One of the more positive consequences of the COVID-19 crisis is how many in Britain are now more open to the possibility of remote working for those with an office based job. Both the employee and the employer have witnessed the viability and seen the positive effects of this new practice. For the employee, it is the removal of the commute, saving both time and money, and allowing more quality time with loved ones. For the employer, it is the realisation they can save the overhead of maintaining an office space without any signification drop in overall production. Although born out of necessity, it’s clear that this could become a more widespread form of working into the future.
The idea of remote working is clearly good liberal territory. Not only does it endorse the idea that way of working can be an individual’s choice, assuming they meet the desired productivity, rather than determined by others or tradition. But it also redistributes economic activity and wealth more evenly throughout country, rather than concentrating into the big cities like London. Furthermore, the elimination of the commute will create a huge reduction in carbon from transport and halt the need for the large infrastructure projects that are destroying our natural landscape.
But we must remember that working from home may be highly desirable to those who have a hectic family life to balance and the space to work in their homes. There are those that live in shared accommodation without the space to turn into an office, or live on their own and desire the social interaction you get at work. So maybe there’s an alternative, maybe there’s a way we can create a shared office space for people to use that is right on their doorstep. It could even save our high-streets.
What we could see is the establishment of local working hubs, where people can pay for the use of a private booth or a desk space and log-on to a high-speed internet connection. They will get the benefits of a practical work space but also be able to chat and socialise with other people. And interestingly, your colleagues could then become your friends and neighbours.
The added benefit is that it could completely redefine and revitalise the local town centre. Not only will vacant shops will be used by the hubs, but the extra footfall will draw in other businesses to the high-street. Sandwich bars, coffee shops, even regular retail chains would love to see the lunchtime office crowd walking into their doors. It will completely change local economies as commuters will no longer be spending their money in the big cities, but in their own towns.
Remote working may not work for every business and every person in the long run, and this current love affair with it may be short lived after the COVID-19 threat subsides. But the idea has been instilled into people, so let us be prepared for where it takes us.
Stuart is a columnist for Liberal Base and Tweets @stueybourne.