- Working from home – a matter of choice
Nearly a third of full time employees
work from home for some of the time during the month according
to research released this week. Chance would be a fine thing,
I thought as I digested this snippet in a hotel bedroom
The sanctuary of the home office seemed
even more remote as my plane was held up on the tarmac for
four hours and the luggage unpacked in a security alert.
No wonder that the research undertaken by Zurich, the insurer,
found that one in 20 people in full time work spend 80 hours
working from home during the month.
I would have loved to have been doing the
same as I typed up this paragraph in an Irish bar in Moscow’s
Sheremetyevo airport while waiting for a connection. My
home office is no more than a few footsteps from the toilet
and this particular convenience matters more than anything
when you’re fighting a griping tummy.
But you don’t need to know all this
because home is a private place. It’s the place where
we can tend to our discomforts, handle the domestic agenda,
be ill, happy, miserable and downright angry if we wish
within our four walls. The office isn’t like that.
We’re on display and even the privy isn’t privy
enough. Home, on the other hand, is one place where we can
retain some control in our lives.
Oddly, that most public and private of
conveniences isn’t mentioned in the Zurich research,
possibly because the researchers avoided that question.
Instead they reveal the trivial finding that eight per cent
of the respondents take time during home-working to watch
a bit of daytime TV.
They still don’t get it, the people
shovelling out these studies. In terms of its proximity
to work, television has been sidelined by the internet -
the elephant in a growing number of offices and homes. The
internet is the great enabler, emancipating work from the
office while at the same time creating unbelievably varied
sources of distraction.
Focus – the root of nearly all great
work – is becoming increasingly difficult as communications
technology invades our working lives. In fact a bar room
full of chatting flight-passengers is providing an ideal
environment for concentrated work.
The point behind any research on home
or external working should be to emphasise results. If people
are delivering results, if they understand their priorities,
their responsibilities and the expectations of their jobs,
then it shouldn’t matter a hoot where or when they
Home workers now make up some 11 per cent
of the total UK workforce, according to figures released
earlier this month by the Office of National Statistics.
The biggest proportion is among the self employed –
people like myself – who comprise 41 per cent of the
A much smaller proportion of full-time
employees are teleworkers (another name for people working
predominantly outside conventional offices). Possibly because
of ONS definitions, including people working outdoors, construction
contains the most teleworkers with 24 per cent of the total,
followed by agriculture (16 per cent) and business, finance
and insurance (15 per cent).
So why are people shifting to a form of
working that was alien to the experience of most people
when I entered the jobs market more than thirty years ago?
The answer, I suppose, is because they can. In journalism
there was the chance to do “calls from home”
earlier in my career. Sometimes a story was dictated down
a telephone. In that sense journalism has always been one
of those jobs that could be done on the move.
Indeed some jobs, like that of the company
representative, were expected to be out on the road and
still are. But the office as a base is becoming less important.
For those who must maintain close contact with a supervisor
the office remains a source of convenience, if only for
the boss. But those who are employed on the basis that they
can be relied upon to get on with their jobs, particularly
if they are experienced enough to understand what is needed
of them, are finding they can push the boundary of the workspace.
The Zurich research among more than a
thousand telephone respondents found that the most popular
reason for home working was avoiding the commute from work
(listed by two thirds of those questioned). This is understandable.
Avoiding a commute buys me two precious hours every day
and saves money in transport costs.
Peace and quiet from colleagues was listed
by 55 per cent of people. This too is understandable but
rather sad. Office banter and socialising - important in
assessing the lie of the land in any workplace - is one
of the things I miss most when working from home.
Half of the respondents mentioned freedom
to choose working hours. This is vital for women who still
shoulder most of the responsibilities in school runs and
child care. A lack of distractions also featured highly.
Distractions? I love them. The dog barking at the postman,
the window cleaner, the delivery vans - I can’t get
enough of them. There are times, alone in the house, staring
at the bookcase, waiting for the phone to ring, when you
could scream. Home working has its darker side which is
why those who combine it with regular visits to the office
are probably striking the right balance.
Some companies, such as BT, have incorporated
home-working in to their business profile, viewing it as
a natural progression from the office while benefiting from
the cost savings of reduced office space.
But it is the behaviour of individuals,
not companies, that has led the changes in home working
and teleworking. This is not a movement that has been management-led
although managers have often proved willing accomplices.
The next steps will continue to be lifestyle-led as people
explore the possibilities offered by extended broadband
access. The UK now has more than 99 per cent terrestrial
broadband coverage, enabling people to balance the desire
for remoter living with the needs for periodic business
meetings and travel commitments.
The key to this kind of working will be
well-organised diaries coupled with the ability to scope
out work in to its different component parts – securing
projects, collecting and assembling information and delivering
If you look back long enough you can see
it was ever thus. The independent weavers dotted around
the north of England in the late 18th century had no desire
to forsake their independence. It took a lot of incentives,
including the promise of work for wives and children, to
lure them in to factories. Others were displaced from common
lands. For many, the full-time job was a forced option.
Today the old options are re-emerging. It is inevitable
that more and more of us are going to seek out their attractions.
See also: Teleworking