Podcast S2/E2: Has the Working World Changed Forever?

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After a break for a rather unusual summer, Ben and Alex restart the HomeWorkingClub podcast with a discussion about the future of the working world. 

Armed with results from our recent home working survey, we question whether the working world has changed forever, and whether governments really have a hope of persuading office workers to return to their previous lives.

Included in this podcast:

  • A quick update on HomeWorkingClub (1:37)
  • Key results from the HomeWorkingClub survey (3:27)
  • How the world has and is changing (7:34)
  • How to maintain your work from home lifestyle (10:00)
  • How existing freelancers/home workers are changing (15:30)
  • The demise of the central business district? (18:40)
  • Alex gets his words jumbled! (21:34)
  • A “super special secret project” (22:15)


Supplementary Links and Information

Full Transcription

We have edited some repeat words and unclear sections to enhance readability.

ALEX: Welcome to the HomeWorkingClub podcast. I’m Alex and joining me, as ever, is Ben.

BEN: Hello there.

ALEX: How are you, Ben? How has it been?

BEN: Oh, wow. What a big question on this incredibly strange year. It has been a long time since we did one of these. And, once again, we’re doing this over Zoom because we’re still living in the age of social distancing and everything.

I would also say that where we both are… we live about 30 miles or so away from each other… we have a huge storm over both of us at the moment. So if you hear cracks of thunder while we are recording, that would be why.

ALEX: If it’s not over one of us, it shifts over the other, which is quite handy. As is traditional with the HomeWorkingClub podcast, two British guys talking to each other… the weather has to be the first topic of conversation, doesn’t it?

BEN: Absolutely. We don’t get weather as exciting as this very often.

ALEX: It’s stopped drizzling in order to thunder.

So we’ve talked about the pandemic, the terrible weather, everything that’s going on… But one of the things during that whole period is that of course… when we first started doing these podcasts we were advising people who might consider working from home at some point in the future. But of course, everybody seems to have been working from home over the last few months.

You must have been rushed off your feet, Ben.

BEN: Well, certainly to an extent. It has not been perhaps what everyone would expect. I’ve had a lot of friends say to me, “Oh, you must be doing so well having your home working website.” Well, yes, it’s certainly topical. I’ve certainly given plenty of comments to the press and stuff like that.

However, the site itself… it used to be that when you typed “home working” into Google, I was right up there at the top. And now I’ve got Forbes and Entrepreneur and Huffington Post and The New York Times and all of those writing about home working almost every day. And so I feel a little like the Mom and Pop grocery store that’s had Walmart open next door.

ALEX: But you’re still surviving?

BEN: Absolutely. It’s been a very interesting and unusual year, of course. I think sometimes it’s felt like it’s going incredibly slowly. My wife and I have both been working full time, and I think we had… it was something in the region of 141 days without childcare. So we had two children at home full-time for well over three months while we were trying to work. So that was an interesting challenge.

In some regards the year has gone very quickly. I can’t believe we’re in September now. But it’s also gone very, very slowly at some points.

ALEX: I feel like I’ve been ageing in dog years this year, to be honest with you.

BEN: Yes.

ALEX: So there are a couple of things we want to talk about today. One off them is a super special secret project which you’ve asked specifically for me not to call a super special secret project. But I’d like to try and inject a little bit of excitement. We’re going to talk about that at the end, so it’s worth staying on for that.

BEN: Yeah, it’s not that much of a secret. But I will allow Alex’s sense of suspense to continue throughout the rest of the podcast.

ALEX: A little bit of showmanship doesn’t hurt, does it?

The other one, which is almost as exciting… in fact, possibly even more so, is you’ve done a survey.

BEN: We have. Yes, we did a big survey of the HomeWorkingClub readers. Obviously you know all about it because you were heavily involved in doing it.

We got some very interesting data and statistics to share around home working and freelancing. Very interesting stuff about how the working world is changing and the future of work. So, just some observations that we’re going talk about.

ALEX: So, as is traditional in these podcasts, I shall assume the role of the idiot that has to have things explained to him. To be fair, that is my role in general life as well. So it’s quite easy for me to slip into it.

You immediately caused me to nap slightly when you said data and statistics. But there are some brilliant stories from this survey, I think, so can you give me the top line of what you found?

BEN: Well, probably two numbers. One is that 87.8% of people think the working world has changed forever. And over 90% believe that the COVID pandemic has removed barriers to working remotely.

