It’s 6.58 in the morning on a typical weekday. I have just embarked on the usual train that will depart at 7.01 to take me to the centre of London where I work. As I find a seat, I see the same usual faces, most of whom follow the same routine: look for a spare seat, put their bag down and then pull out a book or a newspaper and read — some of them with their headphones on listening to music. And I am one of them. I don’t want to talk to my fellow passengers, they don’t want to talk to me, and may lightning strike anyone talking loudly on their phone. We will stay in our own little worlds until the train arrives at the terminal and we all descend at varying speeds. “Same time tomorrow” we silently tell our fellow passengers, not daring to look each other in the eye. Thousands of people, across the world, go through this every weekday for years that quickly turn into decades. However, this past year has been different. The onslaught of Covid-19 has meant that more of us can work from home more often and thus avoid the usual, monotonous morning and evening grind. So as lockdown begins to ease in the UK, and with some firms cautiously bringing up the idea of getting staff back into the office, are we prepared to go back to our old rush hour routines? I, for one, am not.
What the past year has taught many people is that it is possible to work from home and come into the office on a much less frequent basis, if at all. Yes, there have been difficulties such as the absence of face-to-face office banter and camaraderie, the video conferencing technical issues, dealing with home-schooling and kids at home, etc. But these have been greatly outweighed by the benefits. It has been possible (albeit with contrasting degrees of difficulty) for many people to do their job at home. As a consequence of this, people have been able to spend more time with their families and enjoy a greater balance between work and leisure time. And of course, the greatest advantage has been avoiding the dreaded rush hour. With social distancing measures likely to stay in place for many more months, are we prepared to get on crowded trains and buses, tightly packed together in conditions that aren’t even legal for livestock to be transported in?
The 8:8:8 ‘work-free time-sleep’ rule has, for a long time now, become somewhat distorted. Many of us are lacking sufficient sleep and often long commutes to and from work will happily reduce our leisure time when we are supposed to enjoy the fruits of our labour. This does not lead to a happy workforce and with many employees often pressurised to work above and beyond their allocated hours, will only lead to greater stress and job dissatisfaction.
Of course, there will be some people who can’t wait to get back into the office on a more regular basis but surely this past year has taught us that firms will now need to embrace greater working flexibility for their employees. Whether that means working a few days a week at home, working a rota system with your colleagues, or even working a four day week, undoubtedly, the Covid-19 virus has drawn a line in the sand in terms of working habits and how many of us will be plying our trade in the future. Perhaps then, we can finally move away from dreading Mondays and hearing tired, disgruntled work colleagues sighing “the weekends nearly here” on a Wednesday.