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Rory Cellan-Jones

Are you working from home today?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 15 May 09, 16:09 GMT

In the middle of a busy day, darting between my office and various locations, I discovered that this was actually National Work from Home Day. Damn! If only, I'd realised, I'd be sitting at the kitchen table, tapping away on my laptop in my dressing gown while tuning in to daytime TV.

But seriously, for me and many other people, technology has now advanced to the stage where working from home is a real possibility. In my house, I have an ISDN line - elderly but reliable technology that allows me to do live radio broadcasting - and a fast broadband connection which means it's very easy to send and receive fast files, and keep up with everything that's happening at the office.

Woman working from homeIt looks as though quite a few people are not at the office today. I've been sent a mashup adapted from the snow map put together by a web developer Ben Marsh earlier this year as Britain ground to a halt.

This one shows the location of home workers who've decided to proclaim on Twitter that they are at home, in messages containing #NWFHD and the first part of their postcode. So far, they seem to be concentrated in southern England - which either means that southerners are more likely to see the benfits of avoiding the daily commute, or that that is where Twitterers mostly live.

For me, however, it's not really possible to work effectively from my kitchen. I need to be out seeing businesses, I need access to some technology that I can only find at work - like studios - and I need to work with colleagues, like picture editors who may not be so keen to come round to my place. But crucially, I still need to be able to come face to face with my bosses to sell my stories, to convince them that I am working hard, and generally to get things done.

Video-conferencing technology is now making very rapid advances, and will soon be cheap enough for many firms to install in some workers' homes. But will video "face-time" with the boss still prove as useful as the real thing? I remain to be convinced. Technology may be transforming our working lives - but relationships still matter, and it's difficult to have one at the end of a webcam.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Did the working from home thing today (without knowing it was NWFHD). For me I can be a lot more productive here without the constant interuptions of being present in the office - it also acts as a good barrier to stop the stress.

    Currently trying to work one day a week from home, its a constant battle to avoid accepting meetings on that day, and to keep getting enough work done in the week so that my work from home day is kept for the topics that need concentration etc.

    Of course living in munich, theres sometimes the option of leaving the office early in the afternoon and moving to a wifi equipped beer garden to finish the working day :)

  • Comment number 2.

    "Video-conferencing technology is now making very rapid advances, and will soon be cheap enough for many firms to install in some workers' homes"
    Let's see... a webcam and headset can be obtained for under a tenner. Skype and Windows Live Messeneger are both free and allow video calls.
    So, it already *is* cheap enough.

  • Comment number 3.

    This is indeed a knotty problem. I'm also involved in a range of creative activities, but as in your case, I still need to meet with people, get briefed, go over copy where the comments aren't of the form "replace this with that" but instead are discussions around "can we say this differently so it covers that" - ie they can't always be handled by notes on an emailed PDF.

    I definitely get more work done at home: I have fewer distractions, I actually have more work time as I don't have to get to the office and back. My carbon emissions are also significantly reduced. However I can't do everything from home, even though I have sometimes better resources at home than at the office.

    I suspect that the way to go in my case is to see if I can be allowed to work from home 2-3 days a week.

    However, I suspect many employers are currently lukewarm about the idea of increased working from home not because they think that people need face-to-face meetings too frequently to allow it, but because they haven't worked out how to trust that work is actually getting done effectively if people aren't in the building.

    In other words, the psychological challenges may outweigh the physical ones in many cases.

  • Comment number 4.

    The tweets for the entire day can now be viewed as a map on my blog: http://www.speedcommunications.com/blogs/speed/2009/05/15/nwfhdnwfhd/

  • Comment number 5.

    Some days it makes sense to work from home and it can be much more productive, especially if the Test Match is rained off! However most of us are social animals so that a certain degree of human contact is desirable and is likely to result in increased output. That contact could of course be on the 'phone, via webcam or just email.

    If large numbers of people are working from home then travelling (eg around London) becomes much easier. This effect is detectable on Fridays (or is everyone just skiving off for the weekend?). Perhaps we should take turns to venture out...

    This debate will certainly continue as communications technology improves further. However let's remember that a lot of people still don't have any choice about where and when they work...

