“The Rise” of Home Working Is Yet Another Unfortunate Consequence of Lockdown – Conservative Article
During the pandemic, home working has been widespread and some businesses have been forced to invest in different models of working which they had previously been reticent to consider. On the other side of the equation is the workforce who, having tasted the forbidden fruit of filling out a spreadsheet in their pyjamas, are now demanding a radical transformation of the workplace. The UK government appears to have embraced the trend and has decided that it ought to make this form of working “the new normal” through a proposed “right” to work from home.
On the back of dubious studies, politicians of all stripes claim that such changes will serve the mental health and physical wellbeing of workers, improve productivity, and even save the environment. While reducing commuting time and costs, there could also be a number of unintended and counterproductive consequences to these shifts. Regardless, these calls have become widespread.
The proposed new “rights” would prevent companies from forcing their employees into the office without good reason. This may be popular amongst workers who, when polled, appear more open to the idea than their employers. It will, however, severely curb the freedom of companies to organise themselves without undue government intervention. If these proposals are strict then there is the potential for companies to be forced to invest in something they would otherwise not have (as organising these models costs a great deal).
The questionable benefits of this form of working should make the government step back and let companies experiment for themselves. The first claim of boosted productivity from home working or ‘flexi-working’ is backed by tenuous evidence attempting to measure something abstract. It also logically follows that being “freed” from the watchful eyes of bosses and managers could result in everything from excessively long smoking breaks to rabbit hole phone conversations with friends. Human beings are complex and can easily be distracted (sometimes subconsciously). Working from home has a great potential, which those who have worked from home are likely aware of, to put this procrastination-inducing distraction effect into hyperdrive as the realms of the home and the office are merged.
The home and the office should be kept apart. However, the growing trend even before the pandemic was to confuse the two. The first manifestation of this idea was the inclusion of things such as sleeping pods, daycare facilities, and dog bowls for pets. While these introduce the distractions of home into the office, they at least recognise that the office is a hub for teamwork, socialising, and business and that these things remained vital for success. The step toward home working could have untold mental health consequences as people find themselves struggling to switch off from “work mode”.
On top of this, the office is a good enabler of fun. David Brent-style banter with colleagues, afternoon coffees, and post-work pints could all become things of the past as everyone works from home. People may also potentially move further away from the office to reflect the new work week and save some money. I find it astounding that so many appear to want to adopt this new style of work after being deprived of human interaction by a series of misguided lockdowns.
Another purported justification for this new model of working is to forward the interests of gender equality and close the pay gap. While the myth of a patriarchal pay gap imposed illegally across the UK has been debunked, economists note that different life choices and the realities of childbirth create this statistical gap. Flexi-working is seen by many as a silver bullet in closing this gap as it allows for a more adaptive approach to be taken to accommodate everyone’s different life choices.
Women, when surveyed, were far more likely to want to work from home or adopt a ‘flexi-work’ model. The feminist movement has been encouraging such models of work for many years. The problem with home working in this regard, however, is that it may actually widen the statistical pay gap rather than close it as those less engaged with the office may be excluded from training or be overlooked for promotions.
Ultimately, companies should be left to decide how they wish to organise their employees. While people may be getting excited about this growing trend it should be noted that there is scepticism. Some major companies are saying they want their workers back in the office and a survey by the property finance and investment forum noted that only 48% of employers are supportive of this hybrid work model. If a company sees such a move as beneficial then I wish them luck. However, this should not be imposed in a top-down manner by the government. As with many things during the pandemic, sweeping and unprecedented changes are being advocated without thought for the long-term consequences.
Written by Junior Conservative Writer, Oliver Pike
Point of Information
Let’s Actually Look at the Studies on Home Working – A Liberal Response
Oliver’s article misses the point. It fails to present a real case against working at home. Whilst we are only a year into this new domestic experiment, and the findings can be shaky, Oliver’s case is unconvincing.
He firstly notes that this advocacy for home-work is based on ‘dubious studies’. Yet, there is no sound explanation given as to why these studies are so fraught. None of these studies is even cited! The strongest claim is about ‘productivity’ is too abstract a term to properly measure. Yet, there are several discrete ways of pinpointing conventional productivity—displayed in a recent Stanford study of 16,000 people tracking calls per minute. Contrary to Oliver’s point, there are concrete ways of ascertaining productivity.
In fact, some of the benefits Oliver suggests for working in the office are even more difficult to measure, such as fun. Although I agree that working with others can encourage good banter and happiness, this is a highly individual experience. One which is tricky to delineate (aside from using surveys).
A better approach would be to leave the work environment up to the employee and then the employer. There should be a choice to continue working flexibly. Generally, working at home has proven to be highly productive. However, aside from potential issues of increasing the gender pay gap, there are many, already proven, obstacles to continuing this experiment. For example, internet and computer accessibility is a particular issue for less well-off employees. Each worker should have the right to weigh up what works best for them.
Ultimately, the long-term impacts of this experiment cannot be known to us yet. We can only speculate. However, the pandemic has given us an ample opportunity to assess the value of the workspace for employees. Employers should take heed.
Written by Chief Liberal Writer, Frank Allen
A Divisive Topic, But a Necessary Conversation – A Labour Response
Oliver’s article tackles a particularly divisive topic. Home working has become the norm and, while some people love its benefits, others aren’t too quick to support it. Oliver’s one-sided article evidently shows he falls under the latter. I, however, fundamentally disagree with Oliver; home working is not simply an unfortunate imposition.
In line with Oliver’s obvious discontent with this new normal, there are some disadvantages of working from home. The most obvious is the impact of the lack of separation between work and home life. Rolling out of bed and moving straight to a desk in the morning blurs the lines between the two. This can have a significant impact on mental wellbeing—as does the lack of in-person interaction, and constant digital communication. There are also concerns surrounding new starters and students entering the world of work for the first time; they need sufficient training which will arguably lack if online. It’ll be interesting to see how companies consider this going forward.
Home working isn’t all bad though. There are also significant positive impacts of home working. Of course, this is different for everyone; anyone you speak to on this will have a different outlook on it. But working from home is a lot more convenient for many. It can limit stress and anxiety, avoid otherwise unavoidable absences, and can have benefits for those on maternity/paternity leave. There are also gender equality improvements despite Oliver’s assertion that any patriarchal gap is a “myth”. A quick google search will prove it is not.
Everyone has a different experience of home working. And everyone will advocate for different approaches going forward. Personally, I see the best option to be ‘flexi-working’ – a combination of working from home and from the office. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. If we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it should be that office working isn’t for everyone. There is more to be accounted for than simply the physical office environment.
Written by Chief Labour Writer, Abi Clargo