Ever Decreasing Circles
July 29, 2014
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Just as the earth constantly revolves around the sun (if you believe this revolutionary theory) so, it seems to me, trends, fashions and social mores follow a similar trajectory. Never throw away your fashion items, I say; they will eventually come back into fashion.
And there is a certain and pleasing circularity in our working patterns and habits. The nascent café culture of the late 17th century famously spawned the leviathan of the insurance industry that is Lloyd’s of London. That insurance exchange began in a coffee shop opened by Edward Lloyd in 1688 on Tower Street, where members of the shipping industry – sailors, merchants and ship owners – gathered to sample the delights of a cup of coffee and a gossip. It was there that they struck deals including ways of reducing their risks through insurance and the enterprising Lloyd also provided them with a source of reliable shipping news.
The shop relocated to Lombard Street just after Christmas 1691 and carried on its maritime arrangements long after the eponymous owner’s death in 1713 until a committee was established and moved everything to the Royal Exchange in Cornhill and established the Society of Lloyd’s.
According to a survey published by O2 Business transacting business in coffee houses and other dens of iniquity is back in fashion. Around 40% of British workers reported that they spent four hours a week working in cafes. Eight per cent of the respondents claimed to do some work in a pub (I assume that these are not publicans and bar staff) while 6% work while on a bus and a further 5% transact some form of business in the back of a taxi cab. An indolent 10 per cent of respondents claim that they have worked from their bed and an energetic subset of 7% claim to have done some work for which they are remunerated in a gym. British workers, according to the survey, spend 131 million hours a week working in coffee shops and 26% of the respondents said that this would be where they would prefer to work if their employers adopted a more flexible approach.
And why not? If your job is not location dependent, unlike teachers or nurses for example, the developments in modern technology such as improved communications out of office locations through smart phones, tablets, Blackberries and the like means that there is no real reason why many workers need to be tied to their desk throughout their working week. In so-called people business – financial services in general and insurance (at least as transacted in the London market) – much business is already done in pubs, bars and coffee shops. By being able to keep in touch with what is going on at the ranch efficiency (assuming you have not imbibed too much of the grain or grape) can be enhanced.
Employers who provide workers with mobile technology expect them to be responsive around the clock. The trend towards hot desking forces employees to be more creative in where they do their work. If you can be as productive lying in bed or beside a pool, then why not take advantage of it?
We are now in the era where employers must consider reasonable requests for flexible working arrangements specific legislation was enacted on 1st July. But really all that is happening is that the circle started by Edward Lloyd has been completed.