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I read in tonight’s local Shields Gazette that as part of South Tyneside Council’s 10-year project to re-develop South Shields town centre, they are submitting plans for a very nice, very modern office building.  You can read about it and see an artist’s impression here.  It will be called The Glassworks and is proposed to be a state of the art, glass-fronted, 5-storey riverside office building and one of the first near-net carbon zero office buildings in the North East of England.

One spokesperson involved with the plan stated that despite the increase in people working from home because of COVID-19, there is still demand for quality and affordable office accommodation in the region.

Apparently there are around 4 million people working from home, double the normal number, as a direct result of Covid-19 restrictions.  In the early days of shutdown, circa April to June of last year, many of the Covid-enforced home workers felt quite comfortable with home-working because of the advantages it held.

As time has progressed, it seems that for many people, the disadvantages are starting to outweigh the advantages, especially for those who do not have to be at home to look after children, the sick or elderly.

Most of the people I have talked to personally, who are working from home as a result of Covid-19 restrictions, tell me that it does have some benefits for all of them.  Things like no dress code or uniform discipline, no travelling or break expenses and that’s about it, if they do not have some kind of ‘carer advantage’.

What they all seem to miss is the ‘hands on, face to face’ contact and camaraderie of being with their colleagues throughout the working day.  Many do not enjoy being enclosed in a small room that is not an office or working at a kitchen or dining room table and some even think it is affecting them stressfully if not mentally, in some cases.  Certain people miss the speed at which instant decisions can be made, if they usually work in an office with a few other people.  This is especially the case in environments when situations arise 20 or 30 or more times a day, where it is easier to make the right decision if some or all of the group have a quick chat to come to a conclusion.  Doing it with other colleagues who are also working from home, by electronic means, can take a lot longer to garner everyone’s input and the resultant decision does not always have the same certainty about it.

The UK government would benefit a lot from as many people as possible working from home.  Less carbon emissions, less congestion on road, rail and air travel and probably much more besides.  Are they likely to bring legislation in to make happen?  I am guessing they won’t.  As I have mentioned above there is much more to it than that.  People need to feel good about their job.  Of course, they need the money and can get it by working from home but the majority need other things as well.

The plans for The Glassworks have already met with some disapproval.  One objection is allied to the current expectation of certain people, that with most office-based employees working from home in the future, demand for office accommodation will decrease and there won’t be a demand for more office space.  In other words the council needs to think of another use for the building if it is not going to be a waste of money.  Obviously, South Tyneside Council think otherwise and based on my discussions with current home-based office workers, I tend to agree with them.

John H Lightfoot MBE