From our Swindon Correspondent:
From the Daily Mail
Boris Johnson’s clarion call for the nation’s workforce to return to offices to save Britain’s economy will be treated with caution by swathes of employers and employees, they tell MailOnline.
The Prime Minister urged businesses operating remotely to ‘get back into work’ to breathe life back into the cash-starved high street and jump-start the recovery.
He and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are said to be aghast at the impact empty offices are having on town centre shops and restaurants – and worried that widespread homeworking is wrecking the UK’s productivity.
The nature of all technological change in offices is normally that a few early adopters leap on it, and gradually, it gets adopted by everyone over the years. Startups in low risk areas tend to take it on first, then over time, it becomes more normal. The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) in Bristol was working like this in the 1990s.
Over the past few years, pre-Covid there’s been a decline in season ticket sales of around 3% per annum. Work from home was already happening before this. It was going to take a long time to work through, but every business has been thrown in at the deep end and had to make it work. After a little spluttering and thrashing about, they’ve got their doggy paddle on and it’s all fine. Many of them have realised this is all just fine. Productivity of their businesses haven’t been impaired.
So, businesses aren’t going back. And that’s going to hit certain businesses. There’s a lot of businesses that support all that office work. Around Reading station there’s a Starbucks, Nero, Pret, Greggs, Sainsburys and Tesco metro. All those office workers need places to get lunch, coffee, a new pair of tights if they’ve laddered them. Without the office workers, most of this is going to decline.
The mistake that these idiots have made is to see this as productive, rather than what it really is, which is a cost. Buying an espresso in Starbucks or a sandwich from Sainsburys costs more than nipping out of the study and into the kitchen to make a sarnie and a coffee. It’s going to be more expensive than going to a cafe near where you live, because of the premium rents near city centres. If we can do without going into the office, that’s rail travel, and premium food and drink costs saved. Assuming we deliver as much work, that’s a productivity gain.
Mr Johnson, who wore a mask for the first time in public yesterday, said: ‘It’s very important that people should be going back to work if they can now.’
But employers who have spent months adapting to coronavirus lockdown are hesitant and say some of their workers do not want to return while the constantly changing guidance is creating confusion.
People don’t want to return because for most office people, most of the time, there’s no benefit and large costs in season tickets, commuting time and so forth. And people will be sharpening up their CVs looking for jobs with “4 days at home” on them.
Yet businesses which depend on getting customers through the door on a daily basis, such as the beleaguered Pret a Manger sandwich shop, are in desperate need of workers to return to offices.
I’d probably be looking for what else I could do than running city centre cafes right now. They’re still going to exist, but there’s going to be some severe pruning of numbers over the next few years.