Katy Guest: If you work from home, it's safer to keep your clothes on

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The Independent Online

When 50,000 civil servants were told last week that they should work from home for the duration of the Olympics, I imagine their first thought was how relieved they'll be to avoid all that annoying office etiquette. You know, like when you accidentally catch the eye of a colleague on the Tube platform in the morning and you both realise you're going to have to make small talk with each other all the way to work.

This must be what happened to Jack Straw and Rebekah Brooks back when he was Justice Secretary and she was editor of The Sun, before they eventually just gave in and arranged to sit together on their hour-long commute from Oxfordshire to London and "gossip about personalities" – as he informed the Leveson inquiry last week. It must have been those platform-spotting moments that drove them to it, because no justice secretary could ever think it appropriate to chum into work with the editor of The Sun unless it were to avoid some far greater awkwardness, surely?

One thing that seems to be worrying the public about civil servants working from home is the troubling image of them all taking conference calls in their underpants. This fear was given greater credence last week when it emerged that students at Brasenose College, Oxford have been reprimanded for turning up in the dining hall in pyjamas. This "slovenly practice" supports the theory that human society is only ever a pair of sturdy trousers away from complete anarchy.

It's bad enough on a Friday afternoon in the workplace when everybody spontaneously thinks "sod it" and takes off their shoes. Imagine if they were to go one step further and give in to this base human urge to work in their underwear. Actually, I seem to see more and more people commuting to work in their underwear these days, but I've been assuming it's because I'm getting old and that's fashion.

Annoying facts of office life include: never having the privacy to fart at liberty; having to wear a shirt and tie, even though everyone knows these items of mild torture can only ever decrease productivity; and hot desking.

In the big book of unwritten office etiquette, the canteen, of course, has several chapters all to itself. One of the most fraught of these is the coffee queue system. Because there's always a system, isn't there? A system guaranteed not to work for large groups of hierarchical, stressed people who have not yet had their morning coffee. What bliss it must be just to roll out of bed and brew your own.

The more we think about it, the more it seems that civil servants will be significantly more productive without all of these distractions from the task of actually doing their work. We should encourage them to work from home, make their own coffee, and preferably throw in a fry-up, too. If only because all of the boiling liquid and splattering fat should at least ensure that they put some clothes on.