Don’t Go to the Office

Today, the CBI has claimed “our offices are at risk of dying.” Good! They’ve been dying since someone made everything open plan. Open plan doesn’t work for me or other introverts. Perhaps a third of the workforce suffer in open plan offices. For me, one day a week is more than enough. Have the meetings, keep in touch, then go home to do real work.

The government cannot shut offices for six months and then simply stroll on and say “home working doesn’t work” when we’ve all proven that it does. For bog standard office jobs, open plan doesn’t work. Set me up with enough space at the office, the sort of quiet, large space with light and plants that I can provide at home. Put that within a fifteen minute walk of my house and then you’ve got a proposition. Travelling three hours a day on congested roads full of diesel fumes to half a desk in an overcrowded, badly ventilated open plan sweat shop? No thanks!

The truth is that the modern office has been dying since it went fully open plan. Having a room of your own is now a mark of seniority. By all means put teams of three to five people in a shared room but that should be the limit. There are two main reasons for open plan and neither of them are for your benefit. The first is cost. The second is control. Having proved that you can work from home, your employer has now realised that there are even more cost savings to be achieved in further reducing office space and that they can surveil your laptop use as a way to exert control. You should quietly resist such coercion by using a range of devices other than the one provided by your employer. If they resist, you know they’re spying on you.

The government wants you at work to revive city centres. Again, nothing about your interests in that tactic. You might find your employer is far less keen on seeing you every day after Covid. Why is it the transport secretary begging you to go back? Because his cost benefit spreadsheets don’t work without rail passengers. If roads are not congested, more people will drive, because trains were over priced even before the crisis. So the government will be bailing out and downsizing rail for years to come.

Be clear: the ‘drive’ to force you back into an office is not to improve your life. It is to bail out a failing government. It will fail.