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30 July 2020

Why the mass home-working experiment is unlikely to end soon

As the pandemic continues, businesses expect more disruption from enforced periods of remote working and self-isolation.

By Stephen Bush

Under new guidance from the Department of Health, people in England must self-isolate for ten days  up from seven  if they experience symptoms of the novel coronavirus or receive a positive test result. The devolved governments are expected to follow suit over the next few hours.

Don’t forget that it is only next week that the guidance on ending distanced working comes into force. This is the moment when, the government hopes, businesses will return to city centres and bring the era of mass home-working to an abrupt end. 

This news adds to the calculation at the top of most businesses: why return if you will face logistical disruption due to repeated periods of enforced home-working anyway, when the long-term prognosis for people who get it seriously but recover is unclear, and when the rising caseload across the world (and indeed, the small rise here in the United Kingdom) indicates that the disease is very much still with us?  

That calculation is playing itself out for households too, which is why holiday destinations in the United Kingdom and around the world are struggling with decreased custom, restaurant bookings are still down year-on-year, and the tapering of the furlough, beginning next month, may well trigger the beginnings of a new era of unemployment. 

The nightmare for the United Kingdom is that the combination of easing the furlough and reopening society means that the story of the second half of 2020 is of a worsening economic picture – and a worsening health situation, too.