Saturday 3 October 2020

Working remotely (and locally)

Work has changed

Work is no longer somewhere you go - it’s something you do

It's something you do from pretty much anywhere, if you can and your team/employer can manage the timezones. The COVID-19 outbreak has compressed 5-10 years worth of gradual working practice changes into a couple of quarters. It’s been 6 months for us in the UK and bar, a short government push to get people back to the office, there’s been very little sign of a return to how things were. The last round of advice suggested we are looking at another 6 months, which feels like a number chosen because it’s the biggest we will quietly accept. 

It probably won't change back

If this is the shape of things to come, rather than a one off pandemic, it would be a brave company that maintains a huge office portfolio for on-again off-again occupation. It’s like the world’s worst Hokey Cokey at the moment – right team in, right team out, left team in, left team out, but with no idea of when you’ll be able to put your whole team back in for any length of time.

Working remotely affects other workers

The lack of commuters to cities is also having an impact on the service industry – coffee, sandwiches, food trucks, restaurants and bars. I used to work out of our London office one day a week and typically spent £10–20 each time on sundries (and maybe a pint after work). I know many who spent this amount every day! I haven’t been for 6 months now and that is not looking likely to change any time soon. 

That money won’t entirely go away as people continue to work from home, although it seems like people are still being cautious with spending, but a fair bit will likely end up being spent locally. This isn’t a bad thing – instead of someone making a 70 minute commute to serve me a coffee after my 70 minute commute, I’ll walk to my local café and be served by someone who also walked there. (Or I would if there were any cafés that I could walk to in under an hour without taking my life in my hands, but you get the idea). Of course there’s some irony that in the great enabler of remote working, the coffee shop, the last thing they now want is people working there all day. 

Many of the local outlets are suffering too, but for those that can survive, the changes to our habits forced on us by the pandemic might just give them a brighter future. And the cities will have to focus on the people that live there, rather than those that are transported in and out each day. 

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