Will the switch to remote working last?

Will we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic with a renewed interest in remote working or is it way too early to tell yet?

Lady smiling and speaking into a mobile phone


A lot has been made about the fact that work has changed rapidly during the pandemic. Overnight employers had to switch to remote working – where possible – in order to keep their business going.

Employers we have spoken to have said that, though rushed, the experience has shown that people can work remotely, making it harder for those who have been resistant to argue against it, at least for some part of the working week. The proof of the pudding will, however, be in how many enable remote working as we come out of lockdown.

Figures released yesterday show that the proportion of workers saying they had travelled to work in the last seven days leading up to the 21st June rose to 44%, an increase from 41% the previous week, and those who said they were working from home exclusively dropped from 38% to 33%.

The lockdown experience of working from home has positives and negatives. For some it has meant being at home with the family more, greater visibility of the family/work dynamic and greater flexibility generally; for others it has meant not being able to get away from the family and finding it difficult to focus or get much done. No matter how much you say that working from home is not generally like this, it is people’s lived experience that they remember. For many it will be a case of ‘never again’.

On the other hand, the experience of going to work in the middle of a pandemic is not likely to be the same as before shutdown. It may be nice to see colleagues, but the different health and safety rules and worries about public transport will make it less relaxed than previously, even if every day more things seem to be relaxed, making it difficult to keep up.

Changing guidance

I wonder how much people are abreast of all the different things you can do and when and what you can do in different parts of the country. With government officials announcing new things all the time – and contradicting their own guidance when it comes to schools, claiming schools ‘overinterpreted’ the guidance [attempts to put the two-metre rule into practice were widely reported so shouldn’t they have stepped in and clarified at that point?] –  it’s sometimes hard to distinguish between politically charged promises and actual reality. Are holiday clubs and wraparound care reopening in July, for instance, as the Prime Minister says, or is that simply something he knows people want to hear, while the reality is somewhat more complex and reliant on local circumstances, ‘interpretation’ of the guidance and other things?

The message seems to be that everything is back to normal, despite the one metre plus type language. No-one I see out and about is wearing any kind of face covering [the supposed plus bit of one metre plus] and they are certainly not always keeping a two-metre distance. Rates of infection are rising in other countries who eased out of lockdown earlier. It feels like we have entered the eye of the storm, perhaps the most dangerous period. Continued remote working appears to be the safest bet for now, but with – one hopes – some recognition of the childcare/education issues and dilemmas people are facing.

At the moment it seems that there is a big push for schools to reopen as normal – even a blaming of schools for finding the guidance confusing, which it most certainly is, and putting their staff and pupils first – as if the last few months have all been a dream [and a nightmarish one at that]. There appears to be little evidence of any kind of proper consultation with those on the ground about what people need, little recognition of people’s requirement for more than a link to online guidance in the way of advice and support because most have complex individual circumstances and little creative thinking for what happens if the numbers start rising again, bar asking teachers to consider martyrdom.

The last years have seen advice services cut back and information put online in the form of Q & As. General advice is great, but it falls well short of talking to someone about your individual circumstances, of just being heard. We’ve been asked to provide suggestions of how the Government could improve on its handling of the virus. Tackling the basics of communication and consultation would be a good place to start.

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