Downtown in Business has always embraced disruption, innovation and change.
There is no doubt that the Covid-19 crisis will make all of us think differently about how we go about our daily lives- at home and in the workplace.
However, the narrative that is emerging about working from home being some kind of panacea is a dangerous nonsense.
We are told that productivity levels have not been affected. Well, let’s wait for the customer satisfaction surveys and productivity measurements to be analysed at the end of the year before we legitimise that claim.
We are told that most people prefer to work from home. In the middle of the hottest Summer in recent times, when the back garden and local parks have beckoned, that is not surprising. However, I wonder if the experience will be quite so exhilarating on a wet and windy Wednesday in November, with their domestic energy bills significantly increasing?
I also wonder how many of those surveyed live in a two-up-two-down or a one bedroomed flat?
We are further advised that many remain anxious about returning to the office for health and safety reasons. Forgive me if this sounds cynical, but that anxiety doesn’t appear to have prevented them from claiming their £10 discount at Nando’s.
However, the biggest misconception about encouraging an army of folk to abandon the office and, consequently, our city centres, is that it will destroy an economic ecosystem that will cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.
It is true that the hospitality sector will be first in the firing line. But it won’t stop there. All the bars, restaurants, and hotels who are under threat have bank accounts, hire accountants, HR consultants, financial advisors, website designers, SEO geeks, PR agencies, marketing firms, legal support, printing needs – not to mention the supply chain that they invest in for food, beverage, uniforms- the list is endless.
In addition, I fail to see how any company, however smart, modern or tech savvy, can create a culture, benefit from building a camaraderie or have the advantage of those light bulb moments when office conversations and discussions lead to the business doing something new, different, unique.
There is a place for working from home, on occasion. There is an even more compelling case for staggering start and finish times, introducing flexible working hours. But, the idea that we can simply throw the baby out with the bath water, allow our cities to become ghost towns and all happily stay in employment and do our jobs from the comfort of our Ikea couch without causing huge damage to the economy is a myth.