That’s the conclusion of Michael Mainelli, the City of London’s Aldermanic Sheriff.
Speaking on a webinar hosted by the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation, which focused on what city life will look like in 2021, Mainelli noted that some firms were opting to wait it out for the return to normal
“There’s the wait and see, wait until things get back to normal. But from some of the numbers we are seeing, normal isn’t coming back.”
Pilita Clark, a fellow panel member and associate editor of the Financial Times, agreed, noting that the “popularity of working from home is one of the great constants of the pandemic, wherever you go”.
Clark pointed to the state of the office itself being a factor here. She noted that research suggested that 20 years ago the average worker enjoyed around 25 square feet of floor space in their workspace, but over the ensuring decades this has fallen to around 10.
“People have rediscovered the privacy that was stripped away. We can’t underestimate that.”
Mainelli emphasised that just because the old way of operating may be consigned to the history books, it did not spell the end of working from a centralised office.
“I don’t believe, in any way shape or form, that the office is dead. It’s going to be transformed.”
A new hybrid way of working, where staff members are only present in the office for a couple of days a week at most, does present challenges for management though.
Pilita argued it was “unbelievably difficult” to do it properly, warning that it takes a huge amount of “intentional thinking” so that employees are not simply cast off, feeling adrift from the organisation they work for.
She continued: “I’ve been struck by how some investment firms have opened up their committee meetings to entire staff, in large part so they can show younger people and new recruits how they do things, like Zoom calls. All of that learning by doing is utterly crucial. I do worry that while we can all understand why a hybrid way of working makes sense, from a managerial perspective it’s very hard.”
Running a business in this way requires a change in attitude from managers too, argued Mainelli.
He noted that he has hired people this year who he has never met in person, adding that “if you want to have the right sort of talent, you need to be as agnostic as possible about where they are located”.
The webinar is available to watch now on YouTube.