Page last updated at 11:03 GMT, Thursday, 22 April 2004 12:03 UK

Working from home trend gathers pace

Analysis
By Tim Fawcett
BBC News Online business reporter

Man at computer
Experts predict 5 million of us will be working from home by 2007

A revolution in technology has at last made the work-from-home dream a reality for millions of British workers.

Teleworking, once a quirky concept, has become a realistic choice for many wanting to save time, spend more of it with their families and have more control over their work-life balance.

One year on from the introduction of new UK laws on flexible working - and during Work From Home Week in the UK - new evidence has emerged that more and more of us will soon be working away from the office.

More than 2.1 million people work from home and around 8 million spend at least some of their working week in the house instead of at the office, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

That is double the number since 1997 when ONS research in this area began.

Technology

Why this phenomenon is happening is a complex question, but top of the answer list is broadband phone connection.

DTI report
8 in 10 requests accepted
50% reduced hours requests rejected
43% request for childcare reasons

It provides a high-speed way of receiving and sending data from your computer at home and has made a huge difference.

At last, office capability at home is available at a reasonable price, says Alan Denbigh, executive director at the Teleworking Association.

"With broadband, people can use the internet, check e-mails and transmit documents in the same way as they would in the office, so why be in the office.

"We've seen this strong growth in the last 6 years during a time when the conditions weren't right and legal obstacles were in the way.

"Now it is much better from a legal point of view, so I think we'll see a lot more people doing this in the future."

Buying time

Computers with the sort of processing power required to do typical work tasks at home come at a fraction of the cost compared with just a few years ago.

But it is not just the cost.

People value their time very highly and the office commute has an insatiable appetite for that precious commodity.

Traffic
Working from home saves time and money away from the daily commute

RAC estimates of daily round trips to and from work in London are as high as 3 hours - 15 hours a week, or nearly 2 days work.

For someone on an average salary of £27,000 a year, that brings income down to almost minimum wage levels, says Alan Denbigh.

Sectors

Those working in sales and customer services are most likely to request flexible working, with nearly one fifth coming from this sector, the DTI says.

Furthermore, managers and technology-related workers work more from home than others, according to the Teleworking Association.

And as the dust continues to clear after the dot com boom and bust, e-commerce is emerging as a strong growth area.

For executives of companies that have invested heavily in this technology, like car makers, it has made the global village a mouse-click away.

Consequently, working from home has become a necessity as well as a reality for the world's top executives.

In the United States, General Motors' chief executive Richard Wagoner keeps tabs on operations in Europe and Asia by logging on to the corporate network from home using a secure and wireless Wi-Fi laptop.

Drawbacks

If you have young children, working from home is popular.

In fact, most flexi-working revolved around the children, according to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

The DTI found that 43% of employees requested flexible working for childcare reasons and 58% of those were women.

And as many of them can testify, working from home is not always about popping into the lounge for the odd gardening show on daytime TV or avoiding the office politics.

For those working from home there are new pressures in the home environment.

Despite the benefits of less travel and more flexibility on the downside there was a new stress of working longer hours.

Balancing work and family commitments, and the "invasion" of the work environment on the home space, counteract the benefits of more flexibility and less commuting.

All home workers with children find it difficult to balance home and work responsibilities, the ESRC survey says.

Legal framework

But help to support the needs of young families is at hand.

The Employment Act 2002 came into force on 6 April 2003 and introduced a package of so-called family friendly working rights.

Parents with children aged under the age of 6, and with disabled children aged under 18, were given the legal right to get their employers to seriously consider requests to work flexibly.

Bosses on the whole are supporting the new legal framework.

A breakdown of the DTI figures shows that for employees who requested flexible working, 77% were fully accepted by employers and in 9% of cases a compromise was reached.

Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are less supportive than larger ones, however.

More than three in four SMEs say flexible working directives have had no impact on their business and a whopping two thirds admitted they have no flexi-workers, an Inter-Tel survey of 300 firms found.

Furthermore, the law is not always very widely understood.

"Sixty-five per cent of adults are not aware of current legislation and 39% would be uncomfortable in mentioning working from home to their boss," says Panasonic executive Steve Wilson, referring to a survey conducted by his firm.

"Men in particular need to be more aware of their rights, and leadership is needed from the senior management of companies." insists the DTI spokesman.

Benefit to business

If the working from home phenomenon is to grow as predicted, it needs to be beneficial to both employer and employee. The picture seems mixed.

The rising cost of office space eats into company profits. One less workstation could mean one step closer towards moving to a smaller site.

In a technological world, home workers are no longer out of sight and out of mind. The boss's cursory glance across the office to check what a worker is up to can be replaced by a web cam or software that checks if you are logged in.

Office politics and gossip may not be everyone's cup of tea, but brain storming with colleagues at meetings would be considered a must by most company chiefs.

Whichever way you look at home working the advice always seems to be - it is vital that you do not see it as an easy option.


Your comments:

This infuriating subject is back, is it? Please do tell me, how should dustmen work from home? Street sweepers, can they work from home? Factory workers? District nurses? Casualty department staff?

The only people who can work from home are those who do an unnecessary job. Can surgeons work from home? Ambulance drivers? Firemen? If you can work from home full time, you have a pointless job.
Neil, Margate, Kent

Working from home does allow more flexibility, but can be boring in terms of no human interaction. I'm sure I get more done though in the time spent.
Bill, Brighton

Successful home working needs excellent self-management skills - self discipline, time management, separating home and work, both time- and spacewise, managing social interruptions, health and safety, computer security etc.

Managers must learn to delegate, empower and trust. They must also learn to manage by objectives and results, not by hours spent at the PC.

Home working requires maturity and the ability to work alone. It is hard for people who need the social side of work.

