Tuesday 12 May 2020

Are We All "Key Workers" Now?

Yesterday I needed to take a longish car journey for the first time in weeks, and was listening to the radio accordingly.  In every bloody commercial, the advertiser referred proudly to all their loyal staff as "key workers" - all working hard for me at this difficult time, natch.  

Then, upon encountering some roadworks, the sign said "Caution: Key Workers In The Road"!

OK, we get the message: everyone expects "key workers" to be getting big, richly-deserved, state-funded pay rises shortly; so that's what we all must be!  (Well, I know I am ...)  What, exactly, do you need to be, NOT to qualify?  A betting-shop clerk?  A bitcoin speculator?  A professional daytime TV watcher?  Nah: I reckon that with a modicum of ingenuity you can qualify everyone.  Talk about devaluing the currency, eh?

Anyhow, practitioners of the fine and vital art of corporate restructuring are definitely key workers.  Well, who was it that sorted out the Far East financial crisis of the later 1990's?  There will be no shortage of requirement for this service in the coming months and years ... and as luck would have it, I've been working on one for the past several weeks.

It's a classic of its kind.  All blew up at short notice.  The distressed parties are overseas companies.  The debt holders are overseas companies.   All the likely "bidders" are overseas companies.  With one single exception (a New York law firm retained by one of the financiers) ALL the advisers in all disciplines for all parties are London firms.  And, being 2020, the whole thing is being conducted very effectively by Zoom.  (Less splendid City dining-rooms and bespoke sandwiches, but there you go.  Mrs D does a great avocado, bacon & ketchup sarnie too.) 

Call me complacent: but I just can't see how Frankfurt could muster half a dozen instant, multi-discipline, fully staffed, 24/7-working teams like that.  Or Paris? - don't make me laugh. HK? SG? (Geneva?) 

How long can we retain this advantage?   How might it slip away from us?  I suppose everything's possible: but hey, a service is a service, and people the world over have become addicted to it.

And so us keyworkers soldier on.  Oh, it's a real service, be in no doubt.  The restructuring and recycling of sunk-cost assets is a Real Thing, and it keeps the globe spinning in its orbit (see sunk costs / capitalism, passim).  We'll be needed quite a lot in the coming months and years ... until Jeremy Corbyn rises from the dead and does away with us all.



Thud said...

I have no idea what you do or what you are talking about but you say its important so please keep doing it....whatever it is.

Anonymous said...

All very sensible but ... if all the work can be done remotely by Zoom (other systems available), how long before Mrs D is making Focaccia sarnies and the backdrop are Tuscan hills.

Or how long will it be before all mundane customer service is conducted (even more so) by offshore companies paying a fraction of NLW.

Suspect the genie of remote working is out of the bottle and there will be even more restructuring work available for Tuscan workers.

Roderick said...

Are locksmiths key workers?

Bill Quango MP said...

I like the new email advertising.

Before .. “Thinking about switching your energy supplier ? MonkeyMeerkat is just the place to ensure you get the best deal.”

After. “I’m Martin Lunztenbacher. President of Ersatz Insurance Conglomeration. I am
Personally doing everything in my power, to help reassure you, that in these very uncertain and difficult times, you should be maintains a safe, social distance as you Are thinking about switching your energy supplier to MonkeyMeerkat.”

Raedwald said...

Does this mean the end of London? Not your bit of it, I think, Mr D. But for many other functions now carried out in offices by the 374k financial, professional and business services workers in the City of London, and at least some of the other 148k jobs on the City (retail, hospitality, tech, FM), yes.

London maintains this global pre-eminence due to several factors I think; the time zone, our legal system and laws, our courts, low levels of political corruption, a critical mass of expertise, lighter-touch business regulation and of course we are Anglophone. Most of which will be unchanged by Zoom and AI - you can't litigate by videolink. Or even have a really useful case conf.

I guess up to 30% of other work may go - admin, clerical, executive - if it hasn't gone already. There will be a lot of vacant office space. But I suspect the Inns of Court and chambers will have few vacancies; it would be nice to think that the old City will go back a little to what it was before Big Bang; more clubbable, more oak-panelled, and more restaurants with silver flatware and linen napery and fewer serving fusion creations on roof tiles or hub-caps. More professional, less Swiss Toni. (You may have to google that reference, Mr D ..)

Charlie said...

..."key workers" to be getting big, richly-deserved, state-funded pay rises shortly

They will indeed be getting big nominal rises, but with inflation running at 10%, they won't be any better off.

Disclosure: Long big oil, telcos, miners. Any company in fact that owns lots of those sunk-cost assets you mention, a manageable debt pile and whose end customer needs their product.

Oli said...

My mate who sells offices said that initially everyone assumed no one would want offices any more, because with people working at home productivity went up.

