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Can you refuse to work from the office?

Greg Devine


Rear of a young women boarding a London Overground Train

Civil servants are refusing to return to the office amid these financially troubling times—but why?

They say there’s simply no reason to. They’re arguing that they can work just as easily from home, and it will save them their morning commute.

Unions representing civil servants have seen crucial documents leaked; these state that they intend to push back against government directives to get workers back into the office. Most public employees, however, wish to continue working remotely. They prefer working from home as it gives them a better work/life balance and it, apparently, increases productivity, though I’m not fully convinced this is the case for everyone. For me, working from home has its benefits, but it also comes with many disadvantages—one of which is how much easier it is to become distracted.

I don’t think it’s fair to claim that working from home increases productivity when it is still taking far too long to receive new/renewed driving licences (particularly disappointing when the wait for a test has been as long as it was) and passports.

This ‘slow response’ is not just limited to public services. I’ve heard of prospective university students complaining about how long it took Student Finance England to get back to them regarding their application—I don’t remember this being an issue for other intakes, before working from home was a thing. I passed my driving test a few years ago and my new pink licence took just a week to arrive through the post—that’s definitely not the case now.

According to The Telegraph, the FDA (a union for civil servants) plans to table 32 motions; 6 of these will refer to working from home. One of these motions, which has been backed by the Home Office, is for workers to be able to change their working location from office to home permanently. Another motion asks for ‘location-neutral working’, which would apparently give public employees the option of where they would like to work.

London Big Ben and Parliament with Bus Light Trails at Night, UK

London Big Ben and Parliament with Bus Light Trails at Night, UK

It all seems a bit ridiculous to me. If you’ve been asked to work in the office, just go to the office. If you’re asked to work from home, guess what? You work from home. This has never been an issue before now, so why is this becoming such a huge situation? The pandemic was an extraordinary time, where working from home wasn’t an option, it was a must. We’re lucky enough to be seeing the back end of this pandemic, which means now is the time to return to the normality we all craved during those tough lockdown months—particularly in 2021 when, it’s fair to say, we were all incredibly bored of our own four walls.

In any other line of work, if you refused to attend the workplace when asked, you’d find yourself the subject of relevant disciplinary procedures. Why is this any different? I’m sure someone will claim ‘it saves me so much money a month’, but you’re actually causing the economy to lose money, too. Civil servants who would have visited local sandwich and coffee shops when working from the office will probably make a meal at home; these businesses are desperate to see a return of customers after a terrible couple of years. If they don’t see a profit they’ll simply go bust.

The transport network will become less profitable as they’ll receive fewer passengers if UK Plc works from home. Office space meant to house these civil servants will prove a waste of taxpayers’ money, too, if no one goes there. Whether it’s rented or not, there will still be electricity and water standing charges to pay.

I appreciate that we’re experiencing a cost-of-living crisis and that getting to the office is another drain on these workers’ finances. Working from home, however, may fix your personal finance but it won’t do much for the wider economy. You don’t need to have studied economics at any level to understand that; it’s common sense that we, as Brits, seem to be losing. By taking away workers from city centres and business parks, you will directly affect the local businesses that only survive because of this footfall.

I’m not pledging my allegiance to any political party by opposing working from home for the masses. It’s just irritating to hear complaints from people who are in the most protected job there is when you don’t have that same freedom.

Where their employees work should be up to the business to decide. As an employee in the public or private sector, it’s your job to follow this; if you don’t like it, find a job that suits you better.

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