And if COVID-19 were about to fuel the next big upswing in economic prosperity and quality of life?

I just got off the phone with a friend who is good friends with the CEO of a European finan­cial ser­vices firm with sev­er­al thou­sand employ­ees. During the COVID cri­sis, essen­tial­ly all of those employ­ees are work­ing from home, just as my friend is doing. Said CEO found out one thing: it works. And well. So he has decid­ed: Of those now work­ing from home, maybe 3-4 per­cent will return to the office once the COVID cri­sis is wound up. The rest will be asked to most­ly con­tin­ue to work from home.

There is some aca­d­e­m­ic research as to what this can mean in terms of pro­duc­tiv­i­ty gains if done right.1 And, it has to be said, some skep­ti­cism has been voiced with regard to the spe­cial sit­u­a­tion of COVID-19, because work­ing from home has sud­den­ly been forced upon peo­ple who unex­pect­ed­ly have to dou­ble as guardians and teach­ers of their chil­dren which in turn have been evict­ed from their kinder­gar­dens and schools aso.2 But, as the real-world exam­ple men­tioned above indi­cates, it appears to work even now.

So if, when the last COVID-caused ICU case has been resolved, just some firms ini­tial­ly adopt the approach that “our” CEO has already decid­ed upon, it will grad­u­al­ly be adopt­ed by most ser­vices firms for which such a mod­el is suit­able, because the remain­ing firms, for com­pet­i­tive rea­sons, can­not afford to ignore the pro­duc­tiv­i­ty gains the approach can offer. According to the research cit­ed above, while one can cer­tain­ly not cling to exact num­bers from one real-world, if large-scale, exper­i­ment, pro­duc­tiv­i­ty gains can be expect­ed to be noth­ing short of very sub­stan­tial. And then think about the poten­tial for not insignif­i­cant sav­ings in rental expense for office space.

Daily lost liv­ing time for those still com­mut­ing to work will decrease sub­stan­tial­ly because of less-clogged traf­fic arteries.

People will have more time to do high­er-val­ue and more ful­fill­ing things in their lives than dri­ving to work, or pushed to (learn to) do high­er-val­ue and more ful­fill­ing work than dri­ving oth­er peo­ple to work.

Those who may feel lone­ly at home because they miss social con­tact with col­leagues (see the research cit­ed above) may enjoy such con­tact dur­ing sched­uled meet­ing times either in the much-reduced remain­ing office space or, bet­ter yet, in the café where the employ­ing firm pays for the del­i­ca­cies con­sumed. More impor­tant­ly still, it may instill in them the desire and spur respec­tive ade­quate activ­i­ty to improve their pri­vate social life that one would assume is lack­ing some­what when col­leagues are the most impor­tant social contacts.

In coun­tries like Italy, where beau­ti­ful his­toric build­ings are cur­rent­ly used as mun­dane office space, a lib­er­a­tion of such space may lead to more afford­able liv­able, lov­able liv­ing space for many peo­ple. Of course, for real estate invest­ment firms, the some­what low­er rents from res­i­den­tial instead of com­mer­cial occu­pants will mean a painful hair­cut, with reper­cus­sions also for finan­cial insti­tu­tions, so this will have to be a non-too-abrupt change.

Needless to say that every­one con­cerned about city-cen­ter air qual­i­ty will wel­come the reduced pol­lu­tion result­ing from reduced work-relat­ed commuting.

In short: pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and prof­its sig­nif­i­cant­ly up, qual­i­ty of life sig­nif­i­cant­ly improved. While we as humankind are still lick­ing our short-term wounds from COVID-19, we can at the same time look for­ward to very sig­nif­i­cant improve­ments the pan­dem­ic may bring about for our liveli­hoods much soon­er than many now expect. If we han­dle the oppor­tu­ni­ty well that has been forced upon us, those unbe­liev­able crea­tures that are human beings may be able to turn COVID-19 into one of the biggest eco­nom­ic as well as soci­etal suc­cess sto­ries of our time.

Addendum, May 12, 2020

The above post was a spon­ta­neous “out­burst” after end­ing a tele­phone conversation.

We are cur­rent­ly, in a way unfor­tu­nate­ly, extreme­ly busy wrap­ping up devel­op­ment of our pro­pri­etary fore­cast­ing soft­ware on the one hand, and final­iz­ing, con­cur­rent­ly, two major arti­cles in the med­ical field, one on the systemic/immunological ques­tions that COVID-19 has yet again posed with unwel­come vig­or, poised to appear on loico, the oth­er attempt­ing at a sys­tem­at­ic under­stand­ing of hip­pocam­pal func­tions – some­thing which at every turn threat­ens to esca­late into a top­ic that would war­rant a title as encom­pass­ing as “The brain” -, and which we have agreed to sub­mit to a peer-reviewed sci­en­tif­ic journal.

So explain­ing in a sat­is­fac­to­ry way why a per­fect­ly spon­ta­neous writ­ing is some­thing per­fect­ly fit­ting for a web­site focused on actu­al log­ic will unfor­tu­nate­ly have to wait a few weeks longer.

After writ­ing the post, how­ev­er, I could not refrain from doing a web search to see what oth­ers may have writ­ten on the top­ic. I found that while mak­ing work­ing from home per­ma­nent has been dis­cussed in a num­ber of arti­cles,3 and while “Fortune” has pub­lished a piece on the “Nationwide” insur­ance com­pa­ny4 plan­ning sim­i­lar things as “our” European CEO at about the same time as we have pub­lished the above post, it seems that, again, see­ing the facts and con­nect­ing them in a log­i­cal way are often two dif­fer­ent things.

While oth­er arti­cles typ­i­cal­ly men­tion some of the ben­e­fits of mak­ing “WFH” per­ma­nent, such as sav­ings on office rental expens­es and employ­ee sat­is­fac­tion, they do not draw the con­clu­sion that this will very like­ly mean that medi­um-term the world econ­o­my will actu­al­ly come out of COVID-19 sig­nif­i­cant­ly strength­ened at its core, not weak­ened and head­ed for a depres­sion as has been the per­va­sive pub­lic per­cep­tion in recent weeks and months.

And when “Fortune” quotes the “Nationwide” CEO as say­ing: “At the end of the day, we looked at key his­tor­i­cal events that shaped soci­ety: the Great Depression, the 1918 pan­demics, WWI and WWII, 9/11, and the finan­cial cri­sis. During these crises peo­ple reduced con­sump­tion, grew more fru­gal. After the cri­sis, wor­ry con­tin­ued and it was a per­ma­nent mind­set shift. That’s real­ly impor­tant. We think the world is chang­ing. We’ve got to take cost out of the sys­tem. We want to enable sus­tain­able growth,”4 then it strikes that he does not men­tion the fact that WWI and the 1918 pan­demics were actu­al­ly fol­lowed by the “roar­ing twen­ties”, and that he him­self, in his stream of thought, clear­ly appears to make the con­nec­tion between “tak­ing cost out of the sys­tem” and “enabling sus­tain­able growth”.

“Growth”, that is. Not depression.

  3. See, for exam­ple, and[]
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