The Full English – The Working From Home Collapse

A big theme among the associated press/ copywriters this week has been working from home. Indeedably provided us with a fab view take on what’s going on, and what it’s like to be in That There London (as opposed to us provincial capitals) (1). When lockdown first kicked off and people moved to working from home I believed it was a flash in the pan. As a species we’re primed to dislike change, especially as we get older and higher up the ranks. It would be a few months, and then we’d all be back. But the longer this ‘new normal’ goes on, the more I think that we’re seeing a transformative change.

Neither I or MrsShrink have worked from home. It’s difficult to work from home as a Doctor. You can’t perform a physical examination. As a psychiatrist, I can’t assess the subtle interpersonal behaviours which form part of our reviews. The NHS, notoriously slow in it’s monolithic tech, won’t allow most IT solutions for security reasons. MrsShrink meanwhile, off in manufacturing, is managed by gammon-types with grey suits, grey hair and grey skin. They struggle to understand the role IT plays in their zombie company on a good day, never mind working from home. Reminds me of the Japanese IT Security Minister who had never used a computer and didn’t understand the concept of flash drives (2).

My view is therefore coloured by my experience. For most professional office jobs the story is different, and the narrative coming out of press offices says so. Google and Natwest have both told staff to stay home until next year (3, 4). Barclays are a bit more old-fashioned, but have still said a return to office will take time (5). BoJo & Co of course want everyone back in the offices, because a large proportion of our economy is structured upon those offices and the surrounding service infrastructure (6). They don’t want that to change. But people do. Commuting is miserable, and working from home means less spent on the commute and more time with family (7). For the top brass it’s an opportunity to flex/ impress with your home environment (8).

The Agrarian Revolutions, Inclosures Act and Industrial Revolution all saw massive shifts in the way people lived and worked. We’ve gone from serfdom, through shifting to villages and working on manorial lands, to living in cities/ towns working in factories/mines. The last century has seen industrial production offshored, and those productive factories replaced by service factories. Transport infrastructure has improved, but we still travel to hubs of work. Is that about to change, and if so, what’s the fallout?

For companies it offers the opportunity to lay off layers of staff and automate (9). For the worker it cuts the commute to a crawl, enables greater family time, saving cash, and geoarbitage. As an NHS worker we geoarbitaged early. I get paid the same wherever I am in the UK, so why live somewhere with a high cost of living. Now more people get that opportunity.

The fallout? House prices outside of the South East skyrocketing, as people move to lower cost of living, less polluted, less commuted areas. Commercial property? I wouldn’t touch REITs right now. If all those offices close what will the buildings become? And then there’s town and city centres. Most high streets were already hearing the grim reaper’s call. Will they transform, shorn of their officeworkers into shopping and nightlife centres. Or is this the final call? That service infrastructure left empty, sandwich artists placed on Universal Basic Income. If we’re about to see wholesale change in our working lives it’s worth thinking about what will happen to what is left behind.

Have a great week,

The Shrink


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One thought on “The Full English – The Working From Home Collapse

  1. Very well written post, tFS! Being in academia, I’ve always had more flexibility to work from home. Indeed what that often translated to was working in cafes and pubs, which I considered a perk of the job. My commute was relatively easy. I often worked on the bus, reading or answering emails. 13min walk to bus stop was decompression time. Being forced to WFH is a different beast though. Months on end of barely leaving the house all day. I can’t say I miss office noise, but I miss working in a different space at times. I hear hubby on the phone upstairs much of the day. Neighbours both sides with young kids not working or at school almost all this time. The laptop replacing the few tasks I did off scree, can’t be healthy. Meeting others in person gives a connection that Zoom cannot. Not to mention my mic not working now and rech issues in general. I look forward to the novelty of returning to the office a few days a week, printing stuff out at no cost or hassle to me, and just sitting in a different room.

    Good point about REITS! There’s definitely a big shift in working. Hard to see whether office blocks will disappear. Maybe reduce. We are social creatures. When this is finally really over it’ll be mostly like it never began. We’ll adapt again. There will be change to wfm in more companies but people don’t like to hotdesk and still need an office base. Just my view! Those moving must already have the capacity to do so, I’d have thought? Our local area has many small businesses some of whom may be busier than usual as they now get trade from the swathes of people now at home.


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