Is the ‘new normal’ here to stay? Many people assume so. Working from home will become the default, people will go on fewer holidays and business trips will become a thing of the past. I’m not convinced. In fact, while the second wave means the current restrictions won’t vanish overnight, it seems almost certain that, when Covid is finally a thing of the past, life will return to the ‘old’ pre-pandemic normal. People will be desperate to go out as much as they can, see people in person more and crave the social interactions they are currently missing out on.
Don’t believe me? Remember at the start of lockdown the popularity of Zoom quizzes and drinks. Whatever happened to those?
And there is plenty of polling, too, that shows our craving to ditch the new normal as soon as we can. A YouGov survey from September said that before the crisis hit, 13 per cent of people worked from home all of the time, 19 per cent some of the time and 68 per cent never. Post-crisis, 33 per cent responded that they now worked from home all of the time, 15 per cent some of the time, 46 per cent never, with seven per cent furloughed. Where the poll became interesting was in what people said when asked what they wanted to happen post-Covid: 18 per cent wish to work from home all of the time, 39 per cent some of the time, 39 per cent never. So, only five per cent more people want to work from home all of the time as compared to pre-crisis. This hardly suggests the death of the office will happen any time soon; in fact, it tells us that it’s much more likely people will want to return to the their workplaces in large numbers as soon as it feels safe to do so, at least part of the time.
On this topic, it’s also worth remembering that championing working from home is relatively easy to do if you’re middle-class and middle-aged, own a reasonably-sized property and at a stage in your career where networking is of less importance. If you’re young and trying to get on, or worse yet, in the type of job where working from home simply isn’t possible, this revolution is considerably more difficult to get on board with. And there are a lot more people in the latter camp in this country.
For those wishing to insist that increased home working has been a boon to the environment, I’m afraid the jury is still very much out on that one as well. People commuting a lot less cuts down carbon emissions at one end but working from home in a poorly-insulated house during the winter with the heating up all day has to be taken into account on the other side of this climate double entry – as we are about to find out in the coming months.
Beyond the facts that suggest that the new normal probably won’t last, what I find odd is that to me it is deeply counterintuitive to think otherwise. Why would people who have been restricted in where they can go and when, have been kept from doing all of the social activities they love for what may be over a year, decide when those restrictions are lifted to keep on living as if they still apply?
It is still too early to know for sure how people will behave after the Covid crisis is over – but why make the assumption they will decide all social interaction will take place on Google chats from now on, with no one ever venturing more than a mile from their home? Won't people surely be flocking to restaurants, pubs, football matches, and city centres, more than ever before, when the pandemic is a thing of the past?
My hunch is that once people can travel freely and meet in person again, most people, having become fed up with their computer screens, will jump at the chance to talk to real human beings face-to-face as much as they can. The Covid crisis could even act as a temporary deterrent to a long-term trend that would have continued on without its occurrence, namely more people working from home more often. It could become associated with the unpleasantness of the crisis for a period, leading to a renaissance for city and town centres that might seem difficult to imagine for many at this point in the crisis. In summary, we really don’t know what happens once the Covid nightmare is over, but it seems to me like the ‘new normal’ isn’t built to last.