Are British workers skiving-off?
Londoners are slower than the rest of Europe in returning to the office
Compared to their continental counterparts Brits have been slow to return to the workplace.
Or to be more exact, Londoners have. That’s according to research from Morgan Stanley quoted in a Bloomberg report by Chris Hughes:
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While the industrious folk of Frankfurt, Madrid, Milan and Paris are — for the most part — back in the office, Londoners (and those who’d normally commute into London) are not. Indeed, only a third have returned.
Are the rest skiving-off then? Well, working from home is not skiving — and the kitchen table has many advantages over the workstation. However, that’s as true in France or Germany as it is in Britain so why the difference between us and the rest?
Hughes suggests that “fearful of losing their jobs, homeworkers have reinvested commuting time in work.” British labour markets are more flexible than in a lot of European countries — so the fear over here may be sharper. Furthermore, far from resenting their stay-put workers, British employers might have noticed an uptick in productivity. If so, why not keep things that way? It’s better than having staff waste time in pricey office space.
Then there’s London’s office architecture. Hughes makes the point that lift-dependent towers are not conducive to social distancing. Accommodating London’s growth in high-rise developments may prove to be a long-term economic disaster — as well as an aesthetic one.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the raw deal meted out to London commuters was another key impediment. It’s not just that using public transport is expensive, the ticketing system is also colossally unfair. While season tickets give full-time commuters some financial relief, part-time commuters are properly screwed-over by train companies that clearly don’t care.
Except that this lazy disregard may now cost them dear. Not all workplaces are set-up to have everyone back all at the same time. Using rotas to restrict staff numbers on any particular day is one way to achieve social distancing. In other cases, it won’t be as formal as that — instead, workers will commute in as and when judged necessary.
If the train companies don’t want to go bankrupt, then their ticketing offers should be as enticing as possible to uncertain returnees. That implies a European-style ‘carnet’ system that offers flexible discounts. If, on the other hand, the only offer is ‘commit upfront to the same old, full-time season ticket… or pay through the nose’ then lapsed commuters will continue to work from home for as long as they can.
I don’t want to return to “normal”, and I think the government’s going to have a fight on its hands to make many people do it.
Commuting four hours a day, and paying a hundred and fifty quid a week to do so whether I go in two days or five, to sit in an office that is costing the company massive amounts of money to rent and do the same work I can do remotely anyway?
It just doesn’t make sense.
I’m not contributing to the economy like I used to pre-lockdown, on train tickets, on my morning coffee, on eating out for lunch twice a week, which is good for my pocket. So I think Boris is going to have his work cut out for him persuading me to go back to it, and it may be that companies will down-scope their office requirements or eliminate them completely as they realise it’s a huge cost centre they no longer need.
I’m sure the hospitality workers who depend on you are duly grateful to you for ruining their lives.
I’m sure they’re not at all, but I’m sorry, I’m not going back to all that lost time and associated expense if I can help it, just so I can support London consumer culture. And certainly not to support South West Rail!
The local sandwich shop in my home town are getting a bit more business out of me though, and the local coffee shop.
And at about 200 quid a week, all in (yeah I said 150 up there, but if you count the tube and other bits it’s closer to 200), transport cost savings might buy me a new bathroom by the end of the year, benefiting some local tradespeople.
Same. With WFH I’m actually able to bring my laptop and work from a cafe while drinking coffees and buying sandwiches. I’d prefer to spend money on that than on transport and fuel.
Industry changes, and people must adapt. Mining and farming employed most people until one was abandoned and the other mechanised. People moved into mills and factories, and along came mechanisation and AI. People moved into service industries, Telesales, cafes etc.
Things change, people will have to adapt. If you try to hold back the tide your feet will get wet.
That is not fair. Everything changes all the time.
How about making the title;
“London grasps new opportunities”
“Frankfurt, Madrid, Milan, Paris stuck in the stone age”
Where it is possible, WFH must be an improvement over costly and time consuming commuting.
Think of the improvements in productivity – the same work produced for less cost.
You are right, but it will kill a large segment of British economy; commercial real estate.
