End of life regrets? I'm having them now
ALSO: Can offices solve the housing shortage? Kind of...
The Pandemic brought forward an end-of-life reappraisal
You’ll possibly be familiar with the the Harvard Study of Adult Development, a research investigation into human wellbeing that has been running since 1938. The survey has delivered vast insights into the secrets of living a long, healthy life. It does so by taking a cohort of teenagers and following them until they die. The original sample of participants blended contrasting groups together, a cohort of Harvard undergraduates (incidentally including a young John F Kennedy in their ranks) was surveyed along with under-privileged Boston teenagers. The survey is still continuing today, the sample including descendants of the original participants.
If you’ve heard of the survey you’ll be familiar with its conclusion, that the engine of health and longevity was friendship. ‘Happiness is love. Full stop,’ was the TL:DR summarised by the founder of the project.
Or as Robert Waldinger, who runs the study today describes it:
"the healthiest are the people who have more social connections and warmer social connections. Connections of all kinds—not just intimate partners, but friends and work colleagues and casual relationships."
What brought this to mind was an interview with Waldinger that I was listening to this week. Waldinger explained the insight they gained about life from the qualitative interviews they conducted. He said this:
“I will say that when we asked people in our study when they were in their 80s to look back, we said, “What are your biggest regrets?” Many of the men — and remember, in that generation, it was primarily the men who worked outside the home—many of them said, “I wish I hadn’t devoted so much time to work and achievement. I wish I had spent more time with the people I care about.”
What was telling about that is that it has resonance with a lot of the workplace conversations that we’ve witnessed over the last two years, as we’ve returned to a post Pandemic. We’re seeing huge increases in men choosing to become stay-at-home dads - a group that has swelled by a third since the Pandemic.
The critical challenge here is that the rumble of a RTO (return to the office) movement is building up a serious head of steam. This week another CEO said the majority of his employees needed to be back in the office full-time, the boss of JPMorgan adding that remote work is good for women but not for managers or ‘young kids’. No doubt it was meant differently to the way it came out. I hope so.
We’ve always known that employers enter into a trade-off battle with the talent they hire. Lavishly-paid professions like management consultancy or finance tend to demand long, relentless days in return for their generous remuneration. We’re heading to a position that is evolved a couple of steps from where we were at the start of the Pandemic, but with many of the same characteristics. Jobs that want part of your soul have gone back to demanding part of your soul.
New data this week says that the average worker saves 72 minutes a day when working from home. Of this they tend to spend half an hour working more, and the remainder benefitting their personal life. Firms who demand a full-time return to the office are asking their employees to forget the glimpse of a better life they saw, and to make a call that they may regret on their deathbeds.
Read more: Friendship is good for us.
Steven Paynter, a leader at Gensler, a global architecture firm, looked at 500 office buildings to ask whether they could be converted to residential space
30% of office buildings make for suitable candidates for conversion - this varies a lot by city
Office conversions are often in great locations - in cities with great access to transport
Factors that make for bad offices can make for good homes, for example, a typical ceiling height for a low standard office (Class C) is approximately 12 feet. This is considered oppressively low for an office, but above 9 feet in a residential building is considered luxurious
Converting to residential is 30% cheaper than building from scratch
Along the same theme of using space in a better way, Project Pair in San Francisco is seeking to save companies money by allowing them to share office space with other firms. The benefit of the office, without paying for the time it sits empty
If you’re not following Ethan Mollick using Chat GPT in his MBA classes you’re missing out (even if you don’t use Twitter much, just follow him, turn on notifications and you’ll just get his posts pushed to you)