our cities the same way it’s reshaping every aspect of our lives.