RUTH SUNDERLAND: Working from home is not a lifestyle perk


RUTH SUNDERLAND: model

  • Sooner or later home workers will have to put away their tracksuit bottoms and tuck up into their overalls
  • I suspect the pre-pandemic status quo will reassert itself sooner than we think, once we are sure the virus is receding
  • Most of us continued to go to work even behind bars, although the experience was very mixed.

A holiday Monday morning is not a great time for people who have worked from home to consider returning to the office.

But sooner or later – and unless new variants delay unlocking, it will be sooner – homeworkers will have to put their sweatpants away and tuck into their overalls.

Over the months, the WFH has integrated. What started out as a health emergency measure is now seen by some as a positive development that should be embraced all the time, but by others as a skier’s charter, “hide away from the house”. Battle lines are being developed.

The Home Front: Sooner or later homeworkers will have to put away their tracksuit bottoms and tuck into their overalls

I suspect the pre-pandemic status quo will reassert itself sooner than we think, once we are sure the virus is receding.

Most of us continued to go to work even behind bars, although the experience was very mixed. The WFH is a factor of social division. Better-off professionals in the south were much more likely to have done so than those in less well-off northern regions. The Office for National Statistics found that just over 46% of people in London had worked from home at some point in 2020, compared to just 14% in Middlesbrough.

Even among professional classes, not everyone benefits. It’s common for the WFH to be damaging for young people, who lack mentorship, but enjoyable for more senior staff with established networks and a nice big house with a study lined with books. Among large companies, the consensus is that “hybrid” work will be the norm after Covid, with staff coming two or three days a week and offices serving as a space for collaboration.

But how will they deal with the fact that no one wants to come home on a Monday or Friday? Disputes over who is working which days will make the war zone which is the Christmas burp amicable.

The reorientation of offices as collaborative hubs looks good, but has a big flaw. Creative ideas spring up spontaneously when colleagues are together. Eureka moments cannot be summoned to order as it is 2pm on Wednesday and that is the designated weekly time.

Many companies have weathered the crisis by tapping into their accumulated social capital, existing ties and understanding among colleagues. However, it is an asset that depreciates rapidly.

There is a difference between Zoom coworkers and real live ones, just like there is between Facebook friends and real buddies.

Above all, people are lulled into a false sense of security. Employers who encourage working from home aren’t philanthropic – they keep a keen eye on the bottom line.

They believe they can save overhead on office space and facilities such as providing and staffing a canteen and perhaps by laying off UK staff and replacing them with new workers in cheap places abroad.

Traditional work has many obvious drawbacks: travel, crowds, presenteeism, high property prices in London and other cities.

It is certainly worth considering, after Covid, how this can be improved and modernized.

But the only reason to advocate continuing to work from home as a common practice is whether it would bring compelling benefits to businesses, staff and the UK economy.

The WFH and the holidays have supported the economy through a dark time, but the risk is that they create a culture of rights.

It’s the last thing we need at a time when the nation is in desperate need of straining its nerves to revive a struggling economy.





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