Office politics 办公室政治

2020.9


The fight over the future of the workplace has just begun
有关办公场所的未来的争执才刚开了个头 

 

Office politics 办公室政治


MOST PEOPLE associate the office with routine and conformity, but it is fast becoming a source of economic uncertainty and heated dispute. Around the world workers, bosses, landlords and governments are trying to work out if the office is obsolete—and are coming to radically different conclusions. Some 84% of French office workers are back at their desks, but less than 40% of British ones are. Jack Dorsey, the head of Twitter, says the company’s staff can work from home “forever” but Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix, says home-working is “a pure negative”. As firms dither, the $30trn global commercial-property market is stalked by fears of a deeper slump. And while some workers dream of a Panglossian future without commutes and Pret A Manger, others wonder about the threat to promotions, pay and job security.
提到办公室,大多数人会联想到例行公事和循规蹈矩,但它正在迅速变成经济不确定性和激烈争议的一个源头。世界各地的工人、老板、房东和政府正试图搞清楚办公室到底是不是过时了,它们得出的结论大相径庭。约84%的法国上班族已经回到了公司办公桌前,而在英国只有不到40%。推特的CEO杰克•多尔西(Jack Dorsey)表示其员工可以“永远”在家工作,但奈飞(Netflix)的创始人里德•哈斯廷斯(Reed Hastings)认为居家办公是“纯粹负面的”。企业举棋不定之时,价值30万亿美元的全球商业地产市场被经济进一步衰退的忧虑笼罩。而尽管有些上班族盲目乐观地憧憬着一个再也不用通勤和吃快餐的未来,另一些则怀疑这会影响晋升、薪资和工作稳定。
The disagreement reflects uncertainty about how effective social distancing will be and how long it will take before a covid-19 vaccine is widely available. But it is about more than that: the pandemic has revealed just how many offices were being run as relics of the 20th century, even as it triggered the mass-adoption of technologies that can transform white-collar work. As a result the covid calamity will prompt a long-overdue phase of technological and social experimentation, neither business as usual nor a fatal blow to the office. This era holds promise but also brings threats, not least to companies’ cultures. Instead of resisting change, governments need to update antiquated employment laws and begin reimagining city centres.
这种分歧是某些不确定性的反映:保持社交距离有多大效果?还要多久,新冠疫苗才能广泛供应?但不止于此。疫情促使人们大规模采用各种可能改变白领工作方式的技术,与此同时也揭示出有多少办公室的运作仿佛20世纪的文物。因此,这场疫情将推动一场早就该发生的科技和社会实验,在这个阶段既不会一切如常,也不会是对办公室的致命打击。这一时期充满机遇,但也带来了威胁,尤其是对企业文化。政府不应抗拒变革,而是要改进过时的劳动法规,并开始重新构想城市中心。
Two hundred years ago steam power brought workers to factories where they could use new machines. As corporate giants emerged in the late 19th century, staff were needed to administer them. They held planning meetings and circulated memos, invoices and other paperwork to record what they had done. All this required workers to be close together and created the pattern of people commuting by car or train in order to meet in a central office.
两百年前,蒸汽动力把工人带进工厂,他们在那里使用新型机器从事生产。随着19世纪后期大型企业的出现,又需要员工来管理企业。他们召开规划会议,传阅备忘录、单据及其他文件来记录自己的工作。所有这些都需要员工紧密聚集在一起,这就形成了一种模式:人们开车或乘火车通勤,去往集中式的办公室会合。
This system always had glaring shortcomings, some of which have become worse over time. Most people hate the hassle and expense of commuting, which eats up over four hours a week for the average American worker. Some dislike the noise and formality of offices, or suffer from discrimination within them. Office-bound workers find it harder to look after their children, a growing issue as more families have two working parents.
这套体系一直存在明显的缺点,其中一些随着时间推移变得越发严重。大多数人都讨厌通勤费事又费钱,普通美国雇员一周要耗费四个多小时在通勤上。有些人不喜欢喧闹而拘谨的办公室环境,或者在办公室受到歧视。上班族难以照顾小孩,随着双职工家庭的增多,这个问题愈加突显。
You might think that new technologies would have shaken up this unsatisfactory status quo. After all, the PDF electronic document was born in 1991, the cost of bandwidth collapsed in the 2000s, and Zoom and Slack, two firms whose technology powers remote working, are both nearly a decade old. Yet inertia has allowed the office to escape serious disruption. Before covid-19 struck, for example, flexible-office companies (including the troubled WeWork) had a tiny global market share of under 5%. Most businesses were unwilling to switch wholesale to remote-working technologies before their clients did; or to write off sunk costs in the form of property assets and leases.
你也许觉得,到了这会儿新技术应该已经撼动了这种令人不满的现状。毕竟,PDF电子文档在1991年就已面世,带宽成本在本世纪头十年大幅下降,提供支撑远程办公技术的公司Zoom和Slack都已经有近十年的历史。然而,出于惯性,办公室领域一直没有发生真正的颠覆。例如,疫情爆发前,灵活办公空间公司(包括陷入困境的WeWork)的全球市场份额还不到5%。大多数企业都不愿先于客户全面改用远程办公技术,也不愿意冲销房产和租约这类沉没成本。
