Why are politicians so obsessed with having people in the office?
Across the country, many of us are resetting our alarms an hour earlier, spitting £ 5-10 a day on the train ticket and splurging on sandwiches again as we rush to work for be in the office again. Some bosses have taken the hybrid approach (demanding workers are present on certain days of the week) while others are back full time. Revolution of flexible working… what was it already?
Boris Johnson reportedly used his party conference speech tomorrow to urge workers to return to office. A government source told the Daily Mail that he “believes very strongly in the value of face-to-face work”, especially for younger employees. He is not the only politician trying to get workers back. Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith recently said Britain “would be in a vacuum” without a major effort to get staff back into offices. Others have been equally cynical and fear-mongering.
Those who make the office the only viable way to work are totally out of step with the reality of life and the preferences of many people.
Duncan-Smith says office work is good for productivity and employee mental health, but it’s hard to believe that’s what he’s really interested in. Either way, working from home has been shown to be beneficial for well-being. Those who make the office the only viable way to work are totally out of step with the reality of life and the preferences of many people. Working from home at least part of the time has proven to be a very good alternative model, especially for those with mental health issues, disabilities and family responsibilities, but also for anyone who wants a work balance. -healthy life and don’t want to spend half their week and their salary commuting.
Bosses also seem to be obsessed with getting everyone back to where they can see them, using buzzwords like “collaboration” and “creativity”. But many studies show that we are more productive at home. A study by internet provider Talk Talk found that more than half of workers (58%) said they were more productive during WFH.
Politicians should think carefully about why they are really pushing this idea. Probably because they think it will boost the economy to make us eat Pret again – but then what about the local shopping streets that will collapse if they are abandoned again?
We wonder if some leaders really need to surround themselves with their servants to feel powerful again? A CEO may not feel like a big dog in his dressing gown (and let’s be honest, he’s probably a man) at home, but that doesn’t mean his employees have to go back to the office to massage his fragile egos.
The (mostly) successful transition to remote working during the pandemic has proven that we can be trusted to work flexibly, where we are more able to choose hours that match our lives. If we are now encouraged to go back, we should ask for evidence that it is beneficial for businesses and individuals before automatically reverting to “before the times”.
For working parents like Clare, 36, a marketing manager, working from home has been a godsend. This ultimately allowed her to juggle parenting and work without feeling on the verge of depression.
“Instead of spending two hours commuting each day, I was able to spend more time working and being with my kids. When I go to the office, I don’t even see them until they’re about to go to bed. I don’t feel like I can go back to the way things were now, I have seen how much better it can be.
This push to re-enter the workforce comes as vaccines wane over the next few months, when booster shots are currently not scheduled for the general workforce. We know what happened the last time the government encouraged unprotected people to take to the streets again. Hello containment 95.
Once in the office, many of us are still Zoom colleagues or clients anyway, as some people have moved and can no longer meet in person. So it’s not as if going back to the office magically takes us back to some imaginary “good old days”.
I’m not saying all offices should be boarded up and turned into apartments or malls. The office undoubtedly still has a place in the post-pandemic world, and for many new to their careers it can be a lifeline after months as a lonely graduate sitting at home.
But making each worker feel guilty about going back, when it can be inconvenient at best and at worst cause a breakdown, is not necessary. Let’s not go back to a less empathetic time. The gift of choice should not be taken away now. Flexible work must be the silver lining of the pandemic.
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