And cafes, restaurants and other support businesses.
Both Stephen & Jeremy are correct is saying that WFH could bring change, No doubt it would be bad for some people involved.
However, I view it as a problem similar to the Spinning Jenny, bad for some, a great boon to the many.
Maybe so.I have been in businesses that looked as if they would last for ever. In a very varied career. They never did. The trick is to know when to pull the plug. The same with the support businesses. Some will survive most will not. As for retail on the High st that is never coming back the way it was. The internet has finally matured.
It will move the restaurant and support business out of London, and that is a good thing. The fall of London’s lopsided dominance over the economy has been a long time coming.
Maybe we can replace them with affordable housing instead.
Bit of a click bait title.
But yeah not too surprising. London is overwhelmingly finance followed by creative, media, and technology. Few of those require fundamentally to be in an office, especially when you cannot do proper face to face meetings of value when a large proportion of the people won’t be in due to distancing.
Added to that is overly expensive rentals of office space for businesses, expensive and time-consuming commuting, it’s in neither businesses nor workers’ interests to return 100% to normal if it’s been working quite well for the past 4 months or so
Having worked from home for clients all over the world for over 20 years I have long pointed to the insanity of paying a fortune to be transported like cattle to and from some vile office five days a week. For years I couldn’t understand why people continued to put themselves through this torture for years on end. Well, now they are waking up.
Waking up from the nap on the sofa when they should be working?
Nothing wrong with that if you’re completing all your tasks and duties. Before the lockdown my college was about to implement an 8-5 stay-on-campus policy for faculty even on days they didn’t have classes. There’s zero virtue in being made to sit in your office for days on end when you can do the same job from home. Students are also getting better grades due to the fact that all course materials and assignments can be accessed all online. They no longer have to worry about sleeping in, missing classes or having to travel to campus. Everyone benefits. Saying that I do miss the social aspect of being with people and I do worry about non-teaching personnel.
However, the online format has exposed the financial scam of young people attending college. In the US where I teach, colleges have spent lavishly on needless on-campus facilities while freezing the salaries of many of their employees (senior management personnel continue to collect six-figure salaries, of course). Many students are finding it difficult to justify why they’re paying up to $20,000 a year on studying.
Lucky it’s working for you, as an ‘essential worker’ running a University research suite of labs I’d like the flexibility, like a number of others on my team I’m clinically vulnerable. But research, especially involving commercial ‘spin-outs’ has to be supported, so we turn up day after day 7 days a week on rotating shifts, whilst our management attend rarely, preferring to use ‘teams’ to avoid potentially infectious contacts. How the shit-show of fully reopening Universities will go is my biggest concern, with the biggest UK internal annual migration, and the already arriving cash-cow pre-sessional s-too-dense, Covid spread is therefore expected to grow again, no matter what bullshit UUK put out.
That’s because university attendance is no longer about education, but about credentialist gatekeeping for the middle classes. There is no reason why most current graduate jobs should require a degree other than the fact of elite competition for a finite and insufficient quantity of offices.
We were near the bottom of the G7 productivity league table before a
calamitous response to COVID-19 landed a Â£124.3bn gifthorse on the
Mrs Merton famously asked: “What first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?”. So we might ask, e.g. the teachers’ unions, industriously placing every conceivable barrier and unmeetable test in the way of their members’ return to work, what attracts them to sitting at home on near full pay instead of, well, teaching children.
Of course many are skiving off, with few realising they have merely been granted a loan, to be repaid through the immiseration of decades of economic contraction.
Teaching needed to change anyway. Schools are terribly unhealthy places where much bullying and nastiness occurs. I was hospitalized twice and suffered a major nervous breakdown because of having to attend school. This is the perfect opportunity to revise our education system and bring it in line with the twenty-first century.
As a college lecturer, I find that my classes are a lot more organized online than face-to-face. I teach English and Literature which involves a lot of reading and writing, pretty much solitary activities. The online format reduces low-level ‘background noise (students talking, coming in late, and managerial busy-work, to name a few). However, once the virus dies down I’d be more than happy to return to campus and teach in person, particularly Literature which is actually nicer for in-class discussions. I realize this doesn’t work for more hands-on courses however.
