It always amuses me when I see the images used by various agencies to promote flexible working. A few years ago it was all people up mountains or on the back of a rickshaw. Recently I saw some images of people sat on a beach with a laptop. In my humble experience, it is very difficult to get wi-fi access on a beach [I’ve tried] and there is the permanent danger of sand getting into the works. Instead, it might be more realistic to show how people really work flexibly, although it might look less aspirational.
For instance, I have spoken to BBC journalists who broadcast from home while under a duvet to get the best sound quality. I myself have worked from a hill in a park, the toilets at the school disco, in the one square metre of a holiday camp that had wi-fi and in a cupboard, among other salubrious locations. I have interviewed people in all sorts of situations, often en route to places, sometimes in cafes in far flung countries, sometimes in the dark due to power cuts, sometimes about complex aspects of science in broken Engish with a pneumatic drill going off in the background. Far from being unprofessional, this has often called for hidden resourcefulness.
Resourcefulness is something that is a major requirement of today’s working world, it seems to me, when so many people are working all hours around families, often doing several jobs or setting up a business on the side of a full-time post as they struggle to find ways to put food on the table for their families. This is not to mention the shadow of cuts in the welfare state that hangs over many families. The gap between aspirational images and reality, between politicians’ words and deeds, seems to get ever wider.
It is not enough to protest about that reality gap, though it is important to highlight it. I went to a talk the other night on asylum and immigration. There were no easy solutions, but what it shone a light on was the complete mess of European Union policy, the multitude of deals done to protect the rich part from the chaos occurring outside its inner sanctum and a head in the sand approach to global politics. This could, of course, be used to argue in favour of a pull-out from Europe, but pulling out in itself does not address the central issue of long-term policy on global politics. Europe has a long and fractious history. There are no easy solutions. I was speaking to a UKIP person after another debate on Europe. He had taken criticism of the EU as backing for his politics. Being critical, though, is not the same as rejecting the EU. Critical, informed debate is vital to address the gap between reality and what we’d like to pretend it is.
*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk. Picture credit: Wiki Commons images and Wojciech Kowalski.