Remote working

Diary of a digital nomad

As the pandemic gently recedes into history, many of us have been embracing the liberties that have followed. For anyone whose work relied on a desk, a chair and a computer, video-conferencing services such as Zoom left us questioning long-held assumptions about the need for those increasingly anachronistic offices to which we once trudged. The thought of traipsing across town to sit in front of the same computer perched on a slightly different desk suddenly felt absurdly outdated.   But just as we became accustomed to typing in our slippers, more adventurous feet began to itch. Being stuck in a corner of the sitting room all day could be just

The rise of the ‘workation’

The biggest single driver of last year’s property boom was the surge in working from home. For many, the commute went from daily chore to occasional concern, enabling them to move to areas that previously seemed beyond reach, from the Cotswolds to Cornwall. But others have gone further still – swapping ‘work from home’ for ‘work from anywhere’. These digital nomads typically ditch the nine-to-five or find flexible employers to enable them to decamp to sunnier climes in the greyest months of the year. And during a winter of high energy bills and soaring living costs at home, the trend has been growing. For the estimated four million solo freelancers

The mathematical formula that proves London is over

Some years ago, an Australian neurologist was in the habit of walking barefoot across his lawn. This being Australia, the lawn was slightly prickly, and the experience was painful but not intolerable; until one day, when one of the pricks in his heel was more pronounced than usual. He had been bitten by a snake and, again this being Australia, the snake was highly venomous. Doctors saved his leg and he made a complete recovery. But there was one lasting side-effect: he now found walking across his lawn agonising. In terms of the stimulus to his feet, nothing had changed. What had changed was how his brain processed the stimulus.

The missing mandarins: why won’t civil servants go back to work?

‘Mother nature,’ says Boris Johnson, ‘does not like working from home.’ The Prime Minister wants workers to return to offices so they can have the ‘stimulus of exchange and competition’. His ministers are just as evangelical. Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, says he favours ‘being able to interact directly’ with colleagues and Rishi Sunak has spoken about how young people need the office space to learn. The nation’s employers should, they say, get their staff back to their desks. Yet nine months since the end of lockdown and tumbleweed is still blowing through the corridors of power. When Jacob Rees-Mogg conducted an audit to see how many Whitehall desks were

Covid has changed London for the better

For some it was the taped-off park benches, or the sight of police officers handing out fixed penalty notices to sunbathers. For others it was the sheer numbers of deaths being reported in inner boroughs. London in the spring of 2020 was definitely not the place to be. As with other world cities, it faced what seemed an existential crisis. The streets quickly drained of people, and those who could fled to second homes in the country. The voracity with which Covid-19 spread sparked a fear of living at high densities. Pundits in Britain and America quickly proclaimed the death of cities. The belief was that remote-working had freed people

The cult of London

The phrase ‘rich people’s problems’ has its uses. I once overheard a group in a Knightsbridge restaurant sympathising with a companion in tones fit for a bereavement or life-changing injury. ‘Oh, poor you!’ It turned out that their nanny had been ill for two days while they were in Zermatt, and that Farrow & Ball was temporarily unable to supply an obscure shade of paint. To be fair, there are problems unique to the seriously rich. Take Marci Klein, daughter of Calvin. Not only was Marci kidnapped aged ten, but she later complained that in the midst of any passionate encounter with a new boyfriend, she would suddenly find herself

Why we’ll soon look forward to a day in the office

The office, as we once knew it, is dead. Zoom has killed it; the digital genie is out of the lamp. What most of us didn’t realise before Covid – back in April 2020 – was that the closure of offices was final and that the daily commute may well be confined to the history books. Even when things return to ‘normal’ we won’t be able to uninvent remote working, and companies know it. In fact, many of them knew it before the pandemic struck. As one leading business figure told me back the early summer, Covid – by forcing remote working – allowed companies to activate a decade’s worth of mooted corporate culture change in just

Our obsession with city living is out of date

In March last year, the world made an interesting discovery. We found that a high proportion of knowledge-work could be performed remotely. Significantly, this came as a surprise to everyone. It should be a source of mild shame that, for all their talk of innovation, very few companies or institutions had experimented with this possibility beforehand. Given that this technology might help solve the housing shortage, geographical inequality, intergenerational wealth inequality, the transport crisis, the pensions crisis, the environmental crisis and almost everything else people worry about, it seems odd that it attracted so little consideration until a pandemic forced our hand. If I pay a London-dwelling employee 10 per

Will remote-working strengthen the case for HS2?

