Coronavirus Is a Preview of Our Self-Isolating Future

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How Working From Home Could Reshape Society

At 8:45 each weekday morning, I drop off my four-year-old at preschool, hug him goodbye, and drive back home. Most days, that is the last time I share a room with another human being until he and my wife return home at 5:15 p.m. Often, it’s the last time I leave the house.

It feels, in some ways, like a dress rehearsal for a future that was already on its way.

But that’s a future not everyone can share in. And it’s worth asking before we reshape our society around it in ways that turn out to be irrevocable, whether it’s one we really want.

My co-workers interact mostly over Slack anyway, even when they’re sitting next to each other.

Those tools, combined with astronomical housing prices in the largest cities, have helped to bring remote work back into vogue. In May 2019, the San Francisco-based online payments company Stripe announced that it would hire 100 new engineers to form a fifth engineering hub — but not put them anywhere. Its new hub, the company explained, would be entirely remote.

Telecommuting might emerge as the default for office workers as much by inertia as by active choice.

Even some of the apparent downsides are surmountable, at least in theory. I no longer walk two miles per day as part of my commute, but I can leave the house and go for a jog at any time, without worrying about returning to work sweaty and unkempt. (I mean, I usually don’t, but I could!) I can’t spontaneously grab lunch or coffee with a co-worker, but I can with my wife or a neighbor down the street who also works from home. I’ve started occasionally having “remote coffee” with co-workers who are also at home; we each brew a cup and as we video chat for 20 minutes or so.