The boss of Boots is right to end home working for office staff - Sarah Todd

All credit to Boots CEO Seb James for having the bottle to rip off the sticking plaster of the pharmacy’s office staff still working from home, goodness knows how many years after the Covid pandemic.

Under his new rule, there will be no working from home for the company’s administrative office staff in London, Nottingham and Surrey from September 1.

If Mr James, who took over the reins at the high street pharmacy in 2018, successfully pulls the plug on homeworking he should be co-opted onto a taskforce to sort out the Home Office, where it was reported in February that less than half of its desks were in use because of continued home working.

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Of course, there must be some sympathy for the upheaval getting back into the office will bring for the pharmacy chain’s 3,900 administrative staff. Transport, childcare and so-on are all undoubted hiccoughs that will need to be soothed.

A branch of Boots on Oxford Street, central London. PIC: PAA branch of Boots on Oxford Street, central London. PIC: PA
A branch of Boots on Oxford Street, central London. PIC: PA

But for too long now, the home working brought about by covid has cast a shadow. Have you ever tried, for example, getting hold of a real-life human being at the likes of the DVLA or the Tax Office? As a nation, we have been fobbed off with “for further information contact us online” and then waiting a month or so for the system to maybe forward something on to somebody sitting in their slippers.

It's not just Government departments and big businesses that need to get a grip on the havoc that over-reliance on online communication causes. Schools need shaking out of it. Online learning was a lifeline during the pandemic, but such a shock to hear from a friend the other day that her son’s school has never brought back the traditional parents’ evening.

Why not? The things that can be learnt in a school’s assembly hall, looking into the eyes of Mr or Miss whoever can never be replicated across a moment or two’s stilted online chat. A price can’t be put on that subtle interaction. Just brief nuances, a little hesitation here or there when talking about Little Jimmy can open up a whole can of worms - and get it sorted.

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Homework being submitted online and never actually marked in a real-life exercise book that children can go back and revise from, has been another post covid nail in the coffin of education.

Covid has, let’s face it, been a cop out for so many. This chap who is in charge at Boots, Seb James, is spot on saying that catch ups in the office are much better than the “enforced formality of remote meetings”.

Everybody can brush their hair and talk the talk over a 30-minute online meeting, but what about the rest of the time? The ideas that spark over sharing a sandwich, or the extra support colleagues can offer during down times. It’s not all about productivity.

In fact, in this writer’s experience, it was always easier to clock off from a buzzing newsroom than at home, where it is increasingly impossible not to be on duty all hours.

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Disappearing to the pub after work was a right of passage for any young reporter worth their salt and, yes, times have changed. But those nuggets shared by older hacks in macs over a drink across a smoky tap room table have been invaluable over the last 30 years.

In all seriousness, how on earth do new recruits learn the tricks of the trade of whatever industry they are in nowadays if they don’t actually really speak to each other.

No one ever really communicates in the modern workplace, it’s all one-line emails. Carefully crafted for fear of breaching some sensitivity or other.

Forget the forced camaraderie of expensive team building away days. Nothing beats the shared secret at the kettle (they are a rarity these days because of health and safety) or even a bit of a telling off. Taken on the chin rather than revisited and festered over on a computer screen. Learnt from and got over.

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Finally, a nod to somebody that has been met in real-life only once or twice over the last 20-odd years. Not because he is a faceless figure tapping away at a computer keyboard, but because our milkman drops the milk and The Yorkshire Post off long before we have even thought about getting out of bed.

Thankfully, a new couple are set to take over delivering the milk from Ian and Angela (who were grass-roots rural heroes of the pandemic) as they enjoy their well-deserved retirement.

Now, thinking aloud about all these employees returning to the workplace, what a wonderful way to make new friends in the office - take in a freshly delivered pint of milk and newspaper for everyone to enjoy…

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