The kitchen worktop as the new workplace: who will benefit most?

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It seems that we will have to learn to live with this virus – or so the science editors of The Washington Post claimed earlier this week. While I cannot say whether or not they are right, it is clear that more and more companies are exploring what this means for the workplace.

If remote working becomes the default option, people will be better able to combine work and care roles, which again (sadly) will mostly benefit women Sandra Phlippen Chief Economist ABN AMRO

The experiences that many of us are having with digital meetings are ones that we want to keep – and in particular that brilliant screen-sharing button, and the hilarity of seeing a colleague accidentally share a screen with embarrassing information. What we can do without are some of the experiences of going into work: being stuck in traffic or packed in a train with other commuters, and squeezing into a lift filled to its maximum capacity and becoming more intimately acquainted with someone’s bodily odour than you could ever want. However, for more and more companies in large office blocks, the situation is more fundamental. The regular commute that around two million people make every day in the Netherlands, the ritual of getting coffee and sitting yourself down until it is time for lunch: these habits are also being questioned. More and more companies are exploring the possibility of making remote working the default option, and only asking people to come to the office when their presence really matters.

The idea of being together when this is effective, and staying home to concentrate, is one that appeals to me, mostly because you retain a sense of togetherness. Togetherness is important to all workers, but in particular to younger people who need the office buzz to make their careers. Experienced workers already know everyone they need to know, and can more easily schedule a quick meeting here or there. To new colleagues who do not know anyone, the lack of ceremony is important. The wonderful thing is that chance meetings at the coffee machine can also be organised: in my own team, for example, Theo came up with the wonderful idea of randomly selecting groups of four colleagues for a virtual coffee break together twice a week.

If two million workers start going into the office two or three days a week instead of four or five, the world will be turned upside down: commuting will become manageable, and people can start living in the Veluwe hills or Drenthe province instead of the Randstad conurbation, with lower prices and more green. House prices in the Randstad will stop rising explosively. Since women are less willing to travel as far as men and consequently have only one third of the ‘search area’ for jobs, they will see their chances in the labour market improve. If remote working becomes the default option, people will be better able to combine work and care roles, which again (sadly) will mostly benefit women.

As people start spending more time at home during office hours, they will have more contact with their neighbours. More social contact within neighbourhoods in itself will improve safety and help to combat loneliness. Outdoor spaces will flourish from the attention they receive, and local politics will become more important. Of course almost all these developments are highly speculative, and not based on solid research. But sometimes it cannot hurt to dream a little.

Every week, Sandra writes a newspaper column for daily newspaper AD (in Dutch only), which can also be read here.


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