Working from home has been, for many, one of the most beneficial consequences of the Covid pandemic.
It has enabled the time and money spent on commuting to be saved, made it easier for parents to juggle work and childcare, and helped ensure someone is always in to receive deliveries, provide access for electricians and others, and even deter break-ins, among other effects.
There have, of course, been some downsides, with fewer people in city centers during the day causing serious problems for the food shops that catered for them, in particular; a decline in office socialising; and an increased risk of isolation. Soaring energy bills over the past months have also offset or eclipsed the financial benefits for many.
However, the changes brought by working from home are even more profound, with the sheer weight of numbers now doing so affecting vital infrastructure like public transport.
This is laid bare in stark new figures about the number of commuters using ScotRail’s services, which remain down a staggering 40 per cent during traditional rush-hour times, compared to 2019 levels. Alex Hynes, managing director of Scotland’s Railway, which includes ScotRail, said the pandemic had had an “enormous impact” on customer numbers and that this “incredible change” was likely to be a long-term one.
Eventually we could see the reshaping of towns and cities, as people relocate to the countryside – if internet connection speeds allow. The need to impose a strict lockdown was forced upon us by the arrival of Covid, but it helped reveal a previously unimaginable flexibility in working practices that merits some thought. What other changes could be made to the benefit of businesses and staff alike?
Working from home might also have an effect on industrial relations. Some workers will not mourn the loss of their desk in the office or miss managers whose style was somewhat overbearing. And the latter could now be realizing they need to find better, and possibly more pleasant and humane ways, of getting the best out of people who are working remotely. It is much harder to bully someone on the end of a telephone or video conference call than in person.
This is still the dawn of the Internet Age, and we should remain alive to the myriad of possibilities it is creating.