Commentary: It’s mostly sociopaths who want to go back to the office
Employees are playing hard to get, underlying the reality that most do not want to return to the office, says the Financial Times' Henry Mace.
LONDON: Heart-breaking news from accountants Grant Thornton: Nine out of 10 of its employees do not want to work mainly from the office, even when it’s safe.
For commercial reasons, news outlets try not to make jokes about its readers — but, antisocial accountants, please try not to make it so hard for us.
Grant Thornton’s rival PwC also says its staff will mostly work remotely. Are these company announcements or cries for help?
My major concern is that if accountants aren’t together in an office will they still provide top-notch scrutiny of Greensill Capital, Patisserie Valerie, and Wirecard?
My other serious concern is that businesses are jumping to conclusions. Yes, employees are playing hard to get. But do they want to break up with the office?
BREAKING UP WITH THE OFFICE?
I have extensively researched this very question during lockdown — by watching TV. Take everyone’s favourite workplace sitcom, The Office.
Would boss David Brent — or his alter-ego Michael Scott in the show’s US remake — exchange office dominance for the right to schedule Microsoft Teams meetings?
He wouldn’t even have set up the software on his laptop. More importantly, as an entertainer, he craves the live experience — although it would be for the staff’s sake, not his of course.
As for authoritarian oddball Gareth — Dwight in the American Office — returning to the office would be a no-brainer, because he never left. He would have been camping on the industrial estate, guarding it against societal breakdown. Yes, assistant (to the) regional manager counts as an essential worker.
True, Gareth would not be lonely at home — he has a rodent infestation. But lockdown would have refreshed his passion for the office.
It’s been a whole year since he was last reported for using the women’s toilets. Nor would he have been worried by the virus, because he took part in many early stage medical trials as a teenager. He has seven new karate moves to demonstrate.
Likeable office romantic Tim (Jim in the US version) would meanwhile have loved lockdown at first. He could block Gareth on Slack. He could do all his work, and still be streaming MasterChef by noon.
READ: Commentary: I’ve been career oriented my whole life, until the COVID-19 pandemic took my ambition
LIBERATION WOULD WEAR OFF
But the liberation would wear off. What’s the point of hiding your own stapler in jelly? And if nobody sees your three-point shot into the waste paper bin, did it even happen?
Like all soft souls in need of attention, Tim adopts a dog during lockdown. He returns the poor mutt to the shelter, on learning that the object of his affections, bored receptionist Dawn/Pam, has adopted an incompatible breed.
But Dawn would not return to the office. She would start selling personalised gifts on Etsy; the word “receptionist” would not feature on her online biography.
Listen to EngageRocket CEO Leong Chee Tung and HR strategist Adrian Tan debate the merits of returning to the office on CNA's Heart of the Matter podcast:
MOST TV CHARACTERS WOULD RETURN
Overall, however, most fictional office-workers would return.
Indefinite homeworking would have Mad Men’s enigmatic Don Draper turning in his grave. He didn’t go into advertising to spend more time with his own wife.
Parks and Recreation’s reluctant bureaucrat Ron Swanson would go back to the office, because what kind of libertarian serves government in his home?
READ: Commentary: Immobility during COVID-19 and its effects on our sleep, physical activity and well-being
The trainee bankers would want to be seen twiddling with PowerPoint fonts at 3am. The dysfunctional dynasty of Succession would rather be at work where they can openly hate their immediate family, than at home where they have to pretend to like them.
Meanwhile, if mafioso Tony Soprano was open to remote-working, his wife Carmela would have been clear about bloodstains on the upholstery.
This may suggest that those keenest to return to the workplace are the weird ones.
That’s the point. You reclaim the office, or you cede it to the sociopaths.
Safety in numbers, as the accountants might say.