My friend Peter is an intellectual property lawyer in the Bay Area. He would occasionally describe his travel schedule to me and I would be floored. For a homebody like me, the amount of time he spent in Hong Kong or Seoul or London or anywhere that wasn’t his native San Jose seemed exhausting. Still, he loved his work, and every job requires something different from us, and he always seemed to find time to help raise his kids and maintain a solid relationship with his wife.
Northern California, however, was one of the first regions in the country to implement a full lockdown of its residents. When I heard about the order, I thought, “That seems excessive.” That now seems like such a long time ago. I asked Peter recently how the lockdown was going for him and if he could do all his work done from home. He said he could, and that when the shelter in place order was lifted, he doubted his law firm would simply continue doing business as they had before the virus. If they don’t need someone in the office to get the work done, why require them to be there?
I have another friend in Rhode Island whose office will be closing permanently. His job is intact, but, like Peter, it can easily be done from home. This is a pattern that must be repeating itself all over the country and the world. With the advent of video conferencing, it’s become clear that the office is not as essential as we once thought it was. Why pay for it if you don’t actually need it? And why make your employees spend all that time in their cars driving to and from work?
I know the challenges of global warming require a far more comprehensive overhaul of our energy use, and that there is a whole swath of the economy that will forever require its workers to commute, but it does seem to me that getting tens of millions of people worldwide off the road and working from home will at least help clear our skies. If indeed this modest sea change occurs, it will have been the result of a creative response to a totally different crisis. If someone, even the most influential someone like a president or the head of an oil company, had suggested that one easy thing we could all do to help reduce carbon emissions is to simply have as many people work from home as possible, I don’t think it would have happened.
Yet here we are, and it wasn’t so hard after all. It’s both inspiring and a little frustrating. Isn’t it amazing how adaptive humans actually are? Look how willing we are to change when circumstances require it. And look how easily we admit when something new is better.
A lot of people are enjoying working from home, getting to spend more time with family, avoiding the grind of the commute. Even schools are learning what is possible out of the classroom. Why, it makes you think humans are capable of anything!
Which we are. Unfortunately, we sometimes need a mortal threat to compel us to make largescale changes. Simply telling people to change usually doesn’t work. We all have to make up our own minds. As it should be, I think.
We all have free will, and we must learn how to live with the reality that we can do or say whatever we want, even if what we do or say isn’t good for us. What I have seen since the Corona Virus began spreading reminded me that as stubborn as we can be, as unwilling as we may be to imagine a future different than the present, when the present moment kicks open a door we did not even know existed, most of us are willing to walk through it.