We are all meant to see the rise in remote working as a good thing, and in many ways I do. We’ve all spent too long commuting and being at home has been good for family relationships. It is particularly good for anyone who cares for someone else.
But I worry about what it means for young people’s experience of work. Over and over again in my pre-politics career it was often the very basic things that we taught young people that they most appreciated, things middle-aged adults often take for granted. What to wear in the workplace. How to shake hands. How to make eye contact without staring. How to project confidence.
These are things that might feel obvious – but none of us were born knowing them. You learnt them at home, at school or, in most cases, by being at work. And for disadvantaged young people, in particular, they often have to learn to behave in a different way to the way they do at school or at home.
For example, they’ll often avoid eye contact on a bus or in the street as they don’t want to get into an aggressive situation, but if they do that in a workplace, they will be seen as rude or aloof. They don’t shake the hands of their families or teachers very often, so their first handshakes are often either too limp or bone-crushing.
Then there are the more complicated things, like what exactly terms like ‘commercial awareness’ mean. You really can’t get a good understanding of these from a website – again, you need to be in the workplace.
At the moment, organisations in the public, private and third sectors are rushing to enable people to work from home. Some are even selling their offices because they don’t think they will need them anymore. Rarely are younger workers considered in these decisions. Three and a half million single young adults still live with their parents and the average age for getting your foot on the property ladder is 32 (34 inside London). Working from home for this group often means working from your bedroom.
It’s not just that they lack space. If you think about the key working lessons you’d want to pass onto someone, I bet hardly any of them came while watching a PowerPoint presentation. They’ll have come from watching, asking questions of and being given advice by more senior colleagues.
Recent polling found 74% of those aged 18-34 years old feel working from home has hindered their progression in the workplace and 48% have felt isolated or undervalued. I’m not surprised. We need employers to think about their younger workers and not just their older ones.