As the stringent lockdown restrictions ease in the UK and life begin to recalibrate, there is a sense, finally, of things getting back to ‘normal’. Everyone’s ‘normal’ is different of course and the extent to which life and work return to how it was depends very much on the individual, their job and family situation. Of course, in some cases, pre-pandemic ‘old normal’ wasn’t working anyway.
Is this an opportunity to think about how we can do things differently?
Where we work
The ‘working from home’ initiative has worked very well for some people, resulting in a better work/life balance and improved mental health. It has also given the environment a breather too, from all those emissions. But there are also many people who have felt isolated, ignored, forgotten even. A return to a workplace and to socialising can’t come soon enough. We’ve all heard that ghastly phrase ‘new normal’. It’s how our behaviours have changed to adapt to a new environment, which we now take for granted. But how do we – or should we – return to exactly the same working systems and procedures as before?
What working from home has taught us is that office-based businesses can continue to function without a physical presence in the office itself. Technology has allowed a far greater degree of interaction while staff have been working remotely. This simply wouldn’t have been possible even 20 years ago. Internationally too, it has shown that people from different territories have been able to communicate, their only boundary a time zone.
Hybrid model of working from home
However, many managers and teams thrive on the interaction and creativity of the workplace. For example, the ease with which queries and problems can be addressed with a quick chat, rather than a half-hour-to-an-hour phone or Zoom call. If the need for costly office space has been revealed to be a fallacy, there remains a need for some sort of office space, even if it’s not used on a daily basis. What we are likely to see is a phased return to work. This will allow for any social distancing and other measures that will initially need to be in place. This will then be expanded into what will probably become a hybrid model of working from home and a presence in the office. Many forward-thinking companies have been working along these lines for years, with the associated greener, environmentally-friendly reduction in commuter emissions and wasted time.
How we live
The pandemic has also highlighted many social issues. There is a frighteningly large number of people living in poverty. Many are relying on the aid of foodbanks. That was happening before the lockdown and its impact has only exacerbated the problem. In 2019-20 approximately 1.9 million people used a foodbank in the United Kingdom. That was up approximately 300,000 on the previous year. Since 2008-09, when 26,000 people used foodbanks, there has been an increase in users every year. So this is not a new problem, but one that we don’t want to become the ‘norm’ either.
The widespread illness caused by the pandemic has also shown up the vulnerability of our healthcare system, particularly for the elderly and those living in care facilities. The structure and management of health provision was exposed by a national emergency. This too needs to be addressed. While many schools remained functional, albeit online, some children who were already exposed to abuse at home had no escape during lockdown. Children needing support and domestic abuse are still pressing issues and children’s services should be taking priority.
Cross-party collaboration for returning to normal
Now is the time to look at what wasn’t working pre-pandemic. Rather than returning to something that is broken, we should take this as an opportunity to fix it. It’s not going to be easy. There are many budgetary pressures. Every service thinks theirs is most important. What it needs is cross-party collaboration, between different agencies, local councils and charities, with learning and best practice shared, to see how things can be done differently. We might not instantly come up with the answers – but we do need to start asking the questions.
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