Unlocking lockdown in London – easier said than done!
It is becoming apparent that it is far easier to “lock down” than it is to “unlock”.
The UK’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said earlier this week:
“I want people to go back to work as carefully as possible – it’s very important that people should be going back to work if they can now. I think everybody has sort of taken the ‘stay at home if you can’ – I think we should now say, well, ‘go back to work if you can.”
Within 48 hours, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS, majority government owned let’s not forget!) had told around 50,000 staff that they will continue to work from home until at least 2021.
This diametrically opposed position perfectly illustrates the conundrum facing London businesses in a COVID-19 world – how and when to unlock lockdown? – it’s a challenging square to circle.
Most employers have now made offices as safe as they can, but more pertinent is how most people (especially in London) can actually get to their offices. We are likely to see large numbers of people combine walking to their place of work and reducing their reliance on public transport. This is not a bad thing perhaps, after all it has been several months since many have felt unable to safely leave their homes.
There is also the issue of habituation. People naturally become habituated to changed conditions over time, and this is also true of working from home. It will take time for some to adjust to meeting people face to face again as opposed to on screen; whilst others will be extremely keen to return to an office environment simply to reconnect with people and re-engage in all of those basic human interactions of London Life that we took for granted just four months ago.
We have learnt that most office jobs can be done remotely during a severe recessionary environment. It turns out that some are better suited to working from home than others, and some will actually see more success working from home than in the office. In general, traditionally office-based businesses in London have coped with this transition.
What remains to be seen is what the long-term effects of ongoing working from home in a more typical economic environment are for employees and their employers. Many people have experienced a better quality of life working from home, whilst there are also reports of others’ mental health being impacted through the sudden loss of social interaction.
Productivity has increased for some and decreased for others. Quality of life has improved for most, but quality of working life has had its challenges. In London the majority of homes do not have an office or suitable working space. Working from the kitchen or in some cases the bedroom is probably not an ideal outcome for most on a long-term basis.
Many people have reported connectivity issues and people have found that their IT systems do not operate as effectively when working from home as when working in an office, hindering their productivity.
Team environments motivate some people whilst others are naturally self-motivated and can easily adjust to a particularly autonomous environment. We are yet to see the impact on the induction and training of remotely onboarded employees who will generally be unable to learn through on the job coaching from those around them. This is a proven model for professional learning and development in the pre-COVID world.
Remembering Boris and RBS’ positions, it is striking how binary they have been in their approach over the last few days. “Go back to work” or “Work from home”. There is minimal middle ground.
We are still at the earliest stages of the home/office debate. It is likely that neither one nor the other will win the argument outright. A healthy balance should be sought especially during the next phase, where people will adjust to the likely longer process of “unlocking”, having had to handle the immediate shock of lockdown in London.
The lists of positives and negatives may just be telling us that it is worth considering a hybrid path while the realignment of working practices continues to evolve.
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Take care, stay safe and stay positive and we hope to see you soon!
Australasian Recruitment Company