Why back to the office pressure is unlikely to succeed in the long term

Reports that Jacob Rees-Mogg wants civil servants back in the office suggest a disconnect between some senior managers and their employees.

Stressed women at laptop

 

Jacob Rees-Mogg, Cabinet Office minister responsible for government efficiency, has reportedly told ministers to issue a clear message to civil servants for a quick return to their desks after an audit conducted across Whitehall showed that around 80% of UK government departments were found to be operating with less than half of all desks in use and 36% were operating at two-thirds of normal levels.

It will be interesting to see what follows because poll after poll suggests many people do not want to ‘return to normal’ after Covid if normal means the way they were working before. Yes, there are good things about being face to face, but five full days in the office doesn’t work for everyone and people – including managers – now know that they can get their work done without being under the noses of management all day long.

What the clear message does suggest is that Jacob Rees-Mogg may be out of touch with what has been going on and with the reasons that many people don’t wish to hurry back to ‘normality’. Surely a failure to understand your workforce is not a recipe for success. We live in an era of labour shortages and an emphasis on greater personal responsibility, autonomy, self motivation and entrepreneurial skills for all, after all. That doesn’t mean that people will be immune from pressure, for instance, if those in the office are seen to get promotion over those working from home or in a hybrid way. It will be interesting to see if those not in the office feel emboldened after the last two years to fight back against such tactics.

There is a lot of research that will come out on the ways we have worked in the last two years. A study this week by recruiter Randstad shows, for instance, that people, particularly those outside the south east, are keen to work from home due to the rising cost of fuel. Technology will advance to make working from home smoother and address some of the glitches. People will come to expect to be around more to pick up their children, childcare is already adapting to hybrid working, other infrastructure will follow, including more on remote workers’ rights…Things have changed and are continuing to change. Trying to impose past systems on people may work temporarily, but in the long run a failure to understand and adapt to change doesn’t really work.



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