For all the different views on how to deal with the transition from lockdown, everyone seems to agree on one fact — in the world of work, everything will change.
But I’m not so sure.
Naturally employees won’t love the return to the commute, and businesses will eye savings in office upkeep. Yet for every one of us delighting in the perks of home office life, there are others desperate to be free from zoom fatigue and boredom. And while office rent bills may be high, what about lost productivity due to connection issues and no in-person dialogue?
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder — and my heart has all of a sudden become very fond of chance encounters and conversations free of stuttering connection issues.
Indeed, the greatest challenge of remote working hasn’t yet been felt by many organisations. When every staff member is virtual, it’s one thing. We are all in the same boat and there’s a level playing field. But when we transition to a mixture of home and office working, it’ll be much harder to ensure remote workers aren’t excluded, or possibly vice-versa. This could incentivise more office working and cause headaches for companies they would rather do without.
Naturally, there will be some businesses, previously behind the times, that are now much more open to remote working after the virus. But a sweeping, systemic change in the very nature of work? Unlikely.
The same goes for a disruption in the forces behind urbanisation. Throughout centuries of human history, we have come together at greater and greater density. In fact, Edward Glasier, in his book The Triumph of the City, argues that technology which would seem to make large concentrations of people redundant has counterintuitively encouraged our grouping together, due to the accompanying, greater necessity for idea exchange, specialisation and technical expertise. And this will likely continue to be the case.
We should also pause and ask ourselves – are such changes desirable? Undoubtedly distance working can aid social justice – for example, providing flexibility and access to those outside of capital cities or with caring duties. But we should not rush towards an all-virtual workspace, only to realise later what was lost. Plus, the social justice dimension cuts both ways – those with less spacious homes could be at a huge disadvantage if workplaces stayed largely remote.
It may just be that after a period of change we seek some security in what we know. Long live the old normal.
Andrew Hyams is a communications and digital consultant from London with a background in politics and campaigning, having worked for the UK, Australian and New Zealand Labour parties. He studied History and Philosophy at the University of Sussex and UCL. You can get in touch with him on firstname.lastname@example.org