A leading commercial property developers says the Coronavirus-enforced mass work from home will mark a defining point in Britain’s way of life.
The director of Ashall Projects Mark Ashall was part of the team who built the UK’s largest office park – Cobalt near Newcastle-upon-Tyne – and is now the driving force behind Middlesbrough town centre’s new showpiece development Centre Square.
“Unfortunately there’s probably a still long way to go until we can get back to normal, and we can only guess at the effect the pandemic is going to have on lives, jobs and the economy,” said Mr Ashall, whose company has built more than one million sq ft of office and commercial space.
An immediate impact of the Coronavirus emergency saw the government take the unprecedented step of ordering people to work from home. This has been a new experience for many employees, despite the advances in technology which have made remote working possible.
Coronavirus and Homeworking – a report by the Office for National Statistics – was published the day after the Prime Minister’s announcement of a UK lockdown.
The study, based on research carried out throughout last year, said only 1.7m of the 32.6m working population worked mainly from home, and less than 30% of the workforce – around 8.7m – said they had worked from home before.
Mr Ashall believes the current crisis will precipitate an increase in remote working for three reasons: organisations will ensure it becomes more of a standard option; home working will need to be given a greater role in business continuity plans, and more employees may decide it suits their lifestyle. But, he said, the overwhelming majority of people will still opt for the more traditional way of working.
He added: “One of the very few positive things to come out of this nightmare is the way people have responded – from frontline NHS staff, key workers, the legions of brave volunteers and the neighbours who are checking on the vulnerable people in their streets.
“As well as staying safe from Coronavirus the next big concern is how people’s mental health will be sustained during the weeks and possibly months of isolation. I’m sure we all complain about certain individuals at work, but we are a sociable species…we enjoy people’s company and interacting with our friends and colleagues. A sense of isolation and loneliness is a big issue for remote workers even in more normal times.
“Working life – in fact all aspects of life – is likely to be very different when this is over. As developers of working space, our role is to ensure that employees are given the best possible environment when they come to work. That’s not just inside the office.
“One of the driving forces behind the Centre Square project, for example, was to create a catalyst to revitalise the heart of Middlesbrough. It’s a combination of a high quality working environment – which is easily accessible through the local transport system – with shops, gyms and restaurants on your doorstep.
“It’s all about providing a place where there will be a great work/life balance.”