Working (Class) From Home
Working from home is a Working Class issue, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Before the pandemic there seemed to be a view that working from home, at least within the corporate environment, was a reward. It was reserved for the skilled worker, professional occupations, and people with impressive job titles. But the pandemic has shown that working from home, at least part time, is a viable option for more people, in a much greater range of roles.
Now is the time to appreciate what mainstream working from home could be, that is: a potential game changer for the working class. Whilst there has always been some work available for working class communities in a work from home format, a lot of that can be insecure, poorly paid, or downright exploitative (looking at you ‘earn £ £ £ in your spare time’).
Mainstream adoption could however open up a whole host of other, potentially high quality, jobs in other sectors that were previously unavailable or inaccessible to people in working class communities across the UK. It can help overcome geographic barriers, addressing both the north-south divide and the disadvantages experienced in rural locations and post industrial towns. It can reduce the burden on women and single parents by allowing families to manage their family life and work. It can improve outcomes generally, allowing workers access to a greater pool of jobs, giving them greater ability to walk away from poor pay and conditions and potentially forcing bad employers to improve their practices. On the whole it could be the lifeline that traditionally working class communities, left behind and scarred by decades of heavy industry, desperately need.
In towns and rural locations up and down the UK people are experiencing the decline of employment prospects and a shrinking pool of secure employment from a decreasing number of employers. Working from home could make a meaningful difference to these communities by allowing people access to similar jobs in other areas, reducing the burden of either retraining or relocating placed upon them in the event of unemployment. It would be more appealing for people, regardless of age to pursue qualifications for industries that may be unrepresented locally, as they now have remote access to them. This would potentially also slow the rate of normal talent migration that happens as people leave for university thus helping these communities become more diverse and resilient with a broader local talent pool.
Whilst working from home has the potential to be a game changer we have to acknowledge that working from home brings different challenges for lower income families. Whilst it may give access to better work, better pay, and possibly a better future those things don’t deal with issues that are a problem now. Fibre broadband doesn’t come free and neither does the extra utilities used during the day. Having a spare room to set up as an office simply isn’t an option for many families and working at the kitchen table is a big problem when the kids finish school at three and you don’t finish until five. None of these problems are insurmountable but they do need to be taken into account by employers. Calculations about pay and discussions about how flexible working and working from home fit together shouldn’t default to positions that only work for more affluent families.
Equally discussions of working from home and its practicality, effects, and challenges shouldn’t exclude traditionally working class voices or assume it’s an issue that primarily affects the better off ‘middle class’ doing so creates divisions where there need not be any. It’s worth remembering in all of this that working for someone is just that, whether you work in a factory, spare bedroom, or at the kitchen table. Using small differences in ways of working to create division is not productive, it takes focus away from the realities of the current situation. Nurses have been offered a below inflation pay rise on the grounds of its "what we think is affordable" whilst the UK’s billionaires have increased their wealth by 35% since the start of the pandemic. Working from home won’t solve this problem, but working together can.
Dave is a Working Class writer and activist, who can be found on twitter at @omniscientdave.
We deal with the practical issues behind working from home in our argument against the “Working From Home Tax” proposed by Deutsche Bank's Konzept Magazine as part of our Reclaiming Research series, which you can find here.