2 months in though, firms are enoticing new ideas and creativity drying up - the sort of thigns that you need people physically proximate to get.

Also, for every business that doesn't want an office any more, there'll be a business which needs more office space in order to enable the necessary distancing, and/or becuase hot desking is suddenly less viable.

Nick Drew said...

Anon - yes, I'm part of a specialist network, we have people in Scandinavia (N, S), Spain, and all over England. We do the MS Teams thing all the time, have done for years BUT as Oli said, the juices flow best during our (heretofore frequent) face-to-face sessions

also, as Mr R says, London is the centre of the spiders' web - many spiders, many firms, many disciplines: where everything comes together fast and efficiently - most specifically including the regulatory & legal aspects. Code Napoleon for international business? Forget it

there are many reasons why Mrs D (who speaks several languages, loves France and travels Europe a lot) won't be based anywhere but London (though I accept that if all the theatres and museums and galleries and shops close forever, that could change) and she ain't alone in that: ask any businessman who's tried to entice the Mrs to Frankfurt

I also accept 100% I am describing things as they are, not as they must always be. Complacent? But ... if it's so easy to do the zoom-stuff from, er, Paris (and has been for ages; yes, they have broadband too) - how come nobody does?

Critical mass is critical mass. You can't (easily) drip-feed it across to some place else. Only thing that can stop it, IMHO, is a determined, spiteful Socialist government bent on destruction - & even they'd have a fight on their hands

dearieme said...

" a determined, spiteful Socialist government "

Och, they're socialists, man: just bribe 'em.

Anonymous said...

"spiteful Socialist government bent on destruction ..."

Quite a good description of the current crowd. Magic money tree on steroids when there was the ideal opportunity to euthanize those limp, badly managed, badly financed, marginal business that will fold eventually.

All they've done is to give resuscitation to businesses that will go when the first winds blow into WTO Britain. And next year when we can trade freely and globally, these subsidy junkies now have the measure of Boris and his freespending chancellor.

Better to watch from afar until such times as we get a real Conservative government.

Anonymous said...

@ND disappointed you didn't go with a title of "Mama Weer All Key Workers Now", not a Slade fan I presume? :D

Office work will hopefully change now, yes, there are times where you want to be there as Oli states - I miss whiteboarding sessions, although they can be done at home via equipment like a tablet, but it's finding, justifying and buying them.

A lot of companies will be looking at potentially saved costs, and rejigging office space. Have people WFH 4 days a week and rotate the 1 day in between teams and you can reduce rental space - and thus costs - downwards quite a bit.

If WeWork don't collapse in the next 12 months (they'll be lucky), they'd be well placed to handle that if the traditional ones don't move quickly

Anonymous said...

"Critical mass is critical mass"

Alas that also applies to manufacturing. This crisis has really exposed our weakness, as the "fifth-largest economy in the world!" looks to the sky like Pacific cargo-cultists for a delayed delivery of Turkish surgical gowns that don't fit.

Still, we can go on selling each other houses and coffee. I'm sure that'll work out.

Nick Drew said...

I most certainly am a Slade fan! Noddy 'Oulder is a great lad and their stuff was always superior to the rest of the horrible confected glamrock

(the Xmas song is quite sophisticated, musically)

amusingly the subsequent punk movement resented that Slade had got to bad speling first, haha

andrew said...

Depends on your timescale.

Rat catchers and lamplighters used to be key workers.
Wool, Coal mining and fishing used to be important industries.
Portugal used to be a v.v. rich country, China used to lead the world in technology.

Everyone is a key worker
...until they are not

Every industry is essential to ensure the country's prosperity /
Unique and world leading, special conditions allow its growth only here
...until it is not

Some countries are rich or lead the world
...until they do not

Whether we trend towards Singapore/Taiwan or Zimbabwe/Pakistan is a very open question.
The city is indeed a great asset and when I was still in primary school I asked what the M11 was being built for "Cambridge university" was the answer.

I do not like having large nuclear powerstations on this small island because if one catastrophically fails, you lose a large chunk of your living space (actually about 2% but...)

In the same way I do not like our dependance on one industry and one city as if it fails, it takes down hte rest of hte country.

E-K said...

Zoom=Doom for my trade. Part of me is glad of it. It seemed sheer insanity that commuters put themselves through it every day and the economics of it didn't stack up.

I'm already talking in the past tense. Reality is yet to hit some, I think.

Nick Drew said...

Comes to something when HMG is advising AGAINST using public tpt, in favour of cars. Greens must be seething.

Anonymous said...

ND - single-use plastic is all the rage, as well as avoiding public transport.

Nick Drew said...


Whatever happened to "the climate crisis is the most important priority", eh?

(and what happened to Swedish Greta ..?)