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Tuesday, 8 February, 2000, 15:08 GMT
Home v office: Battle for Britain's workers

Working at home: Liberating. But a bit lonely

In the UK, the trend towards working from home is growing apace.

Firms are beginning to eye the savings it could entail, and many homeworkers say they have a better quality of life.

But a report from the Economic and Research Council has found that working from home may be lonely and stressful, and create miserable families.

So how does working from home really compare with life in the office?

Commuting - A huge advantage. No traffic jams, no walking in the rain or choking on passing bus fumes. No listening to other people's mobiles on the train, no more sweaty armpits on the tube. And think what you can do with that two hours a day saved! More work, perhaps. Commuting - Uncomfortable. But the journey to work can provide a space to relax, or prepare your mind. Similarly, the journey home provides a space to wind down, and it demarcates home and leisure time. And then there's the exercise...
Personal interaction - OK, so if you're teched-up you can still keep in touch with e-mail, video conferencing and chatrooms. But sometimes you need face-to-face contact, and many homeworkers report being lonely and hating the silence. Personal interaction - The best, or the worst, part of office life. Gossip and chat can be fun, helpful and inspiring. Face-to-face contact allows you to communicate in ways simply not possible electronically. Seemingly meaningless gossip can turn out to be vital pieces of communication.
Productivity - Most home workers say they get more done in a shorter time. There are fewer interruptions, unless you have children. Productivity - Those phone calls, e-mails and desk-hovering colleagues can slow you down. But sharing ideas, being inspired, and simply working in a well-designed space can make you more productive.
Getting motivated - Which leads to the difficulties of getting down to work in the face of Richard & Judy. But some people prefer to self-start. Getting motivated - Which leads us to the difficulties of getting down to work in the face of e-mails and internet games. Some people need a boss cracking the P45s.
Expense - Cheaper for the employer in terms of overheads, and the employee, in terms of transport, office clothes, and lunch. But the homeworker risks being saddled with overheads, and has the hassle of dividing business and personal costs. Expense - Office workers must usually pay for transport, suitable work clothes and lunch, but may get free or subsidised refreshments or travel, and can pinch Post-Its.
Connections - Can be a big headache. Although new technologies allowed teleworking in the first place, a cheaper, faster and more reliable communications backbone would be a bonus. In the event of a problem you are isolated, and have to address it yourself. Connections - Usually fast and efficient. In the event of a problem you can call the IT department and have a coffee break.
Hierarchy and politics - No more office gossip, bitching, back-biting and politics. But some people need a tangible corporate structure around them to feel secure or motivated. Hierarchy and politics - Some people like to play politics, and moaning about seniors can be a bonding experience. Possible to keep a highly visible profile and therefore boost your own status.
Working environment - Home can be cramped. Without a dedicated study, rooms can become an unpleasant hybrid of bedroom/office, kitchen/office, lounge/office. On the other hand you can open the window, play music, and generally control your own environment. Working environment - Usually satisfactory, especially if you remind your employers of their obligations under health and safety regulations. On the other hand, has anybody ever found an office with decent air conditioning?
Working hours - Got the work bug at 5am? Want to work on Sunday afternoon rather than Friday morning? You can! But many homeworkers say they find working time creeping in to leisure time. Bosses think you are never at your desk. Workaholism could get out of control. Working hours - You may find yourself in a who-can-stay-the-latest competition with your boss or colleagues, and your hours may be fairly inflexible. But on the whole it is easier to keep to sensible working hours in an office environment.
Childcare and relationships - You do get to see more of your children. But working at home full-time is not, as is often assumed, an easy way to cut childcare bills - remember, you're supposed to be WORKING. Childcare and relationships - The office provides time away from each other. Children don't have to creep about the house being quiet, or worry about messing up parental papers. Gives workers more opportunity to escape from a current relationship - or start a new one.

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See also:
03 Feb 00 |  Talking Point
Teleworking: Does it ever work?
12 May 99 |  The Economy
BT tells workers to stay at home
03 Nov 98 |  Sci/Tech
Sending workers home for higher productivity

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