Working from home isn't for everyone. But the coronavirus lockdown has taught us valuable lessons ... [+] about how we live and work.© 2020 Bloomberg Finance LP
Seven months into the global coronavirus crisis, those of us lucky enough to still have jobs have seen huge changes to the way we work. In the U.K., almost half the working population has done at least some work from home during lockdown, after government guidance issued in March advised people to work remotely.
That guidance was cancelled in May. At the end of August, when it appeared that people were not returning to the office of their own accord, the government began trying to encourage people to do so. Britain’s newspaper columnists, apparently eager to reinforce government messaging, went as far as to claim that commuting to the office is actually good for you. Corporations got in on the act, putting out advertisements awkwardly exalting the delights of the conventional workplace.
Since then, coronavirus cases have once again risen sharply, and the government in England has quietly shelved the back-to-the-office agenda. In neighboring Wales, the devolved Welsh Government has gone one step further, explicitly stating: “The U.K. Government instruction for everyone to go back to the office is not one we are repeating in Wales.”
The current respite in England, however long it lasts, should provide space for reflection: as recently as June, business leaders and politicians were heralding “a new normal” for the way Britons work, trumpeting the many environmental and health benefits associated with a reduction in commuting. According to some estimates, cutting just one day per week from an average British commute could save almost 380 kilograms (838 pounds) of carbon emissions a year—the equivalent of a flight from London to Istanbul. In a systematic review of studies on working from home, researchers found that remote working resulted in reduced energy use in 67% of cases compared with working from the office, with the main source of those savings coming from a reduction in commutes. Indeed, the country’s key advisory body on climate policy has recommended that fostering remote working should be an integral part of government policy.