Questioning the impact of remote working doesn’t make you a dinosaur
Speak to a lot of chief executives in private – especially once those magical words ‘off the record’ are uttered – and you’ll hear all sorts of frustrations with the state of everything from our politicians to their human resources department. But one topic that keeps coming up – almost anathema in our wider business debate – is whether hybrid working might not be all that it’s cracked up to be.
In public, of course, everybody backs more flexibility. Blindingly obviously, it has its benefits. But it also has its downsides.
For every worker who is enjoying more work-life balance, there is a staff member whose increasing frustration with their job isn’t being noticed. For every youngster enjoying not having to pay train fares twice a week is an up-and-comer who doesn’t have the opportunity to learn. And for every entirely legitimate complaint about the perils of presenteeism, there are as many anecdotes of suburban pubs being full at 3pm on a Friday and the never-ending use of the phrase “I can do it on my phone.”
We are embarking on a radical change to the way we go to work, a shift rapidly accelerated by the pandemic. But our discourse on the matter is horribly unbalanced. The Institute of Directors stated in a report earlier this year that the government’s move to allow staff to request flexible working on day one of their employment has “the potential to create more equitable, diverse, and inclusive workplaces,” citing absolutely no evidence. Was there a consideration for the small business owner struggling to pay the bills who now has yet another piece of employment bureaucracy to navigate? Not that we could see.
Worse, the Chair of the House of Commons’ Business Committee yesterday warned, apocalyptically, that there might be employers “who just say no” to staff who turn up on day one and ask if they can work remotely from the off. Guess what? They have every right to! It’s their business, and their cash, and they can make their own decisions about what works best.
Remote and flexible working rightly has its supporters. Most businesses are finding a balance, without the government needing to jump in with the heavy and clumsy hand of legislation. But those who think an office, for five days a week, is a better way to operate deserve to be heard to – and not written off as hopeless dinosaurs.