More part timers in the workforce. There are more workers from home (over 1.5 million full time, 4 million ‘sometimes’). The economic downturn necessity plus the relentless technology progress are helping to drive home working sector to higher numbers.
It may be seen in the light of an ideal. Armed with internet-connected smartphones, the potential for prosperity is boundless and all from the comfort of everybody’s own sofa. Three years ago the CBI estimated that UK companies offering home working in some guise or other and for at least part of the time was about half of the total.
BT pioneered it in the mid 1980s, and reckon their 15,000 home workers save about £6000pa and are 20% more productive, with fewer ‘sickies’.
For the past year, the UK Government has been urging workers in London to prepare to work at home during the Olympics to avoid suffering delays and add to the inevitable congestion in the capital.
The subject is part of the ongoing debate about a ‘more flexible’ workforce that the Government wants to see. They have proposed that new parents be entitled to split maternal leave rights between them have been attacked by the British Chambers of Commerce for their ‘fiendish complexity and huge uncertainty’ for employers.
Pros and Cons
Listed among the things going for home working are: less early starts, less time lost commuting, less congestion/carbon, fewer interruptions from colleagues, less eating out or managing on sandwiches, a flexible timetable to allow other things (like family and friends?), stress on relationships (working too long hours) and a particular discipline regime that may be a good or bad thing.
The disadvantages include gradually erosion of social and personal communication skills, distractions (like emails, phone calls, door knocking cold-callers), desocialising, stress on relationships (always being there) and a particular discipline regime that may be a good or bad thing.
So, if it’s a balance of choices about home working, some careful thought needs to be given to it before adopting it wholeheartedly. If there is no choice because there is just no other employment opportunity, then it must be embraced with enthusiasm and made to work.
Some people argue that technology is isolating us and/or making us more stupid. Others that it is giving us communication freedom that we never had before and developing our brains rapidly. While both views cannot be right simultaneously, they are probably equally true some of the time.
In the 1970s the phrases were coined to describe those work flexible hours in a non-traditional work space, telecommuting or teleworking. The slogans: ‘work is something you do, not something you travel to.’ ‘Work is something we do, not a place we travel to.’ And, ‘Work is what we do, not where we are at.’
As the web came along, such workers often took advantage of mobile networking to become ‘nomad workers’ or ‘web commuters’, but such terms are becoming obsolete, as the definition of work changes and the social-work separations of the past disappear.
The 24/7 nature of global business now means that working from ‘home’ makes more sense and is more attractive to more people. Costs are almost always less for employers, too, though the creative aspects of team work in a given location are a price to pay.
More people are actually self-employed, or are contract workers now as employment changes too. The days of the permanent full time job may be numbered, with consequences for work-based pensions, ancillary employment related to commuting and office working. Even schools may not be needed in buildings in the future.
Management by objectives, a result-orientated approach is gradually replacing the old management by observations style, though there are security, monitoring and abuse issues not always resolved.
Telephone canvassing, online surveys, writing content/articles/blogs, inserting links in sites for a given company advertising something – there is a range of jobs available to home workers, on top of existing jobs being adapted to make them workable from home. The knowledge and information economies lend themselves to home working.
One internet company even shouts that their homeworkers ‘can’ earn £55 an hour. Others suggest people use their homes as bases for doorstep delivery or canvassing work, depositories for various goods, child minding and one suggested having a room sound proofed to make a mini recording studio for would-be pop stars!
Side Effects for Working From Home Mums
A May 2012 survey from parenting group, Mumsnet, found that mothers who work from home while juggling child care, face a number of unexpected side-effects. They have higher energy/heating bills and do more washing up. Concentrating on work was also a common problem.
The balance between working and child-caring is hard to achieve. All young children demand attention, naturally, and not all paid work can be done in the evenings from home, particularly when mums are tired out anyway. Keeping working hours under control was a big fear for almost a third questioned.
Suggestions to help include: taking regular breaks, maintaining a strict routine of working hours against domestic chores and creating a working space that is separate from other areas in the house. Some women dress smartly and put on make up to formalise the sense of working in their space.
Of course, many jobs cannot be done from home. Health workers, retail and maintenance/building industries can never be. But the issue is very much live in these times.
BBC News, June 2011.
The Oatmeal, comic view of home working
Image: Simon Carey