Covid-19 has upended all this. Before the pandemic only 3% of Americans worked from home regularly; now a huge number have tried it. Even Xerox, a firm synonymous with office printers spewing unread pages, has many of its staff working from home. As more people adopt remote-working technologies there is a powerful network effect, with each new customer making the service more useful. Together Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Meet and Cisco Webex now have well over 300m users. Bureaucratic hurdles to remote work have been blasted out of the way. Civil courts are operating remotely. Notaries have gone online and some banks have eliminated the need for new customers to enter a branch to confirm their identity and open an account.
疫情颠覆了这一切。疫情前只有3%的美国人经常性地在家办公,现在有大批人都已尝试这样做。就连施乐(Xerox)也让自己的许多员工在家办公,这家公司生产的同名打印机吐出无人阅读的文件。随着越来越多人采用远程办公技术,强大的网络效应出现了,每一个新客户都让相关服务变得更有用。微软的Teams、Zoom、谷歌的Meet和思科的Webex的总用户数远超三亿。远程办公的官僚程序障碍已被扫除。民事法庭已在远程运作。公证处在线上办理业务,一些银行已不再要求新开户时本人到网点确认身份。
How much of this change will stick when a vaccine arrives? The best available guide is from countries where the virus is under control. There the picture is of an “optional office”, which people attend, but less frequently. In Germany, for example, 74% of office workers now go to their place of work, but only half of them are there five days a week, according to surveys by Morgan Stanley. The exact balance will depend on the industry and city. In places with easy commutes more workers will go to the office; megacities with long, expensive journeys may see fewer.
等有了疫苗后,这些变化有多少能保持下来?那些疫情已得到控制的国家最具参考意义。在那些地方正在实行“选择性坐班”,也就是还去办公室,但不是天天去。例如,据摩根士丹利的调查,德国现在有74%的白领会去办公室,但其中只有一半人是一周五天都去。具体的比例因行业和城市而不同。在通勤方便的地方会有更多人去办公室,而在通勤距离远、费用高的大城市可能少一些。
Companies will have to adapt to this pattern of sporadic attendance in which the office is a hub, not a second home. There is a risk that over time a firm’s social capital erodes, creativity flags, hierarchies ossify and team spirit fades, as Mr Hastings fears. The answer is more targeted staff interactions, with groups gathering at specific times to refresh friendships and swap information. New technologies that “gamify” online interactions to prompt spontaneity may eventually supersede the stilted world of Zoom. As they retool their cultures firms will need to rejig their property: sober investors expect a reduction of at least 10% in the stock of office space in big cities. With the typical corporate lease lasting at least half a decade, this will take time to play out.
公司将不得不去适应这种零散的出勤模式,办公室会变成一个中心,而非第二个家。这样下去,企业会逐渐面临社会资本被侵蚀、创造力流失、层级僵化和团队精神淡化的风险,这也是哈斯廷斯所担心的。解决办法是开展更有针对性的员工互动,让团队在特定时间聚会,增进情谊并交流信息。把在线互动“游戏化”以促进自发交流的新技术最终可能会取代Zoom那种僵硬死板的模式。企业在重置自身文化的同时也需要调整资产配置:精明的投资者预计大城市的办公空间存量将减少至少10%。由于企业办公楼租约一般至少为五年一签,这还需要时间来实现。
For governments the temptation is to turn the clock back to limit the economic damage, from the collapse of city-centre cafés to the $16bn budget shortfall that New York’s subway system faces. Britain’s government has tried to cajole workers back to the office. But rather than resist technological change, it is far better to anticipate its consequences. Two priorities stand out.
市中心的咖啡馆纷纷倒闭,纽约地铁系统面临160亿美元的预算缺口。为减少这类经济损失,政府难免会希望一切照旧。英国政府已在试图劝说企业员工回办公室工作。但相比排斥和抵制技术变革,为这种变革的后果做好准备要明智得多。其中有两大要点。
First, a vast corpus of employment law will need to be modernised. Already the gig economy has shown that it is out of date. Now new prickly questions about workers’ rights and responsibilities loom: can firms monitor remote workers to assess their productivity? Who is liable if employees injure themselves at home? Any sense that white-collar workers are getting perks will create simmering resentment in the rest of the workforce.
首先,劳动法规的一大块需要修订以跟上时代。零工经济已经显现出法规的过时。现在,新的有关劳动者权利和责任的棘手问题也逼近了:公司可以监控远程办公的员工以评估其生产率吗?如果员工在家中受伤,谁该被问责?任何认为白领享受到了额外优待的感知都会在其余劳动者中酝酿不满。
The second priority is city centres. For a century they have been dominated by towers filled with swivel chairs and tonnes of yellowing paper. Now complex urban-planning rules will need a systematic overhaul to allow buildings and districts to be redeveloped for new uses, including flats and recreation. If you step back into the office this month, sit down and log on to your computer—but don’t get too comfortable.
第二个重点是城市中心。一个世纪以来,城市的中心地带被大厦林立的办公区域占据,这些大楼里充斥着转椅和成吨逐渐泛黄的纸张。现在,需要系统性地改革复杂的城市规划法则,以重新开发建筑物和区域用于新用途,包括用作公寓和娱乐场所。假如这个月你重新走进办公室,那就坐下来,登录你的电脑吧——但也别太习惯这一切了。