I’m working from home today, but then that is my default setting. The UK is gong through a cold snap at the moment, and the advice has been to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary, so I’d imagine that I am not as much of a rarity as I usually am. Thousands of schools are also shut for the day, so that will bump up the numbers too, as parents have to stay home to make sure their kids don’t pelt little old ladies with snowballs or set the house on fire trying to get the heating on.
So far, there haven’t been reports of any major disruption, unless you count the poor souls who came unstuck driving in icy conditions, but I am still positively steaming over reports on the BBC, one on the radio this morning, and one during the lunchtime news bulletin. I think I’m mostly irked because the source of my ire is an organisation I normally support and like to hear from: the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).
I opened my bleary eyes this morning to hear FSB spokesperson Stephen Alambritis complaining about the closed schools, accusing headteachers and school authorities about closing schools “unnecessarily,” despite a reasoned explanation from a headmaster on why closures occur. Next came another whine, this time during the 1pm television broadcast, where the FSB had decided that the cost of people not being able to get into work would “cost the economy” over a billion pounds. And that’s when I started throwing wine corks at the television and ranting.
Time and again, whenever proposals have been put forward on how to make work more family-friendly, or enable people to take more control over their careers, employers’ bodies such as the FSB and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI, the Dick Dastardly to their Muttley) are the first to howl about how making any concessions is likely to lead to the collapse of the economy and civilisation as we know it. Flexible working is too difficult for them; paying a living wage in one of the most expensive cities on Earth is an unbearable burden; health and safety regulations stifle innovation; and making sure they aren’t discriminating against women is far too much effort for ensuring something as piffling as fairness in the workplace.
So because the transport infrastructure is grinding to a halt and roads are barely navigable, twenty percent of the working population may have failed to make it into work. Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? The weather is out to get them! Or, rather, because of the culture of presenteeism so prevalent in Anglo-Saxon capitalism, people have to be seen to be working, meaning that employees are expected to be in the office, when they could be doing their jobs just as well at home. And believe me, quite a few are probably getting just as much done using their home phones and internet connections as they would have done if they had managed to get into work or get their children to school.
The majority of businesses in the UK are office-based these days, meaning that with a bit of imagination and some decent computer policies, employees do not need to be physically in the office to carry out their jobs. It baffles me, given the overheads involved in running an office, why any business would willingly shell out commercial rents for the entire company when a couple of rooms would do. I suppose bosses worry that if they couldn’t see what people were up to, they might not actually be working. They might be at home watching daytime TV in their pyjamas while munching chocolate biscuits; that’s all very well, but it would be pretty apparent that nothing was being done when tasks weren’t completed, and that’s what disciplinary procedures are for.
It’s touching that some bosses assume that if they see people at their desks, tapping away at keyboards, that they are actually doing something outlined in their job description, not checking their Facebook friends or IM-ing their significant other. I wish I were that trusting. The fact is, despite the stereotypical nine-to-five working day, much of what we do at the office could probably be done in far less time. Not only that, but it could be done while not having to actually be in the office itself. Communications are good enough now that remote working is a possibility for a significant number of workers, but their employers have been truculently reluctant to embrace it.
Had the employers’ bodies in the UK been more proactive about telecommuting, they would probably have been more sanguine about the recent snow. They would have suffered less disruption, and would not have felt the need to throw such a hissy fit over the fact that only four out of five of their employees turned up to work this week. Instead, I am willing to bet good money that after the snow has cleared, and they have recovered from their latest conniptions, that they will be back to obstructing a more flexible way of doing things just as soon as a new proposal is put forward.
[Image by Sue E]