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Covid-19 to have a permanent downward effect on commuting patterns with more partial working from home?

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Mikey C

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Covid is likely to have a permanent downward effect on commuting patterns with more partial working from home likely to continue even after we return to normal.

It won't negate the need for electrification though, even if programmes like Chiltern and East West rail may be more for CP7 or CP8
 
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peters

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Covid is likely to have a permanent downward effect on commuting patterns with more partial working from home likely to continue even after we return to normal.

Many employers don't like the working from home idea and some employers fully reopened their offices as soon as Boris dropped the working from home advice, before reintroducing it again.

While the technology exists for most people to work from home it doesn't mean it'll get widespread use if it's not necessary, especially as Zoom calls don't tend to work that well if there's many different people on them in many locations. They work reasonably well for one office in London, talking to another in New York, especially considering the cost saving compared to a face-to-face meeting. However, they don't work so well for 35 different households in Greater London getting a morning briefing from management, followed by a Q&A. I can see a long term change whereby if someone isn't too ill to work but they are likely infectious that they will be expected to work from home instead of being allowed to stay off sick.
 

Mikey C

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Many employers don't like the working from home idea and some employers fully reopened their offices as soon as Boris dropped the working from home advice, before reintroducing it again.

While the technology exists for most people to work from home it doesn't mean it'll get widespread use if it's not necessary, especially as Zoom calls don't tend to work that well if there's many different people on them in many locations. They work reasonably well for one office in London, talking to another in New York, especially considering the cost saving compared to a face-to-face meeting. However, they don't work so well for 35 different households in Greater London getting a morning briefing from management, followed by a Q&A. I can see a long term change whereby if someone isn't too ill to work but they are likely infectious that they will be expected to work from home instead of being allowed to stay off sick.
But will everyone still be commuting into the office 5 days a week?

If companies allow all staff who want to, to work from home one day a week (spread across the week) that's a significant drop in passengers straight away. And while youngsters living in house shares in London may want to come in (for social and practical reasons) the older workers living in nicer houses further out will find working from home very appealing.

And if I'm talking to Hong Kong or New York by video call, I can do that at home, especially as the time zones may mean that the call takes place in the evening or early in the morning
 

ScotGG

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I think working from home has been overblown, and many will be surprised how quickly things resume when vaccine rolled out.

Public transport will be needed as population increases wont slow down. Next it'll be from Hong Kong, and many UK flats in cities are simply too small to comfortably work from home.
 

37424

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Many employers don't like the working from home idea and some employers fully reopened their offices as soon as Boris dropped the working from home advice, before reintroducing it again.

While the technology exists for most people to work from home it doesn't mean it'll get widespread use if it's not necessary, especially as Zoom calls don't tend to work that well if there's many different people on them in many locations. They work reasonably well for one office in London, talking to another in New York, especially considering the cost saving compared to a face-to-face meeting. However, they don't work so well for 35 different households in Greater London getting a morning briefing from management, followed by a Q&A. I can see a long term change whereby if someone isn't too ill to work but they are likely infectious that they will be expected to work from home instead of being allowed to stay off sick.
I'm not so sure about that and many business may well look at as a way of reducing office costs. Ive been to remote meeting of various sizes with less good technology than now and hasn't been a real problem. In fact I think people can be less intimiated to say what they want to say remotely rather than in a room full of people, yes you can get comms glitches which can be annoying but that improving. Its all a bit of an unknown at present, yes some will go back but some won't. There was a company MD on the radio a few weeks back with a company employing around 25 people and had just got rid of his Office in favour of permenant working from home, and when he felt they needed to get together he would hire a meeting room on an occasional basis.
 
