Waterloo, empty.

Covid disruption. The office as we knew it is gone.

Craig Cockburn


Those of you who have followed me for a while will know that I’ve been commentating on remote working for over 25 years, and I refer you to an article I wrote on remote working in 2017, including references to the benefits for people with reduced immunity and for disease control.

However, the covid19 situation changes all this. There are now a few important updates as a result which are likely to permanently change society. These have particular benefits for disabled people unless society goes back to the face to face model when the covid19 problem has subsided.

Three key points

  1. Social restrictions are likely to be in place for all of 2020. “A vaccine and drugs are unlikely to materialise until next year and until then some form of social distancing will be required, according to Prof Whitty.” This means some people must work remotely in order to maintain appropriate distancing. Your office procedures need to cater for hybrid working.
  2. People who are shielding may need to shield until there is a vaccine. Because they have a government letter saying they must stay at home, the impact to their health will be just the same until there is a cure for their condition or a vaccine for covid19, therefore the same timescale above applies to them as the vaccine is likely to arrive first. The Health and Safety of employees is the responsibility of the employer therefore no responsible employer would want vulnerable people to travel and endanger their health when there is a government letter saying they should stay at home. Legal action is undoubtedly going to arise especially from unionised workers put at risk unnecessarily.
  3. People with disabilities which ordinarily meant they could work normally but who have reduced immunity also have the protection of the Equalities Act 2010 (UK legislation) where an employer is expected to make reasonable adjustments to cater for disabled people (Part 2, Chapter 2, Section 20). When the reasonable adjustment is working from home which everyone has now been able to do, then disabled people just need the system to not go back to the way it used to be.

What’s the impact of this?

When I wrote in 2017 that MacMillan cancer said people with reduced immunity should avoid public transport, the same advice applies now.

However, what has changed is that companies which were traditionally reluctant to support remote working because it wasn’t part of the office culture, caused security issues or there was an ingrained belief that the only way to effectively collaborate was in a face to face meeting with a handshake are now having to think twice.

Where remote working is possible, companies are now having to adapt and with this likely to be in place for many months then it will become commonplace. As a result, with new tooling, security and working practices then the Equalities Act together with that shielding letter from the government (around 2 million people in the UK) now means companies are going to struggle to come up with a compelling reason to demand those people come into an office for a job that people have been doing remotely for 6 months or more. The tools are in place, the policies are in place and the culture is in place. The only reasonable adjustment needed is not to change things back to the way they were and the land of handshakes and body language.

We do enjoy face to face contact but just because something is preferable, should not make it mandatory.

I still see jobs that are advertised as “London based, but remote whilst covid restrictions in place”. Yet with these restrictions being in place for months the rights of workers and especially those with medical conditions will mean many of the 20% of people with disabilities be able to argue such roles will be permanently remote. We have made some strides in getting better workplace equality but the 95% under representation of disabled people in the Scottish and UK parliaments shows there is a shocking forgotten 20% in society.

Workplaces that discriminate against 2 million workers who just want the remote situation left alone maybe in for a surprise.

Future scenarios

Distributed working (or hybrid working) are likely to be the default position for many and the law is there to back this up.

When a job can be done from anywhere, there’s no compelling reason to move to London for work. Since many people are not originally from London and may have family connections where they grew up elsewhere in the UK or further afield, we will likely see a property crash in London as people collectively say “Living in London, what’s the point — I’d rather live near the rest of my family” and then those big offices may be something of a white elephant. Hey, I love London — it’s a great place to visit but I only moved there for work.

In response to the #covid19 situation, The Scottish government published a vision for the future on 23rd April 2020.

The pandemic has changed the way societies and economies across the world operate and Scotland is no different. In some ways this has driven forward changes that we have already been pursuing such as using online tools to reduce the need for travel

It means helping businesses deal with the transition out of this crisis by changing their business models and practices with an eye to the markets that will grow in the future

We have seen an unprecedented response from the people of Scotland to an unprecedented challenge. It has been innovative and compassionate. It is up to us how we move through this crisis and come out of the other side. This document sets out the basis on which we will act, based on common values, principles and the best scientific knowledge. When things come apart, there is always the opportunity to put them back together differently. We can work together to design the Scotland we want to emerge from this crisis.

What business models will you be changing to ensure success in the new world? Disabled people and the environment can no longer be ignored for the sake of a hand shake.

See the responses below for updates from the media connected to the theme of this story.




Craig Cockburn

Freelance IT Professional, Lean Agile Coach. Wrote UK's first guide to getting online. Non Exec Director. From Dunblane, Perthshire. www.craigcockburn.com