Are you reading this from home? Ensconced in your favourite armchair, still wearing pyjamas, and yet on full pay and feeling like you are working? What could be better?
It is easy to see why journalists with column inches to fill are making mileage about the joys of working from home as a new phenomenon. But they need to lift their noses from their screens and think beyond their own profession. Writing things is one of the most solitary occupations out there. Journalistic contacts need to be built, nurtured and developed but, crucially, it is external relationships that matter. A writer is judged on their output; it is clear, and in black and white (literally).
However, most organisations thrive on the informal networks which grow from shared space, shared experiences and camaraderie. It is those water-cooler chats which build company morale. Taking the opportunity to lobby the big boss with your breakthrough idea can make or break a career. This will not happen at home.
Similarly, many many people are enjoying the absence of a long commute, and seeing more of their spouse and children instead. In time, this will pale. Most relationships benefit from some separation. Being holed up en-famille is not one long holiday.
Then there are the meet ups in coffee shops which drive the financial world, the quick beers after work which support networks and friendships. Quietly, and probably not in front of their other-half, many people yearn for the space and freedom brought by escape to the office.
Many observers speculate that it will be many many months before a credible vaccine can be produced against Covid-19. After all, would you take a rushed-through vaccine with unknown side-effects or long-term implications, against an infection which most of us have had and is unlikely to be fatal anyway? On the bright side, humans are innovative. If necessity is the mother of invention, then surely making money is the father. Ways will be devised to allow work to happen.
We can see that large open-plan offices may have some consumer resistance, and lift operations need to be thought through. But these issues are not show-stoppers. Partitions are easy. Air-conditioning can be reconfigured to only bring in fresh air, warmed in a heat exchanger.
We do not fully understand the transmission of Covid-19. Latest research shows that it is less air-borne droplets and more likely direct touch. So we’ll stop shaking hands, and maybe we will wear masks in the lift to give comfort to others. We will not stop congregating, and we will not stop wanting to work together.
The office is not dead. By this time next year, our modes of work and way of life will be very close to previous style. Note that this applies to offices. It is curtains for shops. They’ve had it
Steer clear of shopping centre owners such as Intu and Hammerson. Oh, and watch out for the local authorities who invested in commercial real estate on borrowed money going bust. There could be drops in valuations over the next 6 months, for both offices and retail. It won’t take long for their investments to fall into negative equity. I’m thinking of you Spellthorne – see our earlier article here, and our even earlier article here. But there are many others.
This is not a pivotal moment in time, despite what the media would have you think. The world will very quickly revert to past patterns, with only a few masks and gloves to remind us of the great coronavirus scare of 2020.
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