Society appears to have undergone some quite seismic changes since Thursday 12 March – the day the UK Prime Minister announced that COVID-19 was not going to be a barrel of laughs and that we should all start washing our hands. A lot.
However, whether it is the community spirit, the air quality, the (much) shorter commute to work or simply the realisation that office work can be achieved without going to the office every day, most people acknowledge that there are some changes that we should aim to retain.
But of all the changes that society has undergone, which should persist?
Keeble Brown put this to a series of (ever accurate and inclusive…) Twitter polls based around the themes of the environment, health, technology and society. The most favoured changes have made it on to our persist list below.
Working from Home
Employees once told they were unable to work from home, now sit smugly on their dining room chair, favourite mug in hand, with the perils (and expense!) of commuting slowly becoming a distant memory.
COVID-19 has acted as a catalyst for the change in working patterns that were already emerging before the pandemic. Working from home begun as an emergency measure, a novelty for most, expected to last a month or two. And yet large organisations such as Barclays are already calling big offices ‘a thing of the past’.
Companies have already fronted the cost of facilitating employees to work from home. They have worked through the teething issues of ensuring operations run smoothly which, in many cases, has been a surprising few.
At this moment in time, we are not working from home. We are at home, during a pandemic, trying to do work. Companies have been forced to implement emergency measures so that the usual WFH restrictions, such as health and safety assessments of home-working conditions, have been abandoned.
If WFH is to persist, there will need to be more conscientious and thoughtful conversation about what the future of the workplace may look like and how this may translate into better working practices.
Time at home with family
When Boris Johnson originally announced three weeks of solitary confinement with our families, you either experienced some sense of alarm, or, are simply lying. Understandably, everyone has their own routine, and not everyone will have been accustomed to such strict confinement within the same four walls, with the same few faces. However, most of us, or at least the majority of Twitter respondents, are in agreement that being able to spend more time with our families has actually been a welcome change.
When the government’s lockdown measures are lifted, we may even find that we try to spend more time with our families. Our new working habits could go some way in helping to facilitate this – fewer nights spent at obligatory office drinks and more at home around the dinner table. If this seems completely implausible, then you may still surprise yourself by looking back and finding that you miss this time together.
Looking up, our skies look clearer, and not just in the sense that there are fewer aeroplanes. The air is clearer too. Fewer cars and lorries, and nothing like the usual nose-to-tail congestion have improved air quality by over 60% in most town and city centres. Data from Defra confirms that the amount of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the air has dropped by over 50%, proving that positive and significant changes to air pollution levels can be made in a short period of time.
It is a pivotal moment for the environment but as commuters gradually return, will efforts to avoid public transport result in an increase in vehicle use?
While the pessimist within us may believe that the economy will take overwhelming precedence over the environment, there have already been a few glimmers of hope. The government has announced £2bn of investment into increasing walking and cycling capacity across the UK, while in the capital, TfL and Sadiq Khan have announced the London Streetspace programme.
But the pessimist would also be justified on some counts. Plans to enforce clean air zones (CAZs) in cities such as Manchester have already been postponed until next year. The insistence on returning to ‘normal’ will inevitably mean that air quality is likely to suffer too.
Environmentalists are urging the government to use this moment as an opportunity to implement meaningful change. Academics in earth and environmental sciences have suggested that the most impactful behaviour changes the world could make post COVID-19 is to work from home, teleconference rather than travel for business and reduce international trade by producing more local goods.
National wellness tracker
After initially abandoning efforts to track the spread of COVID-19, the government has now launched the new NHSX app on the Isle of Wight. However, it was researchers at King’s College London who initiated such efforts, through an app which asks members of the public to report on their health every day. There is no option to order a test (which the NHSX app aims to do when fully rolled out), but it does help scientists track the number of potential infections in the UK.
Over 3.5million have registered with the app, so it is clear there is an appetite for sharing health information in the name of science. Access to such rich data could prove to be an invaluable tool for public health. Spotting a small outbreak of disease in one area could trigger a localised lockdown and limit the spread before it gets out of control.
Beyond the current pandemic, similar apps could be utilised to monitor not just physical, but also mental health. Flusurvey.net was set up in the wake of the 2009 swine flu outbreak and has now been adapted to track coronavirus. Unlike other monitoring efforts, it has also started to ask users how they are feeling mentally.
If one outcome of COVID-19 is that we take mental health as seriously as physical health, then surely that has to be welcomed?
The Keeble Brown team can advise on how COVID-19 may impact your business. Get in touch to discuss how we could support you. All our details are at https://bit.ly/3av7cNI.