During COVID-19 lockdown much discussion was made about changes in socialising and doing business becoming a “new normal”. For example, working from home where possible, staggering work hours to reduce the density of foot traffic and crowding in office spaces.
A great many businesses have discovered that productivity increased markedly in stay at home workers, and the majority of such workers found both work and general life-style more satisfying. While city centres were much quieter, pollution was down considerably. But now that all restrictions have been lifted there is pressure from central and local authorities for businesses to return to pre-COVID conditions.
The argument is that this is necessary to restore the “vibrancy” of city centres and to help inner city cafés, bars and such recover from dire financial situations. Is this a satisfactory reason to go back to the old normal? is it worth sacrificing the health and well being of thousands of workers for the sake of a few struggling enterprises?
How about considering the interests of the many as well as the interests of a few. Some of our major telecommunications providers have all but closed down their bricks and mortar call centres, with all or most staff working from home. Apparently this is what most of the staff prefer. The telcos benefit from increased productivity, happier staff, and lower costs associated with smaller premises.
Not only does it remove the stress and wasted travel time involved in commuting to work, but it allows staff a great deal of flexibility, particularly when it come to family, but also with lifestyle in general. A win all round don’t you think?
A major insurer here has announced that it too is to downsize its head office, moving much of its operation to the suburbs and to working from home where possible. Disappointingly, the government has criticised the the company claiming that it will harm the recovery of city centre.
Other businesses have found rostering staff on a 4-day week has improved productivity, staff satisfaction and staff loyalty. Other organisations have adopted a mixture of practices such as requiring office attendance only one or two days each week, and flexible office work hours. How many people wish to return to rush hour commuting that the authorities are pushing for?
Most of my readers are aware I’m not a fan of “vibrant” when it comes to city crowds, but I really think we’re missing an opportunity to re-evaluate the wisdom of cramming so much into city centres, and making suburbs little more than dull lifeless dormitories for city workers.
Perhaps, before the advent of modern forms of telecommunications, concentrating commerce into compact areas was the most productive means of conducting business. But does that still hold true today with modern forms of telecommunications? I’m not convinced.
At the least we should take the opportunity provided to us by COVID-19 to look at life/work balance, not just individually, but as communities and societies. Perhaps we’ll end up choosing the old normal, but unless we look, we’ll miss any chance of finding a better alternative.