It is rather an understatement to say that the world has changed since the beginning of 2020. The things we took for granted have changed, potentially irreversibly. The phrase “new normal” covers so much of our day to day lives but with the apparent success of the vaccine rollout, what will our future hold?
One of the biggest areas of change has been in the world of work. Huge sections of the economy (retail and hospitality to name two) have been altered beyond recognition and it’s highly likely that they will not return to pre 2020 ways of operating.
In March 2020, huge swathes of the working population were told to work from home. For some, this was a welcome relief whilst for others it presented some logistical challenges.
Prior to the first lockdown, we were often asked about firms attitudes to flexible and home working. For a multitude of reasons, the ability to work from home on occasion was seen as a significant benefit. These included childcare and family responsibilities but also covered the desire to be away from the interruptions of the office environment in order to “get things done”.
It would be fair to say that employers attitudes to home or “agile” working was mixed. Some firms actively embraced the policy with a weekly “admin” day a normal occurrence. Others had what was in essence a zero tolerance policy where the expectation was that everyone was in the office, Monday to Friday, without exception.
For those firms who embraced agile working, the initial lockdown saw minimal or limited disruption. In contrast, firms who had to become used to a completely new way of working and lacked the IT infrastructure to support the circumstances engaged in a rush to try and master the technological options.
In the early stages of the initial lockdown, we found that there was an overwhelmingly positive attitude towards the new way of working. Employees largely enjoyed the greater flexibility that working from home presented and Employers were seeing the opportunities and cost savings what were available. One client in Central London was looking to reduce their office footprint, anticipating savings in excess of £100,000 per annum.
It is often said that we are all in the same storm, but not necessarily in the same boat. This has certainly been reflected in the range of video calls we have engaged in over the past twelve months. We have seen a variety of environments, from dedicated home offices and quiet spaces to cramped corners of kitchens and dining rooms…plus the occasional bedroom.
In addition, the “privacy”…or lack of has been a significant contrast. There have been some entertaining distractions with family members sometimes playing a starring role. My favourite was Daniel, aged three and three quarters (very important) who had to tell me about his dinosaurs (Rexy and Tiggataurus). This did provide the opportunity for his mother to nip off to get a coffee whilst I learned an awful lot about the duo!
However, as things have moved through 2020 and into 2021, we have seen a steady shift in attitudes and people’s views on home working. The growth of “lockdown fatigue” as well as the range of individual domestic circumstances has seen the enthusiasm for remote working diminish.
We have seen a shift in people’s attitudes and the biggest change has been the desire to return to the office to be able to interact with non family members. To have those impulsive moments of cooperation and collaboration as well as being around other humans and share the often banal goings on of everyday life.
This has coincided with a changing outlook from employers, with some reporting that they are seeing a noticeable drop off in productivity from staff. As such, the number who saw full remote working as their future business model and now plotting hybrid and full office operations.
The return to “normal” working patterns will be at best gradual as firms look to find a model which suits business needs and mitigates staff concerns as we learn more about the impact of the pandemic and effectiveness of vaccines. In addition, for City Centre based work there will be the requirement for flexible travel arrangements including a new season ticket regime.
We hope that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t a false dawn and that we can look forward with genuine confidence to returning to a degree of normality. It is unlikely that we will return to the same environment that preceded the pandemic, but we now have a greater understanding of what we can and cannot do in order to manage the health of the population.
We took many thanks for granted and when some of the more “mundane” and “trivial” things became unavailable, we discovered just how much we missed them.