Wednesday, October 20, 2021

My job – and life – is increasingly remote. The risks are growing | Giles Blunt

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Earlier this month I asked people who didn’t have any paid leave this summer how they would manage. An equal number than the four in five in care took up family leave as those who would have taken their leave, as are many new parents in the UK. But they all agreed the decision was dependent on individual circumstances, which by and large couldn’t be planned for: it would depend on financial stress, childcare demands and the hours they wanted to work. A quarter didn’t have any paid leave at all.

But when I asked a group of specialists in the field of remote work and their employers how long a remote worker would have to stick with their employer if they left, the sample was far more varied. In Northern Ireland the employees of Rizwanftent Travel Solutions had about four months’ worth of time to look for a new job: in Wales, it would be just over a year. In the UK, this time frame ranged from six months in the public sector to around three years in the private sector.

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In fact, flexibility among remote workers is being challenged – and with it, the new economy many argue is holding the UK back. The latest Guardian/ICM poll found 45% of people were comfortable with remote working, compared with 40% who were uncomfortable. About a third of those comfortable with it were now working from home at least some of the time. About half the respondents found flexible working to be quite important or very important. Of the many reasons given for why they found it appealing, working from home appeared to be the biggest attraction: 85% of those who take up this option are male, compared with 78% of those who work in traditional offices.

The fall in salaries that followed the financial crash has left people considering working from home part of the time, with two-thirds reporting they are spending more time at home than before. Eight in 10 think they have a worse job now than they did before the crisis.

The rise of gig economy workers (who spend more than 50% of their time doing things others don’t do) has made this fear even more apparent. Three-quarters of people who spend three hours a day commuting to their home workplace said they were more likely to give up their job than previously.

In the meantime, increasing numbers of people are coming to terms with their plight, despite there being no option to quit at their own whim. Almost two-thirds of respondents consider quitting remote work at some point.

I understand their dilemma – my business wouldn’t let me do this. At other times during the year, I would like to be able to work from home. I know I shouldn’t; I know it would make the company less efficient and work harder. And I know the rest of my career depends on a strong online presence. I sometimes check my email on my knees in the bath. I even attempt to book a gig on Twitter by reminding myself of my Twitter followers.

But at what point do you have to be choosy? What about next week? What about three months’ time?

In any case, I worry most about the senior member of staff in my company who works from home. I have written a book about working from home. In it, I call this journey of discovery “Choosing not to work – the first tentative step”. It can be scary and isolating. But it can also be extraordinary – and I’m happy to walk in my author’s shoes once in a while.

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