The world of work has seen dramatic changes since the UK went into lockdown – and for some it will spell the end of office life.
Millions of people have switched from commuting to offices to working from home, or have agreed flexible arrangements, and even part-time shifts.
Huge numbers of workers have enjoyed the benefits of swapping an office desk for their front room or garden shed, giving an immediate boost to their work-life balance.
Surveys throughout the past three months have shown the popularity of flexible, home-working, especially among parents, a trend experts believe is now embedded in the UK’s working culture.
The changes could help tackle the UK’s long-hours culture, reduce sickness absence and improve productivity – problems which have dogged industry for decades.
A new survey of 1,500 working parents by childcare provider Bright Horizons showed that half are set to demand flexible work in the future, with only around one in eight wanting to go back to pre-pandemic working.
Jennifer Liston-Smith, of Bright Horizons, said: “This could be a pivotal moment in determining how jobs work in future, but companies and organisations need to seize the moment by ensuring that jobs are as flexible and human-sized as possible in future.
“They and their employees have discovered that it’s possible to work well remotely. The challenge now is to lock in those gains while also combating the ‘always-on’ culture and ensuring staff have healthy family lives too.”
One in 10 business premises in London has been permanently closed as a result of the coronavirus crisis, with many firms already deciding to shift to working from home completely rather than have a commercial office in the capital, a study showed.
The London Chamber of Commerce said its survey of 500 firms in the capital also showed that almost two out of five believed holding meetings virtually will become standard practice.
The drive to persuade people to walk or cycle to work will take time to make a long-term impact on travel trends, but it’s clear that business travel will be reduced, at least for the foreseeable future.
John Phillips, acting general secretary of the GMB union, told the PA news agency: “In the wake of this pandemic, we will see huge changes to business and whole industries.
“Looking forward to the next 100 days and beyond, we must see a change in the way people view key workers – many of whom are low paid – who we’ve all relied on to keep us safe and the country moving during the crisis. Clapping is not enough.
“We need a joined-up, national plan on personal protective equipment, testing and tracing, alongside sector by sector support and investment to avoid an economic tidal wave that will cost millions of jobs.”
“GMB wants everyone to get back to normal too, but we’re facing a new normal for quite a while yet and business as usual is over.”
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, told PA: “Lockdown has shown that big changes in the world of work are possible, with millions working remotely and from home for the first time.
“But it has also exposed age-old inequalities in our labour market, with low-paid and insecure workers, like carers and cleaners, being forced to take on the most risk.
“As we emerge from this crisis, there is an opportunity to create a better and fairer and economy – one that has decent work, fair pay and flexibility for working families at its heart.”
CBI deputy director-general Josh Hardie said: “The lockdown has rapidly accelerated how and where many people work and communicate. Many businesses are already looking at what lessons they can learn from this crisis – including widespread remote working – to the benefit of their staff and operations.
“Many employees are not in occupations that allow remote working, but businesses, unions and staff have worked closely together to ensure that more workplaces can open safely and gradually over time.”