Breckenridge, Colorado

The Future of Work

Posted by The Daily Camera

By Sean Maher, CEO

In January 2021, I did a column on what the world might look like after COVID. I wrote that piece while I was working remotely down in Palm Springs. One of my predictions was that most employees would never go back to the office full time and the future of work would look very different than it did before COVID.

Fast forward a year and a half and it looks like that prediction was a safe bet. The crowds in airports, stadiums and theme parks make it obvious that most of us no longer worry about COVID. Yet many have not gone back to the office full-time and some have not gone back at all. Boulder landlords tell me that offices on average have about half the number of employees at their desks relative to pre-COVID. I hear a similar story from restaurant owners who say the lunch crowd from nearby offices is 40 to 50% smaller compared to 2019.

Those numbers sync pretty well with my own experience. Before the pandemic, my company had 16 employees with one person working remotely. The rest of us were in the office Monday through Friday. Today we have 17 employees and eight of them are working remotely full time. We have hired staff in Florida and Montana who are not relocating. We’ve had key people move to New Mexico and Utah.

Just a few years ago, these employees would have faced a choice to stay here and keep their job or move away and find a new one. Now, the option to relocate anywhere and keep your job in Boulder is almost a given.

As a CEO, I sometimes get asked when I will get tough and require people to come back to the office. The answer is probably never. We have the most talented team we ever have and I would lose valuable people if I took a hardline approach that some CEOs like Elon Musk are trying to push.

The numbers seem to back me up. Almost two-thirds of knowledge workers are still working from home part- or full-time. When surveyed about job satisfaction, those with the freedom to work remotely are 60% more likely to be happy with their job. Another recent poll showed that 52% of workers across multiple industries will consider the option for remote work when evaluating future career moves.

Even Musk has backpedaled somewhat on his hardline mandate. In a call with Twitter employees last week, he said he prefers people to be in the office but acknowledged that “exceptional work” can still be done from home.

But what about all the research during the pandemic that showed creativity and collaboration dropped when people are not together in an office? Without “water cooler” conversations, great new ideas may never get shared or even thought of in the first place.

From my experience, that is a real issue but becoming less of one all the time as we get more comfortable with technology. My firm started using Slack and Zoom before COVID but never made full use of either until the pandemic forced us to. Now I find myself messaging and “huddling” via Slack even when I’m talking to someone just down the hall. Our team has also adapted other best practices from other firms such as bringing the entire staff to Boulder for a few days every quarter to collaborate and socialize.

Of course, a permanent shift to hybrid and remote work will require big changes for many businesses beyond those directly affected. Restaurants, service providers, transit agencies and others will all have to adjust. Business models that have already been completely disrupted will have to change yet again to survive and thrive.

But the “new normal” of people living and working in places they choose instead of colocating with their employers will offer up new opportunities as well as new challenges. With its incredible amenities and quality of life, Boulder is positioned to do just fine regardless of what the future brings.

Sean Maher is the CEO of RRC Associates in Boulder. He can be reached at

back to blog