Nearly 3 years ago, in the autumn of 2017, I predicted that we were on the brink of a revolution in the way we work. That TEDx has now had nearly 60k views. With recent events the comments make for interesting reading. People at that time could not see the link between remote working and pollution and many believed that productivity would plunge for anyone working away from an office. I remember taking part in a radio phone in when everyone prior to me had agreed that ‘home-working’ equated to ‘home-shirking’. The pandemic has resulted in a global experiment that means that no-one can continue to argue either point.
The experiment has taken place under circumstances that I would have predicted would result in a drop in productivity. I don’t believe you can look after young children and work productively, but many increased their productivity levels despite this additional challenge. I also advocate meeting up in person at least once a week (where possible) to maintain team cohesion and energy levels, but of course that wasn’t possible. With childcare and a mix of office and remote working, it’s clear that productivity will soar, and costs will plummet. The revolution has happened, but the social implications, benefits and challenges, are clearly not understood yet.
Below is a summary of some the key things I believe all businesses and policy makers should be considering:
- Employees will now expect to be able to work remotely at least some of the time (where that is possible). If you try to impose a return to ‘normal’ you will struggle to recruit the people you need and will carry significantly larger overheads that will make you un-competitive. People will expect to be paid more to compensate for the additional travel costs.
- Public transport use will not return to previous levels. Even if 50% of employees work just one day a week from home, that represents a huge drop in the capacity required, yet current predictions are for most office workers to continue to work around three days from home, with many companies closing their offices permanently. Why is the Government still pressing ahead with transport infrastructure projects without a review of what will be needed in this new world?
- Business areas will not see a return to the footfall they had pre-pandemic. The Government is anxious to get people to return to their desks so that local businesses in areas with a high concentration of offices can return to their previous levels of business. But that’s not going to happen and no amount of Government urging will persuade people and their employers, who have both gained so much from remote working. Instead, people will be based in their local communities more and the service industries there will see a corresponding rise in business.
- People will not be tied to areas of high price housing. Housing costs typically reflect access to employment and transport. If people are only travelling into work twice a week, they can live anywhere. We are already seeing a huge rise in people moving out of the cities and into the villages. On the one hand, this has the potential to create ghost towns, on the other it could even out house prices to help young people in expensive areas get onto the housing ladder.
- More people will have access to employment. Many people were unable to take part in the old economy as they were not able to travel. This includes people with a variety of disabilities and those with caring responsibilities where the commuting time, cost and distance meant working was not cost effective and impractical. This could give a huge boost to the economy, when the job market improves.
- Employers will have access to a much larger pool of talent. Potential employees do not need to be within commuting distance. Onyx already uses consultants based in the USA and Australia, because they’re the best people for the job.
The above is not a comprehensive list. For that please see The Agile Revolution, published in 2017. Many are still resisting the change in the hope the revolution can be reversed. It can’t.