The Covid-19 coronavirus crisis is far from over. It looks better in some countries than others. The likes of New Zealand, Australia and South Korea have coped well with it, adopting a so-called “Covid zero” strategy that has seem them attempt to eradicate, rather than just control or suppress the spread of the virus.
In much of mainland Europe and the UK, though, cases are on the rise again, with a bleak winter expected, and the United States continues to be engulfed by ever-rising cases as outgoing president Donald Trump fixates on his election defeat and all but ignores the pandemic.
Many countries that locked down earlier in the year are considering doing so again, and some already have. In others it is a mix of freedoms and restrictions. My country, the UK, has taken a regional approach with limited success. Another national lockdown is widely expected to come into force just after Christmas.
But there is good news, various companies’ vaccines have been approved and are being rolled out across the world. Hopefully, if the rollouts are well managed and people follow medical guidance, the world can begin to reopen and maybe next Christmas we’ll be back to something approaching “normal”.
That, of course, begs questions. Questions like: how and when do we reopen? What is an acceptable level of risk? And what does “normal” life look like in a not-quite-post-pandemic world?
My day job is in an office, but I and all my colleagues have been working from home since March. We still are, but when the UK tentatively reopened over the summer, the office re-opened. Initially just to a handful of medically low-risk volunteers who wanted to go back the office. But as the vaccine rollout begins, we’re all wondering when the office will fully reopen to everyone.
But surely the question isn’t “when” but “why”.
Why is the company planning to reopen the office?
Why do we need an office at all?
We aren’t a “customer-facing” business. Sure big, important clients will occasionally come in for meetings, but the vast majority of our communication is over the phone, email, and very occasionally faxes and letters.
At home, I’m set up with a laptop, a phone, and a headset (if I need it). I have what I need, as do my colleagues. Video calls and conference calls are easily available for meetings. So why do we all need to be in the same big building to do our job?
There is the social aspect. And it can be hard to concentrate at home (my one-year-old daughter does not yet understand the phrase “daddy has to work now”). I can’t pretend it’s always plain sailing but still, my work is getting done.
I understand, too, why people with unhappy home lives long for eight hours of relative freedom in the office.
Still, though, a lot of workers are happy with the new normal. According to The Guardian, only 13% of working parents in the UK want to go back to the old way of working:
“Lockdown has given people a chance to sample new ways of balancing their jobs and family lives and they have concluded that something must change. Just 13% want to go back to pre-pandemic ways of working, with most people saying they would prefer to spend a maximum of three days in the office.
A survey of 1,500 people carried out for Bright Horizons, the nursery provider, suggests that many working parents realise that large parts of their jobs can be conducted remotely. And they believe that their employers will agree.”
It’s a green option, too. Working from home means no commuting, which means fewer cars on the road. I’ve filled up my car with petrol once since March — whereas before I was doing approximately 50 miles per day, in total, for my commute.
The coronavirus pandemic has, at least temporarily, upended a lot of our normal ways of living. But a lot of the “new” ways of living are here to stay. Will we miss our offices if they were to be gone for good?