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Is it Safe to go Back to the Office?

At the time of writing, covid cases are rising in the UK at their fastest rate for a long time. The vaccine rollout has been, on the face of it, highly successful. More than 50% of the adult population in the UK is now fully vaccinated. Boris Johnson has told us ‘freedom day’ is imminent, when we can all abandon all precautions and return to normal. His logic is ‘if not now, then when?’. But, regardless of Covid, should we be demanding that people return to the office?

Do we need to be back in the office? 

For some professions it is impossible to work from home. Some businesses need people out in the world with face to face contact - medical services, care services, plumbers, builders, hairdressers. Not everyone can work from home. But everyone who does work from home helps those who can’t be safer.

Businesses across industries have had record breaking years - financial services and tech businesses have done exceptionally well. Productivity is up, results are better and profits are higher. Yet many senior managers are calling for people to be back in the office. Their justification usually is around productivity, despite the facts and the evidence to the contrary. There is a compulsion amongst some managers to get back to the office. Perhaps because they need to be surrounded by 'underlings' to maintain and protect their egos - being in an office of 500 people when you are more senior and therefore ‘more important’ than 98% of those people certainly does provide an ego boost. If a few of those 'underlings' wind up in hospital, on ventilators, or permanently debilitated with long covid, or their children end up with long Covid, surely that is a small price to pay for maintaining the status quo of the social hierarchy? 

There is a deep selfishness in this drive to get people who can work from home, and want to work from home, back into the office.

First, there are people in the UK who either have not been vaccinated yet, or cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. There are also those who we know will not develop any sort of immunity even when they have been vaccinated. For those people the consequences will be severe. 

Secondly, long covid is a serious issue that is destroying lives. Long covid is an extremely debilitating illness causing huge disability and ruining lives.  There is no evidence yet as to whether the vaccines will prevent long covid, since it is most often caused by mild illness, and the vaccines do not prevent mild illness. Children have not been offered vaccines, but 7-9% of them develop ‘long covid’ when infected with the virus.  Long covid is a huge danger and we do not yet know whether the vaccine will prevent it. 

Thirdly, not every country in the world has equal access to vaccines. Most of the world’s population have not been offered a vaccine yet. Every time we, as a largely vaccinated nation mix, we give the virus an opportunity to mutate. Eventually the virus will almost certainly evolve to get around vaccines, and then we will be right back where we started. It will be a race, with science pitted against the virus. But only the richer nations will have access to the latest scientific advances, which condemns poorer nations and more vulnerable populations to living ever after with a constantly mutating virus for which they have few defences. Our impatience to ‘get back to normal’ is condemning fellow humans in other nations. 

Fourthly, vast numbers of people have found their lives enriched and their productivity increased. They have spent less time commuting. More time with their families. More time working. They are less tired. They've had the energy to exercise more and enjoy their lives more. This portion of people do not want to go back to the office. Since working from home has produced bumper years for so may businesses, why should they force their employees back in to an office? Back in to a less healthy, less productive life?

Finally, working from home has been so beneficial for the environment. Global heating represents a far greater threat to all of us than Covid does. We should surely be prioritising that over our social status quo.

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Its time for a change. Work shouldn’t be about establishing and promoting the egos of senior managers. It shouldn’t be about making people feel important. Work is about a group of people putting their skills and expertise together to drive amazing results.

Those skills and experiences need protecting. Lets put the safety of our colleagues, our children and our fellow humans before our egos. Let those who want to work from home, and are able to, continue to do so. It will help them, the planet and productivity.

Not all businesses have a positive company culture. Read more about creating company culture in the tech world.


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