Mark Dolan: Your country needs you, to go back to the office

'The economy and our now deserted city centres, have certainly missed you'

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The chief civil servant of the department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sarah Healey, has said that she prefers to work from home, as that allows her to spend more time astride her Peloton - an upmarket exercise bike. Well I don't wish to be rude, but it's time for her to get on her real bike and go to back work.

Don't get me wrong, I am determined for us as a country to take the best from this dreadful pandemic. There has to be a positive legacy, after what we've been through. And our economy, our society and our workplaces have been transformed in 18 short months.

We do so much more of our shopping online, we have meetings via Zoom and Skype, we've saved money on transport costs, we've probably lowered our carbon footprint and we’ve have leapt forward to being a cashless society and a more modern, dynamic and digital economy. So all of this is good. And there are potentially millions of people, whose job enables them to work from home for some or even all of the week.

Their work-life balance will be better, childcare issues are alleviated and it's just possible that with people working from home, they will be more autonomous, more in control of how and when they work and I believe it could foster an entrepreneurial spirit in the country.

Thousands of people who lost their jobs in the course of the pandemic, are reported to have started businesses from their kitchen table, rather than seek another position. Let's be honest - to start many businesses now, all you need is an Internet connection and a phone line. So all of this is terrific. I'm no Luddite.

But there are also millions, for whom an effective day's work involves going to an office. Not least civil servants at the DVLA, who are currently sitting on 56,000 HGV applications not processed, as a result of staff not going into the office.

No such luck for supermarket workers, delivery drivers and countless others – the unsung heroes of the pandemic - who went to work as usual.

The Mail are today reporting that the huge DVLA office in Swansea where 6,000 civil servants work is still more than half empty, largely thanks to a trade union, using the excuse of Covid to keep staff home.

Meanwhile the press are reporting today that more Afghanis might have been saved from the Taliban, if more civil servants had been physically in Whitehall with access to the exact number of people who needed help with their departure.

Much of the work of civil servants is sensitive, from a political or security point of view, which means many just cannot access important data from a non-secured internet connection at home. But it's not just the logistics, of whether they can do their job properly from home. It's also about setting an example.

Demonstrating that those privileged to be on the public payroll, are getting back to work and contributing to the huge economy that surrounds a physical workplace. Cafés, restaurants, bars and other retail outlets. And the contractors, that serve offices – plumbers, window cleaners, caterers, electricians, the photocopier guy! Or gal.

Over 60% of the UK economy is based on consumption - that's buying and consuming goods. Well that's not going to work, if during your lunch hour at home, rather than going to Pret A Manger or Costa, you're polishing off last night's chicken tikka masala, straight from the fridge, in your jim-jams.

All too often in the course of this pandemic, I've been dismayed by the public’s support for these ruinous Covid measures, particularly lockdowns. But is it any surprise when so many were bought off by the furlough scheme, literally paid to stay at home, bake banana bread and catch up on the latest Netflix miniseries, and cracking open a bottle of Pinot Grigio, as they fire off their last few emails of the day.

Much of the support for lockdown has come from what I call the garden flat generation - comfortably off middle-class pen pushers, rocking the latest Apple device as they await their spaghetti carbonara courtesy of Deliveroo, their latest grocery shop from Ocado and their latest bit of consumer technology from Amazon.

For every lambswool-slippered homeworker, are a multitude of people who are in flat shares, who don't have the space or the accommodation, with which to work effectively from home. Cramped conditions, a leaky roof, draughty windows, noisy, selfish housemates or screaming kids. I'm sorry, but not everyone is Nigella bloody Lawson.

So this starts with civil servants, but it extends to everyone. If you can get back to the office, at least part time, you must. It's your national duty. Your country needs you, to go to work. And you might just find that you've missed contact with colleagues, or catching the boss’s eye, that swift half pint after work, the water-cooler chats, the coffee-run to Starbucks, office banter, support, friendship, collaboration, creativity and those stolen glances, at a distance, with Sandra from sales.

I can tell you that the economy and our now deserted city centres, have certainly missed you. The party’s over folks. It's time to get back to work.