Is 'working from home' a skive?

A snowman in Scotland Some elements of the Scottish construction industry have been hard at work

"Yeah, I was still in my pyjamas until 11 o'clock this morning," admits Beks Ali.

"Then I thought I'd better change in case I had to do a Skype video call with work. Pyjamas are never a good look when you're talking with your boss."

Like perhaps tens of thousands of people in the UK, Ms Ali is adapting to an unexpected day off.

As the heavy snowfall sweeps parts of the nation, she is, she says, "working from home".

With roads chaotic and much public transport disrupted - staying in the warmth and trying to do your job without leaving the house for a hard icy slog to the office is often as necessary as it is tempting.

And the closure of thousands of schools also means parents who could get to work are instead forced to stay away to look after their children.

Of course some jobs simply cannot be done on a laptop from the kitchen table. And for many, not getting into work is not a welcome bonus, instead resulting in losing a day's pay.

But for those who can, theoretically, continue their role away from their usual place of work, will it ever really be productive? Or is "working from home", for many, tantamount to being no more than a bit of a skive?

Benefits

A cursory glance at provisional daytime television viewing figures might just support the latter.

On Tuesday morning, about 1.4 million people watched ITV1's Jeremy Kyle Show - compared with 1.2 million at the same time the week before.

So would it be fair to extrapolate that a couple of hundred thousand people across the UK - unexpectedly freed from the office - were sitting on the sofa with a bowl of Frosties on their laps with one eye on a spreadsheet and the other on a shouty confrontation about cheating husbands and paternity tests?

Well, not quite.

Beks Ali Beks Ali likes having her office as a base

Of course many of these extra viewers would probably not have been at work at all.

They may be watching television because it was not all that nice, or safe, outside.

Or perhaps they had something else to do last week.

Or perhaps it was a particularly good episode.

However, while the use of a "snow day" to get away with doing little while claiming to work is something of a cliche, on social networking website Twitter some are quick to highlight some new-found benefits of not being chained to the desk.

"Back from cheeky lunchtime sledging trip," says @bealers who is one of those adopting the hashtag #workingfromhome to illustrate their circumstances.

Others boast of a lunchtime beer fresh from the fridge, or over-indulging at lunch with the toaster too close to resist.

But for others this is just wishful thinking.

"Another downside of unemployment," writes @thesharpsingle. "Missing the joy of bunking off work cos of snow."

Ms Ali, the pyjama-loving digital marketing director of travel firm Contiki, is trying to keep to a regular routine.

After a lack of train services meant she could not get to her office in Bromley, Kent, she has been accessing her work e-mails from home.

And despite problems using the company servers, she says her laptop and mobile phone have kept her in touch with those who did make it to the office.

"They probably do think I'm taking it easy," she says.

"But we are a small team and we know between us that we're all pulling our weight."

'Distractions'

Gauging lost productivity due to events such as adverse weather is tricky.

A YouGov survey suggested that about three quarters of employees were affected by the adverse weather conditions at the start of this year - which it said was equivalent to 124 million working hours.

It also said that while almost half (48%) of British workers felt under pressure to get into work, 11% worked from home, with another 12% unable to work at all.

Meanwhile, a separate report from onepoll.com in 2009 suggested that 12% of people admitted using the snow as an excuse not to go in to work.

For those who regularly work remotely - without a fixed base - this is nothing new.

And while conditions like those seen now might force workplace absence, they bring into focus the benefits of choosing to be able to operate away from the office, says Andrew Millard, director of marketing and e-commerce at Citrix Online in the UK.

Start Quote

We still have this 9 to 5 culture, that you have to have a fixed place of work but I think that perception's starting to change”

End Quote Andrew Millard Citrix Online

His firm sells products that allow colleagues to talk together online - an office internet chatroom if you like.

Another piece of its software gives access to workplace computer systems so that, he says, as long as you have broadband, it is just like being at your desk (possibly without the mouldy coffee cups left by colleagues).

Mr Millard acknowledges that many still see those working away from the office as taking it easy, but he insists the reality is different.

"You often find they'll work that much harder and are more productive and effective," he says citing the lack of workplace "distractions".

"You might even have Jeremy Kyle on in the background, but that wouldn't stop you getting on with what you need to do."

Mr Millard, as you might expect, believes small and medium sized firms could make big savings if they invested in making their workforce more flexible.

And he is hoping for an increase in business as firms and employees focus on how much time is lost in travel and unexpected absence, but acknowledges that a decisive shift is some way off.

Andrew Millard: 'Bosses need to trust employees to work from home remotely'

"We still have this 9 to 5 culture, that you have to have a fixed place of work, but I think that perception's starting to change," he says.

"After they've started working remotely, people usually say they don't want to go back to how they worked before."

Among those he needs to convince are Ms Ali - who says she prefers the office environment that she is more used to.

"It's a nicer atmosphere to have that daily interaction. And if you get to talk through ideas face-to-face you can be more creative," she says. "It's also much easier to point out a problem rather than trying to explain it over the phone."

Even if it does involve changing out of those pyjamas.

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