With the news full of reports of labour shortages, immigration curbs and ongoing health...read more
Are people going back to the office for the heating or wanting to stay away due to commuting costs? It depends on people’s personal circumstances.
The latest Virgin Media O2 Business Movers Index, published this week, tracks the key behavioural trends of UK consumers and businesses using anonymised and aggregated UK movement data and national polling findings. It covers a lot of different things, but the press jumped on one section: “Commuters flock back to offices for company and comfort”.
The survey shows that commuting fell over the summer and then rose in September as schools reopened and with more pressure on people to go back to the office for more days a week. It reported that just under two thirds (64%) of UK businesses have also seen an increase in workers returning to the office, compared to the previous quarter (55%). The survey then goes into a more speculative approach. It says one in five British workers (21%) said that free heating would encourage them to commute into the office more often, rising to 24% for over 65s. Meanwhile, one in four (25%) cited opportunities to connect better with colleagues and 22% better mental wellbeing.
Surveys can be interpreted in many different ways so it pays to look at the question asked – and those not asked. Three months earlier the survey had reported people wanting to work from home because of the cost of commuting. The problem is that the news tends to pick up more on anything that is about getting back to the office. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Some people are going to the office due to the heating issue, while others are trying not to due to commuting costs or other associated costs [for parents this might include childcare, for instance]. It depends on your circumstances.
It’s difficult sometimes to distil what is really going on because there is such a political push to get people back into the office, except apparently some parents, carers and people with disabilities. Bloomberg reported this week that a business adviser to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Franck Petitgas, a former Morgan Stanley executive, is focusing on tackling economic inactivity and reducing the benefits bill by getting particular groups back to work.
Petitgas has reportedly emphasised the benefits of remote work, stating that it can address underemployment and unlock opportunities for people with disabilities, carers and working parents. The problem is that there seems to be a mismatch between, on the one hand, officials and government supporters in the press and elsewhere giving out the message that remote working is somehow not ideal and kind of second rate and wealthy banking executives, who clearly have their finger on the pulse when it comes to how the rest of us are living, promoting it for certain groups. The end result is likely to low-paid, low-status jobs for some while the divide with the rest of the workforce widens, which doesn’t seem to be a particularly positive long-term vision.