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22 April

Big business and families love working from home — so why don’t the Tories?

The likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg's preoccupation with WFH is nonsensical.

By Benedict Spence

One can never be certain with the Conservatives whether they know that to conserve does not have to mean to hinder.

Having done its best to conserve the economy by locking it in a dark room for two years, warning it not to go outside for fear of a miasma stalking the land, it is now applying that approach to the recovery, jacking up taxes disproportionately on the young and optimistic lest they get the mistaken idea that the worst is over.

We can be under no illusion that the pandemic’s after-effects were not going to be painful. However, it does seem worth wailing when, in its conserving zeal, the government seeks to row back on what positives emerged from the pandemic.

Working from home began as a necessity, what with the pestilence knocking at the windows, but soon morphed from a temporary quirk into a way of life. For many, it was hell to sit in their boxers while colleagues peered through laptop screens at their furnishings — another indignity and invasion of privacy to be resisted, no matter what they were told was to be the “new normal”.

But many have found it liberating not to endure the daily traipse of the commute, adding hours to their days, conserving energy, and using both these precious resources to improve professional output and life in general. Working from home was a godsend for those cash-strapped — even before the dastardly virus merrily made its way over the Channel to a country where transportation and rented housing in our major cities are both poor quality and staggeringly expensive.

Many companies, too, have noted that hybrid working means shelling out less on office space, freeing up real estate — and the funds it sucks in; guarding against financial collapse in the short term, and possibly even allowing companies to maintain or increase employee pay in the long term. Empty offices aren’t an unwelcome thing in cities where housing is at a premium.

The government, though, doesn’t seem like this idea. Jacob Rees-Mogg is often unfairly depicted as from the era of the workhouse, but he has done himself no favours by conducting checks of government departments to end the “work from home culture”. Meanwhile, a story in today’s Telegraph warned that home working would make it easier for Russian hackers to infiltrate government systems. Reds under the bed, but for the digital age.

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The irony is, the civil service does have issues when it comes to productivity (and, as Priti Patel is finding out, even doing what it’s told). Home internet networks, meanwhile, are indeed vulnerable. But productivity tends to be an issue of a pre-existing culture — one that has no doubt contributed to many state computer systems being substandard themselves.

Hybrid working isn’t perfect — or even viable — in all industries. But where it works, it should be encouraged, for both productivity and quality of life. A pro-free market, family-friendly Tory party should want to conserve both these things, not hinder them.

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