The joy of commutingby
After all the dramas of the last year, can you remember the pleasures of the daily commute? Before deciding to go for broke on a return to the office, wise employers should be thinking of viruses and train traumas.
Many of us still struggle to believe that we have not been anywhere near our offices in over a year or, at most, have paid only the occasional visit.
After all, this is where we have all spent the majority of our waking lives day in, day out for years or in some cases decades.
An imminent return is now on the cards, actively encouraged by a government which seems hell-bent on ignoring the deadly pandemic in the vain hope that it will feel put out and decide to go away.
The health secretary seems unconcerned that, on his own estimates, next month we could be in a scenario where there are 700,000 people newly infected every week ie 2m or possibly many more ill at any time.
Some may feel that this is madness but no doubt members of the Covid Denial Group will soon be chuntering about Project Fear, even as we witness what informed sources expect to be tens of thousands of our fellow citizens dying.
The general consensus amongst those professionals with whom this accountant has been discussing the issue over recent weeks is that the PwC solution of future office attendance for an average of two to three days per week could be ideal.
Very few people in larger practices appear to relish the idea of forsaking offices and the company of colleagues completely, while even smaller numbers seem keen to return to the grind of 9-to-5 (we wish) five days a week.
If nothing else, it has become increasingly apparent that the diligent and the ambitious are now working many more hours than they were before, some even attempting to provide a 24/7 service to increasingly demanding clients.
It is amazing how absence makes the heart grow fonder and memories become increasingly selective.
One of the pleasures of office life was witnessing sweating, harassed colleagues arriving an hour later than usual, cursing South West Trains. While that company held pride of place for years, other peers were often capable of competing very ably when it came to delays on packed commuter trains.
Indeed, the thought has been reinforced by the news that several major train companies have recently been asking passengers to stay away, since they do not have the trains to accommodate them.
Time to rethink the office commute
Therefore, before committing to spending too much time in a city centre office, readers might wish to remind themselves of a few salient facts.
Long experience suggests that fewer than 1% of accountants live within walking distance of a city centre office.
Some may be able to cycle, although that is often both dangerous and stressful, given the concerted efforts of drivers to knock them off their bikes.
Driving into the office has its attractions, until you actually try to do it on a daily basis. In London, not only will you be obliged to pay an extortionate amount for entering the city centre and parking but unless you leave home in the wee small hours, the journey will be very long and exceedingly slow.
That leaves public transport. This columnist has always gone to considerable trouble to ensure that his standard commuting duration would be in the region of 30 to 45 minutes. While that was bearable, it still included an unpleasant time standing up crammed in an airless train with large numbers of irritated, sweating and/or dripping fellow travellers.
That was the perfect journey, when things went wrong it could easily double. The lost time was then exacerbated as we explained to our fellow workers all that had gone wrong, comparing notes with others who had suffered similarly.
There is no question that I was one of the lucky ones. Most of my colleagues faced an average of an hour on a train into London, followed by 20 to 30 minutes on the underground or a bus.
When disaster hit them, half a day would be taken up travelling to and from the workplace, achieving nothing other than a dangerously high heart rate and a level of anger that might take the rest of the day to dissipate.
If you were female, there was also a terrifying risk of being obliged to contend with barely concealed assault on your person.
Such problems are going to be compounded by the mask situation. On one hand, the thought of wearing a claustrophobic face covering while commuting could make anyone feel faint.
On the other, if we take the PM at his word, we will be obliged to take our lives into our hands on packed transport with nobody wearing a mask.
If the virus had been conquered, the idea of working from home more often than not would have been very attractive. But then, throw in the risk of catching coronavirus (or flu) as you spend half an hour in close proximity with other passengers stuck in a tunnel and it seems overwhelming.