RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: Remote staff to suffer from lack of human contact

RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: Sorry snowflakes but WFH isn’t working… Remote staff will suffer from lack of human contact, a friendly hand on the shoulder, and a quiet word in their shell-like when they screw up

On my desktop, as I write, there’s a faded black-and-white photo taken in the editor’s office at London’s Evening Standard, circa 1980.

In the foreground are two formidable Fleet Street figures, editor Charles Wintour and political editor Bob Carvel, both then in their mid-60s.

Behind, a row of senior executives with decades of newspaper experience between them.

Lurking in the background, half hidden, is a fresh-faced hack with a dodgy moustache, wondering what the hell he was doing there.

Yes, folks, it’s your Uncle Rich, aged 26, newly appointed deputy news editor, and hopelessly out of his depth.

Where’s the wally? Uncle Rich (sporting a moustache) at the Evening Standard, circa 1980

When I arrived in the Street of Shame in 1979, after eight years in the provinces, I thought I’d cracked it.

It took me about five minutes to realise that, like Manuel in Fawlty Towers, I knew nothing.

Back then, Fleet Street was a bustling industrial village dating back to 1500, when the first printing press was installed.

Some of the characters seemed to have been around since the Great Fire.

There was one celebrated crime reporter who claimed to have covered every siege since Troy.

What I learned from those seasoned old hands was invaluable, not just at work but in the pub, too.

I drank in their every word, every tall tale, every triumph and every cock-up.

You couldn’t buy that kind of education.

It’s fair to say without that grounding I would never have enjoyed the career I’m lucky still to have today.

The only reason I’m telling you this is that my heart sank when I read that a majority of 18 to 34-year-olds think they don’t have to be in an office full-time to learn what they need to get on in life.

According to a survey of 4,500 young adults, more than half said they’d turn down any job which didn’t offer flexible working.

According to a survey of 4,500 young adults, more than half of 18 to 34-year-olds said they’d turn down any job which didn’t offer flexible working

They believe they are perfectly well equipped already to work from home as they choose.

They’re not.

OK, so they might have the headsets and all the latest electronic gadgetry.

They may have fancy diplomas and qualifications and have devoured the theory and practice manuals.

What they lack is human contact, a friendly hand on the shoulder, a quiet word in their shell-like when they screw up from someone who has been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

They are undoubtedly missing out on the kind of knowledge you pick up by osmosis through proximity to others, not just in some brainstorming session in an office but over a glass or three after hours.

And when push comes to shove it will cost them promotion, too, as their bosses will quite naturally favour more committed young thrusters who can be bothered to get out of bed every morning and turn up in the office.

Littlejohn: What they lack is human contact, a friendly hand on the shoulder, a quiet word in their shell-like when they screw up from someone who has been there, done that, got the T-shirt

The pandemic has fostered a culture of entitlement, the notion that it is now the right of every employee to decide where and when they should work.

Even many of those who are now dribbling back to the office are doing so grudgingly.

We’re seeing the emergence of the so-called TW*Ts, who only drag themselves in on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

The Prime Minister addressed this new phenomenon at the CBI conference yesterday.

‘I know there are some people who think that working habits have been remade by the pandemic,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to be dogmatic about it, but I have my doubts.

‘There are sound evolutionary reasons why mother nature does not like working from home.’

Amen to that.

But if Boris is serious he could start by ordering bone-idle civil servants back to their offices immediately. Whitehall is still a virtual ghost town.

If private firms believe they can work flexibly without disrupting services they offer to customers, that’s a matter for them.

I’m not convinced, though, judging by the infuriating ‘high level of calls due to Covid’ mentality which John Humphrys wrote about in Saturday’s Mail.

But to paraphrase that famous 1979 General Election slogan: ‘Whitehall Isn’t Working’.

Littlejohn: If Boris is serious he could start by ordering bone-idle civil servants back to their offices immediately

Neither is the Passport Office, the DVLA, the Home Office, or practically any other government department you care to mention.

That, as the Mail on Sunday revealed recently, hasn’t stopped the Civil Service Club being fully booked at the weekends as members come up to London for dinner and a show.

Nor have the TW*Ts been deterred from venturing into town on Friday nights, either, if the evidence of London’s bustling West End is anything to go by.

If they can pile in to pubs, clubs, restaurants and theatres at the weekend, they can at least have the decency to get back to their desks.

As for reluctant snowflakes, millennials and 30-somethings old enough to know better, they might actually learn something if they can be fagged to crawl out from behind their laptops and engage with their more experienced colleagues.

I wouldn’t have missed my early Fleet Street years for the world. And I’ve got the pictures and memories to prove it.

What will the modern generation of young workshy refuseniks have to show for it — a sad selfie and a lifetime of regret? For their sakes, I sincerely hope not.

The Met Office says we’re in for a mild winter.

The BBC’s weather unit predicts a big freeze. Whatever happens, they’ll blame it on ‘climate change’.

But if they can’t agree on what the next three months will bring, why should we take any notice of what they say is going to happen in 30 years? 

The CBI? Makes you proud to be British… 

The head of the Confederation of British Industry yesterday delivered a damning indictment of free market capitalism.

Why doesn’t that surprise me? In my decade as an industrial correspondent, the CBI was wrong about pretty much everything.

It’s never been a gung-ho free market organisation. The CBI speaks for giant corporations, not fast-moving smaller enterprises.

It hasn’t really moved on since the days of Edward Heath, who thought the country could be run by a cosy tripartite consensus drawn up by government, big business and the unions. Look how that turned out.

The CBI opposed the Thatcher reforms and has always been ferociously pro-EU, which favours large multi-national cartels.

It should have dropped the ‘British’ bit donkey’s years ago.

Back in the 1980s, at a CBI conference in Glasgow, the chairman of Dunlop took to the stage wearing a kilt and waving a giant Union Jack.

Shortly afterwards, he flogged the company to the Japanese.

The RAF has called on the U. S. to help find a £120 million F-35B stealth bomber which has been lost a mile below the surface after crashing into the Mediterranean.

If you lose your iPhone, Apple can pinpoint it anywhere in the world in seconds.

So how come the air force can’t locate this plane? Still, I suppose it proves that the stealth technology actually works.


Since this seems to have turned out to be a Memory Lane column, we might as well make a day of it. I’ve been watching my childhood flash in front of me lately.

On Saturday I read the obituary of Denise Bryer, who has died aged 93.

She was the voice of Little Weed in the Flowerpot Men; Noddy in The Adventures Of Noddy; Twizzle, in The Adventures Of, er, Twizzle; and Jake in my favourite, Four Feather Falls. I hadn’t realised until now that Sheriff Tex Tucker had been voiced by Denise Bryer’s then husband, Nicholas Parsons.

Presumably, without hesitation, deviation or repetition.

Then yesterday it was reported that the original puppets of Sooty and Sweep had been sold at auction for £5,750. Sweep actually went for more than Sooty. It’s the end of an era.

Bye, bye, everybody. Bye, bye . . .

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