VOICES OF THE FUTURE: Remote working should remain post-lockdown - Alice Hiley

Voices of the Future columnist, Alice Hiley, argues that the continuation of remote work post-lockdown is crucial in promoting more diversity in workplaces:

Friday, 15th January 2021, 6:00 am
Stock london eye, Parliament

Packed streets quickly emptied as the public was ordered to work from home during the first lockdown. Countless “year in review” emails waxed lyrical about companies’ ability to adapt to unfamiliar ways of working.

It’s frustrating, therefore, to see countless job listings with their location set as “Remote (London)”, the description explaining that the company will soon return to the office. Why are we so desperate to get back to normal?

London-centric creative industries, like publishing and television, now have the chance to shrug off their elitist reputation by extending remote work post-lockdown.

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Businesses have been migrating north over the past few years, with Salford’s booming Media City, Harper Collins’ new Manchester branch and Channel 4’s Leeds HQ. It will, however, be years before the employment scales are fully balanced. In the meantime, Northern talent is being ignored and only a subsection of the country’s stories are being told. Entry into these fields should not depend on wealth or access to relatives’ London homes.

Penguin Random House UK’s welcome partnership with The Spare Room Project offers interns subsidised accommodation, but extortionate expenses still pose a barrier to many. Remote internships would give graduates a leg-up into often inaccessible industries; literary

agency Mushens Entertainment’s 2020 internship was offered to a Midlands worker and the company plans to continue the remote opportunity beyond the pandemic. Hopefully, others will soon follow suit.

As disability activists have been arguing for years, remote work is key to improving accessibility, and studies have shown working from home benefits those with disabilities, as well as families managing childcare. While employers may have previously been dubious about the efficiency of home working, lockdown has surely taught us the benefits of not being tied to offices.

Of course, remote work comes with its challenges. Guidelines will be needed to prevent a pay gap between in-office workers on the London Living Wage and remote workers on national salaries. While companies might be tempted to save on rent by doing away with office space altogether, they should be cautious of the mental toll of working in isolation – flexible working may be a promising solution.

At small cultural venues, like theatres and museums, remote employees might lack the vital local knowledge and connections that come from residing in the capital. For large publishing houses and media corporations with national and, in some cases, international audiences, however, expanding recruitment across the country allows new, unique voices to be heard.

Before publishing job listings, companies should carefully consider whether a London address is an essential qualification. Do candidates really need to uproot their lives to live in London or is working from home just as viable?

Instead of treating lockdown as a temporary blip, we should look ahead to the exciting opportunities this new-found way of working can bring.