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Should We All Be Forced to Work From Home?

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Do you think you should be forced to work from home at least one, two or three days a week?

If we were all forced to work from home, we would collectively benefit in ways that are often overlooked. I propose a notion to flip the idea of work on its head - because work is a thing you do and not a place you go.

If it were the norm that your company forced you to work from home a few days per week, then it could be more profitable, you'll be happier, and you'll have a few more hours in the day to spend with the ones you love (or in peace and quiet if you'd prefer). I'm not saying working from home all the time is right for everyone, for some professions it's not even an option. But if Britain were forced to operate within a flexible work environment, we might just help solve a few more pressing issues. [1]

All railcards - 40% off

I don't think we're far away from a time when the government will start actively encouraging businesses to enforce flexible working. This is especially true when you consider that the Ministry of Transport eats up £13billion pounds each year. And a substantial reduction in commuters would relieve some of the pressure on an already overcrowded system. Traffic congestion alone costs the UK economy £8billion per year - a figure that's set to double by 2025 if nothing changes. [2]

Given that a regular percentage of people opt to not go into the office each day; your rush hour drive could no longer be plagued by the uncertainty of traffic, relieving the accompanying stress. For us Londoners - imagine how much more pleasant the underground would be with fewer people and without the awkward moment when you give up your seat to someone you mistakenly identify as pregnant. Also, let's not forget the savings you'd make by not driving or paying for public transport, and more importantly the extra hour in bed when it's your turn.

A happy worker is a better worker

The work-life balance argument is bandied around a fair bit. But you can't put a price on certain things in your life. Speaking from my own experiences, I'm often around when my kids get home from school, working for a video conferencing provider means that flexible working is woven throughout our culture, and I can honestly say I'm genuinely happier for it. What would you do with the extra hours in your day that you're not commuting? One study indicates that workers actually recycle 60% of their saved commute time back into work. It's going to be difficult for companies to disregard this for much longer.

On the face of it, it seems like a great proposition. Work from home a few days a week and you'll be happier, richer and less time-poor. But does that mean that productivity will suffer? For those companies in which home working is properly implemented, the answer is a resounding no. In fact, the opposite is often true - BT found that its own home-based call centre agents answer 20% more calls than their office counterparts, with up to a 31% increase in effectiveness. [3] That's an impressive figure that you can't ignore.

Tightening the belt

Let's bring it back to why you might be soon forced to work from home. Your company won't just save money on travel, but it'll also save money on office space and electricity costs. Unscheduled days off are significantly decreased amongst homeworkers. Many who have called in sick continue to work, others who need to make an appointment can fit this around their working day. Most of all, workers increase their productivity by about 20% when working from home twice per week. Make this UK wide and the productivity increase amounts to £15.3billion. [4] You'll win new business, sell more products and provide more services.

I'll give you an example and for simplicity's sake, let's say your commute is an hour each way. Your work year contains 253 days in 2013, and if you work from home two days a week that's a saving of 25.3 days. That means that you're saving 10% of your work year simply by not commuting two days a week. At a company level, given that 60% of hours are recycled back to work - that's an efficiency increase of 6%. For every 16 people who work from home two days a week, your employer will create a whole person's worth of time each year.

Save the planet, by doing less

Finally, I'm not alone in the belief that we have an obligation to reduce our negative environmental impact. Twice weekly home working would theoretically reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses by 6.2million metric tonnes, the equivalent of permanently taking 2.5million cars off the road. [5] A company whose employees learn flexible working methods have changed the way that they communicate, substantially reducing the requirement to drive, travel by train, or fly to meetings, therefore substantially reducing your carbon footprint as an employee.

Don't you think it's time we had a rethink about the way we all work?

*****

[1] 50% of the workforce can work from home. Excludes those who do already. The Shifting Nature of Work in the UK. Bottom Line Benefits of Telework. April 2011: Kate Lister, Tom Harnish.

[2] CBI News Release "Change Work Patterns to Avoid Gridlock
on Britain's Roads," March 15, 2010

[3] Op. Cit. EOC 2007

[4] The Shifting Nature of Work in the UK. Bottom Line Benefits of Telework. April 2011: Kate Lister, Tom Harnish

[5] The Shifting Nature of Work in the UK. Bottom Line Benefits of Telework. April 2011: Kate Lister, Tom Harnish.

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