The pandemic has demonstrated that many jobs can be carried out mostly or entirely remotely without loss of productivity. Employees avoid the daily commute and can choose to live further afield. Employers save on office space. Surely this is a silver lining to the storm clouds of the pandemic?
Well… there are losers as well as winners from this shift. For some, working from home all the time is miserable: those who live alone, for instance; or with many others in small, shared accommodation. It also doesn’t work for those without access or the ability to pay for a good internet connection. So while the cultural and economic barriers to mass remote working seem lower than ever, the jury is out on whether such a shift could exacerbate geographic, socio-economic and mental health inequalities.
The shift to remote working will also affect urban centres already reeling from restrictions on business activity and the shift to online shopping. Fewer workers means fewer surrounding shops, cafes and restaurants remain viable. Even at the 2020 Summer peak, when restrictions were relaxed, visits to high streets remained 40% below the level in January 2020, according to data analysed by the FT. This is a big challenge for local authorities, who will be left dealing with blighted areas and a huge loss of revenue from business rates.