Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Homeworking, telecommuting... it's high time we use remote technology

My home office - overlooking the garden
and with a back-friendly chair

I have been going on and on about homeworking for a long while, ranting on LinkedIn about employers' archaic mindsets, the "bums on seats" culture, breathing on employees' neck fetishes and so on. Since I became a parent I have been mostly working from home but had a few inhouse jobs just to see what it was like a few years down the line (and get out of the house a bit). These experiences just confirmed what I already knew: many jobs can be done remotely given the right equipment and  software. Pre-millennium there were several articles about remote working, we will be doing it more and more and yes, management research proved it's profitable for a company to hire remote workers, bla bla... but it all fell on deaf ears as old-fashioned, narrow-minded management styles are still the norm twelve years later.

I once asked somebody why the job I was doing inhouse couldn't be done from home. Why, I'd even charge less and everybody would be a winner. Basically I sat there typing for a whole day and the directions were given by email from somebody sitting two metres away. I didn't get a proper answer, because obviously I could have done that job from home!

If you ask this question in the media/marketing sector, the standard response is: you need to connect with your colleagues, go to meetings, brainstorm together, etc. Well as an inhouse freelancer I have been to very few meetings - in several years' experience I can still count them using my 10 fingers.

So here are the top seven reasons (off the top of my head and in no particular order) why telecommuting or homeworking is the way to go. Feel free to add more or disagree!

1) Environmentally friendly
Imagine the energy savings (less commuting, lower utility bills at HQs and less materials/resources used). This will bring less congestion on our roads and public transport that can cope. Can you imagine what it will be like to commute to work using the tube when the Olympics games are on? Less traffic on the roads means less pollution too. Carbon emissions down on all fronts. It will also reduce housing pressure in very congested cities.

2) Safer
Yes, there are quite a few accidents caused by people rushing to work. And if you are making that trip every day, chances are you are not that alert and take things for granted.

3) Healthier
Commuting to work is stressful, air conditioning spreads bugs and there are several work-related health injuries every year. Working from home might be lonely at times but at least you can choose a good work station (a good chair is a must), take breaks when necessary and even work if you are a bit under the weather (you can just be in your PJs and get plenty of hot drinks from a much cleaner kettle). It's also great for work/life balance as you gain more time by not commuting and, with a flexible timetable, you can work while raising a family.

4) More profitable for the employer
I won't go into details but there is research proving it's more profitable. Think about less sickies, not needing to provide for an employee in terms of equipment, insurance, health and safety, more motivation for the employee (much less guilt for working parents)... Ethically it's a better proposition than subcontracting to a poor country to exploit its cheaper manpower. Research also shows that firms who apply corporate social responsibility measures have a competitive advantage too.

5) Saves time and as time is money....
I already mentioned saving time by removing commuting, there is also the fact that office work is less productive as there are more interruptions.

6) Fairer and inclusive
Aside working parents, but what about the elderly, those with health problems and the disabled? They are unjustly excluded because of health and safety issues in terms of equipment and access to the workplace. Working from home would be possible for them.

7) Less staff turnover and preservation of knowledge
Let's face it, people move jobs not only because they want to go up the career ladder but also because of location. They might decide to buy a house in the country or work for a company with more central offices... And keeping staff is crucial as losing them means a loss of knowledge - you need to hire somebody else and train them up again while the employee who is leaving has precious information about your business you might not even be aware of. Again, there is research in knowledge loss and how to prevent this....

I'm not saying that every job can be done remotely, but a huge majority can! What can persuade employers to embrace remote technology? Targeted employment policies, more bonuses for green practices? Feel free to air your views here (positive and negative, I won't bite).

UPDATE: I found this article about it:
H&S directives here:
A word of caution:

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