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ALISTAIR HEATHER: Return to office commute – are you willing to hand three weeks a year back for no pay increase?

When lockdown got rid of the daily commute, it gave some people back two hours a day - that's three weeks a year. Now workers could be expected to spend those three weeks back on the road.
When lockdown got rid of the daily commute, it gave some people back two hours a day - that's three weeks a year. Now workers could be expected to spend those three weeks back on the road.

The Scottish government have announced that we can return to the offices. Good, I think.

And, also, very very bad.

I’ve been working principally fae hame for two years. It’s been a grind.

In this very column I’ve sent out distress notes from my lonesome isolation like a desert islander plopping bottle-messages into the rolling surf.

I regularly go two days together without speaking to anyone at all in real life.

So the announcement of a return to offices, where people will be socially obliged to engage in my small talk whether they want to or not, certainly lifted my spirits.

Part of me cannae wait to lurk around the mini kitchen, ready to conversationally ambush whatever poor craiter comes along looking for the kettle.

There’s great things about the office that’ll be nice to experience again. The birthday cards going round signed by aabdy in the office. The cakes that come in and slices shared around.

The wee dramas and narratives of others lives you get to be party to – the newborn nephews, the imprisoned exes – the sense of belonging to a work community.

The ability to physically shut down a work station, pick up your jacket and walk out into the evening is healthy. It makes a clear break between work and personal lives.

I currently sleep in the same room I Zoom from, and watch evening films on the same screen I commune with my bosses on.

Work and personal lives are not blurred, over the last two years they have become utterly intertwined.

There are many upsides to the return. But I remain wary.

Beware the ‘sandwich shop’ patter pedlars

I’m wary about the return to offices partly because it seems like it’s bad people that are keenest to see us return to them.

The Johnson cabal at Westminster, aided and abetted by their slavering hounds at the Daily Mail, are demanding we return to offices to “build a strong recovery.”

If whenever I showed up to work I got a catered garden bash and bevvy on tap, I too would be champing at the bit to return.

They also want us back in the offices to bring customers back to the inner city “sandwich shops”. Righto.

The powers that be want us to return to the office... so sandwich shops can get their lunchtime rush on. Photo by Neil Hall.
The powers that be want us to return to the office… so sandwich shops can get their lunchtime rush on. Photo by Neil Hall.

The bosses at Financial Services companies are desperate to bring their employees back in ASAP. I don’t think we should be asking those guys.

A society taking guidance from its most ruthless elements is like swimmers asking directions fae sharks. They’ll steer us into waters that suit them, but likely don’t suit us.

So, as well as our return to offices pleasing Tories and capitalists, are there any other downsides?

My big personal dread is the return of the commute.

Two steps forward, one long commute back

Commuting is horrendous in so many ways. My brother Chris, Dundee’s doughnut magnate, spoke to this very paper almost precisely a year ago and reflected on one of the great gains for workers from this pandemic.

That is, the disappearance of the commute. Chris said: “I used to live in the countryside and commute into Dundee.

“Driving into the office always felt like a scene from Mad Max.

“Every junction and roundabout was a wheel-spinning near death experience as the city raced to be at its desk by 9am.

“Getting rid of the commute will hand people back two hours a day.

“Two hours a day adds up to 520 hours a year. That’s three weeks.

“That’s some people’s entire annual holiday allowance.

“If you are happy enough to keep working from home, imagine what you can do with those extra three weeks?”

Are you willing to hand 3 weeks a year back to your employer, in exchange for no increase in pay?

The return to the office means death to all that. It means, for me, a slog to Edinburgh on the train regularly. Or finding a new job in Dundee.

For you, it might mean being back lashing cash on the Strathtay 73 fae Carnoustie to your office in the toon.

‘Glen Kingsway’ looking quiet after the announcement of  lockdown, Tuesday March 23 2020. Picture: Mhairi Edwards/DCT Media.

For many, it means a bite out of time from their stretched lives, less time with their families (not necessarily a positive) and a bite out of their incomes when prices are already marching upwards.

All this, just to bring customers back to inner city sandwich shops?

Like I say, I’m not blind to the upsides of offices. But a return to the old ways feels like another purposeful step backwards for the workers.

When you do head back in for a sniff round the office, speak to your union, speak to your manager: how can you make this return work best for you.

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