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yorkie

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I'm not so sure about that and many business may well look at as a way of reducing office costs. Ive been to remote meeting of varios sizes with less good technology than now and hasn't been a real problem. In fact I think people can be less intimiated to say what they want to say remotely rather than in a room full of people. yes you can get comms glitches which can be annoying but that improving, but its all a bit of an unknown at present, yes some will go back but some won't. There a company MD on the radio a few weeks back with a company employing around 25 people and had just got rid of his Office in favour of permenant working from home, and when he felt they needed to get together he would hire a meeting room on an occasional basis.
I don't agree with any of this. Working from home is terrible for new recruits; some people will not work for a company that involves too much working from home; the idea that people are less intimidated by electronic communications than in person communications is not one I agree with either. I think a company that doesn't get its employees together on a regular basis is not going to do well.

That said a small company with a low staff turnover could do without an office providing they still meet up in other locations regularly, but for a company that is either medium or large in size and/or has a high turnover of staff, that's a poor choice in my opinion.
 

notlob.divad

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My brother's company (UK railway engineering) has already cancelled the leases on 2 of the 4 office buildings they were using before the pandemic. They do not expect to have the same office footprint requirements going forwards.

My Fiance's company (international maritime acccreditation and testing) is also looking to do the same.

My company on the other hand (systems integration and control engineering) not in the slightest. Actually in the process of looking to expand into new purpose built premises.
 

WelshBluebird

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However, they don't work so well for 35 different households in Greater London getting a morning briefing from management, followed by a Q&A.

Working for a company who have been doing exactly that (briefings from management followed by a Q&A) this year, I 100% disagree.

I think a company that doesn't get its employees together on a regular basis is not going to do well.

Getting together on a regular basis does not mean everybody having to go into the office five days a week though.
It can mean some people working from home some of the time, it can mean some others working from home nearly all of the time, it can mean some people being in the office pretty much all of the time or it can mean a 100% remote workforce with regular "get togethers".
It really depends on the business.
If anything, certainly for some industries, remote first is starting to become an expected thing, even before COVID happened. Look at some companies like GitHub, Elastic or Invision. To simple say it doesn't work is ignoring the fact that for some companies it totally does work.
Maybe me being in the tech sector gives me a bit of a bias, but this really isn't a new thing either. Some of my colleagues who have been in the industry for decades have had 100% remote jobs in the past.
 

peters

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And if I'm talking to Hong Kong or New York by video call, I can do that at home, especially as the time zones may mean that the call takes place in the evening or early in the morning

It's much easier to have a video call between people in a meeting room in one location and people in a meeting one in another, than involving numerous different people in different locations. EST is only 5 hours behind us, 4 for a few weeks when the clocks change, so a 3pm meeting UK time tends to work well for everyone. If you're the UK sales manager and it's your meeting with the Eastern US sales manager, with no-one else involved then it might be a different matter.

In fact I think people can be less intimiated to say what they want to say remotely rather than in a room full of people.
The flip side of that is if you want to raise an issue you might not want to do in front of certain people. If it's a face-to-face meeting you know exactly who is there and would notice if someone else walked in, if everyone is at their homes it's not so easy and someone can slip on or off without you noticing.

There a company MD on the radio a few weeks back with a company employing around 25 people and had just got rid of his Office in favour of permenant working from home, and when he felt they needed to get together he would hire a meeting room on an occasional basis.

Some MDs will realise some people prefer to work from home so saying you'll do that might be good for recruitment. Hiring a meeting room might be OK for some businesses but for others it could be a nightmare if you have clients who frequently arrange meetings or reschedule at the last minute.
 
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37424

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I don't agree with any of this. Working from home is terrible for new recruits; some people will not work for a company that involves too much working from home; the idea that people are less intimidated by electronic communications than in person communications is not one I agree with either. I think a company that doesn't get its employees together on a regular basis is not going to do well.

That said a small company with a low staff turnover could do without an office providing they still meet up in other locations regularly, but for a company that is either medium or large in size and/or has a high turnover of staff, that's a poor choice in my opinion.
Well you may not agree but I think there are plently of companies that will take a different line. I worked for a fairly large multinational company until a couple years ago, there was plenty of pressure to reduce travel costs and move to video conferencing well before covid. The Stockholm office was downsized in 2015 due to more people working from home, that was less popular in the UK but that was mainly because the offices were on the main manufacturing site and not rented or easily rented out to other companies.
 

