Business

Five reasons why the office isn't such a bad place to be

A frustrated office worker Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Office life can be tough, but is working from home any better?

September. It's back to school for the kids and, for most of us, back to the office. The schlepping in, the dirty coffee mug left on your desk in July, the stain on the carpet from last year's Christmas party.

For those of you now wondering whether maybe there's a chance you could just do your job from home instead, at your own kitchen table, with your own cafetiere, and your own music on repeat, here are five reasons why the office isn't such a bad place to work after all:

Social interaction

You'd miss the people. Hard to believe, I know, but that woman in the office with verbal incontinence who is always making tea? Cycling man in Lycra who drips sweat on the desk in the morning? At the very least they're an excuse to exchange knowing glances with your colleagues across the desk.

And at home who's going laugh at your wisecrack about the boss and Ashley Madison? The cat?

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Working from home often comes with distractions

Who's going to let you know the latest gossip from accounts, or help you speculate on who's going for promotion? For a lot of people working from home takes all the fun out of it.

For young people work is particularly important for their social life. Natalia, who is 25 and works in sales for an education company, and mainly works at home, says sometimes she gets to the end of the day and wonders whether she's spoken to anyone who actually wants to speak to her.

And besides, if you're renting a grotty bedsit or in a flatshare, working from home just isn't that tempting.

The discipline

Yes working from home means you can be there to accept a delivery or let in the workman, but then you make the plumber tea, ask about his weekend, and before you know it, it's time to knock off and you've got nothing done.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption It is much better to attend business meetings in person

Leadership consultant Steve Nguyen says: "We have these grand illusions about working in our pyjamas and wearing house slippers while we work.

"The reality, however, is that it requires a great deal of structure, time management and commitment."

He also points to US research suggesting that people who work at home end up working much more. The boss thinks - she works from home, I know she's at home, hey, I can call her and get her to work - even if it is 10pm or Sunday afternoon.

Visibility

One big downside of not being in the office is how hard it is to corner your boss and nail a pay rise, or impress them with what you just read.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Being in the office gets you noticed - for good or bad

OK that might not happen every day, but there's a certain amount of nurturing and grooming that underlings need to do to bring about a successful pay-rise moment. And that can't be done from home.

When Natalia does go into the office, she makes sure she's visible. She checks the boss can see her making calls, and strategically chooses her desk - a central one, not the out-of-sight-ones in the meeting room at the back.

The technology

Of course technology has moved on in leaps and bounds to make it easier to work anywhere outside the office. You can access software systems remotely, transfer telephones to your home, and videoconference without much problem.

So frankly it's hard to shirk the work, wherever you are based. So if your cunning plan is to stay at home and avoid doing much work, give it up now.

And if you think you'll get more done thanks to skyping Japan at 3am before your tai chi, and talking part in a conference call over dinner with the kids, also think again.

You can't read body-language over a weblink, you can't see if your colleagues are smirking or yawning. The risk of becoming the office laughing stock rises. Or worse still, they may forget what you look like altogether.

One IT project manager for a major bank, who works at home one day a week, puts it a little forlornly: "You never quite know if anyone is listening to you."

No-one else does

It turns out that the suggestion that most of us will one day be working from home is a bit of a modern myth anyway.

Ian Brinkley from the Work Foundation has been studying UK workplace trends for 20 years. He says he's lost count of the number of times he's heard the prediction that we'll soon all be doing it.

"It just hasn't taken off," he says.

His theory is that it is partly to do with some managers being reluctant to let workers out of their sight.

So in the scheme of things, few people are at home hanging out the washing between filing reports.

Instead figures from last year showed that just 1.6% of UK employees usually worked from home. The data came from Eurostat, the European Union's statistics agency. It also found that 19% of British workers said they "sometimes worked at home".

Despite buzzwords, such as "telecommuting", "gig economy" and "agile working", these proportions haven't changed much over the past 20 years.

To increase your chances of working from home you instead need to get a job in the Netherlands, where 8% of the workforce usually works at home, or in Denmark and Finland, where the proportion in 7%.

Related Topics