ON MARCH 16TH Bartleby left the offices of The Economist to head home. That was the last day when all editorial staff assembled in our London redoubt. And, at the time of writing, no date for a return to the office is in sight.
It is remarkable how quickly we have adapted. The newspaper has been written, edited and produced from couches and kitchen tables. January and February seem like an ancient era—the BC (before coronavirus) to the new AD (after domestication). The shift may rival great workplace transformations in the 19th and 20th centuries. Twitter has already said that all its employees will be allowed to work from home permanently and Facebook expects half its staff to do so within a decade.
It has been a much more sudden transition than occurred with factories. Steam power meant they were designed around one great power system, complete with belts and pulleys that snaked through the building. A failure at some point in the system meant the whole thing might grind to a halt. Then electrification allowed individual machines to have their own power source. But it took half a century from the introduction of electricity in the 1880s before factories were reconfigured to take advantage of the new power source.
The current, rapid shift to AD was enabled by preconditions. First,...
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