January 15

Weekend reading: The office


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What caught my eye this week.

Will we or won’t we? Go back the office that is. Although I say ‘we’ to give the vibe that we’re all in this together. But rather like a backyard reveler in Downing Street during a pandemic, I walk to my own beat.

More than 20 years ago I discovered I could mostly do my job from home, and more efficiently too.

“Sod the office!” quoth I. “And be damned with the commute.”

Perhaps I capped my (traditional) career prospects, but I never looked back in terms of quality of life. Working from home was like playing the game on easy mode. More time, fewer distractions, chores done incidentally during screen breaks, and always in for deliveries.

Most of you also now know that drill now.

Indeed, one good thing about lockdowns – bar the parties, natch – has been the world discovering how practical it is for more people to live this way.

Well, I say ‘good thing’ to again hit an inclusive note – but for me it’s been a step backwards.

More people in Waitrose at lunchtime. Everyone wanting to Zoom instead of just leaving you to get on with it. Double-digit house price growth in my fantasy rural retreats. The world has changed.

For many workers all this freedom is a revelation.

Bloomberg reports this week that 55% say they will quit if forced to return to the office.

No wonder we’ve all asked how long it will last.

Life’s too short

US cheapo broker Robinhood is just the latest firm to offer most of its staff permanent work from home, saying:

Our teams have done amazing work and built a strong workplace community during these uncertain and challenging times, and we’re excited to continue to offer them the flexibility they’ve asked for by staying primarily remote. 

Facebook and Twitter are two other big tech firms that have pledged to enable staff to keep working from home.

But Google has just taken a step in the other direction. While stressing it was forging a hybrid model rather than enforcing office labour, it nevertheless just plunked down $1 billion in additional commitments to its UK offices.

Reuters reports that:

Google plans to refit the building so it is adapted for in-person teamwork and has meeting rooms for hybrid working, as well as creating more space for individuals.

The new refurbishment will also feature outdoor covered working spaces to enable work in the fresh air.

Google says it will eventually have the capacity for 10,000 workers at its UK sites, including the one being developed in London’s King’s Cross.

Rishi Sunak, UK chancellor, even put his name to a quote that celebrated the move as a commitment to the UK tech sector.

On that political note though, I did wonder as I watched Google executives do the interview rounds whether this was in part a PR move?

The company was rolling out huge office buildings around King’s Cross before the pandemic. It was already pretty all-in.

Why not give the UK government something to cheer about ahead of the next furore over corporate taxes or some dodgy militants on YouTube?


A $1 billion is a lot to spend on PR though. Clearly Google is serious about its 6,400 UK workers having at least a foot in office life.

However this vision couldn’t stop Google postponing its global return to work plans last month, as the Omicron wave hit.

Many others have done the same. And of course in December it became official UK government guidance again to work from home if you could.

Those who believe the traditional office’s days are numbered think these delays have put the final coffin in things returning to how they were.

Nicholas Bloom, professor of economics at Stanford University, told the BBC that any hard return-to-office dates are dead:

“Endless waves of Covid have led most CEOs to give up, and instead set up contingent policies: if, when and how to return to the office.” 

Bloom believes that at the least the future will be hybrid now.

I see pros and cons. For example I chose to go into a client’s office a couple of times a week for a few years, which also gave me a bit of social contact. But it also meant I couldn’t exactly leave London for the Orkney Islands.

Hybrid working takes wholesale geographic reckoning off the table.

Perhaps that’s why the populations of UK cities have held up better than some predicted during the so-called ‘dash for space’.

After Life

A scattered workforce can make the office seem a bit of a nostalgic throwback, like wearing bowler hats to work.

As one worker told the BBC:

“I won’t come in regularly until there is a critical mass of people here.

There’s no point in leaving the house if I end up doing video calls anyway.”

The bottom line is I still don’t think we know what will happen next.

This week veteran commentator Barry Ritholz pointed out what a weird recovery we’re seeing across the spectrum.

No wonder those April 2020 thoughts of two weeks at home and we’re done seem so quaint these days.

Hubble is maintaining a long list of big or famous companies’ back-to-office strategies. What’s your favourite firm doing?

Wherever you are, have a great weekend. The evening’s are getting lighter!

