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Back to Work, in a Socially Distanced Way

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We, like so many of you, are slowly picking out our path back towards a more routine way of working. This will be the first Budapest Business Journal that has seen all the key production staff in the office on deadline since the March 27 issue.

Regular readers will know that we did not just pack up our belongings, head home and hunker down, waiting for better times. We have continued to produce the BBJ every two weeks – indeed, I am quite proud of the three issues that separate that March 27 edition from this one – we just found different ways of doing it.  

I suspect that the compulsion to find different ways of doing things, a shared experience for many if not most of us during lockdown, will influence the way we operate in the future.  

We learned new things; that home office was possible en masse, provided you have enough IT kit and internet access. We seem to have been talking about telecommuting, distance learning, home office (is there a different name for each decade?) for years – certainly, we have been writing about it in HR articles for long enough – without seemingly making any progress.  

Some staff didn’t like the idea of it, some employers worried that contractual law wasn’t suited to it, some IT directors worried about security issues. All are valid points and all were overcome when people realized they had a week or less in which to plan. I had previously worked as a freelancer from my home office for several years before taking up the editorship here, and loved it. But working from home is a very different beast when you also have to factor in homeschooling. Several of my friends who either own or run businesses have noted how a certain category of worker, usually men, usually in their late 20s to mid-40s, and always with children at home, will volunteer to come into the office.  

One other thing we learned, though it is less tangible. You can get your work done in isolation. You can join virtual meetings by Skype or Zoom or Google Meet or Office Teams. But you can’t replicate the creative buzz that comes from people sitting in the same room and firing ideas and suggestions at one another in a normal, human voice, rather than a tinny, echo-laden approximation of one, occasionally punctuated by the phrase “caller three has left the meeting” whenever someone’s internet connection packs up.

Back to work will, I think, evolve into a combination of office-based and home office. That will, in turn, influence office design and the need for more flexible arrangements. But don’t expect a certain category of worker, usually men, usually in their late 20s to mid-40s, and always with children at home, to volunteer to work from home until the schools reopen.

Stay safe, and socially distanced, as you navigate the return to work.

Robin Marshall

Editor-in-chief

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