‘Get back to work Stewart!’

‘Are you back in the office yet?’ is now pretty much the follow up question to ‘So… what do you do?’
The world has gone through a seismic shift in how and where we work…and the push is now on to get things back to how they used to be. But I’m not going to be leading the charge back in to the office five days a week, in fact I think this is a once in a generation chance to tilt the balance back in favour of workers. So I’m no expert…but here are my thoughts on returning to the office.

A bit of history

The Industrial Revolution saw work move away from the home and farm, and into factories and cities. Employers needed people to work in their offices and factories, and workers needed money…so the happy relationship between employers and employees began. The employers would say ‘How about you work 7 days a week and we’ll let your children work alongside you for free?!’ and the employees would say ‘How about we go for 8 hours of work, 8 hours of rest and 8 hours of play and we celebrate with a public holiday?!’ This happy game of tug-of-war has been waging ever since.
I think that over my career the balance has been gradually heading in the employer’s favour. Where it was once expected that people would do their best Dolly Parton and work from 9-5, that eventually became ‘look we’re not going to say that you can’t leave at 5pm, but we ARE going to create a culture that makes it frowned upon’…and then eventually, ‘of course you can leave at 6pm…but we WILL expect you to respond to emails at 10pm’.
The trade-off for this has been impressive wages growth…Bwah ha ha! Just kidding! Wages growth has been falling spectactularly over the last 10 years. In fact, unless you’re someone like a CEO or a politician who can vote on their own payrise, you’ve probably been working longer hours for little or no extra money.
Now of course these extra hours also come at the expense of time doing things you actually want to do, like spending time with your family, or doing exercise, or catching up with friends.
So are we doing all of this extra work out of the kindness of our hearts? Nah. We just have mind-blowing levels of personal debt (an average of $250K per household), and you know what’s a real-great motivator for doing whatever is asked of you so that you don’t lose your job? Knowing that you’re only just keeping your head above water with that full-time job…and that losing that job would probably see you lose where you live.

Enter the Pandemic

Suddenly the working world headed home. After years of being told that ‘we can’t have people working from home regularly as we don’t have the IT systems to support it…and besides we don’t REALLY trust you to work if we can’t see you!’, we miraculously discovered that in fact we could.
We also discovered, that just as in Industrial Revolution times, it was a terrible idea to have your kids with you at work, as they drain your broadband signal and ruin your Zoom meetings.

But a lot of people also discovered that not having to commute to and from work every day gave them a couple of extra hours in the day. For me this meant that I could get out for a good run or bike-trainer session, have a shower and still be ready for work at 9am.
When the kids returned to school, it meant I could do pickups and drop-offs and have those great conversations that only happen in the neutral territory between school and home.
It also meant that instead of only cooking decent meals on the weekend when I had the time, I could now cook a healthy meal from scratch every night!

As a human

So as a human, despite the existential dread that comes with a pandemic, I can’t remember feeling more fulfilled than over the past 15 months. The concept of work/life balance, has become more of a reality, with work having to sit alongside the little things that make you a good person, rather than dictating what little time you have to devote to them.

Now I totally realise that this is 100% my experience and is in no way reflective of other people. But outside of people with corner offices and a PA to do their photocopying, I haven’t heard a whole lot of people saying ‘I can’t wait to get back in the office 5 days a week!’
So I’m really hoping that we don’t just blindly go back to what we were doing before COVID-19, as I feel that we have been given an incredible opportunity to take stock of what works for us as people, not just employees.

*On the off-chance that there is any confusion…clearly these are my opinions and not in any way those of my employer. I am speaking purely on my own behalf.

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