Our dear leader Boris has stated that if everyone follows the guidelines, we might stand a chance of dealing with the local outbreak of Wuhan Novel Coronavirus in 12 weeks. I think it’s pretty safe to say that that is the minimum duration of this crisis as in, the guidelines will remain in place at least that long. But alot can happen in 3 months and it’s not too soon to wonder what sort of a world we will emerge into afterwards. Because this has the potential to alter everyday life on a permanent basis.
One example is that everyone who can work from home will be fully adapted to doing so in that amount of time. I have done it on and off for years so I was already very well set up for it in terms of ergonomics and logistics (daily routine), a few people I know are scrambling now to acquire docking stations, large monitors, webcams for videoconferencing, office chairs etc but they will have those in a week at most, as Amazon seems to be working perfectly. A Nespresso machine too perhaps! It might take a little longer to build up to the daily routine, get used to working during business hours and avoiding any distractions around the house but not too much longer. In mid-late June people may be desperate to go back to commuting on the god-awful British trains… Or they may decide to WFH permanently. If it’s working for companies, if the workforce has adapted and productivity only took a temporary hit, will those companies want to go on paying for office space? The knock-on effects of that will be huge and felt at every level of society, all the way from hourly workers who serviced those offices, to massive investment portfolios who will see the value of commercial property tumble.
Will there be pubs and restaurants to go to? Those that relied on office workers for lunchtime or after work are probably done for. They can’t shift to food delivery or takeaway because they are nowhere near their former customers. Local establishments probably can but again that will be very different. Alcohol delivery is already sewn up by the supermarkets (those that can manage to stay online that is). But assuming it does blow over then it’s an idyllic lifestyle of people working from home popping into their local for a spot of company during the day, or coming in the evening for a good few drinks, not “just the one” because there’s a train to catch, and it’s just a short walk home and no commute the next day either, so no need to wake up early. If they survive the initial slump local pubs and restaurants could do very, very well in the new world, fingers crossed for them. Hotels that catered to a business clientele are going to have to adapt if they can, and will have to deal with the other knock on effect of without business travel and its accompanying economies of scale, air travel will become less accessible. People might miss that but they won’t miss commuter trains!
Speaking of trains, public transport is a huge disease vector. Will we see people going back to cars as the preferred means of transport? It will be a hard sell for the government to encourage the use of buses, having just fought a pandemic that in all likelihood was spread by them – even after the guidelines came out bus passenger numbers in London barely moved, whereas Tube numbers sharply declined.
Another positive that could come out of this – and I am less convinced this one will happen, but I hope – is better working condition and remuneration for those who by the nature of their work, cannot work from home. It is very interesting, we had a supermarket delivery last night that we had already booked and it arrived on time with only a few items missing, despite that supermarket’s website having collapsed under the load a week ago, and still down. So the people who cannot WFH, the warehouse workers and delivery drivers are doing their jobs, whereas the ones who can WFH, the website programmers could do better.
If you’re an engineer, skills in VDI, VPN, and all the related things are likely to be in high demand going forwards, and skills in traditional office equipment and PC maintenance are not. If you’re a user, get used to being more self-sufficient! You will soon get used to it!