Ditch the Commute, But Beef-up Security

COVID-19 has forced Manhattan to face a reckoning, according to @NYT, because office tenants have figured out that they can all work from home just fine, thank you. Ditch the commute, ditch the dry cleaning, ditch the open space office and all its distractions.

But it’s not just Manhattan: it’s every office building everywhere, and the implications for physical security are profound.

Let’s consider some of the possible outcomes.

Fewer people, fewer security needs. Owners and tenants will spend less money on security because they have fewer people and assets in their offices. As offices become barren warehouses for desks and dark computer screens, there is little left to protect. Our people are safe at home, their laptops all left the building with them, and we parked the paper and filing cabinets next to the ashtrays and Martinis. 

Lower occupancy, higher surveillance. Mankind has always counted on the presence of good people to act as a deterrent to bad people. Office full of potential witnesses and challengers, not a great target for crime. But the physical asset that is the modern office still carries liabilities that far outweigh the cost of security equipment, and we’’l need more of it now that we’re there less.

Nature abhors a vacuum, so empty offices are repurposed into something other than offices. Maybe they become invitation-only product showrooms, or mini convention venues, or in-house conference centers supporting the idea that onsites are the new offsites. Or condos, or whatever. Humanity has never gone backward in its hunger for more built space, and we will do something with our former 9-5 homes away from home. And it will need security.

We’ll be there a little, but we want to be safe a lot. We miss the office, and we’d like to back at least some of the time, but we want protocols in place to ensure our health and safety. This is a boom scenario for all manner of sensors, people counting, visitor management, contact tracing, and video verification, plus the hardware, mobile apps, and AI to make it all happen. It’s also another great example of the truth that whether times are good or bad, there’s always a justification to spend more on security.

COVID-19 will undoubtedly transform office life, but in a post-vaccine world we won’t fear it as we do at the moment. Depending on the length of the long tail of ongoing infections, we will continue to measure, monitor, and map potential outbreaks that breach our office thresholds. More surveillance will be the norm.

WFH is good up to a point. Online corporate Happy Hours are a poor substitute for the real thing. And no amount of bandwidth matches the full analog experience of face to face interaction. We will go back to our social watering holes, and we will bring our security with us.

We’ll be there with you.