As I write this, the fifteenth 'lockdown' Gazette is whizzing through the postal system and arriving on doormats across England and Wales. The magazine was put together on kitchen tables and laptop screens, fact-checked via email, and toasted with a virtual drink – as has been the case since the office disbanded in mid-March.
Post-Covid life has settled into a rhythm, it seems.
Yet rhythm is the last thing we need. At the start of lockdown, working alone for days on end with an overheating Macbook for company felt unnatural and inefficient. In the legal sphere, judges warned of justice being undermined, and solicitors’ firms fretted over trainee support, privacy concerns and staff morale.
Now, however, there is an unnerving sense of complacency. Nearly four months have passed and, in most cases, things seem to be ticking over just fine – what did we even do in offices and courtrooms that we cannot do at home? Alive to the cost-saving opportunities, firms have already begun to scale back their premises, with Slater and Gordon due to close its London office in September in a switch to full-time remote working, and Dentons vacating its Aberdeen and Watford sites in a digital drive.
Meanwhile, at the bar, family barristers have noted a growing acceptance of digital hearings. In the early days, the problems were glaring and well publicised: counsel struggled to take instructions from clients during proceedings, out-of-court discussions were stilted, and screens risked dehumanising the families whose lives were under review.
Now, however, we are at risk of a communal memory lapse. From the comfort of our homes, we are forgetting how much better things work when people are physically together in one space – and how refreshing it is to leave the house and interact with colleagues face-to-face.
As we spend more time just ‘getting by’, we risk becoming the mythological lotus eaters, languidly staring at our screens, unable to remember how we ever had the energy to face commuter trains and tube platforms and offices packed with other people.
As lockdown continues to ease, it is time to jog our memories and sail back to the real world.