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Do we really want to ‘go back to normal’? 1: the future of work

  • by JW

“I think we need a paradigm shift, and I think a lot of people are slowly realizing this.”


There is a clear desire to ‘get back to normal’, although scientists and medics are saying we need to be a little more patient:

Sajid Javid ‘comfortable’ with July 19 Freedom Day despite surge in Covid cases |

‘Moral emptiness and epidemiological stupidity’: WHO condemns UK Covid policy |

Analysis: UK PM Johnson’s new COVID gamble worries some scientists | Reuters

And not everyone wants to ‘go back to normal’ anyway:

UK’s Covid lockdown is lifting, but many are scared to go back to normal life – CNN

England’s Covid-19 gamble as society reopens despite skyrocketing cases |

Besides, England’s chief medical officer is saying “Britain will not return to a pre-pandemic normal this year even though ministers are pressing ahead with Freedom Day”:

Covid: UK won’t be back to normal until at least next spring, Chris Whitty warns | Daily Mail Online


But what exactly do we mean by ‘getting back to normal’?

Farmers have certainly had to keep on with their ‘normal’ routines these last months – something the rest of us were able to appreciate last weekend:

Devon County Show: Devon delights at the 125th event – Devon Live

And ‘key workers’ have had to keep going too – which is something we’ve appreciated.

For example:

Valuing our bin collectors – Vision Group for Sidmouth


But there are several areas where there’s been a lot of debate about how we should definitely not be going back to normal.




The front page of today’s Telegraph carries the Chancellor’s declaration that young people are missing out on life in their city centre work places:

Rishi Sunak tells workers to get back to the office | (paywall)

It has been noticed that newspapers are campaigning for a ‘return to normal’ – as they’ve seen a sharp decline in sales caused by fewer commuters picking up a paper:

Most popular newspapers in the UK. National press ABCs – Press Gazette

Coronavirus: Brits urged to buy a paper as industry grapples with ‘biggest ever crisis’ | Business News | Sky News

The Coronavirus Is Really Bad News For The UK Media Industry

However, it’s not clear if a mass return to the commute is going to happen:

What if commuters don’t return to city centres after Covid? – BBC News

Covid UK: Boris Johnson enforced working from home rules will be scrapped within weeks | Daily Mail Online


We have the opportunity to look at some radically different approaches.

One idea would be to rethink our cities:

Cities need to become like villages to survive, says Eden Project founder

Sir Tim Smit says the demise of the city centre offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine them

City centres’ need to make themselves more like villages to keep the high streets alive and attract people back to them, according to the founder of the Eden Project in Cornwall.

Sir Tim Smit said he has been approached by “many dozens” of local authorities and retail developers in the past two years asking him to help save their city centres’ as people desert the streets, offices and shops by moving to the country and working from home. And while the pandemic has made things worse the trend was well underway before Covid struck and is not going to go away when things get back to relative normality – meaning cities have to completely rethink their layouts, he warned.

Sir Tim said the crisis has given urban areas a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revitalise themselves as they work to win people back. He suggests starting by taking a leaf out of China’s book and working to make cities feel like a series of distinct villages, with a clear identity and sense of community…

Cities need to become like villages to survive, says Eden Project founder |


Another idea would be to radically rethink work itself.

The government is open to new ideas:

A commitment to “encourage flexible working” – Vision Group for Sidmouth

Companies certainly are:

A hybrid approach to working – Vision Group for Sidmouth


What we are not facing up to, though, is that if those who have been at work the last year and a half have been ‘key workers’, what does that make the rest of us?

Bullshit Jobs in an age of Coronavirus

… Just before the pandemic exploded I was reading the book “Bullshit Jobs” by David Graeber. As I have written about here before the main thesis of the book is that a lot of people have bullshit jobs, they know that they have bullshit jobs, and they are deeply dissatisfied with those bullshit jobs. But what this Covid-19 pandemic is revealing more than ever is exactly how many of us have these jobs and how much the economy of the West relies on them…

That’s a fact that seems inescapable now as the Coronavirus pandemic has deemed essential and non-essential. The essential people are the folks stocking shelves in the supermarket, driving long-haul trucks, delivery drivers, nurses, doctors, people manufacturing essential goods (medical and otherwise), farm workers, and food workers. The rest of us are told to stay at home, shelter in place, and devise new things to do with our time, to prove that we are productive…

Bullshit Jobs in an age of Coronavirus – 7amkickoff

Bulls**t jobs vs key worker jobs – Vision Group for Sidmouth

Graeber has said we really do need a paradigm shift, in an interview from a couple of years ago:

Sean Illing: Here’s why I struggle: We’ve got this complex economic system which requires an enormously complex bureaucracy to prop it up. Plus, we’ve created a culture that reinforces this in a thousand different ways, and cultures don’t change easily or quickly. So we can’t move from the world we have to the world you want without a total paradigm shift, and I have no idea how to achieve that.

David Graeber: I’m a revolutionary. I think we need a paradigm shift, and I think a lot of people are slowly realizing this. They’re pissed off and frustrated with the status quo, but they don’t see a path to a different world or a different system.

Sean Illing: So you’re a revolutionary? Does that mean you want to burn it all down and start from scratch?

David Graeber: You can never start from scratch, and most successful revolutionaries have deep traditions to draw on. But I do believe we have to start thinking imaginatively about systems that are fundamentally differently organized. Shifts do happen in history. We’ve been taught for the last 30 to 40 years that imagination has no place in politics or economics, but that, too, is bullshit.

Why the world is full of bullshit jobs – Vox

Here he is writing last year:

After the Pandemic, We Can’t Go Back to Sleep

At some point in the next few months, the crisis will be declared over, and we will be able to return to our “nonessential” jobs. For many, this will be like waking from a dream.

The media and political classes will definitely encourage us to think of it this way. This is what happened after the 2008 financial crash. There was a brief moment of questioning. (What is “finance,” anyway? Isn’t it just other people’s debts? What is money? Is it just debt, too? What’s debt? Isn’t it just a promise? If money and debt are just a collection of promises we make to each other, then couldn’t we just as easily make different ones?) The window was almost instantly shut by those insisting we shut up, stop thinking, and get back to work, or at least start looking for it.

Last time, most of us fell for it. This time, it is critical that we do not…

David Graeber: After the Pandemic, We Can’t Go Back to Sleep


Some are saying it’s already happening:

Paradigm shifts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 Paradigm Shift—From Values To Careers To Whole Economies

COVID-19 big shifts: The workplace will stay remote controlled | Workable

Post-COVID New Normal: Paradigm Shift in Work Environment