'There’s a worrying new wheeze in the great work from home scam' - Kelvin MacKenzie

Person works from home in garden on sunny day

Kelvin MacKenzie fears employees could end up on holiday while employers think they are working

Kelvin Mackenzie

By Kelvin Mackenzie

Published: 22/05/2024

- 12:03

Kelvin MacKenzie fears employers are "wasting their time" as they try to encourage workers to work from the office

I don’t know the chap personally, but he’s the best friend of a long-time colleague and therefore I believe the shocking anecdote he told me when discussing working from home.

His mate, employed by a major well-known brand, seldom goes to the office but boasts that he defeats spyware put into his desktop to stop him watching sport all day, by wiggling his mouse every so often fooling the software (and his bosses) into thinking he’s working.

I’m sure there are much more cunning stories out there. I think it will only be a matter of time before you will be able to create your own avatar through AI and the company will think you are flogging yourself to death at your desk, while in fact you will be on a beach in Thailand.

So, much as I admire Sir Jim Ratcliffe, from council house to billionaire industrialist and now 25 per cent owner of Manchester United, I am not sure his order that the football club staff must return to the office full time from next month or seek ‘’alternative employment’’ will work.

His view is supported by hard data: email traffic was down 20 per cent when staff worked from home. The facts are on his side but what the hell can you do about it?

Lucy Burton, the employment editor of The Telegraph, has come across a new wheeze.

It’s called ‘’coffee badging’’.

She says it is equivalent to those disgraceful peers in the House of Lords who keep a taxi running when nipping into Parliament for ten minutes so they can claim their £300 attendance allowance.

The way it works is this: You go to work for a morning meeting, queue alongside a manager for a coffee or even start a little idle/domestic talk, and then after the meeting, simply melt away and mysteriously end up back home for lunchtime.

According to a survey by tech company Owl Labs, a third of all UK workers who are able to work flexibly, admit to ‘’coffee badging’’.

It’s not just the ‘’grunts’’ who are at it. Even the managers are just turning up for the meeting and then vanishing.

My view is that the bosses are more likely to embrace WFH as they have bigger homes and therefore more space for an office.

The companies are fighting back. Some, like Ratcliffe, are issuing orders but others are making coming to work more attractive, offering free food and drink, massages and even in-office entertainment. Magicians have never been in such demand.

My sense is that they are wasting their time. One boss told me: ’I feel like King Canute, trying to hold back the tide. Employees say they simply won’t stay with the business if I insist on five-day working.’’

One huge advantage is the money saved. An annual season ticket from Guilford, Surrey, to London’s Waterloo will cost north of £4,000 plus £10-a-day parking. Not to mention the commute which means 2.5 hours out of the day. You can see the attraction.

Civil servants at the Office for National Statistics have literally threatened to strike because they have been asked to return to the office for TWO days a week. They claim that when hired they were assured they would never have to come into the office.

I would like to see their contract of employment. I bet it doesn’t say that.

In an attempt to crack down on ‘’coffee badgers,’’ some firms have started reviewing swipe-card entries to see not only when employees enter the building, but when they leave. That may seal off that scam, but there will be others.

The boom in high street coffee shops in every town in the country is surely proof that employees are taking a break when, in the office, they would be chained to their desk.

Nor is it a coincidence there has been a boom in the membership of golf clubs and gym memberships and often it’s the bosses using the facilities.

I’m always surprised to see so many CFOs on the courts at my local tennis club.


In an era of full employment, the power lies not with the CEO who writes the pay cheque but with the employee who actually wants to continue working for your firm.

And an essential part of the terms is this: "How many days do I have to come into the office?"

I regret to say - because it will definitely affect productivity - that the five-day week is over.

I'm worried the unions will start insisting that the three-day week is too much and is affecting their members’ mental health.

I fear that, within three decades, employees will be on a no-day week and their money will be brought around to them in a Securicor van. I’m not joking.

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