That’s an enormous change! I was going to say no one would disagree the working world has changed… clearly, about 12% of people do disagree, but… home working is an enormous thing now. I think the genie is out of the bottle and I don’t think it’s ever going to go back to how it was.

ALEX: I think you’re right. I think that attitude shift… not just in terms of the people who have been working from home or people who are used to it… but the attitude shift in terms of companies. They’ve had to put workforces to work from home. They’ve dealt with some of those startup problems they’ve perhaps been trying to put off for a few years.

I think you’re absolutely right. That attitude shift has happened now.

BEN: It has. Yeah, I mean, people have been kind of forced into it, haven’t they?

Even those bosses who I’ve always said… I’ve probably said on previous podcasts… who I’ve always thought were rather old fashioned and had sort of this presenteeism culture that they want to look over their staff’s shoulders and stuff like that. I think they’ve been forced to realise, “You know what? People actually still get their work done at home. Perhaps get it done better than they did before.”

It’s changed. People can’t unlearn what they’ve learned over the last six months.

ALEX: Yes, it’ll be really interesting to see. I think that some of the survey touched on this as well… people getting used to working from home.

We’ve talked about the problems of being self-motivated, of looking after your workload and that kind of thing. And suddenly some of the themes we’ve been talking about have just hit every kind of comment article in the national newspapers. “How do you work from home?” “How do you carve out a space?” All of this kind of thing and it is really interesting.

I think some people are desperate to get back to the office, but actually from the survey… you’re saying not that many people are. But you know, these are people who are already working from home.

BEN: Yeah, I mean, there certainly are some reports out there… I think people being sort of subversive about it… I think the statistics speak for themselves.

I think the majority of office workers who have established they can work from home do want to continue… certainly the vast majority. There are people who, I think, would prefer to get back to an office environment. I think some kind of hybrid between office and home working is probably more likely to be where we’ll end up in the short- to medium-term.

Of course, it is easy for me to only see the good sides when I’m sitting in a very nice office at the end of my garden… and the fact that I have a garden…

Obviously, if you’re in a one-bedroom flat with no outside space, if you’ve got two of you… a husband and wife, perhaps… both trying to work from the dining room table… I can imagine why those people are thinking “Please give me the office back!”

I think it’s also thinking that offices aren’t going to be the same anymore. I mean offices with social distancing… there’s not going to be people sharing lunches, people doing (perhaps a very British thing)… but taking it in turn to do the tea run…

ALEX: There we go. We’ve done the weather and now we’ve got tea.

BEN: Not that we’re British stereotypes or anything!

But people aren’t going to find the office the same as it was. Certainly until COVID is history. I think people might be pining for something that just doesn’t exist any more. That old office vibe doesn’t exist anymore, whether you want it to or not.

ALEX: There have been a lot of reports in the press of… and, I suspect, driven by the people who own commercial property in central business districts… saying we have to get back to the office, otherwise cities will die. Do you think that’s likely to happen in the way they want it to?

BEN: Obviously, we know we’re mentioning this at a very topical moment. Here in the UK, this is all over the news today. It sounds like the government is going to try and actively persuade people to get back to the office and even start to hint that people don’t work as effectively at home. Which is complete nonsense!

Because coffee shops, cafes, restaurants… this whole economy that is fuelled by people who are commuting into city centres… central business districts… so, obviously there is a huge economic impact. The fact that these big zones… the city of London is like a ghost town at the moment.

So, yes, you can understand why governments and commercial property owners want to perhaps return to the previous status quo. However, I don’t think they’re going to get what they want because the majority of people want to carry on doing what they’re doing.

I think the companies themselves, the Twitters and Googles of this world, are announcing that they’re going to allow home working in the long-term. They’re not saying, “Oh no. Get everyone back to the office.” And so things are going to change whether the governments and the landlords want them to or not.

ALEX: Yeah, I think even the companies that you would not expect to be able to set up for that… so even large governmental organisations and, you know, perhaps slightly more old fashioned companies in their way of work have started to see that it is possible for them to do it as well.

But going back to the people themselves. And obviously, you surveyed HomeWorkingClub site readers and people who perhaps have a higher percentage who are already working from home at least part of the time. They have no itching desire to get back to an office at all.

How are they going to maintain that lifestyle when there’s so much competition for working from home?

BEN: Well, this is something that really stood out to me when we got survey results back… is just how much people are willing to do to carry on working from home.

