By Chris Roberts, Senior Associate
For those running organisations, one of the early questions of Covid was, “What is the new normal?”
As a student of political philosophy back in the day, I was always struck by one common theme. Each writer seemed to believe the time of writing to be an historic, epoch-making time. Well, unless they happened to be witnessing the French or Russian Revolutions, or living through a traumatic Civil War, they almost certainly weren’t.
Which brings us to the lasting impact of Covid and what is ‘the new normal’. I am loath to suggest we can necessarily and with confidence declare what that will prove to be.
I feel at the mercy of science here, which is no bad place to be in a global pandemic. It seems to me there may be a ‘new normal’ for the here and now, perhaps ebbing and flowing with summer, with its natural vitamin D and the perennial flu season of winter.
This may be where we are now. With the health service already at creaking point, albeit not resulting in the levels of mortality witnessed last year, pressures in hospitals are nevertheless extreme. The danger for the government is that the public largely thinks Covid is beat, or at least, no longer all that fatal. They know it’s there but they are not clearly sighted on the impact that even a vaccinated population continues to have on the capacity of the health service.
Rumours of a two-week circuit breaking lockdown to coincide with half-term in October were rife last week but have receded since. Nevertheless, government still feels like it is making it up as it goes along with as much regards to opinion polls as public safety.
There may still be much see-sawing ahead as the seasons of the year come and go. This may indeed be the new normal, at least until we have a more refined vaccine which can conquer Covid as smallpox once was.
But it is within this climate that organisations are having to work through their property and office requirements. One council has recently undertaken a major review of how it plans to move forward.
The headline figures include a major reduction in staff turnover, a near total collapse in sickness and evidence of staff being available at their home computers way past the normal office hours. There is less stress, better work-life balance, lower recruitment costs and higher productivity.
Any or all of these could be temporary but remote working is now eighteen months old and some of these trends look like good practice which any sensible organisation would be remiss not to capture.
Speaking for myself, I can confirm the lack of commuting leaves me far less stressed, tired or sick from the coughs and snivels of the great London commute. I work quicker, more efficiently and am almost never interrupted as I work on the latest project.
All of this has led to a greater sense of well-being and achievement for many.
The survey of staff following the enforced working from home has resulted in just 3% wishing to return to the ‘old normal’ of five days per week in the office. Overwhelmingly, the preference, in excess of three-quarters, is for a blended approach of two days in the office and three at home.
The desire to feel a sense of belonging remains for many. The preference for in-person team meetings and touching base with the line manager runs through this, as indeed does the strong desire not to be diverted by the water cooler, or coffee point conversations which impact very negatively on concentration, quality and productivity of work. This Council, presently occupying seven floors of accommodation, has given notice to quit four of them.
With property always the second highest cost after staff, the pandemic may well have offered smart councils and other organisations a path to greater productivity, efficiency and lower operating costs.
For local government, which can expect yet further financial hardship when the Chancellor seeks to pay down the debt on his Covid borrowing, these early efficiencies seem too good to pass up.
For us here at Cratus, our mantra that ‘Our World is Local’, could be about to resonate even more powerfully than ever before.