Soon after the pandemic hit, the world’s airlines turned off their pricing algorithms and resumed pricing flights manually. Everything the software had learned from people’s past behaviour was suddenly rendered irrelevant. The software had been created for a world of discretionary travel where demand was elastic. If a plane seemed likely to leave half-empty, the software dropped prices to fill remaining seats. In March this once-efficient approach failed spectacularly. The few people who were still flying were doing so only in desperation: everyone else was unwilling to travel at any price. Far from reducing prices to respond to a drop in demand, it now made sense to hike them. Large

Government jobs don’t have to be in the capital

Boris Johnson has put a huge amount of stock in persuading reluctant civil servants to return to their desks in Whitehall. His campaign this week to get more people back to the office was tinged with the suggestion that those who were slow to return might be in danger of losing their jobs. This divided the cabinet, with Matt Hancock pointedly suggesting that he was happy with many in his department continuing to work from home. Never one to miss the opportunity for a battle with Westminster, Nicola Sturgeon suggested that the government’s campaign to get people back to the office amounted to ‘intimidation’. But why not see the slow

Rory Sutherland

Remote workers of the world, unite!

A few nights ago on Twitter, I quipped that I was planning to launch a trade union for remote workers. With dues of £10 a year, but membership of 200 million worldwide, I planned to become the Jimmy Hoffa of Zoom (my colleague Jamie McClellan, clearly a Microsoft fan, suggested we call ourselves the Teamsters). If our demands for swivel chairs were not met, we would threaten to homework-to-rule — sitting with our backs to brightly lit windows, perhaps, or running vacuum cleaners in mid-presentation. But in a way, a million or so Londoners are already doing something similar by refusing to travel to work. This is a white-collar strike

Zoom falling: has the video-call novelty worn off?

A takeover battle for BT would bring much-needed excitement to the City — as well as a major political row. The privatised telecoms giant that rarely pleases its customers and regulators has seen its shares fall by four-fifths since late 2015. While many other tech-related stocks have rebounded, BT’s price is still down where it was when the market plunged in February — lockdown having interfered with BT Openreach’s broadband installation programme, slashed new orders from business customers and even knocked out the fixtures that might have been shown on BT Sport’s television channels. On top of all that, there’s a gaping hole in the pension fund. No wonder BT’s

Letters: Will office workers ever want to return?

The future of offices Sir: I agree with much of Gerard Lyons’s article about the future of the capital (‘London in limbo’, 8 August), but there is more to consider. Before the virus, many organisations considered having staff working from home. However, there were always objections: people needed to be at meetings; the technology wasn’t good enough; questions over whether workers would work their contracted hours. With the onset of the virus, working from home was forced upon many, and has proved to work better than could ever have been expected. Will these workers ever want to come back to the office? Many will miss the social side of work,

Why would anyone want to work from home?

I’ve been having an office romance. Not with anyone in the office — but with the office itself. I’ve been going into the office every day during lockdown and I love everything about it: the bike ride from my Camden flat to work in Fitzrovia; the professional feeling that comes from being in a place dedicated to work; a chance to see more life than the limited activities that go on in your sitting room. I even like office furniture, the soft hum of the photocopier and the stationery box, with its neat cellophane packs of Post-it notes and extensive range of envelopes. But sadly, as an office-lover, I’m in

Letters: Churches have risen to the challenge of lockdown

Back to schools Sir: I share Lucy Kellaway’s enthusiasm for seeing school-life return and inequality gaps closed (‘A class apart’, 20 June). I was also glad that she debunked the myth that teachers have been on holiday during lockdown. It doesn’t feel like a holiday to me, as I sit contemplating a set of essays, the second set of predicted grades of the year and my annual Ucas references, not to mention daily work postings, live sessions on Microsoft Teams, Zoom staff meetings and a long list of emails. Where we depart is at Lucy’s call for a return to school at all costs, rather than the ‘blended learning’ approach

Will Covid kill off the office?

The most useless technology is the one you invent but fail to exploit. The Incas invented the wheel, but seem only to have used it on toys. Hero of Alexandria designed the first steam engine in the 1st century ad, but it was seen as a gimmick. The technological opportunity to escape from city-centre offices has been stuck in a similar limbo between invention and implementation. In the 1970s, Nasa engineer Jack Nilles envisaged ‘teleworking’ from local work centres. In 1984, the Times reported that tele-commuting was the ‘magical buzzword’ on the US microcomputing scene. In the 1990s, the UK had 200 ‘telecottages’: rural workspaces with computers, communications and social

The stupidity of the ‘spare bedroom’

The Tesla Model 3 is an astounding achievement, but one thing baffles me: why do electric cars lack even the most basic tea-making equipment? I can’t be the only Briton to wonder why you would travel around on top of a 75kwh, 360v lithium-ion battery without having the facility to plug in a kettle. Or indeed power an off-the-grid shack for a few days. I have become oddly obsessed with questions like this because of the many lockdown hours I have spent watching bizarre YouTube videos. One remarkable series concerns the tiny house movement, where people seek to simplify and declutter their lives by moving into little wooden huts. I