A response to Roy Pointer from Joshua Trelawney

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Here is an interesting review of Roy’s very interesting article by a member.
The Association is very gratified to see its members entering in a well mannered articulate exchange of views.

Roy, thank you for your enlightening ‘glass-half-full’ view.

I have a relative who is an office-based council worker now currently working from home.

I have also worked from home, worked in an office, and employed homeworkers, and counter with the ‘glass-half-empty’ view of my randomised jottings thus:

Para (1):

“The lockdown provides a zero-base operation from which we can build a new way of working, leaving the traditional behind and embracing 21st century methods.”:

Why? Are all the traditional methods disposable/despicable/inefficient, and 21stC methods Nirvana? Surely, a combined approach where the best of each should be sought?

“If we don’t, the worry is that we might allow the ‘pendulum’ to swing back rather than moving the pendulum”:

‘worry’? A bit of ‘concern’ maybe. We have much bigger things to ‘worry’ about now.

Para {2}:

“The massive recent development of ICT provides for a distributed, network approach to the business rather than the central led, top down, office-based style historically in place”:

We know that the ‘upside-down management’ model espoused by the Timpson group chairman is popular with many independent businesses, but I don’t believe that it has a place in Local Government. We still need central policy, leadership, guidance and, above all, accountability with our money.

“The question is, of those working from a home base now, why should they not continue to do so?”:

Examples for the employer (including but not exclusively) –

  • loss of control of corporate image representation.
  • loss of efficient output monitoring; output reduction through a number of reasons: extra coffee / smoke breaks, social media/family /pet diversions.
  • family ‘crises’ that aren’t.
  • extra IT equipment and sundries for every home employee whereas before (due to part-timers, shift-working, holidays, hot-desking) the assets were shared.
  • requires more VPN & IT support.
  • group brainstorming.
  • dealing with more employee expenses and associated fiddling than ever before, with the need for more accounting staff to police and handle them.
  • medical problems, such as accidents & mental health issues at home.
  • greater sickness associated with employees not exercising through commuting, walking around the local shops during lunchbreaks, etcetera. Even the walk up from the car park is exercise.
  • The health issues tend to be built up over time and will involve extra expense for both employer and employee long term.
  • There’s plenty more I’m sure! Some roles are suited to working from home, but not every person is suited to working from home.

For the employee (including but not exclusively) –

  • psychologically, many people are gregarious by nature and need work company.
  • and need the week to be separated into work parts and personal parts; medical
  • problems such as accidents & mental health issues are valid for the employee as well as the employer.
  • what about those that escape domestic violence by going to work,
  • and those that share personal problems over the photocopier?
  • What about office romances and affairs?
  • The camaraderie of socialising on the way home with colleagues or ‘customers? Isolation is a form of punishment in our prisons for a reason!

We need the smell of the office and the roar of crowd – not the smell of the dog, or the neighbour’s Bombay duck on the stove, nor the scream of the partner shouting at the kids.

Employees need appraisal and praise, but don’t need the extra workload of either expense-claiming or dealing with HMRC issues; many of the issues to face the employer would be faced by the employee also.

Pride in appearance vanishes in some people (working in pyjamas or track suit bottoms or worse? Eurrgh!). Many that I have spoken with are OK working from home because they see that it is temporary but are horrified at the prospect of doing it full term. Problems will vary from the type of home setting (family or solitary).

Home risk assessments are needed to ensure a safe working environment. Not all have got the large detached mansion with a separate office room in a quiet part of town (or country), some are in bedsits, or HMOs, or shared homes, or have noisy neighbours.

If they have young children at home and no separate workspace, how can they be expected to perform to potential capacity? Those that go out to site visits, meeting ‘customers’ et al, will have a different set of issues.

For the local economy (including but not exclusively) –

reduced car parks’ income (quote “BCP Council has forecast it will lose an average of more than Elm each week over the coming year, with almost half of this coming through lost income, particularly from its car parking and commercial ventures.”);

reduced public transport use; reduced lunchtime shopping/browsing/ impulse buying, affects small businesses especially.

The ripples are enormous. Our town centres are becoming ghostly vacuums through the failing retail business drop-out already – how will this proposal help their regeneration?

“Network contact can be gained by telephone, mobile telephone,

tele-conferencing, video-call and video-conferencing, all used for the right purpose at the right time”:

If these electronic methods are so great, why are most of us craving human contact and meetings when we have electronic means now?

Para (3):

“All the materials are on-line; planning officers can network as needed and such multi-interactions as are necessary can be made by ICT”:

Disagree. You can’t sensibly read an AO, Al, A2 plan / drawing on a computer screen – I’ve tried, much less be able to spread several out and cross reference them and discuss with colleagues.

“Force the thinking and prove that the current crisis driven method has a future.”:

And prove’ needs addition of ‘/disprove’

Para {4):

“For the employee, benefits are obvious but are greatly enhanced where the employee has a young family or an older person living with them for whom they care; win-win all round”

Disagree for reasons already posited.

Para {5):

“Clearly, for the whole organisation, this would be a massive upheaval, but the approach can be iterative with the learning from one team embedded or modified to suit another.”-

Agree and disagree: It ‘could be a real stimulus and morale boost to employees’, on the other hand may not. Or, more likely, good for some and not for others.

“BCP could be seen as a leader in a new way of service provision” –

Agree and disagree: It ‘could be seen as a leader’, alternatively it could be held up for ridicule by its detractors. After all, the merger hasn’t been the resounding success that all the sellers’ forecast, has it?

Para (6):

“In looking at a strategy for the whole organisation, a Boston matrix might give a first cut at departmental level e.g. Ability to work at home (Yes/N0)versus Interactions (Yes/N0)”

As with all of the management tools, a Boston Matrix shouldn’t be used in isolation, so caution is needed.

Kindest regards,

Joshua Trelawney