37.8% of people would willingly change industry and change career completely to continue working from home. 29% of people say they’re willing to change employer if their employer insists on them going back to work. I mean, they are really quite big statistics!

That’s people saying… I think I’ve actually got a quote here somewhere… here we go… M.B., a data engineer in Colorado, said, “I don’t expect to ever work in an office again. If my current employer said I needed to return to the office, I would quit and find a different job where I could work remotely.”

Now, I don’t think M.B. in Colorado is alone in thinking that.

ALEX: Not at all. It’s going to become one of those things that the companies… where as it was a benefit… the ability to work from home or people saying you know, work from home on a Friday, or something like that… I think it’s now going to become absolutely vital.

If somebody’s looking to work for a company… if there’s not a home working option, then they’re going to miss out on the top talent because the top talent will be able to go, “Actually, I will be staying home three days a week. I’ll come in for the odd meeting, but most of the time I will be at home.”

BEN: Well, I think the bosses are just going to look like dinosaurs if they put their foot down too much about it. It’s like: “Well, I’ve been at home for six months and I’ve performed and I’ve met all of my objectives.”

ALEX: Yeah.

BEN: What exactly is gained from me polluting the environment by spending two hours commuting every day? I potentially lose 10 hours of work-time by doing that for two hours every day. It just makes no sense!

Another statistic… and I’m not going to just fill this podcast with stats… but 66.8% of people say they have no intention of working in an office full-time in 10 years. So the writing’s on the wall.

The government (certainly the government here) wants to try and push people back to the towns and cities. It’s not going to happen!

ALEX: I completely agree. By the way, if your tolerance for stats is as low as mine, you can download the white paper and read it there. I would have gone for two-thirds rather than 66.8%, but that’s just me.

BEN: Obviously, I’ll put a link to the full survey in the show notes. Or it is… I made a nice easy link for it… it’s homeworkingclub.com/survey … so, if you do like the stats and the data, you can see all of it.

ALEX: It’s good and there’s some good commentary in there as well. Actually, I suppose I’m honour-bound to say this because I worked on it, but it is a really interesting survey.

I think what’s interesting is that a lot of people have been talking about those people forced into working from home… as you say, maybe they’re on the dining table and that kind of thing… but actually it’s really interesting to see what those people already set up for it perhaps, as we are ourselves… it’s not made me think that I want to change my style of working.

I’ve not got this sudden thing were “Actually, do you know what? I want to go back to the office.”

Perhaps those things that we’ve put in place as home workers to give ourselves that socialising… you know, we’ve talked about this in terms of surviving at home, about taking walks, going out to meet people for coffee, that kind of thing… to try and replace the office environment… oddly, having not had those outlets in a way that other people haven’t, I have not found that I’ve needed necessarily to get back to an office to replace those.

You know, I think we found other ways of doing that, haven’t we?

BEN: I think so, yeah. It is interesting seeing some of our clients… both my clients and my wife’s clients… some of which are entirely-remote / remote-first companies and through all of this pandemic they have not really skipped a beat because nothing’s changed. It has just been perfectly normal for them.

I think companies that are now starting to make plans for the future and think, “OK, now what are we going to do?”… I think those kinds of companies could learn a lot from the things that the remote-first companies already do.

There’s one… I can’t remember the name of the company, I’ll put it in the show notes… they do weekly walking meetings. So they encourage all their staff to get out for an hour’s walk and just have the meeting while they’re all walking and things like that. Then having social Zoom calls as well as actual business Zoom calls and stuff like that.

ALEX: I think for one of the other podcasts we did, I spoke to James at Tyk and I asked him, “You know, managing a remote-first workforce, does that mean you spend less time managing them?” and actually he said that no, he probably spends more time on the people, but it’s not making sure they’re working. It’s making sure they’re happy.

Which actually is a much more pleasant task for the manager and a much better way to run a company. I mean, imagine if you ran a company and your main thing was, “Are the people that work for me happy?” What a wonderful day at work that’s going to be! “How could I make the people that work for me happy today?”

BEN: Yeah, well, I think a good start is not making them completely unnecessarily get on a train where they might contract a virus.

ALEX: Yeah, that’s high in the happiness index isn’t?

BEN: Yes.

ALEX: So going back to people who have been working from home before and how they’re adapting to this. Is that something that we’re looking at… those people changing? Because I suspect there’s going to be a great deal more competition in the world of freelancing and home working. What does that look like in the future?

