On May 10th Boris Johnson, the prime minister, is expected to outline the beginning of the end of lockdown. Non-essential shops will start to reopen and factories will gradually get back to work, while maintaining sensible distancing.

5月10日,英国首相鲍里斯·约翰森将对初步解封的安排进行概述。出售非生活必需品的商店会重新开放,工厂将逐步恢复生产,但员工必须继续保持安全距离。

For the deskbound, not much will change. Unlike pubs, restaurants and nonessential retailers, offices were not closed by government decree. Instead, since late March, the government has been encouraging those who can work from home to do so. As The Economist went to press, it was due to issue guidance on how to work safely in offices. The main thrust is expected to be, for now, not to.

而对于办公室一族来说,生活并没有什么变化。和酒馆、餐厅、非必要商店不同,政令并没有要求办公室关闭。从三月末,政府主要是鼓励有条件远程办公的员工在家里工作。本期《经济学人》付印之际,正计划发布如何在办公室安全工作的指南。其中最主要的观点是:现在还不要去办公室工作。



Attitudes have shifted rapidly. A business-continuity planner at a financial-services firm says that before the lockdown, when the company initially pondered moving to split working to enforce more distancing in their offices, “no one wanted to be on the working from home side. But a few weeks later, as we started planning how to get back to the office, everyone wanted to stay at home.” More than half of Britons would like to work from home more often after the crisis and around a third say the ability to work at home will be a factor when they next seek a new job.

员工的态度很快发生了转变。一家金融服务公司的一位负责业务连续性计划的员工说,在封锁之前,公司最开始考虑让大家分开工作以确保办公室内的安全距离。“那时没人想在家工作。但几周后,当我们开始筹划如何返回办公室时,每个人都说想留在家里。”在这场危机过后,多于半数的英国人都愿意经常在家办公,大约三分之一的人说当他们寻找下一份新工作的时候,能否在家办公将成为考量的因素。

Nobody is yet committing to flogging their own headquarters and, in the short term, the need for social distancing within offices may prop up demand. But some bosses are predicting radical changes that will delight chief financial officers eyeing potential savings from dumping expensive city-centre locations. Jes Staley, chief executive of Barclays, has said that large headquarters buildings may become a “thing of the past”. Mr Aubert “would be very surprised if corporations in professional services kept more than 50% of their real estate, and it might be significantly less”. Even a commercial-property manager admits that “there is a serious risk that what was once a prime real-estate asset is now an overpriced half-empty building.”

目前还没有人确定要出售他们的总部大楼,短期内,在办公室里保证安全距离的必要可能还会支撑对办公场所的需求。但一些老板预测,巨大的变化会让财务总监们感到很高兴,不再需要租用市中心地段昂贵的办公场所将会剩下一笔钱。巴克莱银行的首席执行官杰斯·斯特利说,大型总部大楼可能会成为“过去”。如果专业服务公司保留了多于50%的房地产,奥伯特先生会感到非常惊讶,真实的情况可能要远低于这个数字。就连一位商业地产经理也承认:“当前存在这样的重大风险:过去是优质房地产资产的大楼现在成了价格过高的半空大楼。”

The pandemic has prompted firms to think hard about what offices are for, and many are concluding that a lot of tasks are better done from home. Lee Elliott of Knight Frank, an estate agent, reckons that “the days of people taking a 74-minute average commute into town to process email, and then 74 minutes back out—they’re gone.” Mr Gosling believes that “the focus of the workplace will be much more around collaboration, much more around the things you can only get the most value from by being together.”

疫情促使各个公司认真思考办公室存在的意义,许多公司得出的结论是:很多任务在家里可以完成得更好。莱坊房地产咨询公司的李·艾略特认为:“人们花平均74分钟去往办公场所,在那里处理邮件,再花74分钟回家——这种模式已成过往。”高斯林先生认为:“工作场所的重点更多在于协作,在于那些只有员工在一起才能获得最大价值的东西。”

That will be more important to some sectors than others. Mr Rudd of Leo Burnett reckons that “in the advertising world many people thrive off that collaboration and being together, and so they will still need offices where they can do that.” But if social distancing limits the number of people who can work physically together, it will undermine the office’s collaborative function. “I’d happily go back if everyone was going back,” says an executive at a technology firm, “but it makes no sense if only one in four people are there. I might as well be at home.”

工作场所对某些部门来说更为重要。李奥·贝纳广告公司的拉德先生认为:“在广告行业,通过一起办公、互相协作,很多人得到了成长,因此他们还是需要办公室,继续一起工作。”但是如果安全距离限制了能够一起工作的人数,这将会削弱办公室的协作功能。一家科技公司的主管说:“如果所有员工都要回去的话,我也会很高兴地回去。但如果只有四分之一的员工在办公室的话,就没什么意义。那我还是在家里工作吧。”

More home working will mean new challenges for managers. Home workers are harder to monitor and so trust becomes more important. It will be harder for junior employees than senior ones. Junior employees need mentoring, want to socialise and have worse living conditions. But the decisions on the future of offices will be made by those for whom the alternative is more likely to be a nice house than a bedsit.

对经理们来说,更多在家办公的情况意味着新的挑战。在家办公的员工更难以监管,因此信任变得更为重要。与高级员工相比,这对基层员工更困难。基层员工需要指导,想与他人社交,并且生活环境更差。但比起只能负担单间的人,那些可以将一套不错的房子作为家庭办公场所的人将会决定办公室的未来。

Some even predict the decline of office politics. “Normally in the office power structure, there’s always one who’s chatting up the powers that be, being just perched outside the office door when they’re going for lunch or for coffee,” according to Ann Francke, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute. When people work at home, “that kind of political operator is rendered useless.”

一些人甚至预测这样会减少办公室政治。英国特许管理协会的首席执行官安·弗朗吉说:“通常来说,在办公室权力结构中,总有一个人会在高层出外用餐或喝咖啡的时候等候在办公室门外,试图与他们进行攀谈。当员工们在家办公,这种圆滑的人就无计可施了。”

If companies shrink their office space, the impact could be felt well beyond the firms themselves. “Getting rid of those physical barriers between cities will actually make us much more diverse,” says Tanuj Kapilashrami, head of human resources at Standard Chartered, who predicts that the firm will recruit from a wider pool. “I think there will be a significant movement of people out of London,” says Mr Gosling. “If I was in Boris’s shoes, the opportunity for the so-called ‘level-up’ is unbelievable,” says Mr Aubert, referring to the prime minister’s plan to raise incomes outside London and the south-east. There could be consequences for infrastructure, social geography and the subject closest to the British heart—house prices.

如果各个公司缩小办公室空间,带来的影响将波及到这些公司之外的领域。渣打银行的人力资源主管塔努·卡皮拉什拉米预计公司将会从更广泛的地域招纳人才,她说:“消除了城市与城市之间的物理障碍其实会让我们变得更加多样。”高斯林先生说:“我想会有很多人搬离伦敦。”奥伯特先生提到了总理打算提高伦敦以外地区和东南地区收入的计划,他说:“如果我处在鲍里斯的位置,想要实现所谓的‘收入升级’是不可能的。”在家办公会对基础设施、社会地理学以及几乎是英国之核心的房价问题造成一定影响。

The need for workers to cluster together in offices has shaped every aspect of modern life. If the pandemic has weakened the office’s hold on society, the implications will be profound.

员工们共同在办公室工作的需要塑造了现代生活的方方面面。如果疫情减弱了办公室在社会上的作用,由此将带来非常深远的影响。