Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has said employees should work in the office by default, unless there is a good reason to work from home.
Speaking at the British Chambers of Commerce conference in London, Hunt said he was worried about the impact permanent home working might have on creativity, but acknowledged it had benefits for people with caring responsibilities or mobility issues.
“I worry about the loss of creativity when people are permanently working from home and not having those water cooler moments, where they bounce ideas off each other,” the chancellor said.
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“I think the default will be ‘you work in the office unless there’s a good reason not to be in the office’ and gradually we are getting there.”
In February, figures from the Office for National Statistics suggested that only 16% of people worked entirely from home, while 28% split their week between home and the office.
Elon Musk has also, once again, attacked working from home, stating that the “laptop class is living in la-la land” and has told remote working advocates to “get off their goddamn moral high horse with the work-from-home b******t”.
In an interview with US news network CNBC, the CEO of Tesla, SpaceX and Twitter said people are more productive in person, and suggested that working from home is morally wrong.
Musk said: “You’re gonna work from home, and you’re gonna make everyone else, who made you car, come work in the factory … the people that come fix your house, they can’t work from home, but you can? Does that seem morally right? That’s messed up.”
Last year it was reported that large numbers of staff were leaving Twitter after Musk told them to sign up for “long hours at high intensity” or leave. Pictures also showed Twitter employees sleeping on the floor in the office.
Comments ‘risk making things worse’
Ben Harrison, director of the Work Foundation at Lancaster University, said the chancellor’s comments risked “making things worse” for people managing long-term health conditions. Earlier this week it was reported that more than 2.5 million people are economically inactive due to long-term sickness.
“Our research into disabled workers experience of remote and hybrid working showed that 80% felt remote working would either be essential or very important when looking for a new job, and two-thirds ideally want to work remotely at least four days a week,” said Harrison.
“With over a million unfilled vacancies and worker shortages in a number of sectors, supporting more of these people into work could provide a significant boost to the economy. But the reality is these workers are highly unlikely to apply for jobs that don’t offer flexibility from day one.”
The CIPD’s head of public policy Ben Willmott said widespread remote working during the pandemic had demonstrated how valuable it could be for employee wellbeing and work-life balance without compromising productivity.
This isn’t about setting a default but finding the right balance between office and hybrid working that supports people’s productivity and wellbeing, while meeting the needs of the business,” – Ben Willmott, CIPD
“For many employers, this isn’t about setting a default but finding the right balance between office and hybrid working that supports people’s productivity and wellbeing, while meeting the needs of the business,” he said.
“We have the chance to re-write the rules of how, when and where we work and to roll back on the flexibility gains made in the last few years would be a huge step backwards.”
Addressing Musk’s comments, Job van der Voort, CEO and co-founder of remote working software platform Remote, said: “To suggest that remote work is a moral issue implies that people who work from home don’t work as hard as people onsite. Ultimately, if you want to do great work and important work, you often have to work really really hard – whether you do that at home or not is irrelevant.
“While it’s true that working from home is not possible in all professions, it could be said that it is also a moral issue for employers to obligate people to live in expensive cities and do long commutes in order to do work in an office that could be done as easily, or better at home. While talent is everywhere, opportunity is not. Remote work unlocks opportunity for a far greater number of people to work hard at great and important work.”
Impact on recruitment
Withdrawing opportunities to work from home could damage an employer’s ability to attract talent, said Terry Payne, global MD at recruitment firm Aspire.
“Certainly in our experience, when placing candidates, whether a role offers flexible working opportunities stands out as a top consideration. I can’t see that changing,” he said.
Marcus Beaver, UKI country leader at software company Alight Solutions, said: “Employers that force staff back to offices full-time face an uprising. Staff will not easily surrender the benefits they are now used to.
“It’s no longer important where employees work day-to-day. It’s about having the right skills to achieve business goals, and employees have proven they can get the job done. After all, an employer’s most valuable asset is their staff.
“If they do want to bring workers back, offices will need to revamp their spaces to foster a positive culture that breeds creativity and collaboration. It’s not enough to wish them back – they must be lured back.”
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