John Harris’s dystopian view (Homeworking sounds good – until your job takes over your life, 7 March) ignores important research. For decades we have known that people like working from home because it increases the control they have over their lives. Being able to decide when and how to work – including taking time out to watch a football match or greet children returning from school – improves everyone’s life, no matter their class or profession.
Covid has exposed, not created, stark spatial and social inequalities in our society. In May last year, when most middle-class people were working full-time from home, safely out of the way of the virus, only one in five working class people were – and the infection and death rates reflect this.
This is a paradigm shift equivalent to the invention of the factory and requires a society-wide response in terms of the built environment, employment practices and more. Only a small minority of employers are monitoring their employees’ activity. Most are celebrating the fact that their staff are happier, healthier and equally or more productive – and that, simultaneously, they need less office space and so can reduce overheads. Win-win.
Home and downtime were already “fatally blurred” – who hasn’t checked their email before bed or on waking? Homeworking is a skill, and people have radically different approaches to the degree of separation they like between the home and work aspects of their lives. Being able to close the door on work at the end of the day is important for many, which is why garden offices are flying off the shelves. Crucially, our job now is to build a society – and cities, neighbourhoods, blocks, buildings and homes – that make this a real possibility for everyone who chooses it. The top priority has to be the poor and the young, who have been the primary casualties of this pandemic.
Dr Frances Holliss
Workhome Project, London Metropolitan University
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