Working from home: reviving town life

“As for office work, I sense the future lies with small towns and suburban villages.”

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There’s been quite a boom in WFH:

Working from home becomes the norm – Vision Group for Sidmouth

The working from home revolution – Vision Group for Sidmouth

Decentralization and technology-enabled home working – Vision Group for Sidmouth

A permanent shift towards home working… – Vision Group for Sidmouth

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In France, they call it ‘Télétravail’:

FAQ – Télétravail – coronavirus

But the French state hasn’t been too keen on it surviving lockdown:

La France post-COVID : pourquoi le télétravail ne marchera pas

End of télétravail? France’s new rules for employees to return to work – The Local

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On the other hand, in the UK, “Everyone who can work from home should do so”:

Work from home – Working safely during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

And “If you’re worried about going back to work, you can check if you can make flexible work arrangements with your employer (for example working part-time, or working from home)”:

Check how to return to work safely – GOV.UK

With the easing of lockdown and pausing of shielding measures (from August 16 in Wales), the UK government advice is “Work from home if you can – If you can do your job from home you should continue to do so, but you and your employer should discuss and agree working arrangements to best suit the needs of the business.”

Coronavirus and working from home | Coronavirus: your rights at work | UNISON National

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And it looks as though it’s here to stay:

More evidence of permanent switch to working from home

Most office staff want to continue working from home even after the virus crisis ends, a study suggests.

Three out of five said they were happier working from home and more than half said being able to choose where they set up to work has had a positive impact on their mental health.

More evidence of permanent switch to working from home | Shropshire Star

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Although there are many issues:

Coronavirus UK: Working from home is a ‘big problem for London’ | Metro News

Social housing tenants need the space to work from home | Frances Holliss | Society | The Guardian

COVID-19: Working from home during the coronavirus pandemic loses 15 minutes of work time a day  | Daily Mail Online

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Sidmouth High Street with bunting and flags

But what is a ‘big problem for London’ might be a ‘big opportunity’ for smaller towns and cities – especially their high streets:

Home working trend could ‘revive the High Street’ – BBC News

Outer London high streets recovering faster from coronavirus | East London and West Essex Guardian Series

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Here are a few excerpts from Simon Jenkins’ recent piece in the Guardian:

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The age of the office is over – the future lies in Britain’s commuter towns

The rise in home working has thrown city centres into crisis. If I were in the property game, I’d buy anywhere with a cathedral

Is the office dead? Not an office, which everyone needs, but “the office”, the institution, the corporate HQ, the great overhead in the sky. Just as once the farm gave way to the factory and the factory to the desk, so technology transforms the nature of work. At the turn of the 21st century the digital revolution shrank offices to tiny screens. From then on offices have lived on borrowed time. Coronavirus has called their bluff. But has bluff also been called on the office’s sovereign domain, the city centre?

When in March Boris Johnson ordered Britons to “stay at home”, I heard a death-knell sound. So shocking was this fear-based lockdown that a new Morgan Stanley survey shows that even now only 34% of British office workers have gone back to work. This compares with 76% in Italy and 83% in France.

Two weeks ago Johnson abruptly changed his mind and told office workers to report for duty. Few have obeyed. Walk through London’s Canary Wharf, Manchester’s Deansgate or Birmingham’s Colmore Row, and you see ghost cities. Offices stand vacant, shops, pubs and cafes closed and even boarded up. Come September, some workers will return, but I can find no expert who expects them in anything like their previous numbers…

Across Britain there must be many people wondering if they really want to fight their way to a city office block when their home can be their office. Morgan Stanley reports a mere 18% of European office workers wanting to return to an office five days a week. Fulltime home working is estimated to raise productivity by more than 16 days over a full year.

The media is awash in studies declaring that offices are good for us after all. They promote social diversity and informal contacts, offering relief from relationship claustrophobia in “getting out of the house”. Management ideology has long identified “the company” with its headquarters, its physical presence and hierarchy. The New Scientist reports the boss of Microsoft worrying that unmonitored home working will eat into the “social capital” built up in an office environment. Zoom cannot replace the gossip of “those two minutes before and after” a meeting. We know that from TV’s The Office.

None the less, office workers seem certain to vote with their feet. As a Birmingham lawyer told the Guardian, “There is absolutely no reason for us to be in this office every day – I can do my job perfectly well from anywhere.” He spoke for millions. Hence the three-quarters of American CFOs now accepting that they must introduce remote working…

Clearly the idea of corporate space, of the company building, is in crisis. As for office work, I sense the future lies with small towns and suburban villages, those not about to be wrecked by Robert Jenrick’s Los Angeles-style planning changes. It lies in places commuters call home, where they can replace the ties of office with those of neighbourhood. The shift may be no more than 25%, but in demography a trend is a revolution.

The age of the office is over – the future lies in Britain’s commuter towns | Simon Jenkins | Opinion | The Guardian

   
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