But all home workers need regular contact with manager and colleagues - by phone, email, web cam or videophone conferences where possible, and always regular trips into the workplace.
Maureen Moody, Royston, Herts

OK, so I took a rather drastic measure! What, with congestion in the South East at an intolerable level and no sign whatsoever that things were going to improve, we left for Australia.

I now conduct all my business from over here - starting work at 4pm (Oz time) and knocking off (after a cold beer and a barbie) at about 11pm. It's amazing how much more fun working from here can be - time for the family each and everyday, and then a few hours in the office in the evening - let's face it, sun and fun in the day followed by work and a glass of wine makes it fairly idyllic!

Thanks to email and telephones, all that is now possible! (I'd rather not give my surname as quite a few clients don't even know I am out here!)
James L, Perth, Western Australia

I have been working from home on a Friday for the last three years.

Originally I did this as I was doing project work and with the long hours during Monday to Thursday, waking up at 8:30 on a Friday was a luxury. I have also been working away and would come home on a Thursday night rather than a Friday due to the traffic.

I continue to work from home on a Friday, although if there are meetings I will come in for that. I spend roughly three hours a day in a car and around 10 hours a day in the office. I can get more work done at home, although the face to face contact is required during the week.
Mark, London

I work from home, only thing is my home is 4,000 miles from the office. I own a small business in Yorkshire and live in Barbados. I control all e-mails, incoming calls, bills payments, interaction with customers, suppliers, banks etc. using my PC.
Yajur, UK

The article seems to focus strongly on the employed. A much bigger shift in working patterns is happening in the realm of the self employed.

The Office of National Statistics has only the sketchiest of ideas as to how many self employed people now work from home as a result of cheap(ish) broadband access, which makes their survey unrepresentative.

It is curious that the article lists having young children under the sub heading "Drawbacks". We have found that being able to be with our young children to be one of the biggest benefits of working at home, and the children are surely much better off for it.

Sure, it means some compromise in "normal" working hours, especially as I work full time at home and my partner works from home 2 or 3 days a week as well, but the children are properly nurtured, and the work gets done.

When we looked for a house two years ago, our topmost search criteria were, one, broadband connectivity and, two, a separate shed/workshop/outbuilding that could be converted into an office and studio space.

The degree of separation provided by the short walk to the "studiofficeshed" at the end of the garden is an essential component of a peaceful home/work environment. The "studiofficeshed" is linked to the house network and shares broadband access.

Much better than catching the flu from fellow commuters, but we sometimes miss the two hours reading time offered by commuting!
Michael Hirsh, Redhill, Surrey

I have often taken the advantage of company paid broadband internet connection to work from home, for personal/family/trades people reasons.

I find myself more tensed up when working from home and end up staying at my desk for 8 or more hours. No coffee break, no walkabouts, no conversation.

At 5.30 pm it is a real relief to log off! No TV shows or anything else to interrupt.

Pros: I get a lot done, I can think in peace, (no phones ringing, printers chugging in the background, or loud conversations) savings on gas and mileage, commuting time etc.

Cons: I imagine that my colleagues may be thinking I am goofing off so I respond instantly to emails/calls. Stuck at home on a beautiful day and not able to step outside for a whiff.
Tushar Jaiswal, Toronto, Canada

I create ads, websites, design for print etc. from my front room at any time of day.

The copy comes by email, I create the artwork and send it as a .pdf for approval and print.

When the weather is good I take time off to check out my bees in my allotment (I now have five beehives).

I can have client meetings in my back garden in the summer - although my preference is not to meet clients at all.

I'm just in the process of setting up online payment for my work and am beginning to get paid up-front for the print work that my website delivers.

I don't own a car or a mobile phone. I watch my shares online and like to make a few hundreds from trading each month. Although I sometimes loose, on balance I am in credit.

I get up at nine, work till 5.30 and drink too much tea.

I sometimes work in the evenings and often in the middle of the night, even though I have had ADSL for over 18 months now. Old habits die hard. I'm on my second broadband provider.

I don't do online banking (yet). Taking cheques to the bank is the other activity (apart from bee keeping and growing organic fruit and veg) that gets me out of the house.

I still watch too much TV and eat chocolate. I occasionally enjoy drink and drugs in a social environment (I do sometimes binge and get drunk but very rarely partake on my own).

I travel by train bus and bicycle and don't shave every day.

I never work at my computer nude or in pyjamas or dressing gown, but I do wear Ugg boots in the house and occasionally to the corner shop and the post box.

I listen to radio 4 and probably talk too much on the phone. I check my emails constantly during the day and several times during the evening.

I receive and delete hundreds of junk emails every day.

My wife is a teacher and complains that I no longer work and that I am "retired".

I own my own house which is let out.

I don't have shared finances with my wife and pay her rent to live (and work!) in her house.

My eldest daughter has just won the Times Tabasco Young Photographer Of The Year award (Sophie Laslett) and my youngest daughter works as a jewellery designer.

I am VAT registered but I don't earn much or pay taxes.
Patrick Laslett, Norwich Norfolk

Looking out over a bright blue cloudless sky and valley with my adoring Labrador, I extol the advantages of working from home.

My family have all grown up and left home and my wife is also working from home.

Two home workers in different careers does present problems and finding space for some reason seems to be more difficult than in an office environment which is perversely more crowded, noisier and busy.

I do miss the morning chat and the banter of human life and contact. And working the Far east and American markets can mean being literally on call for up to 18 hours, but for all that its great and very tax efficient.
Michael Leonard, Ashford Co Wicklow Ireland



SEE ALSO
People on the move: Your stories
23 Mar 04 |  Have Your Say
Home working 'mixed blessing'
26 Apr 03 |  UK
Working from your home
12 Jun 06 |  Working Lunch
Do we work too hard?
10 Feb 00 |  Talking Point

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