By Rob Whittle, CEO, Williams Whittle
At this writing, it appears that Operation Warp Speed will produce a vaccine as early as next month with 20 million Americans eligible to receive vaccinations in December and ramping up from there. Moreover, Eli Lilly has introduced antibody treatments, already available. At some point, the economy will fully reopen—believe it or not.
Think of it—retailers will open shops, restaurants and bars will have Happy Hours—indoors. The Capital Beltway will once again be bumper to bumper. Or will it? Will workers return to their offices five days a week? Will the dreaded commute recommence?
There are reports already that commercial real estate companies are nervous, along with their lenders. Has American business seen the light of telecommuting, never to return to traditional office set-ups again? I don’t know the answer for most folks, but for Williams Whittle, the answer is that it is highly unlikely that we will return to business as usual ever again. Since early March, like many of you, we have been working remotely. Has it affected our productivity? I would say, “yes”—for the better. Those with hour-long commutes, those who have to drop their kids off at school in normal times are thrilled to roll out of bed and jump on a Zoom call.
We have been in the same office space for thirty-six years. Housed in a historic building, our offices became part of the Williams Whittle brand. Clients loved getting out of their cubicles to visit the Rectory for George Washington’s church. Fires were sometimes laid, refreshments served, the energy was always palpable. New biz presentations held there always gave us an advantage, I thought.
All that said, if you took a poll of WW staff, it would be unanimous to remain working remotely. Like many of you, this situation didn’t totally sneak up on us. About 12% of our staff had been remote prior to the pandemic so we had practice. With the use of technology—primarily Slack and Zoom—efficiency doesn’t seem to be lacking.
It’s tempting to think that our office experience is at an end, but that, alas, is not to be. There WILL be face-to-face client meetings, in-person new business presentations and other reasons to get together physically. It is said that younger people lose out the most, missing out on the office experience and the coffee bar conversations and attendant mentoring opportunities. Rather like second graders missing out on socialization. So, we will evolve into some sort of hybrid situation. Two to three days at the office. Or, one day at work and get-togethers as needed. It will certainly be some sort of hybrid set-up. It may or may not happen at our current office; maybe we’ll move to a shared-office environment.
But one thing is sure—the future will be different.
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