Stewart Butterfield, total slacker

Thinking about the knock-on effects of the Great Pandemic of 2020 is enough to make anyone philosophical – and Stewart Butterfield more than most.

In the three months since companies worldwide switched off the lights and sent their employees home, it has become more obvious by the day that millions of workers are now permanently unbound from their cubicles. “There are second- and third-order effects to this,” Mr. Butterfield says via Zoom from his house in San Francisco, his hair dishevelled and face bestubbled (although not necessarily any more than was the case before the pandemic). “What does it do to the commercial real estate market, to the tax base and to the restaurants next to office buildings? What does it do to the distribution of high-income jobs around the country?” Do people in Toronto making $150,000, he wonders, continue making the same salary even if they decide to move back to Manitoba to be close to their elderly parents? And what does that do to the economies of smaller towns, where houses cost $80,000 instead of $800,000? “There are so many things you can’t really even imagine the net effect of,” he says.

Granted, Mr. Butterfield is prone to deep thinking, what with his master’s degree in philosophy from Cambridge. But he’s also the Canadian co-founder and chief executive of Slack, the company that has, in large part, enabled the dissolution of decades of office culture – a generational shift with massive cultural and societal implications.

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