Back to Business

‘I hate this’ Dave told himself. He was only going into Canary Wharf because this was a big account and asking them to hop on the Jubilee Line these days would have been like suggesting they eat off the floor. Business development just wasn’t what it used to be, back then. The airport was offering meeting rooms where you could fly in, then take a meeting behind glass doors and a conference call with your contact without having to quarantine but that was proving too depressing for most people. Better to stay in a hotel for a couple of weeks, brushing up on his Mandarin and then go meet Pete in person. This was billions we were talking about and Dave’s boss wanted to make sure things were going smoothly.

The DLR from the airport hotel was mostly empty at 11am, but then once he got to the Jubilee Line, things were getting busier. Everyone had been staggered to start work between 6am and midday so you could self distance but you were constantly on edge. It was mad to have to travel with so many people at this time. Everyone queued up quietly along the stickered grid system TFL had installed. A red square meant you couldn’t stand there and arrows moved you along like the Japanese do on the Shinkansen. Eventually Dave got to Canary Wharf station, flashed his Oyster card embedded with his temperature taken 2 minutes ago to the bored member of staff. Barriers had all been left open since it started. Too many people were skipping them anyway. That’s what happens when there’s a pandemic and a recession. Everything goes to pot. 

He got to the lobby and waited his turn on another stickered grid. The pleasant looking lobby assistant waved him over, gloves, mask and all from behind her closed cubicle. The audio came in:

– Good morning sir, who are you here to see?

– Morning. Rob M. please, in Insurance.

– One moment please… Ah, it looks like our system is down again. I’m so sorry, this has happened twice this morning. I can’t let you into the building but you can call your contact and have him meet you outside the building. Our insurance policy doesn’t cover meetings in the office without app approval anymore.

– Ah, I see.

– I’m really sorry about that sir. Here’s his desk number.

– Don’t worry, I’ve got his mobile. I’ll give him a call. 

– Thank you sir. If you’d be so kind as to wait outside, we can’t let unapproved guests wait in the lobby anymore. 

– That’s fine. Thanks. 

– No, thank you sir.

She waved the next person along and he stepped back outside into the sun. It was pleasant enough when you ignored the grid-locked traffic. All the bankers had invested in a full-time driver. Uber had gone bankrupt anyway. Nobody wanted to ride in a car used by strangers anymore. He dialed Rob’s number.

– Hey man, I’m downstairs, the app reader doesn’t work. 

– Hiya mate, oh no worries. I’ll come straight down. 

They talked over sushi in the sun on elongated tables with sound barriers. You couldn’t talk business openly anymore so everyone was using code names and euphemisms as it was impossible not to overhear your immediate neighbours.

They finished at around 2pm.

– Fancy a quick pint before you head out asked Rob?

– Yeh why not. But where would we go? Aren’t the pubs still closed?

– Oh the office set up this 24h outdoor bar at the back of the building. I’ll pop in and get us some. What do you want?

– Half a pale ale. Thanks!

By Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino (@iotwatch)
Author of ‘Smarter Homes: how technology will change your home life’ ( and founder of the Low Carbon Design Institute