The Real Reason You’re Having a Hard Time Getting Things Done at the Office
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The Real Reason You’re Having a Hard Time Getting Things Done at the Office

Working from home altered our brains. We need more office time to fix them.

By RAY A. SMITH
Fri, Aug 4, 2023 8:23amGrey Clock 3 min

If you still don’t have your office groove back, there might be a scientific explanation. Hybrid work arrangements mess with our brains.

Frustrated bosses who survey their half-empty officescapes say it makes no sense that somebody who worked full time in an office before 2020 can’t show up like they used to. But neurologists and behavioural scientists say the collective amnesia for effectively working alongside each other makes perfect sense to them.

Some workers have lost the muscle memory in their minds required to get jobs done in an open-office setting and, like flabby biceps, that muscle has to be exercised to strengthen, says S. Thomas Carmichael, professor and chair of the neurology department at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine.

After years of remote work, our brains’ selective attention skills and ability to block out distractions is weakened, Carmichael says. Those who prefer to work from home might not like one of his remedies: Make yourself work from the office more often.

“The brain is really good at understanding contingencies, so if we just say ‘I’ll just get this done when I’m at home,’ we don’t learn it as well,” he says.

Drowning in a sea of ‘what ifs?’

Knowing how effective working from home can be has created a simmering unhappiness, says organisational psychologist Cathleen Swody. Many workers lose their uninterrupted autonomy in social office spaces.

Maryia Babinova, a senior software engineer in New York City, tried going into her office several days a week back in 2021 and found it nearly impossible to be productive.

“The first 30 to 45 minutes of my day were taken up by saying hello to everybody,” she says.

Babinova says even small office time wasters have become a major annoyance. A trip to the office coffee machine, for instance, can take as long as 15 minutes when there’s a line. At home, she says, caffeine is at her fingertips, keeping her on task.

Now, Babinova only shows up in person when her team members visit from another city. At the office, she works on tasks that don’t require a heavy mental lift so she can get them done.

Constantly comparing 2023’s office realities with alternative remote-work setups can add to workers’ readjustment woes, says Laura M. Giurge, an assistant professor at the London School of Economics, who teaches a course on the science of time at work.

When people start to ponder what life would be like if their circumstances were different, they can rapidly end up drowning in a sea of “what ifs,” a psychological concept known as counterfactual thinking.

“Now, when we go to the office, we have the counterfactuals of our home offices,” Giurge says. “We know how much better things would be…how much more work we might get done.”

It’s hard to un-remember how nice it was to take the dog for a walk midday, or how helpful it was to log out at 4 p.m. to get dinner started and log back in later. Running through scenarios of how time could be better spent takes up precious brainpower, distracting us from the real work at hand, psychologists say.

Unsettling quiet

Getting used to working with background noise takes time.

Many workplaces are quieter now because they are less crowded, and that means there can be periods of dead silence punctuated by sudden noise that feels magnified, jarring people again and again all day long. Even toggling between work-from-home solitude one day to a noisy office the next can have a similar effect.

“We have to habituate ourselves to all those distractions all over again in order to get any good work done,” says Vanessa Bohns, a professor of organisational behaviour at Cornell University. She points to research that shows it takes 20 minutes to get used to background noise, but five minutes of silence before bringing back the noise forces the brain’s process to start over again.

Many workers and a few bosses now view the office as a place to collaborate, but not the only place to do head-down individual work.

In a large-scale survey published by Microsoft last year, 84% of employees cited connecting with co-workers as their key motivation for working in person. More than 70% said they would go to the office more frequently if they knew their direct team members or work friends would be there.

“The data shows we can’t only see the office as a place to get focused work done,” said Colette Stallbaumer, Microsoft’s general manager of Future of Work.

Lynn Dang, a software developer in the Dallas area, uses her three mandatory office days for face-to-face meetings and work that doesn’t require intense concentration.

When she transitioned back to the office last year, she noticed she couldn’t concentrate on reading code like she could while working from home. Loud team discussions and overhearing one-sided conversations amid the cubicles from people who were on the phone or dialled into video meetings created a constant assault on her senses.

“It was like I’m gonna have to find something to do on my to-do list that would make me productive,” she says. “Otherwise I’m going to have to keep working overtime or working over the weekend just to get stuff done.”



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New York Watch Auctions Record Uptick in Sales in the Face of Market Slowdown
By LAURIE KAHLE
Mon, Jun 24, 2024 4 min

Luxury watch collectors showed ongoing strong demand for Patek Philippe, growing interest in modern watches and a preference for larger case sizes and leather straps at the June watch sales in New York, according to an analysis of the major auctions.

