Lockdown maths

Lockdown maths

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Despite all the generally (and understandably) negative newsflow about Coronavirus, one of the outcomes of the government-mandated two-metre lateral separation is that many people who routinely carried out their jobs in a particular way have had to adapt to operating differently.

While a fair proportion of the UK’s workforce is furloughed and apparently taking the opportunity to catch up on their gardening, learn a musical instrument or a new language, a substantial proportion of the workforce is still functioning much as normal by working remotely, including your scribe.  Indeed, for those who are used to working from home, the benefits of being able to get up in daylight and return in time to eat at a civilised hour while still putting in a productive working day can provide a more appealing work-life balance than they enjoyed previously.

I was recently chatting to a friend who lives out in Wiltshire and we discovered a further benefit.  His employer has so far retained all its staff and most are working from home despite a previously strongly held view from senior management that this wasn’t effective.  After some initial teething troubles (a substantial part of the day for the first couple of weeks was taken up with a variety of online meetings which mostly consisted of participants relating their own experiences of queuing and being unable to buy toilet roll or pasta), people settled down and most managed to be as productive (or not) as they had been before.

One of the things that my friend was able to do though was to assess the impact on his finances of working from home.  He had previously worked five days a week, of which typically three were spent in the London office and two at home.  On the days when he travelled to London, which were sometimes consecutive, he found that he spent around 13 hours travelling and working, after which he had a couple of hours to make and eat dinner before going to bed.

Allowing for 20 days holiday a year, his salary worked out to around £185 per day after tax and national insurance payments.  On the days when he travelled to London, car parking at the station, train and Underground fares accounted for £120 of this, leaving him with effective compensation of around £65 for his 13-hour day.  This is the first time he’s calculated this but it suddenly became apparent why, despite earning almost twice the UK average, his bank balance never seemed to increase much over the year.

Some weeks he therefore tried staying in town, which at least reduced the travel time but meant that he had to spend his evenings hunting for hotels that were sufficiently close to work and quiet enough that he could get some sleep.  Of course he also had to pay London prices for dinner.  As anyone who has stayed in London recently will appreciate, there is not always much of a choice of hotels at under £185 a night.  Anything more than that would mean effectively paying to go to work.  And he doesn’t love his job that much.

Unsurprisingly, he found that working from home was not only less stressful but also economically considerably more fruitful.  In fact we calculated that he has saved nearly £4,000 in travel costs since the Prime Minister advised everyone in late March to “work from home if at all possible”.  Admittedly he has had to have the heating on for a little longer and he has been drinking his own rather than his employer’s coffee but that’s equivalent to more than four weeks’ net pay saved. 

And he is less tired, less stressed and has a more relaxing time at the weekends as well as being able to get his garden in good shape.  As well as being welcome to his family, it also means that he is more effective when working as he starts work shortly after eating a cooked breakfast rather than two hours after chomping his way through a bowl of cereal and then spending two hours crammed into public transport.

When the lockdown finally ends and he is able to return to an office environment, the fact that he has actually been more effective while working from home is likely to stand him in good stead when it comes to negotiating how frequently he needs to do so in the future.  In fact, he has worked out that if he could reduce his working week to four days and spend one of them in the office, he would be 16% better off each year in terms of his disposable income despite earning 20% less.

I would be surprised if he is the only one thinking those thoughts.