The Home-Working Revolution Will Derail the White Collar Gravy Train

"The upper middle classes are blissfully unaware that they are sitting on the same ticking timebomb that detonated under blue-collar Britain 50 years ago"


Complacent office workers don’t realise that their jobs can now be done by anyone, anywhere in the world

Britain’s upper-middle-class professionals cannot believe their luck. They have, once again, emerged as the great winners from a crisis: ensconced in spare rooms, they are coping so well with the Zoom economy that they want to make it the new normal.

Working from home (or WFH in corporatese) is easier than they previously realised, allowing greater flexibility while saving time and money once wasted on commutes and overpriced sandwiches. No wonder that most bankers, lawyers, consultants, accountants, marketers, tech workers and other office staff don’t want to go back to the five-day commute, and many employers plan to save a fortune by obliging them.

Alison Rose, Natwest’s boss, is the most recent business leader to describe a “hybrid” future: smaller offices to bring people together, train newcomers and buttress corporate culture, combined with extensive home working. The likes of Facebook plan to be even more radical, allowing many workers to live wherever they like but adjusting salaries downwards for living costs.

The digitisation of the economy is being drastically accelerated by Covid, paving the way for the emergence of the first $2 trillion tech companies.

But this semi-utopian lifestyle revolution, the greatest upheaval in working practices since word processors became ubiquitous in the Eighties, is for a minority. Lockdown has been experienced very differently by blue collar workers in factories and construction, by shop staff, delivery drivers, gym instructors, doctors, nurses and millions of others. Not for them the delights of what the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) calls the Loungewear Economy.

For the majority in Covid Britain, it’s been a case of working throughout, being furloughed or losing their jobs in the most devastating economic calamity in a generation. The great class pide is now between those who can work remotely, up to 40 per cent of the total according to LEK Consulting, and those who cannot – or so the self-satisfied, upper-middle-class office workers have convinced themselves.

They shouldn’t rejoice too soon. When pushed to its logical conclusion, the working from home phenomenon has the potential to annihilate the middle class’s vice-like grip on the best jobs. Their bid to commute less will cost the jobs of hundreds of thousands of support staff, sandwich shop assistants, security guards and public transport workers. But they, it turns out, will have the last laugh.

Covid shows that proximity needn’t matter as much. That is great for wealthy commuters in the short term, allowing them to relocate from £1.5 million shoeboxes in Battersea to mansions in Bromsgrove. But if workers can be anywhere, why limit oneself to the UK?

If London-based employers can hire people who live in Newcastle, Manchester or Sheffield, why not Australia, Bangalore or Poland? If workers no longer need to sit cheek-by-jowl in central office locations all of the time, legal and immigration barriers to recruiting foreign workers fall away. It becomes easier to employ Romanian-based IT staff rather than UK-based developers, even when the costs of occasional Ryanair flights and Travelodge stays to the office are accounted for.

This will spectacularly derail the middle-class gravy train. Until now, upper-middle-class professionals had remained shielded from one aspect of globalisation – production and jobs transferred to cheaper, lower-pay locations – while enjoying another – earning more by selling globally. This explains why City wages have shot up, while those of unskilled people have fallen. Working from home means that the great protective barrier cossetting office workers has been ripped away.

Suddenly, every office worker is competing with every other office worker in the world, at least those who speak adequate English. The outsourcing of support staff was an early sign of things to come. The CEBR calculates that the post-virus equilibrium will mean 25-30 per cent of the workforce working from home on any one day, compared with 11.9 per cent in 2019. But where, and in which country, will “home” be? Millions more jobs have become exportable.

In the short term, it’s lower-paid workers who will lose: Shore Capital estimates that up to a quarter of the time office workers were based in urban centres will now be spent in suburbs, meaning more home cooking and a 20-30 per cent decline in restaurants. But having a job that must be based in Britain will become an advantage. This is good for surgeons and plumbers, but not for bankers, HR personnel or architects.

There are many other ways in which the middle classes will be disrupted. Working from home requires stricter supervision to make sure people deliver; this will weed out not just the bluffers, presenteeists and con artists, but also non-jobs in “woke corporations”. There will be a redistribution of power from extroverts to introverts, from those with good verbal skills to those with better writing abilities. Empathy will be valued more highly as face-to-face communication diminishes.

The new order will be bad for the upper-middle-class Left-illiberal consensus, too. The globalisation of the jobs market will destroy the idea that trade inevitably focuses on neighbouring regions – the anti-Brexit “gravity model” will be disproved.

The working-from-home revolution will also sprinkle champagne socialists into Tory areas, making urban refugees less Left-wing (by tackling the economic cause of their discontent, including house prices) and exposing them to other ideas and values. It will level up towns, villages and rural areas, bolster home-ownership and car transport, and bankrupt public transport.

Countries will need to work harder to remain attractive. World-class internet will be crucial, as will larger homes. Hiking taxes will become intolerable – in a world of unprecedented economic mobility, jobs will simply vanish if states seek to fleece taxpayers – and there will be an extra premium on good schools. The Government will need to reform universities to ditch useless courses.

The upper middle classes are blissfully unaware that they are sitting on the same ticking timebomb that detonated under blue-collar Britain 50 years ago.

They’d better enjoy their work-life balance while it lasts.

