Monday, October 26, 2020
Home News You want business to thrive? Then get out of the way, government!

You want business to thrive? Then get out of the way, government!

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IMAGINE if the Government interfered only with things it understood; would it have nothing to do? 

The latest ‘initiative’ from Downing Street and echoed through the mainstream media is now directed at office workers who work from home. 

Supposedly, employees are not being threatened. Instead, the narrative is something like: ‘Workers of Britain unite in offices and city centres – you have nothing to lose but your flexible working.’

Through the excesses of lockdowns and continual restrictions on our basic liberties, the Government has flipped over the chessboard and now thinks it can rearrange the pieces back as it chooses to remember. 

But the whole game has changed, and the scattered pieces simply won’t fit back the way they were. It would seem we can add the genius of Cummings and the optimism of Boris to the coronavirus death toll – several times probably, given the quality of their statistics.

Working styles have been evolving alongside the technology, with working from home trending upwards for years.  The reaction to coronavirus accelerated this trend, increasing adoption and acceptability in the Internet Age. 

For many people, the old status quo was just the best out of a set of mediocre options; so, for some office workers, working from home is a new-found freedom that governments can now restrict. 

Working from home is not for everyone or every job.  But what is for everyone?  Why have a blanket approach to anything?  And, more to the point, who takes business advice from the Government?

I work in the City of London, and I haven’t set foot in London since March.  Most people know that the City is a global financial hub, and that many businesses, not just financial, operate globally and service global clients.  I have never met most of my colleagues, so nothing has changed. 

I can contact my Zurich, Hong Kong and New York colleagues the same way from my home computer as I did when I was sitting in the office in London.  The City will remain what it always was, Britain’s hub for global commerce.  Only now the workers will log in more often from their own homes, when it suits them, the company and their clients; the same will be true for many businesses.

Like many people, I have for years supplemented my time working in the office with time working from home.  Modern open-planned offices with small desks are not conducive to getting work done; there is only so much you can actually get done in a noisy, communal environment. 

Being in the office can be a barrier to getting results; there are times and places for colleagues to be together and for them to be apart.  Working from home, you realise you are on your own time, not just showing your face, but getting your head down and showing results.

I don’t expect to return to anything like full-time working from the office and there are a lot of office workers with a similar experience.  Yes, my tailor will be disappointed that I won’t need a new suit any time soon.  My old coffee shop might miss me, and without a takeaway chicken katsu curry for lunch I’ll live, longer probably.

The customer is always right; I choose what I need and when I need it.  I buy accordingly, and the marketplace responds.  I venture that businesses in general, and the City in particular, understand markets. 

Creative destruction, spontaneous order, however you theorise, people and businesses always find a way when there is necessity and where they are not held back.

From the ashes a phoenix will rise; as long as there are customers, businesses will adapt to serve them. Technology, supply and demand change over time; for example, most people today would subscribe to Netflix, rather than pay the licence fee to be preached at by the BBC.

It is concerning that many people in the hospitality and service industry are in for a shock, as demand has greatly shrunk.  For many such workers (not just those with a university ‘education’), these jobs are shorter term, many were not likely thinking of staying put in a restaurant until retirement; I wonder how many workers were looking for a more long-term job anyway? 

Of all the things to conserve, this government has selected lunchtime eateries and pre-Internet Age working habits.  Change is hard, more so when it is forced upon people.  But no one is helped by being a denier of the reality of the changing situation. 

Even if the Government cannot, businesses will respond and adapt to new preferences and technology, and this will over time ripple through and reshape city centres, office working habits and wider supply chains; jobs will be lost and jobs will be created.

From gender pay gap statistics and race audits, to now telling people from where they can send a work email or take a phone call, governments reveal their ignorance of business and the role of government.  State control of business should have gone out of fashion with the Berlin Wall. 

People don’t go to work to ‘represent’ a particular demographic, or to ‘conserve’ a particular industry or supply chain. A job is a relationship between an individual and a business; if anything is ‘represented’ it is the individual’s need to earn money with which to create and ‘conserve’ a meaningful and responsible life.  

No wonder this all is anathema to the governing classes.  

When it comes to business, the Government’s job is really to get out of the way.

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Simon Elliott
Simon Elliott works as a consultant project manager in the City of London for a global bank, and writes in his spare time with a conservative and classical liberal perspective.

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