We don't know when people are going to go back to work. I keep hearing that and I have to laugh. We are working. It's just that many are working from home and the numbers are pretty staggering. I have now gone through the most recent quarterly reports of 100s of companies and almost nobody's talking about coming back. Most are talking about how they and their associates like it and it grows on them every day.
Of course there are plenty of younger people who want to go back to the office so they can show someone they are working hard and not just showing up for a 40 person zoom get together. They don't know how to impress and they feel they are going nowhere fast.
But most companies CEOs have led off their reports with tremendous pride about how they were able to get their people at home and hooked up in record time, whatever record that might be because there has never been anything like this exodus. Some of the companies I talk to have had amazing quarters simply by helping employees get the hell out of dodge, dodge being their skyscraper office with potentially Covid-filled elevators and offices. It seems that a lot of CEOs figured out that this thing is so much more contagious than the governments have told them that they know you simply can't have a lot of people - if any - at the office.
We don't have numbers of how many are really staying away. We do know that the average public transit system is down about 60% year over years. Toll road traffic has declined about 40%. Those are huge numbers and they haven't really gotten smaller with the so-called opening of various cities in different stages that defy comprehension. As a small business person I can tell you that you only find out what stage you are in when you are shut down.
But here's what I have gleaned from talking to the companies that have aided the move to stay at home as well as the CEOs of the companies that have moved their people out of their offices.
First, there is an overall concern about safety and the office isn't safe. Sure they can take temperatures when you enter the building but while we still know so little about the virus we are sure of one thing: temperature doesn't indicate if you have it. In fact, the time when you have no temperature but you have Covid is when you can most easily give it to people.
Two, most companies don't know hack about what really to do about Covid so they would rather just send everyone home. They don't have chief medical officers. They don't have their own PCR machines. They don't even have real policies. So, the one thing they do have control over is not letting you in the building. So they don't.
Three, the early returns are in and the decline in travel and entertainment is pretty staggering. It works because no one wants to see you and no want wants to be seen. It's a lot cheaper to run a company remotely.
Four, when offered a choice to come back and work from an allegedly safe environment, most don't want to. They don't want to get on public transit. They don't want to get in elevators. They don't want to wear masks. They don't want to be socially distant or don't know how to. They don't know where to stand. When you see signs that say only five to a men's room, you want to be the guy who tells the others to get out? There's no enforcement because there are no enforcers. And they cost money too.
Five, Zoom's (ZM) fine. In fact, many times it is better. You don't have to worry about getting a cold or the flu from some colleague let alone Covid. You don't really need to be face to face because you are scared to, anyway. When I was growing up we all had to take the polio shot. Watch out, when we get vaccine, plenty won't take it. Thank heavens for Zoom.
Finally, it's just better to be with your family. With the exception of kids supposed to be going to college, there's a lot of joy for parents to be with their children before the shove off. I have never understood these private schools where kids go away. Are you kidding me? I craved every precious minute I could be with them. Even when they weren't, say, ideal? It's a windfall for working parents.
In short, the pandemic has reversed years of commuting. It can come back but the ex-urban movement is growing permanent, not temporary, and only a vaccine, and maybe not even that, can change things.