Date: 04/09/2020
Author: Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce
Company: Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

Chris Fletcher, Policy, Campaigns and Communications Director at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, talks about homeworking. 

I’m writing this, working from home, on my dining table as I have been since March 20th, the last day I was “properly”  in the Chamber’s offices on Deansgate.

Since then, having spent most of the intervening months shielding as I’m clinically extremely vulnerable, I’ve been back in the office twice. Once after shielding restrictions were lifted at the start of August and the second time a few days ago. I intend going back into the office at least a day a week from now on. I’ll come back to this in a bit more detail later.

So whilst I haven’t been in the place where I normally work I have kept on working. In fact not being in the office has probably seen my productivity and efficiency rise and I feel as though I’m working more too, on some days much longer, but in all cases I’m working in different ways and to different hours. I’m sure I’m not alone in that.

It was tough to adjust at first but over the last few months a settled pattern has emerged which I can work within and do more and be more creative, oh and see more of my family and home too!

To be honest I class myself lucky that this has worked out this way. My daily 3 hour commute has vanished and I’m very fortunate that I have the space at home to do this. I fully understand not everyone has this luxury – see my recent piece on digital poverty, “A 21st Century Problem”.

So why would I think about changing this?

Well if latest proposed government messaging and recent sensationalist headlines are to be believed I should be feeling ashamed and guilty about working at home. This week saw the start and return of pupils to school. To fanfare headlines in a variety of tabloids they were lauded for being “back in work” and on the same page photos of emptyish train stations with the inference that those still working from home were letting everyone down.

Don’t get me wrong the absence of thousands of office workers is having an impact on city centres and town centres up and down the country and wholesale blanket office shutdowns aren’t a good thing. But cast your mind back a few months and everyone was saying that this is the new normal, homeworking for everyone, empty streets, no traffic, think of the environmental benefits etc etc etc. Now it’s a complete about turn with many of those same people suddenly realising that change isn’t really that good and maybe we were getting carried away? It’s the same type of mentality as sitting in your car fuming about traffic congestion.

The truth is you, if you can do it, then why not have both, a mix or blend of more remote working and time spent in the office? A way of capturing the benefits from homeworking but helping where it’s needed in our urban centres. It shouldn’t be 100% one way or the other. But that is how it’s being presented by some.

My future working pattern will be a mix of office time and remote working. Again I’m lucky that I can do this and I’d never dream of trying to impose or infer that anyone not doing this is wrong – and neither should the government or media.

I’ve been back in the office twice, ironically both times I spent most of my time on Zoom calls! But it gave me a change of scenery, a chance to catch up with the other couple of staff in and just feel part of things again. So for me that mix is right and the next time I’m going into the office I will get back on the train, my former chosen method of commuting pre-Covid.

Of course the role of the employer is vital in this and as an organisation the Chamber has made some big decisions about what our future operational strategy is – and it reflects that mix for a whole variety of reasons from staff well being through to commercial imperatives.

We have been through and are still in a time of enforced innovation. So, I’m not going “back to work.” I’ve been at work all the way through. What I am doing is going to where I can work that day reflecting what needs doing and how I can do it best. And I don’t need a government minister to tell me that.