Working to live: how home working could change our towns and cities for good
My husband has a dream: the end of suits.
The home working revolution could render workwear if not redundant then indefinitely furloughed, or so he hopes.
Men’s suits, as he has explained to me at great length on a number of occasions, are “ridiculous” because they are freezing in winter and sweltering in summer. And – unforgivably – they have to be dry cleaned. No one (apparently) would choose to wear such idiotic gear out of choice. His idea is that no one will be prepared to put the woollen shackles back on after so many months without.
And perhaps he’s right: pyjama bottoms are certainly comfy to work in. Or so I’m told.
There was a view just three short months ago that the changes to the way we live brought about by COVID-19 were going to be temporary and leave few lasting traces. The economy would “bounce back”, man would quickly reassert dominion over all things by creating a vaccine and human life as we knew it would resume in all its intense, teeming, carbon-rich glory.
Wrong. Everything has changed. The economy will have to claw its way out of a deep pit, a vaccine could be years off and when it comes to work, employers may find that no one wants to sit in 8am traffic jams on the Kingston Bridge any more, or turn up for 9am meetings that could be Skyped. Or do ironing.
After all this, the Scottish workforce is likely to be working far more from home than before and that will have implications for everything, from what we eat (more homemade food), to when we exercise (at 8am, instead of sitting in a car on the Kingston Bridge) and how new homes are designed (with offices or work alcoves). There is at least the possibility that life will improve as a result.
Visionary companies were embracing the progressive concepts of smart working before and there was speculation when lockdown began that more companies would see the light. Now we are seeing that happen. Twitter recently announced that after lockdown, staff may continue home working “forever”. Expect other, smaller companies to follow as anxiety rises about the rental cost of empty office buildings. With schools going back only half-time from August, parents are bound to the home indefinitely anyway.
Ultimately, this could change Scotland in unexpected ways as more of us live and work in one locale. It could help breathe new life into dormitory towns and suburbia. Shops and cafes in areas of housing density could thrive. Perhaps new-look cafes with plug sockets and ergonomically designed chairs at every table will become our daytime hubs or perhaps community centres will be repurposed. It could help keep alive the community spirit set alight by the crisis.
But this change will only count as progress if employers embrace it hand-in-hand with employees. As it becomes embedded, the costs associated with work cannot simply be pushed from the shoulders of the employer onto those of the employee. The higher fuel, electricity and insurance costs for workers will need to be addressed, especially where there is no desk in an office for them anymore.
It’s an appealing thought, though, isn’t it, freedom from 20th century work patterns that are no longer suitable nor desirable.
If as a result we need more cupboard space for sweat pants and less for suits, then that sounds like progress to me.