Source: The Telegraph

  1. MrRedwoodGuy . says

    Work at home, tethered to email, cell phones and zoom, is a bear trap. Workers will discover they are essentially “on call” 24/7.

    I was first alerted too this in the early 90s. I came in to the office one Monday morning, and the boss says anxiously, “Don’t you ever check your email, or voicemail? I sent you an important message Sunday morning from Joe in Atlanta….blah, blah, blha.” He was incredulous that on my weekend, I hadn’t read and responded to an email, nor had I checked by voice mail! Anyone who has worked from home probably knows that story.

    More generally, as human population grows, the need for human labor is shrinking. Nothing will stop artificial labor or artificial intelligence. Industry relentlessly reduces cost and shifts all consequence to governments, who are intellectually, and systematically unprepared, and unorganized to take that role. Governments are working on 200 year old problems, and not even managing that very well.

    1. Anne says

      And this includes legal work (lawyers etc) and Medical work (doctors)…with high speed reliable internet such as MRIs, X-Rays and whatnot can be sent across oceans in milliseconds, read and reported on by much lower cost medical staff (or by other computers)…Much legal work can probably be performed by computers/AI… Banking… all of those cushy, bourgeois employments – Pouf! And not before time, either.

      1. MrRedwoodGuy . says

        Having just experience my first two “zoom” visits with my doctor in the last few months, I can see the problems that loom ahead, and it ain’t pretty. The step from remote human doctor to “digital avatar doctor” is a very, very small step.

        1. Anne says

          I didn’t have any zoom visits with the doctor – but three “Telephone” ones. Hmmmm…no checks on one’s BP (despite my being high – oh but wait that might be put down to “White Coat Syndrome”!), temp, weight or anything else Physical, measure-able. Nope.

          The “visits” weren’t to do with such, but what does that matter? HOW are they going to monitor (to the limited extent that they do, anyway) one’s basic health via the telephone or internet??? Total bullshit.

          1. MrRedwoodGuy . says

            I suppose my doctor of many years now, might sense or see something serious – a massive goiter, let’s say. But, it’s not at all what I am accustomed to from this doctor, who has years of blood tests, BP readings, bone scans, Xrays, and so on.

            As it was presented to me, “this is temporary.” We’ll see!
            As I see the future now, I’m happy to be 72 and not 22.

            1. Anne says

              Moi aussi (age). And since my husband died I do not give a flying F***, but there are millions out there who will. Even assuming (Ha!) that they can even afford to see a doctor.

              mind you, given the reality of my late husband’s really existing experience with his PCp (NOT that we knew), the fact is that in person or online or by telephone – their presumptions, prejudices, perceptions are the way they estimate your health risks.

              Thus in my husband’s case, despite his being a type 1 diabetic (not believed by his last PCP), and having many causes for immune-inflammatory responses, – he was slender, lean, muscular (we ran 6 days a week; he weight lifted three days a week, we ate healthily, he didn’t smoke) and so not considered at risk for the very ‘PROBLEM” that killed him: a STEMI heart attack. PCPs are, in Brit terminology: Thickos.

            2. MrRedwoodGuy . says

              Ouch. Sorry to say, the only think I know about British PCPs is *cough cough* what I learned watching Doc Martin.

              My own circumstances might be the opposite. I have about 6 doctors, and 5 are highly specialized, with one “internist” which is officially my PCP. For some unusual reasons, I have access to what has been very competent care. And yes, I consider it a massive blessing and good fortune.

              Thanks for the interesting story. Such losses are awful.

  2. Undecider says

    WFH will also put into question vaccines. If people aren’t onsite intermixing, there’s no need to be “immunised.”

    1. Guest says

      Please do not tell Bill Gates the good news.
      He’ll just “invent ” a new virus to attack AI

  3. Rowdy-Yates says

    There is a looming problem for work-at-home that is already been covered in some tech websites and that is security of data. Home environments cannot provide the security for companies to protect information.

    What will happen is that thousands of work-at-home in America will be outsourced to companies in Asia that can provide the security and do it cheaper than Americans working at home. Security of data and computer hacking are the excuses that will be used to remove these jobs from home environments which are highly unstable and unpredictable and move them to companies.

    Another problem is that many of these workers are demanding compensation for the utility costs incurred while working at home. they are also demanding that the pay and benefits remain about the same with only a small drop. The overall cost of shipping these jobs to cheaper more secure locations will hit work-at-home in America. It could be simply a phase

  4. cechas vodobenikov says

    anglo automatons have already been infected by robot thinking/feeling—covid cocktails for all

  5. Grand Nagus Zek says

    all interesting points, but as someone who works from home in tech I can say that high-end developer jobs will still be around and available
    and automation will also cause serious issues for lesser-skilled positions, as it will for some higher-skilled.
    narrow AI is moving fast, as are robotics-driven logistics and automated goods transportation.
    We’re in the middle of great changes in this area and the writer’s perspective is OK, but narrow.

    1. Geronimo says

      Developing for whom? Future Indian and Chinese customers who have the wealth? This means roles will be reversed and the Angllo world will become cheap, buy one get one free developer workers?? Or; AI takes over and all of UK will be on social security watching soap/porn/telesales…while smoking pot??

    2. disqus_3BrONUAJno says

      AI will never replace paying human customers.

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