I suspect today will be seen in retrospect as an indicator of how our mindsets may have changed during Covid-19.
Lockdown lasted long enough for us to change habits – like commuting, interminable meetings, eating out, spending time with families and many other smaller, but important aspects of our daily lives. It means that “going back to normal” is not automatic, but something we have to relearn.
Today, Boris Johnson will give a speech expected to exhort us to return to work, whist at the same time, the scientists whom we were asked to follow during lockdown disagree.
The science, the logic, and probabilities point to continued levels of risk. Our dependence on a disproporitonately large service economy needs us to take the risks.
There will I suspect be interesting low level conflicts. Landlords want offices to be in demand. The service industries that surround those offices – the coffee shops, restaurants, sandwich delivery companies and the like, also want them full.
The conflict will come from the fact that such a good job was done into scaring people – with justification – to stay at home, backed up by daily briefings and score cards – that many of those who have the option to work from home will decide to continue do so.
There will be those whose leadership style is predicated on physical presence rather than capability who want people back. Its not easy to dominate people when they can turn down the volume on them on Zoom in the same way that furlough has shown many businesses they can operate with fewer people, so more people have found they don’t need the office, and
The increasingly uncomfortable reality for many businesses is that they now have less authority and control over those they rely on. Those people – the ones who have the relationships with those who pay the money, the ones who manage the digital infrastructure, the ones with the ideas, and the ones who understand the markets can manage fine from home, or somewhere else local that doesn’t mean a crowded, slow, carbon consuming trip in the undoubted company of the virus.
They have choices
There are precious few genuinely distinctive businesses that live in offices. Thanks to best practice and process, one accountant, or lawyer, bank or consultancy is almost indistuinguishable from another.
It seems pretty inevitable that the platform approach developed by Uber, AirBnB and their kin will be adopted to the professions and other businesses and that those with the skills and relationships will make more of them than their current office bound employers do. An AI can run an office, but not a relationship.
Covid-19 has created the conditions for the blinkers of wilful blindness to become dislodged for many, and they will be less accepting of poor leadership, limited roles and horrible travel infrastructure.
There will be lots of resistance from those who rely on the acceptance of old normal, but I suspect the genie is out of the bottle.