Last week, Germany's Deutsche Bank shocked the world by suggesting that people who work from home should be saddled with an additional 5 per cent daily tax to help those who, for whatever reason, are unable to work from home.
The suggestion is part of a series of "controversial proposals" tabled in a Deutsche Bank report on how to rebuild the economy following Covid-19, and, in my opinion, could not have come at a worse time.
The International Monetary Fund's World Economic Outlook predicts the global economy will contract 3 per cent within the next year, and that the cumulative loss to the global GDP from 2020 to 2021 will be about $9 trillion - that's more than the combined economies of Germany and Japan.
And while the southern hemisphere is currently in Covid-remission, the consequences of a stop-start economy are very much still present, even in a country as well managed and prepared for a public health disaster as New Zealand.
Under the stewardship of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand has managed to weather the pandemic better than most countries. However, its response - which follows a clear elimination strategy - has come with a significant cost to the nation's economy.
New Zealand is currently experiencing its deepest recession in decades, with the country's GDP shrinking by 12.2 per cent between April and June as the lockdown and border closures hit.
According to New Zealand's Treasury department, the number of unemployed people since March has increased by 31,000 while the number in the potential labour force has increased by 10,000.
To suggest that we should be taxing remote workers at a time when most of the world is still battling the pandemic is at best short-sighted and at worst, an attack on a more inclusive world at work.
For years, progressive employers have championed workplace flexibility after seeing the benefits: a happier, more engaged and diverse workforce, not to mention the huge economic benefits (I calculated that remote team members account for less than 20 per cent of the $15,000 a year it costs to employ a full-time worker in an office).
Now, with Covid-19 inducing the world's largest work-from-home experiment, it has resolved the biggest issue for employers still wedded to the 9-5, in-office idea of work: that out-of-sight does not translate to out-of-mind, and that working from home does not signal the end of productivity and excellence.
In fact, it has proven the opposite: studies show that more than two-thirds of workers say they are more productive when working from home, and one in three believe it makes them less stressed.
Government statistics show that in New Zealand alone, more than 40 per cent of employed people did at least some of their work from home during the lockdown. Labour market statistics manager Andrew Neal said that almost half (48 per cent) of those who worked from home during the June quarter had never worked from home before, and that it largely included women, people aged in their mid-30s upwards, people of European ethnicity.
This indicates that far from being a cost-saving mechanism for 'privileged' white-collar workers, remote working has allowed women (who unfortunately still bear the lion's share of care responsibilities) to better integrate their personal lives into their professional lives, as well as enabling young professionals in their 30s and 40s (and young parents) to have a better work-life balance.
Moreover, I can only imagine how people living with disabilities might feel at the idea of paying tax for their so-called remote work 'privilege.'
The report's premise that you're saving so much money just because you're working from home does not fully stack up. Yes, remote workers do benefit from more convenience and flexibility, and they save money on commuting, takeaway lunches or buying and dry cleaning clothes. But they also pay more for electricity, air conditioning, water and gas.
Demonising one demographic at the expense of the other not only makes no sense, but it's in poor taste considering that so many people remain un- and under-employed. Remote work guarantees a large number of people access to a job, and in a once-in-a-lifetime economic depression, that means invaluable security.
Lastly but not least, a tax on the wealthy already exists: it is called a graduated (or progressive) tax system for individuals.
This means that the amount of tax you pay is dependent on the amount of income you earn during the financial year.
Discouraging people to work from home is counter-productive at a time when so many businesses and workers are being sustained by government support.
Now is the time to look ahead at a world that is more inclusive, equitable, connected and environmentally sustainable - remote work allows us to achieve that and it should be celebrated, not taxed.
- Ben Thompson, CEO and co-founder of people management platform, Employment Hero