With the Olympics just around the corner, many London-based organisations are encouraging their staff to work from home rather than increasing the pressure on the already over-stretched transport infrastructure. For many people this will be their first chance to work from home and will give them the opportunity to define their existence as something other than the binary alternatives of “I’m going to work” and “I’m on the way home.”
The first thing you notice when working from home is how quiet it is. So many offices today are open plan and noise levels can be extremely distracting. In addition to the sound of printers and computers, there are loud phone calls and “informal” drop-by pull-up-a-chair meetings . The second thing you tend to notice is how much time is usually spent being unproductive. Offices tend to encourage politics, people issues, and mind-numbing processes to such an extent that as much of the working day can be spent managing the environment as actually doing any work. When you remove the extraneous day-to-day stuff of the office, it is a revelation how productive it is possible to be. Without distraction one can focus on output (and outcome) rather than input.
On a slight tangent, there are those who rather cynically say that expecting offices to be productive is as naïve as equating schools with education. In the absence of major wars or pestilence, both institutions are designed to keep large numbers off the streets and “occupied”. And in the case of office workers, they’re given just enough money to keep the economy turning over and to stop them from rioting. Money for workers playing the same role that alcohol does for airline passengers, where a little bit of booze provides just enough anaesthetic to divert attention from the fact that you’re 35,000ft above the ground sitting on giant fuel tanks.
But back to the point. Obviously advances in communications technology mean that it is possible to be seamlessly in touch wherever you are, making the need to actually be in the office less of a necessity. So why don’t more people do it? The reasons vary: sometimes it is old-fashioned management who believe that they need to see and supervise their workers (as much for the manager’s own status as for perceived reasons of productivity). Other times it could be that the personal circumstances of the employee rule it out. Nevertheless, the few weeks of the Olympics provide an ideal opportunity to try it out. And rather than feeling guilty about sitting in the garden with a Wi-Fi’d laptop and a mobile, you can console yourself with the knowledge that you’re being far more productive than those stuck in the office.
Oh, and if it’s social interaction that you miss most, then why not invite the neighbours around for tea.