I haven’t commuted to London from Shortlands for 7 weeks but I am told by others that the rush hour is hardly that these days. Like me, if they can, most people in house arrest are working from home using making use of dining or kitchen tables, chairs, stools and perhaps their own bed. I have certainly lugged my laptop into bed with me to save stirring myself too greatly. It seems we may be working thus for some time to come even once businesses strive to get back on their feet.
Today I want to rather follow on and expand a little on my theme of yesterday by thinking about whether work will ever be the same again for so many of us?
Let me start then by thinking about the modern internet which really may be a game changer with regard to future work patterns. Allow me to speculate. If remote working to home offices allows companies to run without the need for large central, expensive premises in the centre of London perhaps, then why are they needed?
It makes sense to assume that job seekers, especially the young, may consider it a draw to work for a company with a physical presence in a large town. After all, what young person wants to be stuck at home or in digs all day? They want and should have the excitement of working. From my own children I know a major part of the attraction of working in London is being where it all happens and where they can meet friends and socialise. But that may not be the same for more mature employees with families. They may like home working and socialising locally with established friends.
I suspect there may be far fewer physical meetings in post pandemic business activities. Virtual stuff is in the ascendancy anyway. In lockdown Luddites like me will have had to master technology to do their job – so far, personally, I am getting there – in the end. So, changing to remote working may even be productive for dinosaurs.
More meetings will be replaced by emails, and instant messaging could prevail. Phone calls and meetings may move to platforms like Zoom. But even now, when we politicians take part in virtual televised meetings, people are criticising our dress sense and how we look. The media experts in Parliament have suggested we think carefully before appearing virtually on a public platform.
So, employees who use video conferencing frequently may have to retool their wardrobe to be camera-friendly; more bold colours, large-scale patterns and clean lines.
Comments also centre on not what we are saying on camera but rather the background against which we are shown. Again, a future business norm may well be not just virtual appearance designer suits and dresses but also backgrounds without bookcases containing inappropriate books like my old copy of Monty Python’s Big Picture Album! Whey, here we go!
Nobody can travel abroad at the moment and alternative ways of operating may have had to be employed. The photo shows Mrs Ruth Bennett, one of my Senior Political Assistants, working from home this week.
The post-Coronavirus World could see a very different kind of business trip or not – especially in an era when companies are trying very hard to recover and any excess spending will be shafted.
In offices layouts may have to change too. Desks might be well spaced out and more partitions evident, together with lots of cleansing stations etc. Buildings and furniture may also have to be able to withstand frequent deep cleansing too.
Some health and legal experts predict that on-the-job medical screening, such as temperature checks and antibody tests (how?), could be a reality for those who return to work. Is that too far-fetched? During my time in the Army I recall that there was infrequent but mandatory drug testing. So, I can envisage a similar system operating at work; for example, simple temperature tests which take seconds. Employers could also insist on some form of up to date health certificate before employees return to offices or factories. Maybe we will all have to have immunity passports. Actually, I believe such things are being discussed in government.
I suppose we will all now get used to no-hand-shake greetings too. The social norm might be contactless. Gestures such as nods, smiles, waves on meeting look like the future. Hugs could be a thing of the past. How sad but that is as it is now anyway. I’m a tactile type; I like contact with people when meeting and sometimes when talking. Don’t get me wrong there please.
From the looks I get when out at the moment I can easily see non-wearing of a face mask to be considered anti-social; regardless of how effective face masks are or are not. We may all be forced into face masks regardless. Will non-wearing of face masks be considered politically incorrect even if we are attending virtual meetings from home? How mad would that be?
I think flexible working hours could become far more normal too. Standard 9-to-5 office hours could become a thing of the past for many employees. There will have to be quite clear guidelines though. For instance, workers should not be bothered at any hour of the day. Time off should be sacrosanct and quite clear to employers.
Global Workplace Analytics, an American research-based consulting firm, has calculated that allowing employees to work from home saves companies about £10,000 a year on average. For their part employees should be able to expect some remuneration for using their homes as an office and indeed equipment they have to buy in order to fit themselves out. We MPs were told we could claim up to £10,000 to ensure our staff could function as well as possible from their homes. It was not given to us as a lump sum but has to be claimed with receipts and for the record, my office has not touched it.
May I (almost) end by one further, very important comment? A spike in working remotely might allow far more women to remain in the workforce as well as balance home and work life better. This would be an excellent result because, in my own personal experience, it is normally women who take real responsibility for the family and thus cannot work as easily as men. I admit, with considerable guilt, that this is certainly the case in my own family.
I know I have speculated today and maybe my ponderings are a bit dodgy and speculative. But I am absolutely certain of one thing. The impact of the Coronavirus will be a catalyst which will force change in not only the way we live but also the ways we work. Sorry I have banged on longer than normal too.