Should we be allowed to WFH forever?
After a year of working from home there are those who will now be keen to swap an unpleasant commute for an amble down the stairs or a desk opposite the accounts department to one overlooking their geraniums forever. And some generous bosses might even let them.
In my view that would be a mistake. Working from home should not become some kind of post-Covid human right. I don’t think it’s good for either companies or their employees, and especially female employees. Aviva, one of Britain’s biggest companies, has warned that women might miss out on promotion opportunities because, as the primary carer, they are more likely than men to opt for a working from home option. The FTSE 100 firm fears that managers will promote staff on the basis of visibility as opposed to quality of work.
So much as I applaud Spotify’s initiative to allow its employees to work from anywhere in the world on a San Francisco salary, it’s asking for trouble. Most people require discipline to work. How many people do you know who have a personal trainer or go to a gym because they just can’t exercise alone? And how many people do you know would actually have the discipline to be as conscientious at home (or if you work for Spotify possibly a beach in the Caribbean) with only the cat or a local hermit crab watching them as they are forced to be in the office?
Clearly there are some jobs, such as nursing or being a garage mechanic, that necessitates your presence. But there are others, consulting for example, or writing a column, that don’t. You might think your boss is being irritating and argue that you can be just as, if not wildly more, effective from home. But chances are, you won’t be. Unless you live to work, you will do what most people do when faced with a task they’re not too keen on: anything else.
Working is called working because that’s what it is. Much as entitled millennials might like to pretend otherwise, work does involve doing some things you don’t necessarily want to do. And one of those things is likely to be showing up.
If the person who is paying your salary wants you in the office, then you’re going to have to get off your sofa and into some clothes that probably aren’t as comfortable as your lockdown leggings and go there.
In the 1990s, I worked as a head-hunter for the media industry. The office was in London’s Regent Street. I didn’t enjoy the daily commute from Sussex to Charing Cross, nor the expense of it (actually once I’d paid for childcare too, I only just about broke even). But I got up in the dark on freezing winter mornings and headed to the station because that’s what my boss wanted. And actually, considering he weekly commuted from Spain, I didn’t feel too hard done by. Added to which, I enjoyed being around other people.
I imagine that after nearly a year of lockdown, most people will be desperate to get back normal office life. Just having a sandwich with someone you don’t live with will seem like an event. Embrace it.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019