Another working week done, so I switched off the laptop, went for a walk, and returned to exactly the same room I’ve been working in every work day since late March.
For those of us working from home, how is it working out for you, especially if it was a significant change from your previous routine? From my point of view the huge, and frankly unexpected, success of the remote working experiment which was forced upon us has been one of the few good things to come from the Covid crisis. It seems odd then that in recent weeks the message from central government has been to get ‘back’ to work in the office, as if those of us in this position hadn’t been working just because we are not all in the same building.
It was pointed out that jobs which can be done remotely can be exported overseas. I dare say they can, but now it has been demonstrated that the jobs can be done remotely there is nothing magical about ‘the office’ which will put that genie back in the box. Jeremy Hunt said that people need the ‘fizz and excitement’ of the office, and that we ‘need office banter’. When I read that I was in a room with opera playing softly and an incense stick burning (yes? What of it?). I know which environment I prefer and find more productive, and it doesn’t involve bantz.
Next an appeal was made to think of the sandwich shops, and the rest of the high street. While I feel sorry for individual employees affected in that way I always took my own lunch to work anyway. An item on Radio 4 while I was assembling a salad for lunch today suggested that smaller towns and local parades of shops are thriving, or at least recovering more quickly than major city centres. The high street was in the bones of its arse already, and although online shopping will increase so will local shopping. Accepting and adapting to that is surely better than back-engineering work arrangements due to unintended consequences.
Most recently, attempts have been made to sell the daily commute to us as a fun and enlivening use of our time, a proposition with which many would disagree. As it happens I have a pleasant and leafy half hour walk to and from the office, and that walk is one of the things I miss about it. I doubt those who took the 6am train into London then spent 20 minutes crammed onto the Central Line, spending thousands of pounds a year for the privilege, are as sorry about the change in routine. Shortly before lockdown a knee ligament injury meant I took the bus to work for a week. Each day it crawled down the road from my suburb to the city centre, and took significantly longer to cover the two miles than my (healthy) legs would have taken. Congestion on that scale, taking so many people so much time, can’t be good for anyone.
I know that I’m fortunate in all sorts of ways. Not only have I stayed well through the epidemic but I have, unlike many, stayed in full time work. I also have an ideal place to work next to the huge and sunny floor-length window in the living room which overlooks a small grassed area outside the flats where I live. From my desk all I can see is sky and trees. There were problems in the early days when the work network, a recalcitrant beast at the best of times before lockdown, struggled with with the demand of so many people working remotely, but adjustments were made because they had to be and it has worked well for months.
Of course not everything is perfect. I can’t pretend that some meetings wouldn’t be better face to face than over Teams. Sometimes it would just be nice to see my colleagues to chat in person (aside from my closest colleague almost all communication is very work based these days). I worry about new staff who would benefit from lots of contact with colleagues, and I know there are a lot of young people especially whose entire working and home life is now contained in the four walls of a small room in a shared house.
All things considered I’m in no hurry to go back to the office full time, though post Covid an ideal mix might be one or two days a week in the office and the rest working from home. My employer has no plans for people to return to the office any time soon either, and is currently said to be reviewing their property portfolio with a thoughtful expression and a calculator. So it looks like the current arrangements will carry on for a while yet, which is of course fine by me.