The government’s permission for Christmas parties to go ahead while implementing working from home has been roundly ridiculed as inconsistent. It may well be that you are more susceptible to catching Covid at a party than in your office, depending on whether you commute on public transport at rush hour, or whether your workplace is socially distanced.
And yet, if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last year, it’s that working remotely is largely an effective substitute for the office – and that socialising over Zoom is a poor surrogate for real life.
Nearly two years ago, when the pandemic started, a grand old experiment began with much enthusiasm. There was a panoply of pub quizzes and parties over Zoom: “It’ll be just like normal times”, we said. But the conclusion we landed on was that no, it was not. It was impossible to have 30 people speaking at once to one another, trying to stitch a thread of conversation through glitches. Trying to replicate in-person gatherings was depressing, evoking a hollow imitation of the real 3D encounters we had once.
The evidence is to the contrary when it comes to working from home. Sure, it can mean some tasks are clunkier. And working remote full-time, forever, would be disastrous (that is, if your job can even be done from home). But, crucially, surveys show that up to two-thirds of UK business leaders plan to adopt hybrid working (and 43 of the country’s biggest firms will do the same), with 77 per cent of higher-growth companies report higher productivity levels as a result of remote working.
And so, to prize working in the office over parties would be to prioritise a slight improvement in our careers, over our social lives. It would ratify the sentiment we live in order to work rather than the other way round (this mis-prioritisation is incidentally the second biggest regret we take to our deathbeds). You might say it’s just one, silly season, but by next year it will be three years since we’ve had a normal Christmas, and by then surely the Upsilon variant will be getting in the way.
I’m saddened by the anger at prioritising parties over on-site working, because it suggests that over the pandemic we have silently, slowly, decided what is worthy of our time on the basis of how virtuous it makes us feel: parties are seen as shallow and frivolous, the “snogging” Nadine Dorries scoffed viewed as sinful indulgence. No demographic has had it easy, but it does feel as though 20 and 30-somethings who are single or depend on events for social contact have been afforded less sympathy, told to “do without” for the last two years, because your “household” is what counts the most. How easy to snort with derision if you had your fun years ago.
Whether or not to go to a party this Christmas is not an easy decision. I won’t do so without weighing up how long I have until I see my family, my level of immunity, or without taking a lateral flow test. But I’d prefer to go to one party, rather than go into work five days a week simply to appear virtuous.