Stephen Ross believes a recession will force remote workers back to the office

The man who allegedly wanted his football team to tank apparently now hopes the economy will tank, too.

The pandemic revolutionized the manner in which many Americans work. And, after learning that those who work from home can be even more effective than those who show up day after day for small talk and involuntary socialization that often impacts productivity, many decided that they prefer working from home.

Now that the pandemic is over (even if it really isn’t, but that doesn’t matter), employers want to get the employees back under their direct supervision and/or thumbs. Those with massive commercial real estate holdings don’t want to see their properties become unoccupied and, in turn, worthless.

Enter commercial real estate billionaire Stephen Ross, who made enough in that endeavor to buy the Miami Dolphins. Via BusinessInsider.com, Ross told Bloomberg on Friday that he sees a silver lining in an economic recession. Employees will feel compelled to return to the office.

“Employers have been somewhat hesitant because they didn’t want to lose their employees, but I think as you go into a recession and people fear that they might not have a job, that will bring people back to the office,” Ross said. “The employees will recognize as we go into a recession, or as things get a little tighter, that you have to do what it takes to keep your job and to earn a living.”

That’s a short-sighted and cynical view of worker productivity. If people can work as well if not better remotely than they do when crammed into a largely artificial space with largely artificial lighting and largely artificial air and largely artificial relationships, why squeeze them to do something that would make them less effective, less fulfilled, and less happy?

“Every executive recognizes that people need to work together,” Ross said. “You have to train your workforce and educate them and you work as a team. You don’t work as individuals.”

But many people work well as individuals. The PFT writing team is sprinkled across the country, from New York to West Virginia to Chicago to Texas to Los Angeles. We’re in constant communication via text message. We’re together rarely. We’re all productive.

Likewise, for two seasons I’ve contributed to Football Night in America from a studio in my home, avoiding 14 hours of weekly travel and everything that goes along with it, while also being able to focus on my duties in an environment far more conducive to maximum output throughout some very hectic football Sundays. It’s been better for PFT, better (and cheaper) for NBC, and better for me personally.

Not every business can thrive that way, I know. But not every business needs to shoehorn human beings into a shared space, where all sorts of potentially unfortunate interactions can occur, from someone eating someone else’s chicken salad that was left in the refrigerator to various forms of harassment that can become legally actionable.

Again, Ross has a clear bias. There’s no money in commercial real estate if offices shrink or, in some cases, disappear. Thus, while a recession would be a bad thing for the country, it will be a good thing for the commercial real estate tycoons out there who otherwise could see the demand for their products continue to shrink and, possibly, to evaporate completely.

There’s a clear irony in Ross’s viewpoint on this. He lives and works in New York, not Miami. It would benefit from his presence on a daily basis. Without him there, turf battles and personal agendas an infighting have made the franchise sufficiently dysfunctional to be rarely relevant. Owners who show up every day at their teams’ facilities love competing against teams whose owners are basically absentee landlords.