What the lockdown has exposed is how much of our work is purely made-up. When it comes down to it, much of what we do in a physical work space is pretty pointless and can easily be done off-site. It’s proven how better people work if they are just left to it and also revealed how useless much of middle-management is.
I’m disheartened by some of the comments below disparaging people who prefer working from home. This was the standard before the Industrial Revolution and many families were better off for it. Working from home brings many benefits – less spending on fuel and transport, less pollution from traffic and less time spent with people you normally wouldn’t have anything to do with if they weren’t your colleagues. I am no longer surrounded by prattlers, gossips and micro-managers. Because of this my mental health is much improved and I can do my job properly with a minimum of interference.
Even before C19 I used to work 1 day from home (Friday), but I do like going to the office. For me the journey is no more than 30M (can take the bus or tube). For many people spending 90M (one way) just to get in the office and Â£15 is not worth it.
We went into lockdown later than our European counterparts and so it stands to reason that we will come out of it and return to our offices later.
While I really feel for the hospitality industry that surrounds my London office, this pandemic has shown how false our economy is – moving a stupendous number of people into the centre of the city to do work that most of us office workers can do very easily at home. Not to mention the tiring 1.5 hour (each way) commute – being sardined into a very hot packed train with fellow travellers leaning on me – my ‘fond’ memories of last summer! I’m in no hurry to return to the office – travelling on public transport is the last thing we should all be doing at the moment if we want to avoid infection. I’m also more productive at home – fewer distractions, etc.
How we work deserves a complete rethink – the costs of companies having expansive (and expensive) offices could be reduced – the reduction in CO2 output and energy costs, to name a few…
I don’t understand why we keeping finding these various analyses of behaviour in the UK
Since Thatcher the frame of reference for attitudes and behaviours is ME, the great I,
On the continent of Europe there is still some sense of the collective – the community
Until this self-centred framework is challenged and amended we will always find examples of me-&-mine-firstism
Not sure what this has to do with the article.
Also not sure what it has to do with reality. Purely selfish people don’t get very far in life or business, outside of a few outliers in purely sales-focused enterprises.
Don’t want to turn this into a left-right argument, but overwhelmingly the sense of community and society is absent only from those who have a visceral hatred of Thatcherism and anything remotely related to it. These choose to knock Britain/England/society at every opportunity, and glorify the continent in the same breath. To quote Orwell:
“And underlying this is the really important fact about so many of the English intelligentsia ““ their severance from the common culture of the country”
Thatcherism has been characterised as a pure ego-centric viewpoint because that’s what it can potentially lead to in perverse circumstances. The hatred of it however conveniently forgets the main point – which is a focus on agency and individual responsibility. Both of which our society too often lacks, and few can argue are not desirable things in the general.
I grew up in the Thatcher era and remember posters on people’s windows claiming their dislike of her policies. I was too young to clearly remember the 70s, but remember my father bemoaning the corporate and yuppy culture that took form in the 80s. I grew up in London and remember how dilapidated it looked back then. It’s strange, but even as a child, I had a nostalgia for the 70s even though I was too young to really experience that decade. My father was a creature of his time – socialistic, unambitious and generally happy with his lot in life, and back then his views affected mine. As a child I really enjoyed the 80s too. It was the decade with the best toys and cartoons. I also have fond memories of playing The Hobbit and Manic Miner on my ZX Spectrum 48K. I always felt the 90s were pretty apolitical, but then again I was a hedonistic teenager and paid scant attention to the news. I kind of miss the twentieth century.
I’m curious to hear from other posters who experienced the 70s which decade they thought was better.
Blimey, just. As I was emerging into a teenage spotty thing in the late seventies I discovered the music and culture of the sixties and early seventies. Pure heaven and what wonderful times. Youth culture of challenge and not acceptance of all things woke. Boy, just imagine actually going out and playing football Saturday and Sunday and cricket in summer (half Swede played cricket!). Little of that these days. Seeking out places to drink alcohol after the game and pretending to be over eighteen. Sort of remember summer 76 and pure bliss. Could go on for an age – yes things were by far better. Magic music coming out of the UK and Jamaica, The space to be yourself and free of (anti) social media – so where did it all go wrong? I was one happy bunny – I weep for my children as they will never know such happiness, which sorts of leads into Bim Sherman’s It Must Be a Dream!