EssexGonzo

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My (very large) employer has already exited (in September) it's corporate HQ in London, and - when staff return to work - there will be a hot desk only policy in the other large London office it has. They found a firm to sublet to very easily.

There will be a significant shift away from 5-days-per-week office working for people that want it. My base was London - it will become home. That doesn't mean that I'll only work at home but it does mean that I'll work at home where I don't need to physically interact with other people on a more than one-to-one basis. E.g. workshop, meetings, clients etc. Instead of everyone spending £3k per year each to go and sit at a desk costing £12k per year in the same room every day just to be seen to be at work.

The company and its divisions will get staff together. There will be face to face training, meetings, workshops, planning session and social contact. We just won't have to travel to sit in the same room to do the bits in between i.e. our own individual productivity.

I reckon I'll also enjoy going to offices more than I used to.
 

Mikey C

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Working for a company who have been doing exactly that (briefings from management followed by a Q&A) this year, I 100% disagree.



Getting together on a regular basis does not mean everybody having to go into the office five days a week though.
It can mean some people working from home some of the time, it can mean some others working from home nearly all of the time, it can mean some people being in the office pretty much all of the time or it can mean a 100% remote workforce with regular "get togethers".
It really depends on the business.
If anything, certainly for some industries, remote first is starting to become an expected thing, even before COVID happened. Look at some companies like GitHub, Elastic or Invision. To simple say it doesn't work is ignoring the fact that for some companies it totally does work.
Maybe me being in the tech sector gives me a bit of a bias, but this really isn't a new thing either. Some of my colleagues who have been in the industry for decades have had 100% remote jobs in the past.
Exactly

If half of the workforce decide to work from home just 1 day a week, that's still leads to a major drop in demand for public transport.

A company with 100 employees, 50 of them want to work from home 1 day a week, so every day 10 fewer people are coming into the office

Of those 10 people (this is a London office) 6 use the train, 2 the bus and 2 cycle

Thus rail use from this office drops by 6%, just from letting people work from home 1 day a week
 

DB

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I'm not convinced that this will be anywhere near as significant in the longer term as many seem to think - employees will in many cases decide that working from home long-term is not great, and companies will find that in many cases staff simply don't get as much done or work as effectively.

It will of course vary between industries, but I'd be surprised if these companies which are getting rid of a load of their offices don't end up leasing some more within a few years.
 

Class800

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been working at home since March and productivity is up 50% I'd say - long-term who knows, I don't know what'll happen next week never mind months away at the moment!
 

lkpridgeon

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I don't see there being much a dent in commuting patterns maybe 1 day a week for a lot of people that are currently working from home given the situation. Coming from a software development perspective where for the most part companies allow us to work remotely as much as we want it was generally 3 days in the office. Whilst the job is eminently possible to do 100% remote meetings aren't as productive/focused, training new people is relentlessly inefficient and discussions with other teams simply doesn't happen unless there's a deliverable that relies on it.

From what I've seen customer service wise, a lot of companies need to get their staff back in the office and actually doing customer service. They simply don't have the mechanisms in place to service customers efficiently from home even after 9 months. Maybe in the future but not now.

You'll always have the blue collar jobs requiring to commute and alongside these and other people in the service sector will bring back to the office and hospitality all those that work in ancillary roles. So at most I expect a short term drop of 10-20% after we recover then for it to gradually start to increase again. Although you may end up with quiet Fridays but busier Monday-Thursday flows to make up for it.
 

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From what I've seen customer service wise, a lot of companies need to get their staff back in the office and actually doing customer service. They simply don't have the mechanisms in place to service customers efficiently from home even after 9 months. Maybe in the future but not now.
I've been remote working for a good few years now, and would disagree with this statement to an extent. Did some of my colleagues fall a little short when it came to delivering customer service? Certainly, but those people aren't going to miraculously deliver great service simply because you plonk them at a desk in an office. As far as I was concerned, the same mechanisms were there for monitoring performance, and if I wasn't at my desk and logged in to the phone system at the required times I simply didn't get paid.

