Climate change means lockdown-induced boom in working from home is here to stay – Alastair Stewart

The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic has seen many switch to working from home, creating a tried-and-tested business model that produces fewer carbon emissions, writes Alastair Stewart.

Homeworking is a new experience for many and it could be here to stay (Picture: Sam Thomas/iStockphoto/Getty)

Over the weekend my grandmother started to walk towards me. I was in her back garden, at least 10 feet away, and she instinctively approached me as I was disinfecting her shopping. I jumped about another three feet. If I’m already jumping at my granny, how will other attitudes carry over to the post-lockdown world?

One of the most remarkable things about Britain is how we’ve mastered the art of social shaming. The less than subtle sigh, the loud ‘tsk’ or the roll of the eyes. It’s less about people caring and more about you showing them you know. Just before the lockdown, if someone coughed on a bus they were all but pilloried. Neighbours now keep a mental check of who’s outside, even if we don’t all act on it. Take a walk along the street and there are groups in their gardens spread out like they’re in some satanic circle.

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Social distancing, manic hand washing and a genuine fear of a real – but invisible – virus may be hard habits to get out of simply by willing it in a press statement. If you were to stop the lockdown at the end of this week, I think there’d be a reaction to the sudden reprieve on Friday but then a sober Monday.

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However, it is doubtful government officials will ever stand and say ‘everything is 100 per cent safe, you’ll never be at risk again’.

It is more likely that the current stay-at-home campaign will need to be turned on its head to actually get people moving, boost spending and help the economy. A willing entry into jam-packed cinemas or sports games is hard to imagine in the next six months, and certainly not with the same regularity as the great ‘before’.

The transformative scale of the lockdown has yet to become apparent. Homeworking has now become entrenched to the extent it will be hard to reverse. All the infrastructure for remote working has been invested in from new video technology to software. Months of a lockdown have exposed what face-to-face meetings are critical, preferred or non-essential.

If this seems superficial, consider how Greta Thunberg’s environmentalism has captured so many people. It’s absolutely inaccurate now to say that it’s impossible to reverse environmental damage. Whether this attitude prevails is another matter, but the precedent has been set and it won’t be forgotten by campaigners with pollution and toxicity levels falling across the board.

The world finds itself with the knowledge that environmental problems can be solved. Driving to work was already tentatively taboo if you could cycle or take public transport.

Different ways of working and doing so from home have shown the world can survive without staff physically at their desk than in the office. How will that affect office overheads and vision in the future?

Everyone makes thousands of gut-instinct judgements a week. If we listen closely and honestly I believe most, if not all, want to stay safe while being busy, working and getting on.

Those things are not mutually exclusive, and the digital opt-in will soon be the digital reality after the official guidance finally encourages normalcy again – whatever that will then be.

Green and remote will soon be the new, tried-and-tested norm even if we may not have yet realised we are on the cusp of a new world.

Alastair Stewart is a public affairs consultant with Orbit Communications. Read more from Alastair at www.agjstewart.com and follow him on Twitter @agjstewart

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