BEN: Yeah, we’ve already seen data… I would say, not my data… but there’s already been data that say that freelancing rates have dropped. I mean, it’s just a simple question of supply and demand.

The survey did say that… I will actually just find another statistic… but freelancers have seen their income drop, from the people that we spoke to. But freelancers also expect their income to increase next year. So that does show a real sense of resilience that I think freelancers have always had to have.

Also, 52% say they plan to either take on additional work, a side-gig or a second job in the coming year. That’s over half the people who responded! I think just this willingness to do what needs to be done in order to maintain the lifestyle and the style of work that they do. I think that’s really encouraging.

I’m perhaps a little cynical to think, “Oh, 52% of people are going to set up a side-gig, I wonder how many of those 52% actually will.”

ALEX: Yeah, I suppose you’re talking to what is a fairly motivated audience though anyway, aren’t you?

I found it really interesting. I mean, obviously, the whole headline of the survey was that the people wanted to work to live, not live to work. Which you might think would be sort of a given with home workers, but perhaps it is one of those things that actually needs confirming – that you will do whatever you need to do to maintain that lifestyle because that’s why you’ve chosen it.

BEN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I’m always saying this. There’s just a willingness to branch out into other things. But also the fact that you can.

Like we’ve said in previous podcasts, you can’t just decide you’re going to set up a sideline when you’re sitting at a desk all day because your boss isn’t going to like that. That’s definitely a freelancing benefit and, obviously, remote workers as well… all that time they gain with commuting gives them more time in the evenings.

I mean, it’s great for having more family time and stuff like that and that’s something that a lot of our respondents mentioned is a huge benefit of working from home. But also it frees up extra time… you finish work and you are at home and you can start diving into those secondary projects.

ALEX: I feel that with the commute, with a lot of people, it’s almost like you now have this sort of unsaid deal with the boss, which is: if you used to commute two hours to the office, then you can have one hour to do a bit of extra work and one hour for your own stuff. It’s kind of… everybody benefits a little bit from that.

BEN: Yeah. I think it’s a bit of an unspoken thing. But yeah, I would think those people are already checking their email when they would have otherwise been behind the wheel of the car or whatever.

ALEX: So, looking at those not already working from home, what did the survey tell us about those perhaps looking to get into the home working and freelancing market?

BEN: Well, I think I would come back to the 29% of people who said that they would actually be willing to change jobs in order to do it. So, a lot of those are going to be people who weren’t allowed to work from home before, were allowed to because there was no other option during Lockdown, and have now realised “Yeah. This is what I want.”

That’s nearly a third of people who are saying, “You know what? If I’m not allowed to carry on doing this, I’m going to find another company that allows me to do it.”

With big-name companies saying they’re going to allow home working in the long term… it actually, I think, increases opportunity because companies no longer have to recruit local staff or staff who can commute in to them. They can actually cast their net far wider and find talent in a different state, perhaps even in different countries. Which is the kind of thing remote-first companies have been doing for a long time anyway.

ALEX: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. I think that a lot of companies are starting to see that the availability of talent is going to be a real benefit for them from this. As we know, large companies don’t change unless there’s a massive benefit on the bottom line for them in that.

BEN: Well, if you think what city centre offices are costing… I think financial directors will have been very much aware of what the office space and the utilities were costing while those offices were empty. And they’re going to think… well, now they’re going to have to pay for them to still be two thirds empty. And I think the days of the central business districts… they are numbered.

I think it’s not only our data that sort of shows that. I think the writing was on the wall anyway. I think this unexpected pandemic has just accelerated what was going to happen in any case.

I live in a fairly small town, but our town is absolutely thriving because we’ve got a lot of people who would… I’m within commuting distance of London… so a lot of those people who were piling onto the trains to London every day… they’re now ordering-in food from local takeaways, local businesses and stuff like that. The High Street is doing incredibly well.

So I think people still need to eat, people still need to do the same things. I think the chain coffee shops… where there’s an identical Starbucks every two blocks in the central business districts… yes, they’re going to struggle. But I think some of that business is going to end up going, hopefully, to smaller businesses closer to where people are actually doing their work.

ALEX: Cool. I think you’re absolutely right. What we’ve seen from the survey and what we’ve seen from our own experience is that the world of work has changed. I think that’s obvious, but it’s been confirmed by the survey here.

People do want to live to work, not work to live… No, the other way around! [Laughter] 

BEN: People want to work to live, not live to work!

