Adapting to the Covid world

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Your level-headed briefing on how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting the markets, global business, our workplaces and daily lives, with expert input from our reporters and specialists across the globe.

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Latest news

  • A peer-reviewed study said early-stage trials of Russia’s new Covid-19 vaccine generated strong immune responses in all participants without any “serious adverse effects”

    Half of UK workers returned to the workplace in the last week of August, the highest number since lockdown measures were introduced by the government

  • Italy reported its biggest single-day increase in coronavirus cases since early May, casting a cloud over a recent drop in daily infections

The future of work

It’s not working at home, it’s more like living at work. 

For those who pine for some separation between personal and professional life but feel unable to return to commuting, a new option is emerging: the “hyperlocal” workspace. 

Instead of the city centre-based locations operated by the likes of WeWork, reports Janina Conboye from our Work and Careers team, informal, suburban spaces are springing up, located everywhere from hotel lobbies to vacant shops. 

Of course, it’s not just where we work that has been upended during the pandemic, but how we work. Management editor Andrew Hill’s Big Read looks at how businesses are using lessons learnt from lockdown to introduce new ways of organising and overseeing their staff.

© Getty Images

Some view remote working as a great leveller. “When everybody works remotely, it feels like everybody has a fair shot,” says one executive at a US insurer. The flipside, writes Andrew, is that “presenteeism is being recast with a sinister remote-working twist” as concerns rise about the surveillance of staff working outside the office, through monitoring of screen time or keystrokes. Another risk is that companies fail to consider the “second-order effects” of widespread remote working, including how to integrate new hires and foster a shared corporate culture.

For some groups, such as stock exchange traders, working individually via screens can never match working alongside colleagues in an office, writes US editor-at-large (and anthropologist) Gillian Tett. 

Isolated individuals miss out on crucial “incidental information exchange” between teams, one banker tells her. “The bit that’s very hard to replicate is the information you didn’t know you needed . . . where you hear some noise from a desk a corridor away, or you hear a word that triggers a thought. If you’re working from home, you don’t know that you need that information.”

Read more in our series: The return to the office

Andrew Hill is among the panel guests for today’s session on “the death of the office and our homeworking future” at the FT Weekend Digital Festival which runs until Sunday. The festival features many of the FT’s senior journalists in conversation with top names in politics, business and the arts, from former UK prime minister Tony Blair to Snap chief executive Evan Spiegel and actress Annette Bening.

Markets

US executives have taken advantage of the record-breaking streak in equity markets by dumping their stocks and “harvesting a once-in-a-millennium bonanza”. “If you think that your future is dim but your stock is soaring then it makes sense to sell,” says one adviser.

Column chart of $bn* showing Insiders offload stock as market rallies to new peak

The move by companies to hold annual general meetings online is leaving private investors in the dark and their questions unanswered, says a new survey. Says one business expert: “Whether it is in person or virtual there will be companies prone to be shareholder friendly and transparent . . . and there will be companies that will essentially try to suppress the voices they don’t like, and virtual makes it easier for them to do that.”

European Central Bank chiefs, who meet next week to discuss policy, are worried that the appreciating euro will hurt exports, drag down prices and increase the pressure for more monetary stimulus. Several of the ECB’s governing council told the FT that the euro’s rise against the US dollar and many other currencies risks holding back the eurozone recovery.

Business

Shares in CaixaBank and Bankia rose sharply after the two Spanish lenders confirmed they were talking about a possible merger to become what would be the country’s largest domestic bank with assets of more than €650bn. The talks come amid mounting pressure on retail banks as they struggle to set aside costly provisions for failed loans caused by the pandemic.

Virgin Atlantic said it would cut another 1,000 jobs as it finalised a £1.2bn private sector rescue deal. Ryanair investors have hit out at the airline for paying out a €450,000 bonus to chief executive Michael O’Leary despite furloughing staff and taking government pandemic support.

The English Premier League faces a coronavirus-related shortfall of more than half a billion pounds next season, the FT revealed, just as it negotiates with government about allowing fans to return to stadiums. The football league also abruptly ended a £700m TV deal with a Chinese broadcaster in a row over payments withheld because of the pandemic.

Global economy

The US unemployment rate dropped to 8.4 per cent in August as employers added 1.4m jobs. About 11m of the 22.5m jobs lost during March and April have been regained in recent months, but the rebound has been held back by new increases in infection in many states, as well as the fading effects of fiscal stimulus.

France launched a €100bn recovery plan with big investments in green energy and transport. Unlike Germany’s €130bn plan, which included a cut in value added tax, France’s aim is chiefly to boost investment rather than stimulate demand. Underwhelming German factory orders data this morning followed Wednesday’s patchy consumer confidence report in highlighting the still-fragile nature of Europe’s recovery.

UK chancellor Rishi Sunak is set to spurn calls from the financial sector for a new state-owned body to refinance tens of billions of pounds of coronavirus loans issued to British companies. Ministers fear such a move could tip the balance of risk away from banks and towards taxpayers. Mr Sunak’s “eat out to help out” restaurant discounts were used for more than 100m meals at an interim cost to the taxpayer of £522m.

Readers respond

TheGreenMachine comments on I’m ready to do my patriotic duty — and buy my Pret BLT

As a millennial, I very much miss the interaction, ideas, collaboration and friendship of my colleagues.

Zoom and Microsoft Teams calls have been a vital bit of infrastructure throughout this pandemic and have proven a very good stopgap, but I really do feel pigeonholed with who I am interacting with now. Conversations are only happening out of necessity with close colleagues, which means I can quite easily go half a day without speaking to anyone in the lonely confines of an uncomfortable kitchen. I can see a long-term situation of homeworking having a massively detrimental impact on mental health, waistlines and social abilities. In addition, city centres are vibrant and exciting places to hang out, especially for us youngsters who do not fancy a life of sitting in our slippers in the same four walls 24/7.

I am desperate to get back to the office, but with ideally a three days in and two days WFH split. Long live the office, in my humble opinion.

Get in touch

How is your workplace dealing with the pandemic? And what do you think business and markets — and our daily lives — will look like after lockdown? Please tell us by emailing covid@ft.com. We may publish your contribution in an upcoming newsletter. Thanks

The essentials

Britain’s transport secretary Grant Shapps admitted that differing quarantine rules between England and the UK’s devolved nations were “confusing”. Scotland and Wales have put restrictions on travellers returning from Portugal and Greece but England has not.

Track the rate of the UK and international economic recovery with our range of charts and data.

A series of charts showing Indeed.com job postings data, comparing the gap in trend between 2020 and 2019. In all countries shown - the US, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, UK, Australia, Brazil, India and Japan, postings remain well below 2019 levels, showing only modest signs of recovery from the bottom of the trend.

Final thought

“If anything was going to find a way for tech to reopen its doors, surely it would be a segment of the leisure industry whose entire 50-year-old business model has involved piling ever more seductive layers of digitisation (voice assistance, calorie counters, competitive note-hitting gauges) on what is essentially a campfire singalong.” Tokyo correspondent Leo Lewis reports on how karaoke is adapting to the age of coronavirus.

© Pâté

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