The reopening of schools ought to help kick-start a return to working at the office, rather than in the spare room or at the kitchen table.
My colleagues at the Centre for Economic and Business Research (Cebr) estimate 1.5m mothers and fathers have been working at home, mainly because of the need to look after school-age children.
They will be freed to go back to their offices, which at least half of those working from home say they would prefer.
The Centre for Economic and Business Research estimates 1.5m mothers and fathers have been working at home, mainly because of the need to look after school-age children
But when they do, the world of work will have changed. The economic crisis, the disease and the lockdown have fast forwarded changes that would normally slip in gradually over a decade or more.
It is not just a matter of social distancing, one-way systems and blocked off desks – the workplace has changed far more profoundly and with far-reaching implications.
In the short term at least, working from home will NOT be the new normal, but more of us will work flexibly.
Pre-crisis, only 5 per cent of employees worked permanently at home, though the commuting data showed that on any single day about 12 per cent of workers were actually working at home, or at least claiming to do so.
Our prediction is that around a quarter of us will work at home on any given day in future, as employers and employees take advantage of the flexibility with which we have become familiar.
The biggest group, probably more than half, will sometimes work at home and sometimes in the office.
Although there is a huge amount of surplus space at the moment, even allowing for social distancing, at some point employers will want to scale down the number of empty work-stations, so hot-desking will return.
The jobs of 2021 will be different from those of 2019.
Tech will grow dramatically. In the past 15 years there has been an increase of 72 per cent, or 445,000 people, working as information technology and telecommunications professionals.
Compare that with a decrease of 70 per cent in the number of typists, equivalent to 82,000 individuals.
Some existing trends look set to continue. In 2004 the UK had only 11,000 vets. We now have 27,000, many of them much better qualified than the doctors looking after the health of humans.
In a testament to our national love of our pets, the vets stayed open through the lockdown, because animals couldn’t quite manage Zoom consultations.
In a testament to our national love of our pets, the vets stayed open through the lockdown, because animals couldn’t quite manage Zoom consultations
The number earning a living from sports is also on a sharp upward curve with a rise of 88,000 people, or 97 per cent.
Even my own profession has shown remarkable growth. The number claiming to be actuaries, economists and statisticians has risen by 131 per cent to 56,500.
Two years ago, our research showed that London was the world centre of economic consultancy with over £1.5billion in revenues, more than the entire cinema box-office takings in the UK.
But one of the more unlikely changes is in the creative industries. The number who earn a living as an artist is now 61,000, up 122 per cent over the past 15 years.
The number working as musicians is 54,000, up by just over 80 per cent and there are 91,000 writers, an increase of 64 per cent, including translators.
And more esoteric pursuits will take off. There are three times as many people running and organising historic car rallies today as there were five years ago.
With most future rallies oversubscribed, this number can only get higher.
People seem increasingly to be choosing jobs based on lifestyle – though it remains to be seen whether they will feel that is a luxury they can afford if unemployment rises dramatically.
One of the major trends in the labour market in recent years has been the increase in the number of older people still in the workplace. That, however, has gone into reverse.
So far this year, there has been a drop in employment of 220,000 people, of whom 160,000 have been over 65. This should not be surprising.
Young people have been disproportionately affected by temporary layoffs especially from catering and bar jobs and by the squeeze on the gig economy,
But the bulk of those who have actually been made redundant during the crisis have been older workers, who are more expensive and often less flexible. And as the future becomes more tech-based, younger workers are likely to be at an advantage.
In the future, we are likely to be paid differently, to reflect changing work patterns.
The enthusiasm for working from home that seems to have much of the nation in its grip may be based on the unlikely premise that employees will be able to continue with a regular pension, benefits and job security but with the flexibility to work from home.
It’s unlikely to be the case. Expect a move back to something more like piecework where people are paid by results rather than receiving a fixed income based on whether they turn up.
Middle-class professionals will face international competition in ways that have not previously troubled them.
Until now the middle classes, with the exception of some tech jobs, have been largely protected from the outsourcing to cheaper locations that has moved so many production-line jobs abroad.
But if your employer can cope with you doing your office job from Bexleyheath, he or she might want to consider whether they could hire someone much cheaper from Bangalore.
Managers will have to work much more smartly. The Cebr did a report for technology company Lenovo a year ago where we investigated all the issues surrounding remote working.
Three stood out – obviously the lack of social interaction. But also two quite interesting management issues.
Young and inexperienced staff cannot get the hands-on help that they need when working remotely and managers find it much harder to get their staff to do what they really want.
We’ve been training our managers to change their style to become much more that of a personal coach and to increase the amount of time they spend directly with their staff.
Managers’ pay in the future is likely to be much more based on the revenues earned by their staff than on what they do personally, so they will have an incentive to help their employees become successful.
Not all of these changes will make our lives easier. But the pressures on businesses mean that employers will find it hard to resist.
- Douglas McWilliams is founder and deputy chairman of the economic consultancy, Cebr