Home working has become the latest thing to divide us, but its supporters are blind to the consequences.

 

TV presenter and property expert Kirstie Allsopp took to social media last week with a serios of posts on the pros and cons (mostly cons,) on working from home. Ms Allsopp was not criticising the people who have enthusiastically  embraced working from home but simply outlining out some of the likely consequences on a longer time line.

“It’s all very well enjoying WFH but we have to consider the greater impact,” she wrote, pointing to  the longer term effect on the economy and social order. Many businesses, sandwich shops for example, face bankruptcy and closure due to of the collapse in commuting.There are of course unlikely to be new job opportunities for the people made jobless by such closures.

But that is only looking at small businesses, on a bigger scale there are even greater risks, as Kirstie Allsopp is aware: “If your job can be done from home it can be done from abroad where wages are lower,” she added. “I am terrified by what could be on the horizon for so many.”

These uncontrovesial remarks triggered a storm on social media. – well everything seems to trigger a storm on social media these days. Allsopp was accused of being insulting to people who work from home and scaremongering. Countless self-congratulatory tweets accused her of being out of touch and resistant to progress, repeating the by-now familiar refrain that working from home is better because you save on the commute and can spend more time with family.

The official narrative of prioritisindng measures to slow the spread of the virus (measures that we know have been ineffective,) has ignored long established evidence the many workers perform less well in the isolation of home, and are prone to mental health problems. Also overall team performance suffers as workers missing the camaraderie of colleagues, are lass productive and less creative. Younger employees can experience fear that their career progression has stalled, some have too little space to home-work without undermining their home-life and damaging family relationships. Others find the office environment is essential to productivity and innovation,

Voice these concerns or express them on social media however and one will certainly be told, usually in locker – room language that such attitudes are outdated, narrow-minded and should get a life and embrace the new normal.

This overlooks the fact that humans are pack animals and therefore “the new normal” is anything but normal. Is a virus that in the overwhelming majority of us at worst only the mildest of symptoms, drive us to a reptillian existence, living in darkness and isolation?

There are growing signs that rational debate on this, as many other matters, will become impossible. “Working From Home” is rapidly becoming an identity, like LBGTQ or Black or Progressive, a protected status which cannot be questioned without causing offence. The same is becoming true of those who have returned to the office, but their identity, imposed by people who despise is on a par with conservative, reactionary and white nationalist. One study has found rising resentment towards people still office based, with some of the more paranoid among the WFH brigade accusing their office based counterparts of deliberately spreading the virus and being responsible for the deaths of people they have never met. The figures, such as they are available, appear to show that Brits are more reluctant to go back to the office than anyone else in Europe, but then the level of scaremongering from government and mainstream media sources in Britain has been turned up way past eleven from before lockdown was even announced.

Kirstie Allsopp is rightbout the long term consequences of all this to worry a and her critics are fools. Some may be too young to remember when sales reps and regional offices were replaced by call centres, in the interests of efficiency (but really to reduce costs,) others have short memories. As soon as it was found that anonymous agents on call centres provided an adequate replacement for the sales reps (who had a personal relationship with their customers, that was beneficial in terms of customer loyalty,) the people in head office whose mindset only permits them to think of the bottom line quickly reasoned that a call centre in one British city that served the whole country could be replaced by a call centre in India where wages were a fraction of what British workers had to be paid.

Then technology moved on and now real people in India are being replaced by software bots and Artificial Intelligence system. The words “customer service” have been eliminated and if we need to buy something we are intructed by a machine right through the process.

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