Between social distancing, self-isolation and plain old working from home, there are a lot more people around apartment blocks during the day than there were only a few weeks ago.
Is this a bad thing? Not for the apartment dwellers’ fur-babies, with dogs getting a lot more walkies, and added “me time” for cats who love strolling across your keyboard just when you are typing a critically important email.
Having worked from home for the past 20 years, it’s not such a big deal for me. Outside traffic noise is definitely down and our fears that internet speeds would be slammed by more people tapped into the NBN have proved unfounded (so far).
Gyms have closed – both our in-house facilities and commercial torture chambers – so the parks are full of people using the beams and bars of the outdoor areas provided by the council. Wonder who’s wiping them down with disinfectant cloths?
Meanwhile we have dug out every item of exercise equipment from the depths of the darkest cupboards ao we now have a splendid array of resistance bands, small dumbells, an exercise ball that once served as an office seat, a soccer ball that hasn’t been inflated since 1994, and a hulahoop (don’t ask!)
We tried to buy new gear but heavier weights such as 12.5kg dumbbells and kettle bells sell out of the sports shops the moment they come in. Doubtless they are now mostly holding down stacks of toilet paper. The online sports warehouse where we ordered a set of wights took our money but won’t even respond to our emails.
In a more leisurely vein, our nearest café doesn’t open as early, even for takeaways, because a lot fewer people are needing a caffeine fix en route to work.
We had been advised to maybe not share our lifts with anyone we didn’t know intimately, as the elevator, at less than 2m by 1.5m doesn’t allow the 4sqm of distancing space.
However, if you both stand in diagonally opposite corners you’d then be farther apart than if you stood in the centre of two adjacent 2m squares, and in any case, our updated rules allow two people per lift provided they stay 1.5 metres apart. Otherwise it’s probably easier to wait for another lift than it is to explain the relative geometry of an isoceles triangle.
There’s a 1.5 metre exclusion zone in front of the concierge desk and one of its occupants says she works on the basis that you should assume you are infected, because that changes the way you interact with everyone and reduced your chances of really getting the virus.
In short, people are coping in their own ways and we may be witnessing one of those watershed moments that redefine society. It’s like when women had to work in European and American factories during World War II, paving the way for modern feminism and dual income families.
Certainly, many business people think working from home will be the way much more office work will be done in the future. A friend who works in a major bank says his section, which normally has 80-plus workers in it, now houses eight. The others are keeping the wheels of commerce turning, at home in their PJs.
After a few months of productivity increasing, not least because employees don’t arrive in the office pre-exhausted and irritated from their commute, or waste hours asking each other about their weekends and last night’s TV, a lot of bosses would get it.
Add in (or subtract) decreased office real estate costs and it’ll be “where do I sign?”
For those who don’t believe their employees actually work unless they have someone looking over their shoulders, I’ve heard of one local employee of an American firm whose computer camera takes a picture every five minutes to make sure she’s at her post.
In a post-virus, home-working Australia, our public transport and roads need no longer be over-crowded and the only commute will be from the bedroom to the corner of the lounge where your laptop is parked.
Other benefits will be more leisure and family time and a drop in carbon emissions from decreased travel.
But car-crash reality TV will take a hit when everyone realises they only watched so that they didn’t feel left out of conversations at work.
The reduction in workplace socialising is an issue that psychologists are doubtless already tackling. If your work is your social life, you’re going to feel very lonely, very quickly.
And some business types tell me there’s no replacement for the “bump” meeting, when you meet someone in the office kitchen, for instance, and bring up an issue that needs to be discussed but which you don’t want to elevate to such a big deal that you have to arrange an appointment.
I reckon it will be more organic than that. People who work best in isolation will welcome the opportunity to work from home, those who need the social interaction with workmates will stll make the daily commute, and smart emploters will find a way of making it all work to everyone’s advantyage.
For those compelled to work from home, there are plenty of online social networking options, but what will office bullies do when there is no one to hassle or intimidate in person?
Well, they could always join their strata committees and make their neighbours’ lives more miserable. Trust me, it’s a well-trodden path.
A version of this column first appeared in the Australian Financial Review.