The media is full of it. How COVID has changed everything. How we have become a nation of home-workers, loving every minute of yet another four-hour zoom call with our colleagues. However much our Government is trying to claim otherwise, it is clear that very, very few people have chosen to go back to their offices. Our commuter trains are empty, the West End of London is like a post-apocalyptic city, and for most of us our last Pret a Manger sandwich (crayfish in my case) is but a distant memory.
This is better right? No more commutes. No more sitting on the damp floor of the 1840 from Kings Cross, and no more forking out five thousand quid from taxed income for the privilege. In some ways it’s a very attractive way to work and we are hearing stories of significant employers in London surrendering their leases and instructing employees to work from home – certainly until next year and quite possibly beyond.
What worries me most is that the decision makers on things like this tend not to have a realistic view on what home working is like for the vast majority of their employees. If you’re sitting in semi-rural bliss in Esher, in a nice Arts and Crafts house on an acre with a sizeable herbaceous border, spouse, kids, Labradors on hand, and a nice little office tucked away above your garage block, complete with super-fast broadband that even allows you to work in the dappled sunlight of your orchard, working at home is a delight.
But if you’re a twenty-something graduate recruit, sitting in a damp house shared with four other “professionals” who you met on a website three months ago, sometimes with no communal living space beyond the kitchen, working at home is utterly grim. Going home to the parents, as many young people have done, feels like a retrograde step for everyone.
And if you’re slightly further up the career ladder, perhaps with young children who obviously don’t understand the niceties of the zoom call and feel the need to run into picture every day in a fairy costume, trying to work from home effectively is as stressful as it is impossible.
The point is that a good chunk of our workforce have been placed into a zoom based limbo by all this, and the sooner we can help them out of it, the better. Of course, we have all proved that we can function perfectly well on one level working from home. Once and for all the myth that home working is basically the adult equivalent to bunking off school has been put to rest. In fact, in pure output terms, we probably function better without the distractions of everyday office life.
But we have taken away what makes the job enjoyable for the vast majority of employees - the laughter, the chats, the post office drinks, the friendships, that sense of truly belonging to a team. And most importantly, we have taken away the ability of the next generation of leaders to learn from their seniors by osmosis.
For the next generation to thrive, we need to get back to the office, and sharpish.