In April, Barclays and WPP announced that they were going to review their office usage, as they had managed to continue business operations by enabling people to work from home. Shock horror!
We have been able to do this for decades. Famed Sci Fi writer Arthur C Clark stated in the 70’s that the only thing preventing businesses from allowing remote or home working has been fear of change. Now potentially 10 – 20 years of gradual change has been forced on us over the space of 2 months.
What changes could we be about to see? Big business has for over a century been all about ‘Big and centralised’ working practices. We may be about to see a return to the Domestic System, an ancient system of ‘Small and Localised’ business. But this time, it’s ironically enabled by ‘Big and Centralised IT’. This will have a seismic impact on our large cities, especially London.
London is a global powerhouse due to the number of multi-national businesses that have their HQs there. This has required a huge number of supporting businesses and services, from TfL, to train companies and many small and medium restaurants, cleaning services, bars and delivery services. I’d argue (as would many in the wind-swept provinces of these islands) that for too long, London has sucked talent and investment out of the rest of the country.
With a move to a more decentralised way of working, will we start to see a renaissance across the rest of the UK? Will the Northern Powerhouse come into being, not through government policy but through the effect of millions of knowledge workers voting with their feet and working from their kitchens? As London declines in importance nationally, will the rest of the country rise to meet it?
We don’t know yet, but these are the questions that are now being asked in the boardrooms of every business across the UK and globally. And I believe that the real change to come out of this emergency will be a structural change, for the better, to the way we work.