The H gh S reet – what’s missing?
Posted on 17th August 2020
The High Street is under threat as never before. That much is obvious (hands-up those who haven’t increased the amount they buy online over the last few months?). However, I don’t think it’s helpful to focus on the term “The High Street” because what we are really talking about here are city centres, not just retail. And city centres are home to thousands and thousands of offices the length and breadth of the country. Be-IT’s offices are both in city centres: Glasgow and Edinburgh in case you didn’t know. So is almost every other recruitment consultant that we know. And since March we’ve all been working from home.
Working from home has benefits, environmentally and socially. It also creates stress, damages relationships and has seen a scary rise in domestic abuse. It’s not a simple black and white issue. Equally importantly, it’s an economic issue.
Each Be-IT office had lots of people who would pile out at lunchtime and spend their money in the local cafes and takeaways. We used to go to the pub sometimes (OK, quite often if we could) and cause yet more mini-ripples in the UK economy. The money we spent commuting has all disappeared too, as has the cash spent on meals out, client and candidate entertaining, etc. To make the recovery as V-shaped as it can be, we need to recapture some of this.
That may be difficult because the overall demand for corporate office space is likely to diminish. Although I and my colleagues are actually keen to get back into our offices (we miss the banter as much as anything), we know it’s likely that our previous work patterns will not be replicated. A few days in the office, a few at home: that’s likely to be the pattern. I suspect that will be the same for many others. Yet we all know that offices are crucibles for innovation, collaboration, learning and networking, and it’s how we make the change without losing those essential elements of business life that is the biggest challenge we all face.
IT will continue to be central to how we overcome the difficulties ahead. At Be-IT we were already able to work fully from home before the crisis struck, but I know many others have rapidly scaled up. Zoom, or in our case, Microsoft Teams have become familiar friends. As we move back to our city centre desks, I expect more of the local takeaways/sandwich bars etc. to start to use apps to speed up ordering, minimise face-to-face interaction and, for pubs, to log users details for tracking and tracing, should it be required. Also expect, I’m afraid, more use of robots to serve, fetch and, increasingly, to think for us.
Of course, tech is not all about useful software. It’s also clever engineering, albeit that inevitably incorporates jazzy software too these days. For example, I am sure we’ll see more use of pedal cycles, e-Bikes and e-scooters as my generation demands more environmentally friendly ways to travel. Traffic/Town planners are already creating new roundabouts to ease the multi-vehicle flows that will increasingly come to our streets. I also want to see new designs for public transport that allow workers more easily to commute using two (or more) modes of transport. More bike space on trains (and even buses) would be great). Of course, if this were to take off, then storage facilities will have to be built – creating more jobs and revenue to dig us out of the mess we’re in just now.
I also want (and expect) to see more tech solutions for environmentally friendly public transport. Hydrogen cells buses are already on the way in Aberdeen and I can see them being used extensively for commercial and public transport services. With the proviso that I know quite a lot of people are still uneasy about using public transport, my personal view is that unless there is a huge second wave of the virus, the imperative to get the economy motoring again will overcome most people’s current fears (as might the cost of heating homes all day in the winter!).
Almost all the tech we will increasingly use over the next few years already exists, whether it’s the apps for ordering food, traffic planning systems or multi-site communication kit like Zoom, Slack etc. Integrated finance and sales systems are already here. What this crisis will do is speed up their adoption and implementation. And for the really clever whizz-kids, there is a world of opportunity out there and it’s one that not many were thinking of before March. The Covid crisis has been compared by many to a war and wars are when the most rapid technological changes take place. I expect nothing less of this crisis, traumatic as it is, and as a result I’m confident that we’re going to see some fabulous work in the next few years and a resurgent economy both here and across the world.
City of London bosses like Peter Harrison, chief executive of Schroders, the UK’s biggest asset manager see these opportunities. He has been quoted as saying, “I reckon that we've gone forward 20 years in terms of people's understanding of flexible working (which) is the biggest bonus we could possibly have for productivity in the long term. Let's walk towards it and let's figure out how we work differently in the future.”
Matt Druce, Be-IT
Posted in Opinion
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