Are Office Buildings Obsolete?

Before buildings had centralized refrigerated air conditioning, windows used to open.

There was a little transition period, when the air conditioning had been installed and the new windows hadn’t, and Gene in Accounting wanted a little fresh air, and Glenda, head of the secretarial pool, was too hot. That petty war went on for a couple of years before the new sealed windows were installed.

These days windows don’t open and thermostats can’t be accessed except by Building Maintenance. Modern skyscrapers are controlled environments, regulated by complicated algorithms that limit air flow and temperature and circulation, keeping conditioned air, heated or cooled, in, and natural air out.

Kind of like a submarine or a rocket ship, except for the ground floor doors.

Climate control is great. Unless there’s a sneaky airborne virus that the infecteds might not even know they have. Then all that recirculated air is a medium of viral exchange. Eugene in Accounting might be breathing in the same air that Sylvia in Customer Service just exhaled three minutes ago, even though they’re on different floors.

Don’t get me started on the elevators. Those people riding the elevator together might as well be making out.

Those downtown buildings are Petri dishes, teeming with superspreader potential.

And office workers aren’t, for the most part, paragons of fitness and health. Those office workers are saddled with the co-morbidities that come with sedentary lifestyles, sitting at a desk for forty hours a week, eating processed foods and sugar, and only getting exercise when they get up to walk to the break room to see if the the doughnuts have been replenished.

The pandemic quarantine has shown that you don’t have to be sitting at a desk in an office to do your job. Anywhere in the world could be your office, as long as they have a (fairly) reliable internet connection. You can be logging in from Budapest, or Singapore, or Taipei, if you can accommodate the time difference.

If the company needs some face-time, like, for instance, for a brainstorming session, there are rental offices, like The Station in downtown El Paso, where you can rent a conference room. The Station is in the Transtelco Building, on a major internet trunk line, so you know that the internet there is faster than you can type, and probably faster than you can think, even on a good day.

Or maybe I’m just speaking for myself.

Maybe forced office attendance is more a demonstration of dominance than a real job requirement. I mean, we’re all adults here. Your job performance should be determined by your results, not by your effort. Unless the man just wants to show you who’s boss.

Hell, offshore your workload to India. If you can find good graphic artists or personal assistants from those Indian websites. I never could, but maybe the Indian offshore employment pipeline has improved in the last decade.

The pandemic work-from-home metamorphosis could signal a seismic shift in America’s workforce.

What’s going to happen to all those hall monitors? The PR girl who measures hemlines and judges wardrobes? The office manager who times bathroom breaks? Will their job descriptions change so they supplement the runners? Email won’t obviate the need for signed documents.

Office buildings were already on their way out. Remember, the City had to give the owners of WestStar Tower at Hunt Plaza a $10 million tax abatement to make it economically viable, and that was before the pandemic.


  1. Oh, hell yeah! I was fortunate enough to take a job working from home way back in the early 1990’s, and I learned very quickly that my productivity went way up, and stayed there. I found myself doing much more, with much less effort. I know it kills micromanagers to think that workers can actually be productive without constant supervision, but it is true. Think how much money a large employer can save if they don’t rent space, or build it, but send the workers home.

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