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Mike Clancy is the General Secretary of the Prospect trades union.

If the Government wants to learn one lesson in the aftermath of the local elections, it should be to start trusting workers. Covid-19 inflicted an unprecedented shock to the UK economy. Its repercussions are far from over.

But it could have been far, far worse. This was not another Great Depression. Unemployment was contained. Businesses came through.

At the heart of the government’s response was partnership between unions, businesses, and ministers that delivered the furlough scheme and help for self-employed workers. Trade unions like Prospect helped shape these lifeline schemes in partnership with the Government.

But equally important was the ingenuity and flexibility shown by British firms and their employees as they responded and adapted. Cutting-edge technologies and newly acquired skillsets enabled new operating models and ways of working that meant customers could still be served. Ambitious goals were delivered, and disruption was minimised as far as possible.

There are lessons to be learned from this, some practical and some political, as we return to the economic and policy challenges that pre-dated this pandemic and which have not disappeared: challenges of raising productivity, levelling up living standards, and improving quality of life for all.

Yet too often, the narrative sounds like the Government have forgotten what was achieved and aim to pretend nothing has changed. Back to the office, back to the nine-to-five, back to measuring our commitment and contribution not by the outcomes we secure, but the regularity and visibility of physical presence.

The reality is that flexibility has been enjoyed most by those in professional and middle-class jobs – the very people who have been the cornerstone of the Conservative Party’s support for decades – and many of whom abandoned the Conservative Party at last week’s elections.

It would be a huge opportunity for the government to ignore the desire to improve working lives, not only for the UK economy, but for a Conservative Party that claims to be on the side of prosperity. Accusing people who work some of the time or predominantly from home of being idle may seem like a good play for some voters. But I would suggest that it risks alienating many in traditionally Tory towns across England who will want to lock in the improvements to their working lives that some degree of home working has brought.

The world of work is changing, expectations are changing, and politicians need to keep up. Here are some thoughts on how:

1. This needs to not be about where we sit, but rather about flexibility in the round. It’s too often forgotten that most jobs simply can’t be done from home – and it’s all too telling that these workers are invisible in this debate – be they care workers, factory operatives, or professionals such as field engineers.

But we need to be talking about how they can also better combine work with domestic and caring responsibilities – not least if we want to raise workforce participation rates and open these careers up to the widest possible pool of available talent. Extending flexibility and choice from a minority of private sector professionals to the full range of jobs and careers in our economy could have a transformative effect on quality of life and drive economic opportunities throughout the country.

2. We need to move on from superficial anecdotes and opinion-trading to take an honest look at the evidence. The latest update from the CIPD finds that flexible working options are becoming increasingly normalised, driven by employers looking to attract and retain loyal and skilled workers.

On the productivity impacts of working from home during the pandemic, an academic review of recent research studies revealed a mixed picture, including findings that usefully challenge almost any preconception or prejudice.

At least some of the productivity gains of homeworking appear to result from the extension of working days into what was formerly commuting time. Some of the risks to productivity result from the stresses of blurred boundaries and “always on” culture, an issue Prospect has been vocal on.

In truth this is still an evolving experiment. Workers and organisations are likely to become better skilled and better equipped at working remotely over time; equally, the longer-term costs to innovation, collaboration and organisational learning of lost face-to-face interactions may take time to emerge.

But the latest ONS survey data shows over 30 percent of private sector businesses (weighted by staff numbers) planning or considering increased homeworking as a model going forward – and over half in sectors like information and communication or professional services. Our experience is that, where they can, the most intelligent employers are exploring hybrid models that balance remote working with co-location as part of a wider flexibility package – and, crucially, keeping an open mind about what they may learn.

3. That’s why this needs to be an ongoing, nuanced, and inclusive conversation between employers and their workforces – which trade unions can help facilitate and contribute to, and that Government should not seek to foreclose with simplistic top-down diktats.

Negotiation and adaptation got us through the pandemic, and it offers the best route to rebuilding our competitiveness and prosperity. If we get this right, it can be a win-win-win – for white-collar professionals living in suburban or rural areas; for families, communities and local economies more dependent on jobs in manufacturing, retail or care; and for businesses looking to develop a skilled, flexible and adaptable workforce.