Proof is in the pasty

With the opening of the new Elizabeth Line there was always going to be questions about value for money.

At a cost of £25bn, will it deliver value, 13 years after the project to build it began?

The world has changed and it is changing rapidly, every day. In a recent FT article, Roger Whiteside, the CEO of pasty and sandwich maker, Greggs is reported to have discussed the demise of the chain’s big city outlets, due to fall in numbers of white collar workers returning to office work.

Earlier this month, PwC recently unveiled new flexible working plans, dubbed “The Deal”.

At the time, its chairman Kevin Ellis, said: “These changes are in direct response to soundings from our people, who’ve said they value a mix of working from home and in the office. We want to help enshrine new working patterns so they outlast the pandemic. Without conscious planning now there’s a risk we lose the best bits of these new ways of working when the economy opens up again.”

Ellis is not alone. During the World Economic Forum, Jonas Prising, chairman and chief executive officer, ManpowerGroup, asked people to consider the benefits of providing employee flexibility to decide which hours they work and the four day working week.

Similar views are shared among business leaders. But politicians appear to be on a different trajectory. It has been widely reported that Jacob Rees-Mogg wants civil servants to return to the office. His view, and those of people like Alan Sugar, definitely appear to come from a totally different era, one where people need to be brought together and work in an office. Otherwise they are lazy.

Smarter working

Did the UK grind to a halt during the Covid-19 lockdowns. No. Did people simply switch off for two years. For most of us, the answer is that this definitely was not the case. Workers value the flexibility that working from home gave them.

Those who want to be seen as leaders fail to appreciate how quickly the world of work is evolving, post-pandemic. Metrics like the number of hours spent in an office is no measure of an individual’s actual productivity.

The latest data from the Office of National Statistics shows that productivity, as a measure of GDP per hour, was around 1.9% higher in Q1 2022 than before the pandemic (Q4 2019). The ONS reported that the UK’s productivity gap with the G7 average is not as great as was previously, but it is 15% below the US and France.

Getting more people into offices is not the fix the economy needs to drive up productivity. Flexibility and hybrid work is the way to go.

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