That setup allowed me to do jobs that would have otherwise required me to relocate and, while the system wasn't entirely flawless, it certainly beats living in a city and having to commute. All training was done online and I've never physically met any of my colleagues, but it worked.
 

The Ham

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Exactly

If half of the workforce decide to work from home just 1 day a week, that's still leads to a major drop in demand for public transport.

A company with 100 employees, 50 of them want to work from home 1 day a week, so every day 10 fewer people are coming into the office

Of those 10 people (this is a London office) 6 use the train, 2 the bus and 2 cycle

Thus rail use from this office drops by 6%, just from letting people work from home 1 day a week

Even a 12% fall would likely only means that rail growth was rolled back by a few years.

However something which is often overlooked is that a reduction in 5 day a week travel would also impact on car use, potentially to the benefit of rail.

Take for example someone who drives 15 miles each way to work and had a total mileage of 8,000 miles a year, if they WFH 3 days a week their annual mileage falls to 8,000 miles.

However some of their personal milage could also fall as they are at home and able to take deliveries (often cited as a reason why people don't like internet shopping). Now if you're decision to drive was because it was a little quicker and a little cheaper then both of those factors become less of a concern.

As even at 4,000 miles chances are the cost of car ownership would be about £2,500 a year. Well if you're rail ticket falls from £1,000 to £700 (due to paying full wack for each of the days you go to work, you could make a bit more of a saving of you worked Thursday Friday one week and then Monday Tuesday or the next before repeating in subsequent weeks and could use a weekly season ticket), however that still leaves your account £1,800 for your other travel.

Given that was about 1,250 miles, and unless you're doing much by taxi chances are you'll be able to manage to do that for less than that. Especially if there's a 100 miles of that (so 2 miles a week) which you walk/cycle instead of drive.

I'm not suggesting that there's going to lots who do that, but it's likely that it would soften any falls we do see or (more likely) help drive future rail growth.

To see a 20% fall from reduced commuting (commuting is about 65% of rail travel) we'd need to see (as an example) 50% of all jobs which people use rail for WFH an average of 3 days a week. That's quite a lot and is why my thoughts are a 10-15% fall would be more likely. As a 10% fall would require 40% of jobs WFH an average of 2 days a week.

Now whilst anyone who did WFH full time wound shift that figure higher you'd only need 3 people WFH one day a week to be back to that average.

Anyway, even those who fuel that they WFH all the time if they go in to the office (or meeting room, or pub, or wherever they have face to face meetings/socials) an average of once a month they are still traveling 5% of the time of someone who's in the office 100% of the time.

Now, whilst that travel is less likely to be at peak hours, actually that's probably a good thing for the rail industry financially. However it could actually mean that they are traveling from further out. For instance if you were only needed to go in for a couple of days every few months, would you rather live in Richmond or live in Devon?

You'd never travel daily in from Devon, but you might travel in on a Monday (doing work on the train) be in the office Tuesday and Wednesday and travel back on the train Thursday (again working on the train) if you did that 4 times a year. However the rest of the year you'll be able to stop work at 5 (having started at 8am) and go for a walk on the moors or along the beach. You may even be able to do so during your lunch break. That's going to be a massive benefit to your quality of life.

Given the cost of housing you could sell your Richmond house buy a London flat and a decent house in the country. In doing so you could work on the train on Friday, spend the weekend in London, work in the office Monday & Tuesday and go back on the train (again working on it) on the Wednesday. Do that 18 times a year and 16% of your working days would be in the office, but you'd still be able to do the sorts of things which are easier to do in London (catching a show, shopping on Oxford Street, going to museums, etc.) but still having a lot of time in the country.

Devon might not be to everyone's taste, so maybe the Peak District, Yorkshire Moors, Lake District, Pembrokeshire, take your pick or add in your own place you love.
 

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The company I work for has disposed of one-third of its London office space and are suggesting a long term (post Covid) future of 2-3 days hot-desking in the office per week, organised by teams.

That’s just one example, and in a sector that is extra non-physical-attendance dependant, but I think one day of WFH in the examples above may underestimate the desire of many employers and employees to seek a balance between the two.