  • Comment number 6.

    I'm sorry, what exactly does this have to do with technology?

    This has about as much to do with technology as the lack of 3G connectivity potential in my downstairs toilet. Which sure isn't worth a serious journalistic effort.

  • Comment number 7.

    I'm going to say the thing everyone's hoping does not get said...

    I'm yet to be convinced about the productivity benefit of working from home vs the office and wonder if any real study has been put into this.

    Home is a different environment to work and therefore we are conditioned to behave to home differently than we do at work. Hence it's harder to get into 'work mode' when you are at the dining room table.

    I think it's all about the conditioning, so people who work from home occasionally are going to be less productive then people who do it regularly and therefore are more used to the idea; they've picked up the discipline.

    I had a home office for 5 years so I am used to it, but I changed jobs and moved and now only work from home occasionally. I've found it harder to get into work mode than I used to. There are advantages (not being bugged by work friends etc) but generally I'm not as productive anymore, so I work through the time I would have commuted (an extra 2 hours) to keep up. I find this keeps my productivity the same as the office.

  • Comment number 8.

    Working at home, or down the pub as I did earlier today is as productive as you and your job allows. For me checking email whilst drinking a pint was a great way to end the week.

  • Comment number 9.

    I wasn't supposed to be working at home, I am supposed to have friday as my one day a week off. But the phone rang and I answered it, The email came and I opened it, the postie came to the door and delivered me a letter. The problem of working from home every day is you end up working from home every day!

  • Comment number 10.

    I'd love to work from home, sadly the job I do involves working in a small call centre type of office at night and the other members of my household probably wouldn't appreciate being woken at 4am by a client calling to get his BlackBerry password reset...

    Home working is all well and good if you're a journalist or a politician or in other similar professions but it's not for everyone whether the technology is there or not.

  • Comment number 11.

    As a software developer, at a first glance, working from home would be great. No noise (except my music) and I could get completely in the zone and not be knocked out by a mobile phone ringing. I could take breaks whenever I want, putting in the hours at a later time, keeping my mind refreshed. The downside would be, If I run into a problem I can't just walk across the office to ask someone what they think, oh and that Xbox sitting in the living room might prove a distraction. I'd also miss talking to colleges, talking about football, the weekend, what they're working on - sometimes ideas spring from those moments.

    So all in all, I think the Office wins for now. When it comes to creative jobs, employers should try and make the office as homely as possible (casual dress for example, is a good thing, unless you're meeting customers, why do you need to look smart?), and where possible let people work the hours that suit them. If an employee needs to let their mind wander and spend 10 minutes reading the news, let them - it can help solve that problem! (See http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20227072.600-let-your-mind-wander.html ).

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 13.

    I work from home e v e r y d a y... It's not something new or fashionable, I've been doing it for over 4 years now...

    A few people have commented on how easy it is to get distracted and such, a problem I find more and more apparent each day. I have 3 computers here, one with every thing on, one with just games on and one with just work tools on. The temptation to use the one with everything on (IE; the fastest one) and use that to work faster and more efficiently is strong, the problem lies in actually getting going in the morning!

    I've been sitting here since 0745 and still have not started...Maybe because the work I have to do today will only take an hour or 2 :(

  • Comment number 14.

    Unfortunately although technology has progressed to the stage that home working is easier and more productive than it has ever been, attitudes of management and companies are still very solidly stuck in the past. I am a programmer and I can do my work from home as easily as I can at the office while having a better work life balance and spending less on fuel (and the obvious environmental benefits that also brings). Yet due to old attitudes I have never been given the opportunity to work from home at any company I have been at due to it still being seen as a chance to skive off. Many of the offices I have worked in have been cramped and over populated yet instead of solving the problem with home working companies would rather install smaller and smaller desks! In my opinion, as long as you produce the work it does not matter where or how you do it. This country will take a long time (and a cull of all the old fools in upper management) before home working is accepted as it is in other countries.

  • Comment number 15.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 16.

    #14 is entirely right. But my employer won't let me work from home (saving me £3500pa and four hours a day in travel, and saving them their accommodation overheads) because the client doesn't believe that encrypted VPNs are secure enough.

 

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