First the disclaimer. There’s a Peloton in our garage. Though, to be fair, I didn’t actually put it there. It was a prescient, pre-lockdown purchase made by my time-poor husband: having tried out a similar home exercise bike, he relished the idea of breaking from the tyranny of gym membership and enjoying weatherproof exercise at his convenience.
What’s more, we also have a garden with – noch – a bit of decking. Well, this is north Manchester where, unlike, ooooh, north London, it’s possible to secure a decent patch without facing bankruptcy.
In short, then, it is the perfect environment for working from home. As, indeed, any out-to-pasture civil servant might testify. After all, why do battle with the commute now that the days are longer and you can feel the grass between your toes?
And yet I can’t help but agree with Jacob Rees-Mogg when it comes to WFH. Or WTF as I sometimes — oops — write. His view that civil servants must return to the office to ensure government buildings are at full capacity makes a lot of sense.
In fact, I think it should extend to anyone whose job formerly involved working in an office, yet who has failed to return to their desk. Look, the majority of the population are vaccinated, Covid seems finally to be in retreat and it’s highly unlikely the WFH-ers are side stepping shops or restaurants. Anyway, the government’s recommendation for people to “stay home” ended in January. So what are we waiting for, guys?
There are so many compelling reasons to get back to the office. The sharing and sparking of ideas. The unpredictability and spontaneity of teamwork. In short, the joy of human connectivity. Certainly for those in entry level jobs, working amongst others is vital for learning skills at such a tender stage in career development.
Working from home means missing out on dressing smartly, having a shmooze by the photocopier. And — though this may be a Northern thing — enjoying lively conversations about what people have brought in for their dinner (lunch). Especially since these debates usually kick off about 9.30am.
Yet much as I evangelise about the need to get back to the office, there’s admittedly one manifest disadvantage. Namely, being Jewish, thanks in no small portion to the vagaries of our religious calendar. Consequently, WFH is a panacea to the way Judaism can play havoc with the working week.
Take leaving early for shabbat in the winter. When I started out on a local newspaper — and as the first Jewish girl to have worked on this particular title — the changing times of my Friday afternoon departure baffled my workmates. How to explain having to down tools mid-report on the local agricultural show because you had to be home for 3.47pm? Then there were the broken weeks of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. I can still recall the raised eyebrows when, say, booking Mondays and Tuesdays off for three or four weeks in a row. As my news editor, who as a boy had been (blush) a “Shabbos goy”, drily wondered if the Jewish sabbath had moved to the “Jewish Tuesday”.
Meanwhile, for parents of children at Jewish schools, there would inevitably be an extra day before yom tov. And that’s before the countless Chanukah concerts, Purim events and more, which meant that school finished or started at strange times.
And what of those bits of halacha which demanded a high speed response? The speed with which we might, sadly, receive a funeral notice. Or, happily, news of a brit.
It’s why flexible working and WFH might hold special appeal to Jewish people. Even in more considered and inclusive times, it offers the opportunity to sidestep explanations about dashing off to a Tuesday afternoon chuppa. Or going to watch your little one play “abba” on the shabbat table at morning assembly. We have enough explaining to do (“You dont eat bread for, like, a whole week?”). At least WFH provides good cover.
Yet even with all these advantages, I still think we need to get back to the office. The pandemic pushed us into enforced separation. Our humanity demands we reconnect.
Covid should serve as a reminder that we are better whole than the sum of our parts. Even if we do have to get home for 3.47pm.
Much as I evangelise about the need to get back to the office, there’s one manifest disadvantage