I agree that the loss to the railway may be less than the proportionate number of days of remote working, due to:
  • People giving up good-value annual seasons and instead purchasing daily tickets which are not proportionally cheaper
  • Long term relocations so that the fewer journeys nevertheless involve more mileage
  • People having more disposable income to spend in other ways, eg rail leisure travel

The thing that may be more problematic revenue-wise is people finding that their employers are flexible about arrival times and not needing to use peak services.
 
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Mag_seven

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Do all those people who relish the thought of being able to work from home all the time also relish being expected to take calls / answer emails in the evening and at weekends? I say that because I believe working from home permanently blurs the boundary between work life and domestic life.
 

Ianno87

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Do all those people who relish the thought of being able to work from home all the time also relish being expected to take calls / answer emails in the evening and at weekends? I say that because I believe working from home permanently blurs the boundary between work life and domestic life.

No sane employer places that expectation on employees. It's what the 'off' button on the device is for.
 

pdq

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Do all those people who relish the thought of being able to work from home all the time also relish being expected to take calls / answer emails in the evening and at weekends? I say that because I believe working from home permanently blurs the boundary between work life and domestic life.
Why? Turn off your computer and phone. Easy. I don't even take my phone with me when I pop downstairs for a cuppa or for lunch, or go to the toilet. If I was in the office I wouldn't be reachable for those times so why should I be when WFH?
 

Cdd89

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Do all those people who relish the thought of being able to work from home all the time also relish being expected to take calls / answer emails in the evening and at weekends? I say that because I believe working from home permanently blurs the boundary between work life and domestic life.
About 6 people in my office are permanently remote, and have been since before Covid, and from chatting to them they don’t work harder or less hard than they did before. I’m sure there are some workaholics, but those exist in offices too, like the people who turn up and sit at their desks until 10pm and then come in on Saturday too.

(Also, and I know your comment wasn’t aimed at me, I’m not an office-based worker relishing the remote life :smile: - I do an awful lot of work related rail travel to disparate locations and will almost certainly continue to do so)
 

pdq

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Do all those people who relish the thought of being able to work from home all the time also relish being expected to take calls / answer emails in the evening and at weekends? I say that because I believe working from home permanently blurs the boundary between work life and domestic life.
But you're right that the boundary can be blurred. It means I can put a load of washing on during the day, or similar, enabling my domestic life to operate at the same time as my work. But when I finish work at 5ish that's it until the next day.
 

Ianno87

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But you're right that the boundary can be blurred. It means I can put a load of washing on during the day, or similar, enabling my domestic life to operate at the same time as my work. But when I finish work at 5ish that's it until the next day.

I find activities like emptying the washing machine a good 5 minute screen break. Two birds, one stone, and frees up evening time.
 

The Ham

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Do all those people who relish the thought of being able to work from home all the time also relish being expected to take calls / answer emails in the evening and at weekends? I say that because I believe working from home permanently blurs the boundary between work life and domestic life.

My work emails can be seen on my phone, but I've got to decide to do so.

The work phone app (VOIP phone system) on my mobile does ring at any time, however I can mute it and because it's a dedicated app it's easy to know that it's a work call and therefore let it go to voicemail (not that there are many call even fewer out of hours).
 

peters

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I'm not convinced that this will be anywhere near as significant in the longer term as many seem to think - employees will in many cases decide that working from home long-term is not great, and companies will find that in many cases staff simply don't get as much done or work as effectively.

It will of course vary between industries, but I'd be surprised if these companies which are getting rid of a load of their offices don't end up leasing some more within a few years.

My employer did a survey asking whether employees want to return to the office. For the majority of those who don't live too far away and walk or drive to work they said they would prefer to work in the office for various reasons like having contact with other people, not liking the idea of their workspace being squeezed in an area of their home and in some cases it being cheaper to go to the office than to pay for the extra electricity and heating that will be required in winter. Even some people who use public transport said they would prefer to return to the office, even while COVID is still in circulation, due to them not liking working from home. The one person who was most keen for working from home to be made permanent was someone who lives a distance away and uses a rail line that has had more than its fair share of disruption.

