A permanent switch to working from home could offer a new lifestyle to millions of people, released from the drudge of their daily commute
Shooting may be a country sport, but most shooters don’t live in the countryside. Depending on your definition, about 83 per cent of the UK population lives in built-up areas. The majority travel daily to and from their workplace. Recently, many have worked from home during the lockdown. But will things ever get back to the way they were, or is the era of the daily commute finally coming to an end?
My own view is that being confined to an office for most of your waking hours is a cruel and unnecessary form of punishment. Of course, there are exceptions; if your customers come to you at retail premises, then that’s where you have to be. The same applies if you work in a factory, or a classroom. But I am talking about the sort of desk-based occupations that are carried out in most commercial office spaces. One property commentator says that, in the wake of the lockdown, he expects to see at least one-fifth of office space given up as reality dawns on company bosses.
Offices are hideously expensive and financially inflexible, more of a millstone than an asset for many service companies. They tie a business to a specific location, no matter how communications evolve or where the clients are. Worse, they may limit a company’s ability to recruit the best employees by imposing a geographical catchment. Expecting potential key staff to uproot their family simply in order to be close to an office that they don’t need to attend daily is a form of commercial self-harming.
Obviously, some face-to-face meetings are necessary, but wouldn’t they be more meaningful if there were fewer of them? Making a routine trip to and from an office is a massive waste of money and your life. Not surprisingly, some research shows that homeworkers tend to be more productive and happier than office-bound colleagues.
Ah, but you need physical proximity in order to build and run a team, an HR person once said to me. This is a ridiculously outdated notion in an age of the internet, not to mention social media. During the lockdown, people found Skype and Zoom to be a revelation when it comes to group conference calls.
But what about close supervision? If you have people who cannot be trusted to do their jobs without being micro-managed, you probably shouldn’t be employing them in the first place. And you’ve probably got the wrong managers as well. Too many office-based companies are over-managed, being held back by stultifying layers of middle managers trying to justify their existence.
Admittedly, remote working is not for everybody. Some feel lonely without recourse to the companionship of the water-cooler. And young folk living in shared accommodation may not have any space they could work from. Then there are single parents with young children, who may need the physical break that an office provides.
If you are interested in country pursuits
But my general point is that the dull, mind-numbing drudge of commuting to an office every single day is no longer strictly necessary for many people. Does your life really have to be like this?
If you are interested in country pursuits, you could live in or near the countryside. You could have that dog you’ve always wanted, grow your own vegetables, catch the evening rise on a local stream… or whatever. Life’s too short to waste it sitting in a traffic jam.