Spot on Olaf! My memories in no particular order were concerts aplenty, festivals, great music, acne of course, inflation every year, every one of my school leaving class unemployed… but me (I became an accountant), political anarchy, 3 day week, rolling power cuts, perennial strikes on the bloody trains courtesy of Arthur Scargill (b*****d), coup d’etat against the Heath government by the unions, no money… even with a job I was paid below the level at which I had to pay tax, terrible British cars… but I was young and had a great time! Thanks for asking Brian!!
I remember Arthur Scargill, even though I was too young to know what he was talking about. And talking about cars: I remember we had a Dutch DAF that kept breaking down on us at the most awful times. I remember it broke down just as we were about to get on the motorway at Chiswick. It was pretty normal for cars to breakdown then.
This is my impression of the 70s too, even though I was born in 1976. My mother was a teenager then, and she said she really misses how much nicer people were to each other back then. Thanks for responding! Enjoyed reading this.
I guess most people, if they have a relatively happy childhood, think that their decade was the best.
As to Mrs Thatcher, I was working in metal bashing in Birmingham at the time. The Unions were far too strong and resisted any improvements in the factory.
It was a real eye opener to me, when on a visit to Germany, I saw one man operating 4 machines.
At home the unions had refused one man operating two machines.
They were threatening strike action for the same pay as the German workers.
The net result was that the company we were supplying closed down. Not many people have heard of Longbridge – once one of the biggest car plants in Europe.
I find much to celebrate in Britain/England/Society (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, too) such as a health system where care is provided to those who need it rather than those who can afford it, where discrimination against people based on their race, religion, gender, sexuality or disabilities is illegal, where migrants from other countries and cultures are often welcomed and given the opportunity to contribute to the rich cultural mix that makes up our society, for example. You can value our society and have a sense of community and vehemently dislike what Thatcherism stood for and did to UK society and communities.
Fair enough. Perhaps I was not clear enough; i am of course sure not all people who dislike Thatcher are not also anti-community, but I feel there’s a strong correlation on the whole.
The dislike of Thatcher is a broad church; sometimes for understandable reasons, but too often for fashionable ones. The common misappropriation of her “no such thing as society” quote is a good case in point.
Although I am sure we’d disagree on the extent of Thatcher’s damage and the blame (the Socialist government in Spain in the 80s also shut down a lot of its dead heavy industries), I fully accept many may have a strong sense of community and dislike her – and understand that.
The author makes good points, but labours under the illusion that the rail companies actually make any decisions in relation to the rail system. Central govt in the form of DfT and HMT take every decision about the rails ““ timetables, ticketing, rolling stock, operating company, refunding policy, even the horrific seats they make you squeeze into. All decisions by govt. They reap what they sow.
Yes indeed. We need someone to continue the late Dr Beeching’s splendid work. Now!
Lift shafts and open plan and closed windows are vectors of any infections going. The old fever hospitals were built on one floor for a reason. I had to visit my now nearly deserted doctors practice . All the windows tight shut. When I asked why I was met with rubbish excuses. Even they could not have believed them .
Not a good piece of analysis. A large part of the London commuter workforce is the civil service, productivity has always been dreadful, now we cannot even get passport replacements or driving license replacements. As for costs of travel look at the unions and outmoded work practices, the train system is not expensive for the user if you take into account the tax payer subsidies and then consider the incompetence of the operation.
Trains and tracks in England are ridiculously expensive and in much poorer shape compared to many of their European counterparts. The best in the world during the Victorian era, they now suffer from that success as less developed countries were able to start from scratch with a more modern rail system.
Italy’s high speed trains beat the French hands down, our’s are even worse, still it’s better here than in the US and Canada, where flat bottom rail spiked onto wooden sleepers is still the standard.
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