Today is National Work From Home Day, and as a journalist, I am a huge advocate of working from home. I can get heaps done without the distractions of the office and it also means I can make use of a longer working day because the commute is completely eliminated – saving me a whopping 2.5 hours a day in total. But with recent figures suggesting that we waste years of our working lives doing nothing in the office – gazing out of windows, checking our social networking accounts and browsing the web – without someone to crack down on the slackers, is remote working likely to be as beneficial to employers as it is to workers?
Are two heads better than one?
Yahoo famously put a ban on at-home working earlier this year, with CEO Marissa Mayer telling employees that “to become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.” One-to-one interaction, it seems, is key to Mayer’s way of working and is an important contributing factor in the progress of the company.
Another argument in support of the ‘two-heads-are-better-than-one’ stance could be the impact of lone-working on mental health. With research published this week linking retirement to depression, could we make any comparison between the isolation triggered by retirement to the feelings of isolation felt by some working at home? Surely sitting alone all day every day can’t be good for your mental health?
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC argues that this may have been the case years ago, but that technology has changed all of that – allowing workers access to a plethora of information – and of course, each other – at the click of a mouse. “The social organisation of work has shifted in many enterprises to accommodate the new technology and to take on board the lessons of human social needs,” she wrote in a blog on home working for Work Wise UK. “This shift has been echoed by unions, some of whom now make special efforts to support home-workers and freelancers with on-line resources as well as the more traditional trade union methods.”
But there are undeniable benefits to working from home – particularly for child-bearing women who have to juggle a career with child care. Freelance journalist Lucy Mangan explained in an interview in the current edition of Olé how remote working fits well within her lifestyle: “My husband and I share the childcare during the day and then work to catch up on whatever time we’ve missed in the evening. It’s really good for our child, our work and our marriage”, she said.
Not a one-size fits all
There is no doubt that in some situations or institutions, remote working is just not an option. Some people simply don’t have the discipline to sit at their desk and resist switching on Jeremy Kyle. Or the nature of work at some companies might require constant liaison with colleagues. But for individuals in creative industries, or people working on a freelance basis, it can be a cost-effective, flexible and efficient way of working. As long as you can resist the lure of the sofa…