This week sees more people than ever back at work. In theory anyway. Today was the day that the great British public were meant to be back at work – office workers included, but that isn’t what has happened.
Public transport remains far emptier than usual, famous landmarks in the city such as Canary Wharf remain a ghost town and up to 5 out of 6 employees are reporting that they are still working from home. Many businesses remain adamant that their office working staff will remain home through 2020 and not return until next year.
This is before we even get to those businesses who were all set to reopen last Saturday and got an 11-th hour order to stay home and stay shut, such as beauty businesses and casinos. We hope that the government will be doing something with the furlough system to ensure that those businesses they are insisting stay shut are given some additional help to be able to keep staff on until they are able to reopen.
And let’s not forget our friends in the north of the country, where local lockdowns are spreading like wildfire and just as life seemed to be returning to normal, it’s back to closing down around people.
It makes the new ‘eat out to help out’ scheme look pretty lame as an attempt to kick start the economy again, particularly if we are going to see more lockdowns, as the current situation seems to be indicating.
This is all having a knock-on effect too. Pity the poor suit manufacturers, such as Thomas Pink, who have just had to close their flagship Jermyn Street store, as a result of little interest from customers, who are more in need of home office wear such as PJs, than bespoke shirts. It’s an area of the clothing industry that may never recover, if we assume that the COVID crisis has pushed more firms into considering home working as a viable and long term choice.
HSBC are also reporting big issues and job cuts of up to 35,000 people worldwide, which makes it ever more likely that Canary Wharf, and other hugely expensive city centre office locations will lose their appeal and see businesses making huge savings by cutting the size of their office spaces and instead are turning to home workers whose rent-free spaces can save millions a year.
What does this all mean for the self-employed and contractor market? Well, it depends. It could be good, it could be bad. More remote working opportunities can be good for the freelancers in those industries, who can support the full-time workforce, who may see their numbers cut. But for those who use umbrella companies to save tax on lower-earning jobs such as the food or leisure industries – clearly, it’s not so potentially rosy.
All we can do is wait and see.