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A risky return to reality

May 20, 2024 by Alistair Enser

In 2018 film Ready Player One, humanity lives in an online fantasy and people have lost any grounding in reality as a result. Everyone spends their time effectively living and communicating through their online persona. Seem familiar? Those who have spent the last few months working from home and who are now suffering from Zoom or Teams Fatigue might be able to relate to this situation.

I thought of their predicament when reading an interesting report by the Digital Health & Care Institute this week, which addressed the various ways that organisations might plan for a return to work. I was particularly struck by two contrary positions. The report cited a McKinsey study that found that 80% of respondents enjoyed working from home. Yet another study, this time by the British Council for Offices, found that just one in five UK adults (20%) plan to work primarily from home in the future, with just 16% hoping that home working will become a norm. The situation is far from clear.

I have written before about the successful transition that organisations like ours have made to remote working, and how it has freed people to be more productive and creative. However, we must never discount the human element and need for intimacy, connection and belonging. These are difficult to nurture from a remote location.

There are clearly benefits to working in a shared environment, whether this is the sharing of information, or the creative spur that working in an office provides. I also read recently of how important it is for those who are starting out on their professional lives to work from an office, as it helps them learn how to interact with their peers. A nation of remote workers may be convenient, but people risk losing the social skills and satisfaction that is built through working in a shared office.

As an industry, we can do much to help our customers prepare for that journey. Whether it is repurposing existing technology to assist with visitor management, or temperature screening, there are many opportunities to add value and protect people.

With the reopening of pubs, restaurants and hairdressers later this week on “Super Saturday”, there is a very real possibility of offices beginning to reopen in the near future. For some, after months of home haircuts, a return to reality has never looked so appealing.

But reality, as they say, bites. No doubt the future will be bright, but we are experiencing bumps in the road, and as a security industry we must remain focused, look beyond COVID-19, and play our part.

We have been understandably preoccupied with the pandemic, yet we were reminded last week that risk takes on many forms. A horrific terrorist incident in Reading was followed by harrowing scenes of knife violence in Glasgow. There were mass brawls on Bournemouth beach, as half a million people escaped the frustration of lockdown and took to the sea. Up north, having won the Premiership, hundreds of Liverpool fans congregated outside the city’s Liver building where there were inevitable scenes of disruption.

Elsewhere, Police were attacked when they tried to break up a street party in London, while outdoor raves attracting thousands of bored and frustrated young people are becoming more frequent. Worryingly, this week when non-essential stores opened up, the Union of Shop, Distribution and Allied Workers warned that abuse against retail workers has doubled since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, one of the largest shopping centre operators in the UK, Intu Properties, is reportedly on the verge of collapse.

We have been warned to expect a considerable dip in GDP this year and much higher rates of unemployment. Economic downturn creates social pressures and typically brings about a potential rise in crime and civil unrest.

So while social, economic and environmental conditions may explain much of this behaviour, we are still faced with a challenging question: How do we keep control of this as a nation? COVID-19 is here for a while and is clearly a focus for all of us – but let us not lose sight of the bigger picture.

Faced with this shift in risk, businesses need to ask themselves if they are more susceptible as a result. Are their people, property and assets at increased risk? Our industry was borne out of physical crime, safety and risk. In recent years it has evolved into smart buildings and cyber. At least for the short term it appears that the profile of crime may revert or change. We need to help customers address the changes in their risk profiles; helping them navigate the potential shift from cyber security threats to civil disturbance, for example, and from commercial theft to on-premises abuse or even violence.

Technological solutions exist to support businesses faced with these new challenges. For example, responding to increased interest in our lone worker devices that protect those who are working with the public – or working from home – Reliance Protect last week announced the release of a brand new state of the art Lone Worker protection device – the ID Ultra – coupled with a very strong management information tool  to provide data such as trends, device usage and user status, so customers can be sure their team are safe at all times.

There is light on the horizon, we have much to be positive about, but we are not out of the woods yet.