It’s been said that there are not many people who
will say on their deathbed:
“I wish I had spent more
time at the office”.
Yet here we are in a world where UK workers work
the longest hours in Europe, and many managers and
professionals claim to be working more than 60 hours
per week. No doubt there are some people who get a
real buzz from doing this – Bill Gates in his
autobiography says we’ve all been through a phase of
bringing a sleeping bag into the office and
snatching sleep under the desks because we’re so
captivated by the work.
Is that you? More likely, if you’re sleeping at
work it’s because your work-life balance is out of
kilter, and you’re trying to fit 25 hours or more
into every day. It could be time to work more
flexibly, and take more control on all fronts.
Organising our lives around a physical workplace
and the 9-5 is no way to be carrying on in the 21st
century. Changes in the nature of work and new
remote work technologies mean that much of our work
can be done anywhere. So why not do it somewhere
Homeworking has become mainstream again
Now in the UK, around 3.5 million people are
working full-time or part-time from home. Some 56%
of self-employed people work from home. According to
the Federation of Small Businesses annual survey,
40% of small businesses are home based.
Around 2.5 million people are home-based
“teleworkers” – people who work from home using a
computer and/or telephone. Though they don't call
themselves that, usually.
The number of teleworkers has been growing at
around 13% per year since 1997. Just under a million
of these are self-employed. The rest are the fast
growing group of employees who are being allowed to
go home to work more efficiently – mostly managers
and professionals, as it happens.
Of course, not everyone’s doing it to improve
their work-life balance. There are economic
advantages in reducing property costs, and well
documented productivity advantages.
There are also savings from cutting out the
commute. In the UK, the average commuter spends more
than 4 hours per week behind the wheel going to and
from work – equivalent to more than an extra 10% of
the working week. Many of those commuting into
London and other larger cities are doing 3 to 4
hours per day.
One day per week working from home will eliminate
20% of your commuting, 2 days 40%, and so on. For
highly mobile staff, working out of home can also
eliminate those wasteful trips to and from the
office throughout the day, including the commute
trip. Using new technologies, work comes to the
worker, not the worker to the work.
When someone works from home, household activity
patterns subtly change. Kids who are normally thrown
into the car by one parent find they are walked to
school by the other – and still everyone arrives at
work on time. Learning a language at an evening
class or becoming a school governor becomes a
possibility, because you are not always dashing from
one place to another and are back in control.
Gadgets and gizmos – do you need them?
So what technologies are today’s flexible workers
using? Laptops and mobile phones, of course, but
also the newer generation of devices such as, tablet
PCs, handheld digital assistants, including the
current flavour-of-the-month: Blackberries.
The trend is for converged devices that you can
both work on and communicate with.
Providing you’ve got a genuine business use for
these, and it’s not just inspired by a mania for the
latest gadget, they can make a real difference to
personal productivity and also to your ability to
manage both work life and home life.
What is best for you depends on the nature of
your work. But none of them will do you much good if
you do not have the ability to connect into your
office systems, use key applications remotely and to
synchronise your personal device with the office.
And it can turn into the most stressful kind of
disaster if you are not backing up all your work and
paying attention to security. That is IT security
and physical security – thieves like all this kit!
So worth thinking through the risks and who is
responsible for the insurance.
Telephony is also undergoing a quiet revolution.
Broadband – now a must for any remote worker – is
enabling the development of “voice over IP”. That
is, using the Internet to make telephone calls.
Quality is now pretty good, and the market is
getting seriously competitive. This not only has
cost advantages, but it means it is much easier to
integrate a home phone with the office systems. Now
you can seamlessly transfer calls back and forwards,
and your home office is fully integrated.
Hard on the heels of this is desktop
videoconferencing. Costs are now plummeting and the
new office and desktop systems are bringing it
within the reach of home-based workers. Integrate it
with other audio and web conferencing applications,
and travelling for routine meetings becomes a thing
of the past as you collaborate online in real time.
Always in touch….
There’s a down side to this. People often imagine
that the danger is isolation. Managers used to
retreat to the home to get things done and avoid the
interruptions at the office. But now with seamless
communications the interruptions follow them
wherever they are, as the workplace bursts out of
its physical boundaries.
And it bursts the temporal boundaries too – every
evening wives and husbands are ignoring each other
and their families to attend to those urgent emails
and reports. In a strange way Bill Gates was right –
only now the office is coming home to sleep with us,
not the other way round.
One of the US pioneers of telecommuting, Gil
Gordon, has written a book called “Turn it off!”
That’s the key to achieving work-life balance: Go
home, tune in, then don't forget to turn off.