I’ve been watching the recent “Back To The Office” propaganda coming out of the UK’s Tory government with some interest, and it has struck me that this is exactly the sort of pushback-to-Old-Stack indicator I wrote about all those months ago.
It does mean a significant (but perfectly valid) extension to the notion of what constitutes “The/A Stack”. It means incorporating things like the Zoning Regulations into the stack. It means including stuff like the financial and ownership structures and dynamics that prop up all those tall buildings in the world’s cities. Because have no doubt, the call for everyone to “Go Back To The Office” is underpinned by the wave of rental-agreement cancellations going on worldwide. It is underpinned by a large segment of rentier-elites getting very, very worried about where their rental (passive) income is coming from, along with the massive portion of wealth inextricably bound to the property valuations on those buildings — valuations propped up by the underlying rental contracts. Exactly the sort of entrenched interests I foresaw would be primary engines of pushback to the Old Stack.
But the world has moved on. Companies everywhere are planning to keep their staff working from home. Permanently. Not a week goes by without some bank or software-house announcing that they’re abandoning their office space.
Enter the “Save Pret” propaganda. The “news” propaganda observes and laments the empty high streets of the world’s capitals. The offices are empty, so the “normal” office denizens are no longer popping out for lunch or a coffee, so the shops servicing that sector stay empty and are, in turn, forced to lay off or furlough their staff (nudged along by the dearth of “normal” tourist trade). So the trains and buses run empty. And the world wakes up to the extent to which those minimum-wage workers subsidise the service economy. It’s not a subsidy willingly given: it’s forced upon them by means of economic necessity. But a subsidy it remains, and much more massive than anyone’s credited before now. And so another foundation straw is removed from the edifice that props up the rentier classes passive income streams, and the Old Stack looks shakier than ever before.
No wonder that landlords’ lackies are pushing full-steam for a “Return To The Office”, even though it’s not necessary, not wanted, and may make the unwilling participants chronically ill or even dead.
There may (likely) be some short-term return to offices, engineered by threats and force, but I suspect it will not stick. This is one area where the New Stack is “strong enough” and sufficient numbers of people having experienced the New Stack way of working have decided that they like it, so there’s plenty of oxygen to feed New Stack buildout and improvement.
Investment in downtown office space is contra-indicated.