Why I hope working from home is not the new normal

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Mairi Hughes

LAST year I moved to a new city for a new job. I left behind a city where I was surrounded by friends for one where I knew few people and had no idea what to expect from the job I was moving for. It was a daunting experience that had the potential to be lonely.

However, I was quickly pleased with the new routine I found. My office was filled with friendly faces, always offering suggestions about things to see and do in an unfamiliar city, inviting me to join them for coffee, yoga classes and lunch breaks. I felt at home and looked forward to coming into the office each week to hear my colleagues’ weekend tales.

Back in 2019, before coronavirus dominated the global conversation, less than 30 per cent of the UK workforce worked from home, according to the Office for National Statistics. However by April 2020, one month into the UK’s lockdown, nearly half of the UK workforce was working—at least partially—from home.

During lockdown, home-working—where possible—was the obvious solution to ensuring people could continue work despite the looming pandemic. However as lockdown is easing, there is much talk of home-working being the ‘new normal.’

There are several benefits of home-working. On an individual level, many enjoy the flexibility it allows, cutting out long commutes, providing people with more free time and avoiding the expense of petrol and parking or public transport.

On a bigger scale, widespread home-working means largely greener habits across the workforce. People avoiding offices means far less commuters on the roads, less environmentally damaging habits such as workers buying lunches from supermarkets wrapped in single use plastic (sales of single use plastic water bottles have halved in the UK during lockdown), and less office waste.

However, the prospect of offices opting for home-working as their default post-lockdown is something I find far from appealing. For many, the routine of going to an office five days a week makes up a large chunk of the fabric of their life.

Going to the office doesn’t simply consist of working. It consists of the morning commute— be it a brisk walk or cycle, a trip on public transport or a car journey—and the many things encountered on the journey. It consists of the chat with the staff in the coffee shop you might stop in on the way into the office, or the friend you bump into on the street. It consists of conversations with colleagues over cups of tea. It consists of the high street which continues to thrive because of the office workers dipping in and out of it.

Home-working eliminates all these things which might not be important on a professional level, but are important on a human level.

Many people meet their spouses or lifelong friends in their office, discover a new hobby through a colleague, are inspired by conversations on coffee breaks. When we stay at home, we miss out on the various pieces of hustle and bustle which play such a big part in our lives every day.

Personally, home-working makes me miss the laughs with my colleagues on the days when I am lacking motivation, the morning sun on my walk into work, the chat with the cashier in the shop I frequent on my lunch break. It is these things which make me smile when I am having a bad day.

While the option of home-working for those whose lives it makes easier is absolutely a good idea, I hope it does not become the universal default. While home-working can provide environmental benefits, we should not need to stay cooped up in our houses to form greener habits. We should be encouraging people to walk, cycle, use public transport or car share wherever they can, en route to work or elsewhere, ditch single use plastic across the board, and think before needlessly burning through an office’s paper supply.

Going to an office might not always be necessary, but it provides a certain camaraderie which, as CS Lewis describes friendship, ‘is unnecessary… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which gives value to survival.’

Mairi Hughes is a Journalist and Creative Writer

PIC: CORINNE KUTZ

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