From Monevator

An introduction to PrimaryBid – Monevator

FIRE update: the onset of winter – Monevator

From the archive-ator: Don’t make a crisis out of a crisis – Monevator


Note: Some links are Google search results – in PC/desktop view you can click to read the piece without being a paid subscriber. Try privacy/incognito mode to avoid cookies. Consider subscribing if you read them a lot!1

Redo your SWRs! The ONS has raised life expectancy… – ONS

…but that’s as projected for newborns. For already-oldies it’s down, raising a question mark about plans to raise the State Pension [Search result]FT

£150,000 for starting salaries as firms fight for staff – BBC

Tax hikes and inflation to deliver real terms £1,600 pay cut to average UK worker on £30,000 – Yahoo Finance

Centrica boss says high energy bills could last two years – Guardian

The UK economy was back above pre-Covid levels in November – BBC

Vanguard fires fresh salvo in asset management fee war [Search result]FT

Products and services

A month on from the base rate rise, have savings rates improved? – Which

Open a SIPP with Interactive Investor and pay no SIPP fee for six months. Terms apply – Interactive Investor

Monzo has relaunched its famous ‘Give £5, get £5’ referral scheme – ES

Homes for new year’s resolutions, in pictures – Guardian

Comment and opinion

Should passive investors be happy buying equities at 100x earnings? – Behavioural Investment

All about inflation – Mr Money Mustache

Is your bond fund really an equity fund in disguise? – Morningstar

Name that bias – Humble Dollar

Are we bullish enough? – Of Dollars and Data

After years of abstraction, things get real for markets [Search result]FT

Reddit ‘antiwork’ forum booms as Americans quit jobs [Search result]FT

Buying a multi-million pound second home on margin – Fire v London

Projection – Indeedably

Getting rich with asymmetric money moves – Banker on FIRE

Fama and French: the five-factor model revisited… – CFA Institute

…and the theories of finance academics graded – Morningstar

Future self mini-special

Spending decisions that end up costing millions of dollars – TEBI

Is delayed gratification the most important thing to develop? – Random Roger

Aging in place – Humble Dollar

Crypt o’ crypto

UK crypto winners cannot dodge the tax authorities [Search result]FT

“I bought my first NFT”bps and pieces

Signal founder’s Web3 takedown… – Moxie Marlinspike

…and Ethereum creator’s response – via Reddit

Naughty corner: Active antics

The periodic table of commodity returns – Visual Capitalist

Terry Smith’s annual letter [PDF] – Fundsmith

Inflation is peaking – Joachim Klement and Josh Brown

Goldman Sachs takes down the CAPE ratio. Again – TKer

Cullen Roche: macro economics and you [Podcast]Morningstar

Living through a crash – The Big Picture

The renaissance man of venture capital – Institutional Investor

Warren Buffett’s favourite investor Lou Simpson has died – Rational Walk

Covid corner

Australia: as clubbers used to say, “Wait for it…” Worldometer

Omicron optimist, pessimist, or fatalist: which are you? [Search result]FT

Record number of under-fives being hospitalized with Covid – LondonWorld

After Omicron, Covid will be more like seasonal flu, says Bill Gates – CNBC

The puzzle of North America’s record high hospitalization rate – BBC

“My bile rises as I am asked to move my dying patient out of ICU to make room for an unvaccinated man with Covid”Guardian

Kindle book bargains

Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland – £0.99 on Kindle

Mastering the Market Cycle by Howard Marks – £0.99 on Kindle

The 5AM Club: Own Your Morning by Robin Sharma – £0.99 on Kindle

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth – £0.99 on Kindle

Environmental factors

Shell converts London petrol station into electric car hub – ThisIsMoney

Climate change is unbalancing the insect world – Guardian

The Waste Age – Aeon

End times UK edition mini-special

The City of London vs the EU: a slow puncture [Search result]FT

How Britain falls apart – The Atlantic

Marina Hyde: who’s really leading Britain? – Guardian

Off our beat

Solving the word game WordleThe Ringer

Unfolding and deploying the James Webb space telescope – SyFy

One man’s love affair with his finally-defunct Blackberry – BBC

Moving mom to ‘memory care’ – Get Rich Slowly

Looted Amazon boxes stretch to the horizon [US, video] – via Twitter

What a world! – Morgan Housel

And finally…

“The shortest route to top quartile performance is to be in the bottom quartile of expenses.”
– Jack Bogle, via The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing

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