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Working from home: is it grinding us down?

Surveys suggest a large majority have enjoyed remote working, but others say it is not conducive to an innovative, collaborative culture

Boris Johnson has promised that 19 July is the date on which life in England will go back to normal. But even if all restrictions are lifted that day, for many office workers, it is not at all clear what that “normal” will look like, said The Guardian.

Millions have been working from home for well over a year now, and though some are longing to resume their commutes, surveys suggest a large majority have enjoyed remote working – and hope never to go back, full time, to the office. In the coming months, local councils – contemplating the impact, on everything from business rates to transport infrastructure, of an exodus from commercial centres – will be watching anxiously to see how employers respond.

The Prime Minister is keen to get people back to their workplaces, said Simon Duke in The Times; even so, his Government has launched a consultation on whether an existing right to request flexible working should be extended to all employees. Bosses would not be obliged to grant it, but they would have to come up with good reasons for turning it down – which might be hard if their staff have been homeworking successfully for well over a year.

This won’t trouble some employers, said Ross Clark in The Daily Telegraph. Lloyds Bank, for instance, has told its staff that from October, they can choose where to work. It expects some 80% to opt to stay at home at least part of the time, and is reducing its office space accordingly. That’s a handy way of cutting overheads.

Others may take it further: as Tony Blair has warned, if firms find that jobs can be done just as well remotely, they may decide to outsource them to cheaper locations overseas. In any case, workers who opt to skip their commutes will be taking quite a gamble. They can be sure their more ambitious colleagues will be in the office, building networks and catching the boss’s eye.

Not all bosses are convinced that remote working really works, said Paul Johnson in The Times. My team got through the first part of the pandemic on “accumulated social capital”. But as time has worn on, and new people have joined, the difficulties involved have become more apparent; and bit by bit, it has started to grind us down.

As the boss of Goldman Sachs has said, remote working is not conducive to an “innovative, collaborative, apprenticeship culture”. In future, more people will work at home some of the time, but managers with an eye on the long-term good of their firms, and their staff, won’t be rushing to close their offices.

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