What Jacob Rees Mogg really got wrong about working from the office

One of the challenges of taking part in The Great Work Conversation is swerving alignments with the wrong people. It’s easy enough to call out the crusty, passive aggressive notes apparently left by Lord Bufton Tufton on the desks of civil service drones. But it’s equally easy to find yourself tarred with the same brush if you dare to suggest not everybody is about to cocoon themselves in a bedroom forever or swap all they have for a life trundling from place to place in a dormobile, exchanging work for tokens.

Challenging the core narrative of the debate remains a problem. Faulty ideas such as The Great Resignation are so well-laundered that any conversation about work must either accept them or begin with a challenge. And pointing out that The Great Resignation is a phenomenon localised by geography, sector, occupation, age, sex and class can easily see you lumped into the wrong side of the conversation. Old man yells at Cloud.

The underlying problem with the tedious and enduring fixation of those who would reduce it all to home v office is that any such debate fails to address the real issue. The problem isn’t really the place of work at all. It’s the nature of work, and always was. What has happened over the past two years is that people dissatisfied with the nature of work have been handed the chance to express their dissatisfaction.

Rob Harris expands on this in one of his recent thought pieces which explores the way we overemphasise place and the focus we maintain on measuring and managing what are essentially abstract characteristics of work.

“We could continue measuring the hardware for another few decades, but it will not lead to increased satisfaction. Workers will continue to reflect dissatisfaction with work, management and culture through the proxies of layout, furniture and temperature… As the supply industry gears up to create ‘workplace experience’ as a means of competing with working from home, we need to recognise that no amount of experience will overcome antipathy for traditional management structures. In this respect, workplace satisfaction is a chimera.”

Which brings us to the story of a Japanese café that has gone viral in recent days, because it ‘won’t let’ working customers leave until they can prove they have finished the piece of work they came in to complete. It’s interesting to contrast how this story has been received with how it might have been received if Omnicorp had announced a similar policy for people in its offices.

The difference between the two is not primarily about where this is all taking place. It’s about autonomy, including the paradoxical choice to have restrictions imposed on us. That is what Lord Bufton Tufton really got wrong with his stupid note.

Image: Toffs and Toughs, 1937 by Jimmy Sime