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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 3/31/20


Good day!

Who doesn’t think our cityscapes are wonders to behold? Recently, however, we’ve been witnesses to scenes of these cities in a different context—devoid of people. I’ve been thinking about the consequences the pandemic will have on the way our cities evolve and in the way we conduct business. Even before the crisis, there has been a marked change over the past few years, not only in where businesses locate, but also in what type of buildings and configurations are desired.

  • On the decline: High rise granite and glass clad office buildings, with large exterior offices, in central business districts.

  • On the rise: Low rise, neighborhood/suburban office, exposed ceilings, walkable amenities, cool in-office amenities, shared space.

 

WORKING REMOTELY IS AN OPTION WHOSE TIME HAS COME

But now that we are required to be physically separated from each other, we are seeing the practicalities of “work from home” as a viable alternative. Even when we return to our offices after this is over, we likely will find businesses and their employees seeking more at-home work options, maybe a few days in the office and the balance at home. The possibilities—and the consequences—are endless.

The most significant limitation on working from home has been the human interaction—looking in people’s eyes, assessing body language, being able to behave in human ways, rather than as disembodied voices on a phone line. But that seems to be partially mitigated by the explosion of meetings via Facetime, Skype and Zoom. One a single day last week, I had six straight office and non-profit calls on Zoom—and it works amazingly well.

As I become more accustomed to these “virtual” meetings, I’ve starting thinking about the proper etiquette. What would Emily Post have to say about a circumstance where you’re in the comfort of your own home, yet everyone can see you and you can see them? There are some obvious behaviors that are necessitated by this format, such as knowing when to speak and avoid talking over someone. But there are some other, not so immediately obvious, rules. I’ve come up with a few of the more light-hearted of these (and I welcome some other observations and funny anecdotes for a later Musing):

  • Dress for success. Don’t be a total slob. Wear a nice shirt—it makes it feel like you’re at work and shows respect. Plus, no one really wants to see you in your jammies!

  • Avoid the bad hair days. If your hair is a mess, wear a hat. Of course some will question whether you’ve showered, but the alternative of looking like a poor imitation of Sting isn’t okay. Unless you’re Brad Pitt, or are trying to emulate his look, shave…

  • Mute yourself when not speaking, unless you want people to share your pets, children, dinner options, and all aspects of your personal life.

  • Sit with your back to the wall (no telling who passes behind you and what they might be, or not be, wearing).

  • Check your posture. You may have started out positioned in center screen; now we can only see the top of your head.

  • If you’re going to eat, choose wisely—probably not a Philly Cheese Steak, tacos or other “messy” food.

  • Be wary of pausing your picture. Pause to pick up a call but don’t pause for too long. People will begin to wonder.

  • Learn to read eyes and body language. See if you’re sending or receiving subliminal messages. I’ve learned to master the “check for phone for a joke” look (most expertly employed by Marc Graboff).

  • Don’t touch your face. Obviously these days you shouldn’t anyway, but I’ve already seen nose-pickers, ear cleaners, preeners, yawners, you name it. Just sayin’—we are all watching you!

As for more serious advice regarding working remotely, Paul Kischerff offers this from Inc. magazine: https://www.inc.com/lindsey-pollak-eileen-coombes/remote-work-home-productivity-communication-self-care-morale-team.html

As much as we wonder how retail will emerge from this calamity, one also wonders whether a hollowing-out of large office towers will be one of the follow-ups from this pandemic.

 

CITIES AND ARCHITECTURE

To better understand the cities that were built before the changes advent of remote work and creative offices, there are many resources, including:

  • The Power Broker, by Robert Caro (the story of Robert Moses, the architect of much of New York City)

  • Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, by Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, an exhaustive history of New York City. This is to be read in bits and pieces, including wonderful stories of Alexander Hamilton, the draft riots, the “golden door” of immigration, Teddy Roosevelt, Herman Melville, Tammany Hall—all in a monumental (and hefty) tome.

  • And finally, in Scrap Marshall’s words, Four Walls and a Roof, by Reinier de Graff, a collection of essays written by the Dutch Architect and Urbanist, in which he presents observations and arguments regarding the relationship between our physical built environment and the politics and social structures that shape it. Having studied and worked in Great Britain during the hollowing out of the public offices of urban development and architecture in the 1970’s & 80’s, to his current work on global projects, de Graff exposes the inner workings of how and what is built and for whom.

An unusual and comprehensive series of pieces that are at once historical, autobiographical yet journalistic and provocative. de Graff looks deep into the - often depressing - way in which our cities are built.

 

HISTORICAL FICTION, PART II

There seems no limit to recommendations in the area of historical fiction (some of which will come in subsequent Musings):

  • Burr and Lincoln, by Gore Vidal. Before there was Hamilton, the musical (based on the book by Ron Chernow), there was Gore Vidal’s story of Burr. Vidal, a colorful figure in his own right, followee this up with a series of well written, witty, historical, novelizations of important eras in American history, all worth the attention, but none better than Lincoln.

  • Jeremy Rosen offers reading anything by Sharon Kay Penman, who focuses on late Middle Ages England and Wales. Here be Dragons is the start of a great trilogy.

  • Jeremy also suggests anything by Gary Jennings, who has an eclectic mix of more ancient civilizations. Aztec is Jeremy’s favorite.

 

FINAL OBSERVATIONS

Long before the Elton John hosted music from the living room last weekend, USA for Africa’s We Are the World began the genre. If the film quality, outfits and hairdos don’t scream out 1980s, I’m not sure what does…:

https://www.google.com/search?gs_ssp=eJzj4tFP1zcsNjAtsSgwNDVg9BIoT1VILEpVKMlIVSjPL8pJAQCVKQnP&q=we+are+the+world&rlz=1C5CHFA_enUS738US738&oq=we+are+the+world&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j46j0j46j0j46j0l2.3364j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

For a great spoof of We are the World, watch this two minute rendition of “Kidney Now,” from the classic 30 Rock. The lead-up is that Tina Fey organizes a charity event to secure a kidney for Alec Baldwin’s father in the show. It includes Sheryl Crow, Elvis Costello, the Beastie Boys, Norah Jones, and others. It actually did end up raising money for the National Kidney Foundation:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VlgG2Op9d4

Finally, for all the educators receiving this, I’m sure you can relate:


Have a great day,

Glenn


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