For decades, Pauline Neuwirth assumed she had to maintain a physical office space in the heart of Manhattan to operate her business successfully.
But in a matter of months, the pandemic has changed everything, including how — and where — she and her six employees work.
Ms. Neuwirth is the founder of Neuwirth & Associates, a publishing services company that, for more than 35 years, has managed all aspects of book production, design and manufacturing for some of the biggest names in the business. Her clients have included Random House, HarperCollins, Doubleday and Penguin, and in order to have a presence in the midst of New York’s publishing world, three years ago she began leasing a 2,750-square-foot office space on 21st Street just off Fifth Avenue.
“One of my big clients was in the Flatiron, which is why I rented there and paid more than I would’ve elsewhere in Manhattan,” Ms. Neuwirth said.
But now, Ms. Neuwirth is working from her home office in Bridgehampton while her employees are doing likewise at their homes across the region — from lower Manhattan and Westchester to New Jersey and Queens. One of her employees even went to North Carolina to ride out the pandemic and is working just fine from there.
“At first, I was worried about productivity. The big companies knew what was coming down and made sure everyone had proper technology prior to the shutdown,” Ms. Neuwirth said. “It was a Wednesday in March and we were like, ‘Everyone’s leaving. Guys, do you have a computer at home?’ Or, ‘Here, Jeff, take this laptop.’
“We thought we’d be back in two weeks. I know that there is software that will allow you to monitor your employees, but everyone checks in with my production manager in the morning and they let her know when they’re taking their lunch,” Ms. Neuwirth said. “The books are getting out. We’re getting potential new clients. So it seems to be working for us.”
Ms. Neuwirth finds that Zoom meetings have become the new norm and her employees are very happy to be working from home, too.
“It was stressful for those in Westchester who were commuting. Now, they’re having a better quality of life, though they miss coming in and socializing,” said Ms. Neuwirth who, down the road, envisions having a much smaller working space in Manhattan with just two or three desks that people can come in and utilize on an as-needed basis.
That notion of dropping in to a shared workspace is known as “hoteling,” and Ms. Neuwirth said she first envisioned transitioning to that sort of business model after visiting the office of a younger client about three years ago, ironically, right after signing the lease on her large office space.
“They had all the young’uns at a long table with headphones and laptops and a privacy booth where they went to do their telephone calls,” Ms. Neuwirth said. “My office is set up so everyone has their own office and all these other things. It became obvious to me that it really wasn’t all that necessary.
“It became clear I was a prisoner of my bricks and concrete,” she added.
In truth, despite her company’s Manhattan presence, Ms. Neuwirth has been quietly working to transition to a professional life on the East End. A few years ago, she founded East End Press, a new publishing company focused on authors and stories from the area, and she figured that sooner or later, she would have to decide which professional life she wanted, especially once her clients realized she was spending more time here than in Manhattan.
“I faked it. I didn’t want my clients to know I was here,” she said. “I thought it was all or nothing — either move into a new business out here or keep the old one. I didn’t think we could work as successfully remotely as we are, or that it would be accepted by my clients.”
But if these recent months have taught her anything, it’s that the old business model she’s known all these years is truly obsolete.
“No one has martini lunches anymore. Those tried and true business rituals seem to have gone away,” said Ms. Neuwirth, who added that she keeps a pied-à-terre in the city in an apartment building with a private restaurant, where she can meet clients when necessary, making the need for the formal office space even less relevant.
“Until the pandemic, I never really thought I could have it all. Now, it seems to me that I can have both,” she added. “This has been a blessing and I can finally see that I don’t have to be burdened by this anymore.
“I don’t have to give up my business, I can have the one I created out here and have that one in the city. … Now if I can just get rid of that space.”
Ms. Neuwirth has said she will happily entertain offers to sublet her office space in the Flatiron District of Manhattan for the remaining time on her five-year lease.