The future of offices
Sir: I agree with much of Gerard Lyons’s article about the future of the capital (‘London in limbo’, 8 August), but there is more to consider. Before the virus, many organisations considered having staff working from home. However, there were always objections: people needed to be at meetings; the technology wasn’t good enough; questions over whether workers would work their contracted hours.
With the onset of the virus, working from home was forced upon many, and has proved to work better than could ever have been expected. Will these workers ever want to come back to the office? Many will miss the social side of work, but will be very happy not to spend ten hours a week commuting, and to avoid spending thousands of pounds a year on getting to and from work.
If this ‘experiment’ of working from home succeeds, there will be many organisations currently renting very expensive offices in London which find that they don’t need so much space. They might question whether it is worth the expense.
If we can work from home, why not move to a less expensive part of the country and have both a better home and lifestyle? This could have a big effect on property costs: commercial and domestic.
Sir: Dr Lyons’s concern for London’s economic infrastructure misses a key issue: how, once they have arrived at their office blocks, do the workers reach their desks? My wife’s company employs some 2,000 people on six floors. The building has four lifts which, thanks to distancing regulations, can now carry only one person each, where once they took 12. The fit can walk up six floors, but how would people manage in a 30-storey skyscraper?
Peer on peers
Sir: Colin Amies is not entirely right (Letters, 8 August). Retired heads of organisations are not often a good fit for the Lords. The job demands people whose expertise and involvement is current, and who still have the inclination and energy to spend their time working, without PAs or staff, on the details of legislation; getting little things right, and listening to people with different views. That tends to mean people who have done well, but who may not have necessarily reached the very top. Proposals for peerages by political leaders ensures diversity of political viewpoint, and responsiveness to the electorate, and can work well as a way of identifying people who will make a real commitment. Blair’s choices in his early years were notably good.
But we clearly need the enforced quality control and designed diversity of expertise and understanding that Colin Amies advocates. Being able to work remotely in a hybrid House is, it turns out, a great aid to diversity, as it makes it much easier for people with real jobs outside London to fit in with our very unpredictable timetable. We should take advantage of that to broaden the House.
Eastbourne, East Sussex
Praise for the DNB
Sir: Charles Moore is right to praise the diversity and inclusivity of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (The Spectator’s Notes, 8 August) which, by design, features the lives of all who have influenced British history, including those who rebelled against British rule. It is notable for another feature: everyone included in Leslie Stephen’s first edition from the late-Victorian era and the subsequent supplements was included in the second edition of 2004. Colin Matthew, its editor and architect, planned an organic work that inherited all the biographies hitherto thought worthy of inclusion and added to them. Those biographies were rewritten to reflect new knowledge and contemporary morality. But no one was omitted — or ‘cancelled’, in today’s terminology — whatever they did, in a work which respects earlier choices and valuations. Its spirit is the very antithesis of that driving those (including vice-chancellors and college heads) who deface or remove monuments or erase names from history. This is one of the reasons why it is so widely used and prized.
(Editor, Oxford DNB, 2004-14)
St Peter’s College, Oxford
Blood to Wales
Sir: Now I can at last reply to Peter Snowdon (Letters, 1 August) who chided me for putting blood donation staff at risk by declining to wear a state-decreed muzzle while giving blood. He should direct his concerns about the supposed risk to staff to the blood services of Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and the Irish Republic. All of them, when I last checked, actively discourage such face coverings, believing that they can hide signs that a donor is about to faint, a very undesirable outcome. Everyone, it seems, is out of step except England. The attitude of the non-English services looks to me like a triumph of science and experience over dogma, though I can only guess.
In any case, thanks to devolution (a phrase I thought I should never use), I was able to give blood in Wales last week, unmasked. It was well worth the journey.
Sir: I can assure Melissa Kite that the whole of Surrey and south-west London are not holidaying abroad (Real Life, 8 August). They have in fact come here to Somerset in huge numbers, bringing their bicycles, dogs and children with them. Enjoy the peace!
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