I remember as a young lad in the Eighties, watching the fabulous Maggie Philbin on Tomorrow’s World as she spoke passionately about the advent of home computers.
She was predicting that because of these little technological miracles, not only would the future see all our household chores performed by robots, but the office as we knew it would become a thing of the past and we would all be working from home.
Brilliant, I probably thought as a pre-teen nerd, I won’t have to wear a beige corduroy suit and kipper tie like my father to go to work, instead I can stay in my Superman pyjamas and get paid to work at home on my ZX Spectrum.
Fast forward to the present day and the reality is that as I approach 40, I’m sitting in an office 10 miles from my house typing up this blog (not on a ZX Spectrum). I have a faster computer at home, with a quicker broadband connection and access to better coffee. So why am I not, as Maggie predicted, typing this up at home in my Superman jim jams?
Working from home: A matter of trust
You may recall the recent story of Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo who has banned working from home and believes that the best way forward is for all her staff to work in one location: “We need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”
So, in an era where telecommuting is rapidly on the rise, are Marissa’s views archaic or a return to the forgotten team values of yesteryear?
Working from home: Been there, got the t-shirt
I’ve had a couple of assignments over the years where logistically it has made perfect sense to operate from home for 2 or 3 days of the working week or in some cases an entire week from my office at home.
These have been predominately project based roles for larger businesses, where I would quite happily get to my desk just before nine and work right through to 5 or 6 pm, communicating with my colleagues via phone, email or Skype.
I’ve also had roles where I’ve been commissioned to write articles. In those instances I could start work at 7am and be finished by lunchtime. I’d get a flat-rate of remuneration, so there was no need for me to feel that I have to be sitting at my desk longer than is necessary.
Of course, my employers placed a lot of trust in the fact that I will be sitting at my desk, working and not watching Top Gear on the iPlayer or worse still, watching Top Gear on Dave on the sofa in a onesie (I don’t actually own a onesie, just to be clear).
The way I built up a level of trust and transparency was through my output. I believe I’ve always had a decent work ethic, so as long as I produced what was required and I was always available during working hours, then my employer at the time would trust me to work off site.
Working from home: The pros and cons for the employee
So, if given the choice why would you choose to work at home? The top-line advantages are obvious. You save time and money on commuting and if you can avoid the obvious distractions, you should be able to increase your productivity without the noise and banter of a busy office.
If you are a parent of a youngster, you also have the flexibility of planning your working schedule around school hours, which can be vital for some.
There will be increased overheads at home, with electricity, heating, Kenco, etc, but these will be considerably cheaper than the daily commute with the added cost for parking and the obligatory M&S lunch.
There are however more downsides than you would imagine. And there is no doubt that the digital age we are in has made it harder, not easier to build trust.
The survey illustrated above is from 2012 and was conducted by Mindmetre and commissioned by Regus, and included a total of 24,000 people from large, medium and small businesses in a total of 90 countries.
The study looked at the top 10 distractions when working from home.
Coming top with 59% was family demanding attention, which is probably where parents try and look after the kids whilst still working, which sounds like a very difficult balancing act.
Also in the survey was the surprising revelation that 1 in 5 people admitted to keeping the TV on for company, which is preposterous.
It takes a real focus to work from home, with the myriad distractions on offer; that pile of ironing combined with Cash in the Attic can suddenly look like the best thing since sliced bread compared to finishing that spread sheet. There can also be a sense of isolation and the inability to bounce ideas off team members which can sometimes strangle creativity.