Chris Read: Zooming back to the office?

Chris Read, group CEO of Dunstan Thomas is fed up of the phrase 'new normal' in his latest RP lockdown thought of the week

How often do you find yourself when asked: “how are you coping …?”, responding stoically with an “I’m alright, could be worse” and a shrug of the shoulders.

Into week 12 of lockdown, I am tired of empathy and understanding. I want action, clarity, and direction.

I’m bored of my routine, 09:00 at my desk, coffee, zoom, zoom, zoom, tea, more tea, fridge, biscuit tin, tea, zoom, leave desk at 17:30, kitchen, nuts, wine tonight or beer, cook, clear up, maybe TV, maybe not, maybe back at my desk, read book, sleep, repeat!

We are now in British Summer Time. June will wind itself up for our longest day in just a few weeks’ time. We are about to move into our twelfth week of lockdown, comfortably embraced in Boris’s five-stage plan.

The plan will take six months to complete, with pauses to test how each measure impacts the spread of the virus. As a reminder, the five stage are:

  1. From a few weeks or so ago – unlimited exercise allowed. Garden centres open. Workers to be encouraged to return (not on public transport) to workplaces that have stayed open.
  2. Start of June – phased return of primary schools, the ability to meet other households (only one at a time – so no street parties). Non-essential shops to open.
  3. End of June – phased return of secondary schools in time for summer holidays. Small team sports, not sure if this means Subbuteo or five a side football.
  4. August – Pubs, bars and restaurants gradually opening.
  5. October – gyms allowed to re-open and the return of the football season with stadiums filled with fans.

The guidance for a return to offices remains vague. We are still working on the basis of government phrasing … “people who can work from home should continue to do so …. For the foreseeable future”.

Unfortunately, the word “foreseeable” is not particularly useful in laying down plans. Taking matters into our own hands we are starting the heavy lifting to transform the office to a “Stay Alert” place.

Our building contractor has been in to guide us on what we will need to do.

We expect the work to be done in days rather than weeks. In the meantime, we have selected a supplier for hand gels and sprays. I am assured they are made with the finest ethanol distilled from Speyside single malt distilleries. I suspect we will have plenty of fun, giving our hands our jolly good scrub.

There will, of course, be warnings that these cleaning products are for external use only.

By the time we get to the middle of June, we will be ready to push the door ajar to let staff return, but only if they want to!

Will I need to amend contracts of employment, to incorporate wants and preferences for the spatial distribution of the workforce? I suspect HR lawyers are wringing their hands with glee, they, of course, will be very busy in the ‘new normal’.

I am not keen on the phrase ‘new normal’ as it’s an oxymoron. After all, if it were normal it would be a reflection of what has gone on ‘normally’ before, therefore it could not be ‘new’!

We will have to come up with a new phrase to better describe a working lifestyle in the era of pandemics. Perhaps a phrase to describe autonomy of the individual – driven by action, defined by clarity and guided by direction, a ‘brand new world’ perhaps?

Chris Rea is group CEO of Dunstan Thomas