The government should not stand in the way of people working from home.

By Derek W Gardiner

The right has traditionally been in favour of free markets, limited government and letting the market decide. However, in recent months that ideology has been somewhat abandoned. One example of this seems to have been attitudes towards working from home. The government is set to launch a "back to the office" campaign, which will no doubt end up costing the taxpayer a few million quid. It has been surprising to me that those who I thought were avid free marketeers such as Richard Tice are now advocating a tax on people who work from home while others want to tax companies who don't bring their workers back into the office. This looks like a bad example of the government standing in the way of progress.

The coronavirus has accelerated many trends that were already happening at a slower pace regardless, for better or for worse. The moving of shopping to online delivery, apps such as zoom and skype replacing physical meetings and the automation of low skilled jobs. Due to recent advancements on technology, working from home has been become not only possible but also an innovative and more productive way of doing business.

In the past, office work was necessary when many people didn't even own a PC. Employees could often afford to live in close proximity to their workplace because the rent was cheaper. However, in recent years there has been an uptick in people working in big cities such as London and New York, making property prices in city centres soar and employees on a £20,000-£30,000 a year salary unable to afford to even rent, let alone buy, a home near their place of work. This has led to "commuter villages" being built several miles away from places of work. This couples with pedestrianisation have meant people have become overdependent on public transport. It has turned the commute into a miserable and time-wasting experience leading to exhausted and thus less productive workers and sky-high rail fares. Lockdown has shown that wasting hours on planes trains and buses, that could be spent productively, is not necessary. Why then does the government want to turn back the clock?

It is no wonder that this has not gone down well with business, several companies including Facebook and Google have simply ignored this advice and told its employees to work from home for at least another year. The British Chambers of Commerce has said that the governments' intrusion in this matter is not welcome. The fact that only three per cent of office workers are now not regularly going to the office is not just because they don't want to go back but also because their employers don't want them to go back. Many companies have seen productivity increase and costs for office space, insurance and now the requirement to make their offices "COVID secure" have decreased. It's in neither the employees nor the employers' interests to go back to an office. Yes, the government can offer incentives such as train ticket discounts for a month but rail prices are already massively overinflated, less demand at peak times will force them to cut prices.

Some legitimate concerns have been made regarding what to do with empty office space or a decrease in demand on cafes and restaurants. However, it has already been suggested that office space could be converted into flats which will be more affordable and hospitality services will continue to exist to serve these communities. Another government project fear is the last thing anyone needs right now.