There was always a sense that being in the office was the norm, even when it wasn’t necessary. Now that’s changed…
There are lots of reasons to hate the pandemic, but the way it blew up the way we work isn’t one of them.
Perhaps we still haven’t figured out the best way moving forward, but what I do know is that it’s made most bosses realise (if only to help themselves) that being in the office full-time is unnecessary in a great many jobs.
My day job is in a university which I joined not long before Covid-19 hit. I was on a fractional contract, but the way the department existed, it felt like you were shirking your duty if you weren’t in the office, even if you didn’t have any face-to-face appointments that day.
This wasn’t about the people in charge, it was just the way it was – and it was ridiculous. Most of us could have been just as productive at home, coming in when it was because we had to. For the vast majority, that would have been two or three times a week anyway.
Going virtual was hard initially – although I was spectacularly impressed at how my colleagues adapted to remote working so quickly, as I was with the IT team for putting the infrastructure in place. And there were plenty of times during lockdown when I craved the difference of the office, the tangibility of it. In this, I’m sure I’m not alone.
But coming out of the pandemic (if you know what I mean), it’s been clear that presenteeism has completely disappeared. There have been times during the past eight months when I’ve been totally alone in the office during the main work day, as everyone prepares or strategises from home rather than making the commute.
I’ve done the same, having meetings with students, with other staff, writing plans, all from home or nearby cafes, while coming into London for the nitty gritty, a process which costs me £30-odd and takes about two hours.
My productivity hasn’t wavered, the love of my job has only intensified. I’ve saved money and the trains are less packed when I do travel on them.
It’s remarkable really, when you think we could have been doing this all along. That this new way was under our noses the whole time, only we didn’t care to sniff. Or maybe we did, but societal norms didn’t allow it.
I’m aware that I’m privileged, that this method of working doesn’t apply to an endless amount of jobs. But for those who are predominantly office workers in similar situations to me, who would previously have been office drones, this change is nothing short of revolutionary.
It’s proof that all the discussions we’re having here on the site are vital for sustainability, not just from an emissions perspective, but from a mental one. As life expectancy goes up and the retirement age rises, it’s crucial that we pursue self-care – not being forced to go into the office to do a job that could just as easily be done from elsewhere is just one avenue.
It took a global health crisis for employers to understand the necessity of this shift. Let’s hope they embrace it.