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The Future of Work: The Future of Cities

Posted on: 13 May, 20

Oury and Clark discuss “remoting” and commuting. The future of work and the future of cities in a Covid world.

Oury says...

Do we even need cities any more, Clark?

Phew, Oury! What a way to begin a conference call.

Clark says...
Oury says...

Well, ok. But here we are on Zoom, covering all the things we used to do at our morning meeting in the office. So why do we need that office? … To flirt at the watercooler? No thanks, I have Tinder!

We’re having our meeting on Zoom because we have to. When lockdown passes, we’ll go back to using the office… Don’t you want to see me anymore? I can wear deodorant.

Clark says...
Oury says...

You’re assuming Covid will pass. It might be here to stay. And if it is, that means social distancing is here to stay. People aren’t going to want to travel on cramped trains to busy offices in crowded city centres. They will change the way they operate so as to avoid city centres.

Oh, come on. A year or two from now someone will have found a cure or a vaccine, or both.

Clark says...
Oury says...

But what if they don’t? Or what if new strains develop?

Look at the money they’re throwing at it. Of course they will. Or the pandemic will pass somehow. Pandemics are not permanent.

Clark says...
Oury says...

Let’s assume that a cure or vaccine is found, people are still going to be far more cautious than they were. Particularly the over 65s, or anyone who comes into contact with them.

Maybe. But the over-65s don’t make up the main part of the workforce that travel to city centres every day. Or used to.

Clark says...
Oury says...

In a world in which the day-to-day risk of infection is high, in which people don’t want crowds, we will see a turnaround in the fate of cities – a mass exodus to the cheaper, more spacious lifestyle of the country.

People have been calling the top in London forever. Oh, it’s too expensive, it’s too crowded, there’s too much crime, the quality of life is horrible, but they still keep coming here. 2021 will be no different. As Samuel Johnson said “If you’re tired of London then you’re tired of life”

Clark says...
Oury says...

Samuel Johnson is no more, now it’s Boris Johnson! There were certain trends in place before Covid struck. Covid just accelerated them. We were always going to do more shopping online - the high street and the shopping mall were already dying. More and more people were working remotely. Consultations with doctors were being conducted via videocall, now that’s the norm. Therapy and counselling. AA meetings are being held online. Education, entertainment, more and more of our lives are being conducted remotely. 2020 will be one of those landmark years when everything changed. 1066, 1945, the “The Summer of Love” even

‘The Summer of Gloves!’ more like. I just don’t agree, Oury. I accept that tech has been amazing in filling the holes that this lockdown has created. It’s done it effortlessly. But once Covid passes, we’ll go back to where we were. People need real human contact.

Clark says...
Oury says...

They do. There will be a reversion. But not a total reversion. Many will come to prefer these new ways of doing things, including the bosses. People who work remotely can be more productive. They don’t need to commute any more. Less time wasted in meetings. Companies with lots of remote workers won’t need such large expensive offices. We are just discovering that for so many jobs you don’t need to be there to do them.

It’s working now because everyone knew each other before they started working remotely. There was already a relationship in place. It’s very hard to hire new remote workers.

Clark says...
Oury says...

Don’t agree. More and more of us are becoming freelancers. There are all sorts of online reputation systems - the equivalent of getting a good review on Amazon or TripAdvisor, only for your work. If you can find a wife on the internet surely you can find a co-worker!

People have been wanting to live in cities since the dawn of civilization. When were the first cities built? Ancient Mesopotamia. And ever since people have been migrating to them. Why should that suddenly change now?

Clark says...
Oury says...

I’ve told you. Covid and tech.

Pah. It’s a temporary blip, Oury.

Clark says...
Oury says...

I don’t think it is, Clark. I’m not saying everybody’s going to leave cities. We will, however, see de-urbanisation.

Human beings are social creatures. We need contact.

Clark says...
Oury says...

Yes, but you don’t need to be in a city to have social contact. How often can you meet friends in London without both of you planning it days in advance? You can be more social in a town, in a village. What is going to reverse is this extraordinary centralisation we have seen in the last 20 or 30 years around places like London, New York, Shanghai and so on.

