Over recent weeks we’ve all being trying to navigate our way through more tiers than those you find on a wedding cake! Now we’re all entering another round of lockdown whether it be in the UK or Europe.
But what are the consequences for the economy when you have less contact between colleagues?
The health of urban centres matters greatly for the economy. If you haven’t got people going into city centres then lots on ancillary services which survive on worker ecosystems are not being used and will struggle to survive without support. All those cafes, bars, restaurants, newsagents, dry cleaners and so on have all taken an enormous hit. With a further lockdown this will only be exacerbated.
It is estimated that the annual hit from continued home-working is £15bn. With a full lockdown of a month as proposed in England this alone could amount to a further £20bn hit. As we will touch on later the loss of this service sector particularly hospitality cannot be underestimated in terms of the contribution it makes to driving the wider economy forward.
Even when lockdown restrictions are lifted with covid-safe guidelines it’s not possible to use office space with the intensity that we used to as with social distancing it’s difficult to bring all staff back. This combined with staff anxieties about a return to the office mean things won’t be returning to what they were anytime soon or if at all.
What does this mean for the way we work?
Collaboration and Interaction Breed Innovation
In a recent article in the Sunday Times Matthew Sayed wrote that there are benefits from home working such as less commuting, more flexible hours and accepts that some recalibration was overdue. However he argues this misses the bigger picture. Some executives seem to conceive of offices as locations where we work at desks, conduct meetings and so on. This is why they think home working can more or less mimic the office but this outlook misses the ‘…..significance about not just the offices but the ecosystems they are part of which spawn the intricate ballet of innovation.
Think of the conversations- the trivial chats in the lifts and along the corridors that turn out to be anything but trivial. These are the places that drive the flow of ideas and who’s spontaniety cannot be replicated in the straitjacket of a digital meeting.’ This flow of ideas continues in social settings in the bars, cafes and restaurants around the office in urban centres.
‘In our socially distanced world today where we work from home, or go home straight from work and where our cities have become ghost towns our lives have become linear, predictable…. curated via Zoom or Teams…’ these informal get togethers were provoking something more than a drink at a social venue ‘..they were provoking the crosspollination of ideas…’ which could help us ward off the looming economic crisis.
Can’t Build Effective Relationships Using Zoom
These thoughts are echoed by The Chairman of Stanley Black & Decker, Sir George Buckley in a recent interview in The Sunday Times. he says of working from home that ‘I’ve been more efficient, but I think I’ve probably been less effective….. Clearly some transaction-based things can be handled more easily remotely, but there are certain types of work that can’t be handled that way – and of course you can’t really build an effective relationship by doing Zoom calls.’ He states that unless you can innovate companies die and innovation isn’t possible without collaboration. ‘It’s hard to collaborate with a dozen people whose faces are a postage stamp on your screen.’
Focus on Groups Not Individuals
To understand how innovation works it’s not a case of focusing on the brilliance of individuals but rather, states Matthew Sayed, ‘…the way great ideas emerge from the complex interplay of people and institutions within ecosystems. As we debate the future of work, of life, let us not fall into this trap. For when we curtail our sociality, we curtail our humanity.”