Walmart’s Bentonville headquarters office is once again open for business, and the retailer’s home office associates are returning to the desks, cubicles and spaces they had diligently occupied before the now-legendary pandemic disrupted their routines, schedules and lives so many months ago.
The significance of this event far outweighs the renewed shuttling of bodies and vehicles across three avenues of this northwest Arkansas village that Sam Walton once made necessary through his vision, energy and insight. It signals nothing less than the formal end to the virus that gripped America so tightly for the past two and a half years.
More than that, it raised anew this uniquely American question: What’s basically wrong with our country?
Once upon a time, going to the office each weekday morning was as normal as, say, blueberry pie. It’s what we did, where we spent our days, how we made our living. It was the way things were supposed to be.
No longer. Today, the American workforce, especially its younger generation, has conjured up all manner of reasons to stay away from the offices it once, almost fondly, called home — or, more precisely, our home away from home. The commute is too long, too perilous, too boring, too time-wasting. We’re more efficient, more productive, more valuable, more necessary at home, where we can sleep a bit longer, walk the dog a trifle earlier, enjoy breakfast or lunch or afternoon coffee a bit more leisurely. Where we can be a bit more, well, important.
We all know, within our inner selves, that this is nonsense. We know, when we signed on to our current jobs, that commuting to the office was part of the package, part of the contract. We realized, when we bought that first home in outer Mongolia, that getting on the 6:59 each weekday morning was our end of the bargain. We recognized that our obligation to our companies, our bosses, our friends, our business associates included, indeed depended upon, the act of showing up.
The time has come, as the associates at Walmart once again showed us, to show up, wake up, own up to the fact that working from home is, was, has always been an unrealistic expectation.
Truth is, part of the success, integral to the success, of American business has been the interaction, the idea exchange, the melding of ideas and personalities inherent in the act of showing up. Whether we, as employees, like each other, tolerate each other, detest each other or are indifferent to each other, the act of exchanging thoughts, ideas, suggestions, even disagreements is what makes American business work so well. Walking the dog is no substitute for getting coffee for your workmate. Sleeping in will never replace arguing with the worker in the next cubicle, the one you never really liked, the one who always gets the job you really wanted.
Someone once said, accurately, that the business of America is business. If so, that business is properly, necessarily, proactively conducted in an office. Picking up the groceries will wait, as it always has, for the commute home. If dinner is once again late and the steak is cold and the potatoes are lumpy, isn’t that the way it’s always been?
So, welcome back, Walmart. Once again, you have showed America the way. Always the first to see the light. Always.