One of the many things that lockdown has taught us is that going to the office is not essential every day or, even, very often.
Lockdown has demonstrated to many employers and employees a valuable lesson: staff don’t need to be in the office to get things done. As a result, some major companies have already told their employees that there’s no need to come back to the office until 2021. Some companies, like Germany's industrial powerhouse, Siemens, have really got their working from home policy spot on. The company is adopting a new model that will allow employees worldwide to work from anywhere they feel comfortable "for an average of two to three days a week."
In a masterclass in emotional intelligence, here's what CEO Roland Busch wrote to his employees: "The basis for this forward-looking working model is further development [of] our corporate culture. These changes will also be associated with a different leadership style, one that focuses on outcomes rather than on time spent at the office. We trust our employees and empower them to shape their work themselves so that they can achieve the best possible results. With the new way of working, we're motivating our employees while improving the company's performance capabilities and sharpening Siemens' profile as a flexible and attractive employer."
Why are such forward thinking companies so enthusiastic with working from home? Firstly, it's semi-essential until a vaccine arrives but also, of course, they’re hoping it will make their staff happier, healthier and more productive. No longer having to commute saves the average UK worker 58 minutes of their day and £146 a month on travel costs. Naturally, on the other side of the equation, many companies are also eyeing the opportunity of reducing overheads by cutting down on office space. So, both companies and employees can win on the 'new normal' work life balance.
YouGov polling suggests that fewer than one in 10 people (9%) actually want life to return to "normal" after the coronavirus outbreak is over and a further 48% say they would happily take a pay cut for the opportunity to spend more time working from home. And why not? You get more sleep, save money and, in most cases, are more productive.
Jason Wingard, dean of Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies, and a professor of human capital management, spends his time looking at the 'future of work' domain, long contemplating the necessary drivers to accelerate the shift toward a more remote-friendly, data-based, and impact-focused workplace. And then, suddenly, coronavirus arrived; just as, suddenly, new ways of working arrived. Wingard believes they're here to stay.
As well as losing the stress of squeezing into a crowded train carriage for example, Sport England says 33 per cent of adults have found more time to exercise, boosting both their physical and mental health. For those not working on the 'frontline', lockdown has forced a slower pace of life, and many are discovering that their new work-life balance is rather appealing.
In New Zealand, prime minister Jacinda Ardern has gone as far as suggesting a four-day working week, having learnt from Microsoft Japan's experiment demonstrating that the benefits went far beyond a long weekend.
Already, people are showing signs of making big lifestyle changes. Data from June shows that Manhattan’s population fell 20 per cent as its residents opted to work from more rural settings. Some may never return; a recent survey found that 69 per cent of New Yorkers working in tech and finance would consider relocating if they were allowed to work from home permanently. Indeed, this is probably why islands like Barbados and Bermuda are offering free 12 month visas for digital nomads.
In the UK the trend looks similar, with online property specialists reporting that 51 per cent of enquiries from Londoners are for homes outside of the capital, up from 42 per cent last year. This potential population shift could reinvigorate local economies and reverse the ‘brain drain’ that currently sees 40 per cent of graduates from the country’s top universities moving to the capital.
Meanwhile, more of us are getting on our bikes or taking long walks, and governments around the world plan to transform this pandemic safety measure into a long-term golden age of cyclists and pedestrians, as recently covered by OGN in Cities Liberated from Cars.
Our eating habits look set to slow down and get healthier, too. According to figures from England's RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, 38 per cent of us (and our children) began cooking from scratch more often under lockdown, and a third reported wasting less food.
Whether it’s a new-found hobby in baking bread (as per OGN's feature Are you a Middle Class Lockdown Cliché), spending longer in the kitchen cooking dinner or finding alternatives to supermarkets, the pandemic has sparked a shift in our food systems. “This data shows there is a real appetite for change. People are trying new things and noticing differences, at home, in their work and in communities,” said Professor Tom MacMillan, lead researcher at the RSA.
One of the unlikely success stories of the lockdown has been community-supported agriculture, with schemes booming that sell farm produce direct to consumers. Farms to Feed Us, a database of UK farms selling meat, vegetables and more to the public, launched in response to lockdown but hopes to have a thriving future connecting small food producers with individual households and local businesses.
It's highly likely that almost all of us will all be able to have a better work life balance from today forth. And, in doing so, we will waste less time travelling, save money, eat better, get more sleep, exercise more, be more productive and be able to be able to spend more time with our friends or families. Presumably that all adds up to being happier?