The high cost of remote working – Telegraph.co.uk

The dossier of evidence submitted to MPs by the whistleblower Raphael Marshall paints an extraordinary picture of institutional chaos at the Foreign Office at the height of the flight from Afghanistan. While British troops were risking their lives on the ground in Kabul and the ambassador, Sir Laurie Bristow, remained behind to process visa applications, Mr Marshall says that employees back in the UK were not expected to work any more than eight hours a day, in the middle of one of the greatest foreign policy disasters of the past 50 years.

Moreover, Mr Marshall contends that staff shortages were exacerbated by communication problems caused by home-working, with a commitment to work-life balance hampering organisational effectiveness. The system for processing refugees descended into disarray and emails to the Foreign Office inbox were left unread. Some of those unable to escape Kabul were almost certainly killed by the Taliban.

The former foreign secretary Dominic Raab has called Mr Marshall a junior member of staff who did not have a full grasp of the situation. That the Foreign Office was afflicted by organisational confusion, however, seems incontrovertible. Why else was the Army brought in to help? But it is senior mandarins, not just ministers, who need to take responsibility for what, above all, appear to be alarming failures of management.

In the case of home-working, for months it has been clear that, although some employees may feel that they benefit from the arrangements, the costs can be enormous in terms of organisational coherence. Across the public sector, despite record government spending, the service provided to the public has been poor.

Now there are indications that home-working will be required again for the rest of the economy in order to curb the spread of the omicron variant. Suffice to say, this would be a mistake. Proponents talk about it as if it were a minor matter, but as many companies will attest, the result can be progressively declining productivity and poor morale – particularly among younger workers. It would also devastate city centres that have only just begun to recover from previous lockdowns.

If we are to learn to live with Covid, swathes of human activity cannot be shut down just because a new variant has arisen. There is a case for caution, but it has to be proportionate.

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