We asked a remote working campaigner about the Chancellor’s latest speech and wondered whether it rang true with what they’ve been seeing.
It’s quite easy to talk about office working being the best way when you don’t have to worry about childcare costs because you’re a multi-millionaire. Or you’re able-bodied. Or you don’t have to concern yourself with the commuting time or cost because you can afford train fares or taxpayers stump up for a flat near where you work.
Chancellor Jeremy’s Hunt words to the British Chamber of Commerce the other day come off the back of IBM CEO Arvind Krishna (salary just over £13million), saying that working remotely will impact your career progression. Of course, the latter is also a man (natch) who is suggesting he’s waiting for AI to get good enough to replace human workers where it can.
“As the world continues to evolve and adapt to new technologies and ways of living, we need to consider whether pressuring and/or forcing workers to return to the office is a step back,” Ben Marks of the #WorkAnywhere Campaign tells me.
“Imagine if IBM harnessed its incredible talent and global resources for improving the remote work experience for everybody, including solving whatever challenges Mr Krishna is afraid of,” he continues. “So much can be achieved if we tackle these issues positively and imaginatively, especially for disabled people, and other marginalised groups that are arbitrarily locked out of the workforce by the outdated 9-to-5 office model.”
The pandemic was a nightmare, but one of its very few benefits was it opening up the work model to new and exciting interpretations. Now people can work entirely remotely, we’re trialling four-day weeks after companies have seen how they can still be just as productive…
But while this is happening in various workplaces, we’re not going to get a true paradigm shift until those higher up the employment food chain think about what they’re saying.
“I worry about the loss of creativity when people are permanently working from home,” said Hunt, completing missing the point.
So analogue is their thinking about the benefits of a truly diverse workforce, that the idea people are looking for different things from their employer as we continue in this digital age seems like anathema.
A recent poll by Deloitte found three quarters of Gen Zs and millennials would think about moving jobs if they were asked to go into the office full-time. And as we understand more about conditions like hidden disabilities and neurodivergence, flexible working has made life easier for hundreds of thousands of people.
“What always seems to be missing from these anti-flexibility comments by high-powered CEOs is the fact that nothing has proven more effective at bringing disabled people into the workforce than remote work,” admits Marks.
“Since more flexible working policies have taken shape, people with mental and physical impairments have been enjoying unprecedented rates of employment. So in a corporate world focused on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), how can reverting to the limits of office working possibly make sense?
“Approximately 135 million people in Europe and Central Asia are living with a disability, according to the World Health Organisation. Globally, it’s 1.3 billion – 16% of the world’s population. For vast numbers of people, access to remote work is synonymous with access to work – a fundamental human right.”