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Gone Camping!

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Well, not really, but we have packed up all our stuff and are on the move.

TreeHugger is now part of the Dotdash team, and they are building us a whole new site from the ground up to be an all-round better experience no matter how you read it, light and fast and the way of the future. To make the change we have had to pack everything up and move it over. Right now it is all on the road, and we are all whining from the back seat “Are we there yet?”

The answer from the front seat is “don’t touch anything, we’re almost there.” We will be pitching our new tents around the 16th of the month. Until then, happy camping!

Well, not really, but we have packed up all our stuff and are on the move.

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Study finds only 12 percent of US workers want to stay home full-time

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Gensler interviews thousands, finds most want to go back to the office.

Before the pandemic, only ten percent of American workers worked at home for any length of time, and only a third had the option. We have been writing about how this has changed, most recently noting that many firms are going to allow workers to stay home forever if they like. But a new study by the big architecture firm Gensler’s research institute finds that most workers actually do want to go back.

workers want to get back to the office© Gensler Research Institute

Many want more flexibility; less than half, 44 percent, wanted no days at home. But fully 70 percent wanted to work at the office for the majority of the time, while 30 percent wanted a more flexible arrangement where they could come and go.

interest in working from home skews with age© Gensler Research Institute

Younger workers are much more interested in getting back to the office than older ones. This would seem counterintuitive, given that younger workers are so much more comfortable with being online, but the boomers have the homes with the comfy home offices, while the younger workers have tiny apartments, roommates or kids underfoot.

Younger workers report a far more challenging experience working from home than their older peers. They are less likely to feel as if they’ve made a difference or completed the work they needed to do at the end of a typical workday, according to survey responses. Working from home may be having an alienating effect on younger workers, too, as they may feel a gap between their work and their company’s mission.

Reasons for going back© Gensler Research Institute

The main reason that they want to go back is people. “When asked to rank the most important factors for wanting to come into the office, meetings with colleagues, socializing with people, and impromptu face-to-face interaction were the top three answers.”

Despite the mainstream adoption of virtual collaboration technologies, respondents still listed people-focused reasons as the most important reason for coming into the office. By the same token, 55% of respondents said collaborating with others is harder, and 51% said staying up to date on the work of others is more difficult while working from home.

changes workers want© Gensler Research Institute

Workers do want change; they want more space, less sharing of workspaces, and more flexibility if they do want to stay home. “Fifty-five percent of people report that in order to feel comfortable returning to the office, a combination of stricter sick policies and changes around office cleaning and space configurations that accommodate physical distancing must be made first.”

People who did not have personal workspaces note that they would actually like to have them.

Does the coronavirus actually prove that offices are indeed necessary?

Dotdash Pizza party© Dotdash pizza party/ Claire Cohen

Being part of that baby boomer generation and having worked from home for the last fifteen years, this study was surprise to me. But having seen how our new Dotdash team goes through pizza, I can see the attraction. In my post In the future, the office will be like a coffee shop, I tended to agree with designer Dan Boram, who predicted that “people will continue to work from home as much as four days a week and the office will become a destination for the things that can’t be done from home, like socializing, innovating, problem-solving, training and building culture.”

But judging from the Gensler survey, people want more than that out of their office. Of course, it is also possible that the results of the survey are skewed because people are trapped right now, desperate to get out of the house or apartment, and many have entire families in their face when they are trying to work. I wonder if people who want to get back to the office will change their minds after a few months.

Or maybe I am just wrong. Lucy Kellaway, a journalist at the Financial Times who covered office life, writes that in some businesses, the office provides more than just a place to work.

The most important thing — which should make the office less an employer’s white elephant than its biggest bargain — is that it gives work its meaning. Most of what passes for work in offices is pretty meaningless, and the best way to kid yourself it matters is to do it alongside other people intent on doing the same. Even in interesting jobs like journalism, meaning comes largely from physical proximity to your colleagues. After six weeks of writing in her own bedroom, one friend reports: “I’m churning out the same old articles as before, only now I no longer give a crap”.

After writing from home for over a decade, I thought her article was silly, that I am churning out new articles every day and talk to my editor and co-workers constantly. But after reading the Gensler survey I am wondering if I am not looking at the situation from my own Zoom and Skype camera, from my own lovely home office. For others, I can see how that pizza looks mighty tasty.

Read the whole Gensler Research Institute study here.

Gensler interviews thousands, finds most want to go back to the office.

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Will the coronavirus bring back the corner store?

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With more people working from home, the little variety store may thrive again.

My late father used to point to a little corner store on Dewson Street in Toronto, near where he grew up, and say “there’s the store that made me the man I am!” (he was a big guy.) In many parts of the city, corner stores were a key part of our lives. Vancouver planner Sandy James notes that they still could be:

Coming out of the pandemic is the need to access goods right in your neighbourhood. The local corner store used to fill this role, with shopkeepers knowing everyone in the neighbourhood, and providing a place where locals can buy milk, cheese, some staples and hear the local goings-on and gossip.

They were once necessary in streetcar suburbs when people didn’t drive to get their groceries in one big load. A hundred years ago many people didn’t have fridges, so you wanted to buy your milk fresh every day close to home. But they also helped define a neigborhood. Kaid Benfield once described the “popsicle test:”

If an 8-year-old kid can safely go somewhere to buy a popsicle, and get back home before it melts, chances are it’s a neighborhood that works. Note that there’s no planning jargon in there: nothing explicitly about mixed uses, or connected streets, or sidewalks, or traffic calming, or enough density to put eyes on the street. But, if you think about it, it’s all there.

My children loved them; the man who ran the one near my son’s school when he was in grade four knew he was good in math, and always had him calculate the change and sometimes even pretended there was sales tax so he would have to do percentages.

That store is gone now, as are so many others. People want the cheaper prices from the big chains and have big cars to carry home the bargains. I think the decline in smoking had something to do with it; I haven’t really been in one since I stopped smoking many years ago. Real estate values are such that they get converted back into houses, and commercial property taxes are brutal.

But as I noted in The Coronavirus and the future of Main Street, it’s comeback time. More and more people are going to be working from home, and they have to get out now and again. Just like they used to run down to the little shop in the lobby for a bag of chips or even a pack of smokes, they will probably now run out to the corner store. our local neighborhood may once again become our support network for those things that we need.

Bring back the neighborhood bar

It’s not just corner stores, it’s also corner bars. Here again, I defer to Kaid Benfield, who wondered “Does a sustainable community need a good drinking establishment?”, referring to neighborhood bars as “third spaces.”

We shouldn’t romanticize third spaces as only being about brightly lit cafes, pedestrianized streets, and the local public library. Bars work in their scruffy way by offering a place to get away from an overcrowded apartment or a squalid loft or a grimy job. They are a place where someone with little to spare can go for a change of pace.

I noted at the time that “complete neighborhood has to serve all kinds of people and offer all kinds of services. It also has to have all kinds of buildings, big and small, new and old, grotty and gorgeous.” Kaid continued”

What does this have to do with sustainability? Well, quite a bit, in my opinion. The more complete our neighborhoods, the less we have to travel to seek out goods, services and amenities. The less we have to travel, the more we can reduce emissions. People enjoy hanging out in bars and, especially if they are within walking distance of homes, we can also reduce the very serious risks that can accompany drinking and driving.

Now that more people are working at home, they may well need the amenities in their neighborhood that they used to have around their office, the variety store where they get their snacks. They may well be the customers that support a new local infrastructure of coffee shops, restaurants, services and shopping that had long disappeared from our main streets. Oh, and maybe even a few good local bars.

With more people working from home, the little variety store may thrive again.