I don’t buy it. Why did Dick Whittington come to London back in the 14th century?

Clark says...
Oury says...

To seek his fortune.

Precisely. He came here for the same reason everybody comes here, whether it’s the glitterati, the illuminati or the illegal migrant. To seek their fortune.

Clark says...
Oury says...

That’s another point. Those at the bottom. If fewer and fewer office workers are in cities, what about those who serve them coffee in the morning on their way to work? Or clean their offices after they’ve left? The waiters, the cleaners, the drivers? Many live in crowded dormitories - that can’t be too nice in a Covid lockdown - trying to save money. What is their future in this new world of empty cities? If there is no work for them, they will go elsewhere.

People come to cities to find love too. I’ll never find my soulmate in a Norfolk hamlet!

Clark says...
Oury says...

You could though - or a couple of hamlets away. Dating apps have long replaced going to bars and clubs hoping to meet someone. Algorithms that understand you better than you do yourself find partners for you. Now we are seeing virtual dates. Drinking wine together, talking, vetting each other. Even sex itself is going online. Casual hook-ups in a Covid world look rather less desirable. But there is sexting, video sex, cam sex.

How do you know all this?

Clark says...
Oury says...

Er … I read about it.

Really?

Clark says...
Oury says...

I saw a documentary last week about robot sex dolls.

A documentary?

Clark says...
Oury says...

What’s the future going to be for escorts and the “oldest profession”? Surely that too is heading online. Even holidays - you mark my words, staycations will be a growth area.

What’s a staycation?

Clark says...
Oury says...

When you take your holidays at home. You do many of the things you might do on holiday, but from home. You read, you relax, you pamper yourself. Businesses that cater to this will surely grow.

People will always want to travel.

Clark says...
Oury says...

Not internationally, not while this virus is floating about. We will get more insular.

Well if I’m going to be forced to stay home for my holidays, they better put a glass roof over the whole of the UK! I’m not going to get a tan in a small hamlet in Norfolk!

Clark says...
Oury says...

Why are you so down on Norfolk? But that’s not the point, because fewer people will fly, the cost of flights will go up.

There are plenty who won’t want to commute that will stay in London. Many businesses have to have people on site - manufacturers especially.

Clark says...
Oury says...

In city centres?

There are many businesses that will want a team working in one place. You can do it remotely, but can you do it better in a team.

Clark says...
Oury says...

Yes, but then you might get clusters. Something like Leamington spa - which makes some of the worlds finest video games.

Leamington Spa!

Clark says...
Oury says...

Yup. It’s clustered with video games geeks. That’s another thing!

What?

Clark says...
Oury says...

Driverless cars.

Not going to happen.

Clark says...
Oury says...

They’re inevitable. And when they come, using the internet of things to communicate with other vehicles, traffic lights and navigation systems, they will deliver quicker, cheaper, crowd-free travel. Journey times will lessen and they’ll make migration away from cities all the more practical.

They’ll make HS2 look ridiculous.

Clark says...
Oury says...

Even more ridiculous.

This doesn’t bode well for house prices.

Clark says...
Oury says...

Not in city centres, no. There isn’t going to be much buying from overseas. Not much tourism. Things look grim for the theatre district and the entertainment industry. Central London has big problems.

There are some positives to that, I suppose, if some flash city centre block becomes affordable housing.

Clark says...
Oury says...

But people moving from London to the regions should be good for the regions. This is another trend that was already in place - property prices in London had been lagging the rest of the UK since 2015, before Corona came.

Well, the tech literate are going to have a huge advantage in your new world, Oury.

Clark says...
Oury says...

Well you better enrol in that excel course then Clark – spit spot

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We are but two fictitious characters throwing out ideas and comment to stimulate debate and collect information. As professional service firms, we are open minded people and think independent thought and debate is essential to help understand, as well as navigate, complex problems. By joves – doing business across Europe (and the world) is set to become a whole lot more complex in light of recent seismic political events. As businesses - we provide information and hopefully some wisdom - and we see this blog and its caricatures merely as a much more fun, perhaps slightly controversial way, of stimulating debate and collecting ideas. We’re searching for some true pearls of wisdom, and as we find them, we’ll share them with you.

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