Independent and neo-vintage categories, meanwhile, experienced declines in total sales and average prices, said the report from  EveryWatch, a global online platform for watch information. Overall, the New York auctions achieved total sales of US$52.27 million, a 9.87% increase from the previous year, on the sale of 470 lots, reflecting a 37% increase in volume. Unsold rates ticked down a few points to 5.31%, according to the platform’s analysis.

EveryWatch gathered data from official auction results for sales held in New York from June 5 to 10 at Christie’s, Phillips, and Sotheby’s. Limited to watch sales exclusively, each auction’s data was reviewed and compiled for several categories, including total lots, sales and sold rates, highest prices achieved, performance against estimates, sales trends in case materials and sizes as well as dial colors, and more. The resulting analysis provides a detailed overview of market trends and performance.

The Charles Frodsham Pocket watch sold at Phillips for $433,400.

“We still see a strong thirst for rare, interesting, and exceptional watches, modern and vintage alike, despite a little slow down in the market overall,” says Paul Altieri, founder and CEO of the California-based pre-owned online watch dealer BobsWatches.com, in an email. “The results show that there is still a lot of money floating around out there in the economy looking for quality assets.”

Patek Philippe came out on top with more than US$17.68 million on the sale of 122 lots. It also claimed the top lot: Sylvester Stallone’s Patek Philippe GrandMaster Chime 6300G-010, still in the sealed factory packaging, which sold at Sotheby’s for US$5.4 million, much to the dismay of the brand’s president, Thierry Stern . The London-based industry news website WatchPro estimates the flip made the actor as much as US$2 million in just a few years.

At Christie’s, the top lot was a Richard Mille Limited Edition RM56-02 AO Tourbillon Sapphire
Richard Mille

“As we have seen before and again in the recent Sotheby’s sale, provenance can really drive prices higher than market value with regards to the Sylvester Stallone Panerai watches and his standard Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711/1a offered,” Altieri says.

Patek Philippe claimed half of the top 10 lots, while Rolex and Richard Mille claimed two each, and Philippe Dufour claimed the No. 3 slot with a 1999 Duality, which sold at Phillips for about US$2.1 million.

“In-line with EveryWatch’s observation of the market’s strong preference for strap watches, the top lot of our auction was a Philippe Dufour Duality,” says Paul Boutros, Phillips’ deputy chairman and head of watches, Americas, in an email. “The only known example with two dials and hand sets, and presented on a leather strap, it achieved a result of over US$2 million—well above its high estimate of US$1.6 million.”

In all, four watches surpassed the US$1 million mark, down from seven in 2023. At Christie’s, the top lot was a Richard Mille Limited Edition RM56-02 AO Tourbillon Sapphire, the most expensive watch sold at Christie’s in New York. That sale also saw a Richard Mille Limited Edition RM52-01 CA-FQ Tourbillon Skull Model go for US$1.26 million to an online buyer.

Rolex expert Altieri was surprised one of the brand’s timepieces did not crack the US$1 million threshold but notes that a rare Rolex Daytona 6239 in yellow gold with a “Paul Newman John Player Special” dial came close at US$952,500 in the Phillips sale.

The Crown did rank second in terms of brand clout, achieving sales of US$8.95 million with 110 lots. However, both Patek Philippe and Rolex experienced a sales decline by 8.55% and 2.46%, respectively. The independent brand Richard Mille, with US$6.71 million in sales, marked a 912% increase from the previous year with 15 lots, up from 5 lots in 2023.

The results underscored recent reports of prices falling on the secondary market for specific coveted models from Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet. The summary points out that five top models produced high sales but with a fall in average prices.

The Rolex Daytona topped the list with 42 appearances, averaging US$132,053, a 41% average price decrease. Patek Philippe’s Nautilus, with two of the top five watches, made 26 appearances with an average price of US$111,198, a 26% average price decrease. Patek Philippe’s Perpetual Calendar followed with 23 appearances and a US$231,877 average price, signifying a fall of 43%, and Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak had 22 appearances and an average price of US$105,673, a 10% decrease. The Rolex Day Date is the only watch in the top five that tracks an increase in average price, which at US$72,459 clocked a 92% increase over last year.

In terms of categories, modern watches (2005 and newer) led the market with US$30 million in total sales from 226 lots, representing a 53.54% increase in sales and a 3.78% increase in average sales price over 2023. Vintage watches (pre-1985) logged a modest 6.22% increase in total sales and an 89.89% increase in total lots to 169.

However, the average price was down across vintage, independent, and neo-vintage (1990-2005) watches. Independent brands saw sales fall 24.10% to US$8.47 million and average prices falling 42.17%, while neo-vintage watches experienced the largest decline in sales and lots, with total sales falling 44.7% to US$8.25 million, and average sales price falling 35.73% to US$111,000.

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