I find activities like emptying the washing machine a good 5 minute screen break. Two birds, one stone, and frees up evening time.

I find a disadvantage of being at home is there's more shops and other places of business close to my workplace than close to my home. It means at my workplace I can easily buy items from shops during my lunch break or visit a bank, if needed but that isn't so easy being at home as I need to go somewhere first, which then takes too long to do during a lunch break. The flip side is perhaps I'm closer to my doctors and dentists so could more easily attend an appointment on a working day.
 
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deltic

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The rail industry has done quite a bit of research into this - based on one major survey of rail users commuting is forecast to fall by around 40% due to increased home working. The biggest effect is expected to be in London where more people work in sectors where working from home is easier and commuting is more expensive in both time and money. What is not clear is the degree people will shift modes. With a vaccine hopefully the rail sector can shed this image that rail travel is dangerous and if services are less crowded then people who were put off by overcrowding and related poor reliability pre-Covid may be encouraged to switch to rail. The biggest problem the rail sector faces is if everyone wants to work from home on Monday and Friday and come into the office on Wednesday. Before Covid Friday morning peak saw 10% less passengers than other weekdays. Some complicated pricing mechanism may be needed to shift demand so that it is even throughout the week.
 

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Based on my employer - FTSE100 company with c.20,000 uk employees - home working looks to play a big part of the future. “You will be able to work in the office if you want to” but everyone is being encouraged to go for informal “blended working” with occasional days in the office that avoids the H&S and tax implications of full home working. I’ll go from 5 days per week commuting by train pre-COVID to probably 1 day per fortnight when we can go back. Very few of my colleagues plan on more the 1 day per week if they’ve got a good desk set up at home.

Even when in the office I worked in cross site teams so all meetings would be Skype to London, India etc, and didn’t work face to face with that many people. For all the doomsayers that WFH is one step away from your job being off-shored, having worked with outsourced offshore teams for many years - there can be a huge step down in quality and indeed much of my current role involves picking up the pieces where they don’t have sufficient understanding of the systems and industry. That said, we’ve all felt like our office is on the verge of being shut down for the last 5 years and that the jobs will go to York sometime anyway.

I have a huge amount of sympathy to any new graduates or others going into WFH “office” jobs. I was lucky to start when I did and learn on the job by working alongside people - and I’ve given huge amounts of time and energy when I‘ve had new grads to train up. If I had a new grad now I would have no idea what to do with them and it would be really awkward to manage without being able to physically sit together.
 

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Do all those people who relish the thought of being able to work from home all the time also relish being expected to take calls / answer emails in the evening and at weekends? I say that because I believe working from home permanently blurs the boundary between work life and domestic life.

Yes, there are blurred boundaries. I've been partially wfh since 2004 and I even now still struggle with the discipline needed to turn off the screen and shut the spare room / office door behind me, especially working with US colleagues. However I don't forsee new expectations of evening and weekend working. If you're not paid to work evenings and weekends then don't. If you want to, ask to be paid for them.
 

peters

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“You will be able to work in the office if you want to” but everyone is being encouraged to go for informal “blended working” with occasional days in the office that avoids the H&S and tax implications of full home working.

That difference could make the difference between people choosing to work from home and choosing to work from the office. As there's no tax relief on commuting costs and employers don't pay a commuting allowance, WFH may look like the financially attractive option while WFH is mandatory. However, once it becomes optional and those allowances and tax reliefs disappear it might be a different matter.

However I don't forsee new expectations of evening and weekend working. If you're not paid to work evenings and weekends then don't. If you want to, ask to be paid for them.

One difference I can see happening is numerous people finish at their finishing time on the dot and if their employer asks them to 'just sort something which'll take 5 minutes' the answer may be no because it would result in them missing their train or being late to collect their children from the nursery. However, would the answer still be no if you were at home, not keeping such a close eye on the time and weren't in a rush to get somewhere?
 
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