I was so furious following the exemption of grouse hunting from the ‘rule of six’, and then even more incensed following the New Look CVA and how the insane and immoral transfer of value from UK property owners to generally offshore private equity now seems to be OK, that I decided I had to go for another quite different theme for this column.
The Covid-19 pandemic ensured that overnight our freedoms were removed and our personal lives radically altered. At first, we were told exactly what to do, but we have since graduated to an uncomfortable position where we have to assess risk ourselves using horribly inconsistent and illogical messaging from government and its scientific advisers.
Most businesses require space from which to operate and, consequently, challenging decisions about the workplace must be made by employer and employee alike.
The self-proclaimed ‘enlightened’ tell us that office occupation will change materially forever as a result of Covid-19. I don’t agree.
We are running out of steam both socially and economically as a result of horrible on-off lives and part of that is because we are not going back to the workplace. Something huge is missing from our lives.
Running our world via Zoom has for many been like throwing a drowning person a rubber ring – it will certainly keep them afloat in an emergency, but they won’t be going anywhere fast. Those of you in the higher echelons of management with big gardens and offices at home will already be saying I am wrong, but please remember you are NOT the majority or even close to it.
Zoom,Teams and the like are survival tools but not built for growth. We can just about maintain relationships with them, but we struggle to build new ones for the simple reason we are human beings. We have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to enjoy the company of other human beings. We need each other.
Those who believe a few months in isolation is going to change that for good are simply misguided in the same way as those who forecast that hot-desking in the early nineties would permanently change office occupation.
For the moment, however, two major obstacles lie in the way of getting us back together.
First, transport requires safety to be seriously enforced. How difficult is it to make people stand apart and wear masks? My Tube trip yesterday saw utter disregard for any of the rules and I was shocked.
Second, lifts. We can organise office space to make it Covid-compliant and we can even send people to the Moon, but we cannot seem to work out how to safely get more than a few people into a lift to send them up a building. So, we do the next best thing and make them work from home.
Most jobs require some creativity to improve output and that is easily lost without personal interaction. We need it and many crave it. I can achieve more in a half-hour face-to-face meeting with my team than a dozen Zoom calls and what’s more, I enjoy the former and resent the latter.
By undervaluing the role of the office in our lives, we are intensifying social diseases such as depression and loneliness through isolation. So what is the real cost of not using the tool of the workplace to help arrest that?
We must revert immediately to where the young can learn, probe and ask questions without having to book online appointments and can learn not just facts and figures but behaviour and culture and also how to build new relationships, not just service existing ones.
Commercial and social activity is born out of a need for people to physically and mentally interact and we need somewhere to do that.
Those who think offices are dead, inorganic places without purpose beyond work fail to appreciate that this is where we spend so much time – where we live, breathe, share, laugh, flirt and cry. Their requirement is not some luxury to be dispensed with as a simple P&L item but a place where humanity thrives and learns and improves itself. You cannot do that as effectively on Zoom, nor will you ever be able to.
Our industry provides physical space. Within the best space and environments, people don’t just work, they live happily and while a commute is annoying, if we don’t arrest this slide our sanity and relative productivity, both economically and socially, will suffer. They already have.
Nick Leslau is chairman of Prestbury Investments