Signs of a resistance to the UK’s Covid-induced migration to home working are taking shape, with LBC talk radio doyen Nick Ferrari using his morning show on Tuesday 28 July to launch a spelentic rant at blue-chip firms that have decided to keep their staff at home for the next few months. (LBC via Twitter, 28 July 2020)
Citing recent home-working announcements and initiatives from Google, EY, KPMG, PwC and Microsoft, Ferrari thundered: “This does not work. People need to go to their places of work. It’s better for you to go to the office. You go in, you get away from your husband, you get away from your wife, you get away from your children.
“You know why we have offices? So you can actually do some damn work … Zoom calls – I’ve had enough of them. Get back to work. What do you think is going to get this country going again? You, sitting in your jim-jams, not doing anything all day long? And wandering around getting your nails done and having a cup of coffee with your girlfriends? You think that’s going to get the country back on track, do you?”
Ferrari added: “For the love of God, we are broke – £300 billion broke, and now companies are saying don’t come back this year. This year? … Enough already. The country has to get moving … You go through the City of London – tumbleweed blows through the City of London now. And if you don’t realise how important the City is – the financial City – to this city, and then the whole of the country, I don’t know where to begin. So, these companies – they need a reality check.”
Ferrari is not the only holdout: in a recent opinion piece, Telegraph writer Tom Welsh warned readers of an “unholy alliance” of columnists, politicians, corporate strategists and “trendy academics” who want to make home working the norm (The Telegraph, 19 July 2020) – while a subsequent reader’s letter argued that working from home “severs vital lines of communication between staff”. (The Telegraph, 26 July 2020)
The day after Ferrari’s rant, survey results from The Chartered Governance Institute (ICSA) revealed that 52% of respondents will continue to work from home this summer, while 19% will go back to the office on a part-time basis. Only a further 19% plan to head back to the office full time. (ICSA, 29 July 2020)
ICSA policy and research director Peter Swabey highlighted one respondent who “felt so strongly about the advantages of home working that they said they would look for another job if denied the opportunity to do so”.
However, he also noted that some respondents had encountered difficulties and challenges around collaboration, informal networking, development and behavioural shadowing.
What sort of stance should leaders who believe in the new arrangements take to reassure stakeholders about the value of remote working?
The Institute of Leadership & Management’s head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “All Nick Ferrari has done – as always – is put forward one side of a deeply contentious issue. He doesn’t submit any evidence for his assertion that employees who are currently based at home are not working. It’s all hyperbole, designed specifically to provoke controversy. Judging by our research, many workers are managing to cope well at home and are maintaining strong levels of productivity. But as with anything to do with organisational leadership, the context is absolutely crucial – and remote working will function better in some companies and industries than in others.”
She explains: “There is an ongoing need for organisations to engage in collaborative activity, and in some cases that will undoubtedly be best fulfilled when colleagues are in the same geographical location. But to think that there’s a blanket solution that would apply with equal success to everyone is flawed. We hear similar discourse on a regular basis with regards to issues such as the four-day week, or email bans – the real evangelists can’t understand why everyone doesn’t agree with them.”
Cooper notes: “We are gradually learning to work differently – that is the case. Many of us have come to the conclusion that we were doing too much business travel in the pre-Covid era, and that we could probably achieve just as much without sitting next to our team-mates. As time goes on, we will get better and better at our newer working methods. And if we think about the law of diminishing returns, there may well come a point – as Ferrari suggests – where we will have to go back to the office for some things. But I don’t think anyone has ever disputed that.”
She adds: “Let decisions be made that make sense for the businesses and teams that are managing the home working-versus-office working dynamic. And let’s wait patiently for further evidence to come in about how that dynamic has played out during the pandemic.”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on understanding HR
Image of Nick Ferrari courtesy of Featureflash Photo Agency, via Shutterstock