ALEX: There you go! I should have let you say that bit.

Obviously, the lifestyle is hugely important and I think that the people who are already working from home or freelancing have their priorities already set in that way. I think a lot of people are going to find their priorities have changed slightly.

The other thing is that the upside, obviously, is there’s likely to be more remote working and freelancing options out there as more companies open up. But on the downside, perhaps, for the people listening, it means there’s going to be more competition for those roles.

Now that, in a seamless broadcasting segue, leads us into the super special secret project. Which is: you have something that can help people perhaps looking to get into freelancing and home working.

BEN: I do. I’m launching a course called Freelance Kickstarter. I am launching it next week… no… I’m launching it next week, but when you hear this, I’m actually launching it tomorrow.

ALEX: This is a pre-launch.

BEN: Yes. So, Freelance Kickstarter. It’s taken me over a year to put it all together. You know, when I started HomeWorkingClub, I never intended to make a course. And then I did a previous survey in 2018, and obviously, I talk to a lot of readers and thought… what is it they need?

I think a lot of people suffer from information overload, especially when browsing websites. And I think, even to an extent, people suffer from that information overload while just browsing HomeWorkingClub because we’ve now I think got over 350 posts, covering all sorts of different home working and freelancing options.

What Freelance Kickstarter does is it lays it all out from start to finish. The idea is that it removes that overwhelm and that confusion, that information overload that stops you actually getting anything done.

It takes you through auditing your own skills and experiences and contacts so you can get a good idea of what it is you can do. It helps you with your short-, medium-, and long-term goals. Then takes you right up to “How do you get the clients?” “How do you navigate freelance job boards?” Stuff like UpWork.

The course has been tested by some very kind readers who offered to beta-test it. Had some very nice feedback from them. Had some interesting criticism as well, which I’ve obviously done my best to act on.

So, I think it’s a great product and I really hope it can help people.

The secret special thing is that I am going to be doing a launch discount. If you’re on my email newsletter list, you’ll be getting the information on that. But, I just thought, if you’re one of these very kind people who do listen to Alex and I on the podcast… you can have it a day early and have the same discount.

So, if you’d like to be one of the very first people to get your hands on Freelance Kickstarter, I’m doing an introductory discount of 33% off. Which actually means you get it for less than $100 if you go here and enroll using the coupon code: “PODCAST 33.”

You can grab it as soon as you like, and you can have it for 33% off.

ALEX: Very kind of you, Ben.

I would precis this by saying I’m under absolutely no financial inducement to say this whatsoever. I don’t make a bean out of this:

The course looks absolutely brilliant. I think it’s the sort of thing that, when I first started freelancing seven or eight years ago, it would have been incredibly useful just to let me order my thoughts and understand what it was that I was trying to do.

To be honest with you, even having been freelancing for quite a long time, I think there are some really useful disciplines in there. And I think we all sometimes have that moment where we go, “What am I actually good at? What can I actually do?” I think it is really useful just to be able to go through and come out at the end of it and go, “Actually, no, I can do this. And this is the route to making some money, and this is something that I can do.”

So, perhaps for those people that are looking to set up side-gigs and things like that, I think it would be really useful there as well. To actually just refresh what it is that you’re good at. Put that in order. Order your skills. And actually get you fit for work.

BEN: Well, yeah. That’s what I very much hope it’s going to do.

I’ve been doing this for over 16 years and it is the course I wish I’d had, really. That’s what I’ve tried to create.

I hope a few of you think it’s for you. And I’d obviously be interested to hear your feedback as and when you do.

ALEX: Yes. And on that shameless plug, we shall end.

Do please, like, subscribe to the podcast and share it with anyone that you may think would find it useful. I think, particularly today, with that course… it’s maybe not necessarily something for those of you listening, but if there’s anybody that’s looking to start out on their freelancing or home working journey, I think it’d be a wonderful thing to share.

And, of course, as ever, we would like to hear what you think. If you were too late to take part in the survey, we’d love to hear what you think about the world of work. In fact, we’d love to hear what you think about absolutely anything… the weather, cups of tea…

So, Ben, how can they get in touch?

BEN: Email ben@homeworkingclub.com

ALEX: Thank you very much for your time today, Ben.

BEN: Yeah, it’s been a pleasure. It’s been really nice to get back to the podcast again.

ALEX: Wonderful. And most of all, thank you for listening.

BEN: Thank you.

ALEX: Bye-bye.

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