Downing Street and Whitehall are at odds over working from home (Photo: Adobe)
Today’s Mail on Sunday front page is the latest example: ‘Whitehall blob vows: we’ll work from home forever’.
The MoS report claims that civil service bosses are acting in defiance of the Government’s will that they return to the office following the end of Plan B restrictions, and are instead planning on a 60:40 split between home and office, with most time spent in the “nice houses in the country” they’ve reportedly all snapped up during lockdown.
But let’s interpret this story as it so transparently is: a careful piece of Thick of It-style briefing to distract from the omnishambles currently engulfing a severely wounded prime minister.
There’s also the monumental hypocrisy of this government daring to lecture anyone on workplace culture.
They want us to ignore the fridges full of champagne, the cheese and wine parties and the suitcases of booze that have come to characterise Downing Street during lockdown, and instead direct our anger at civil servants who dare to stay away from the office.
Working from home is still work
For the umpteenth time, let it also be said that the majority of office workers who have been working from home during the pandemic have been putting in longer hours than ever.
The idea that WFH means lying on the sofa with Netflix on, while occasionally checking emails to look like you’re online, is a myth that only exists in the minds of certain politicians and newspaper editors.
This false narrative is so seductive for the tabloids, because it plays to the image of middle-class, white collar workers not doing “proper work”, as opposed to the posties and lorry drivers who have kept the country running during lockdown.
The notion that many modern jobs can’t be done from home perfectly well is outdated hokum. The services sector accounts for more than three-quarters of the UK’s annual GDP, and while that does include consumer-focused jobs like shop assistants and bartenders, it also includes the likes of financial and business services, marketing, IT and - yes - many civil service jobs.
(Interestingly, one of the few professional careers that can’t really be done from home is being an MP - and perhaps that’s the real explanation for this obsession with returning to the workplace.)
Working from home certainly isn’t for everyone, and there are real issues around social isolation and staff development that have yet to be fully resolved.
However, other potential benefits include boosting the economy of smaller towns around the UK (granted, at the expense of cities), the environmental impact of cutting down on needless car journeys, and people having more hours in their day to spend with family and friends.
In reality of course, WFH isn’t the issue here, it’s just a PR tactic.
Instead, keep your eyes peeled for more ‘deadcatting’ like this throughout another tortuous week ahead for Boris Johnson.
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