What Happened to the Digital Dream of Home-working?

woman-working-homeThe lack of a work-life balance is an all too familiar refrain from stressed workers at countless workplaces throughout the western world.

The demands of the daily commute; the demands of workloads and bosses; and the demands committed workers put themselves under all contribute to countless hours spent either at or travelling to work.

But would this wearied refrain be heard so much if employees who weren’t in the manufacturing or retail sectors allowed to work more from home?

And, take breaks to play with their children, and talk to their spouse, and all without any impact on productivity as there’s no daily commute time to be factored in.

It’s been the holy grail of the digital revolution that it would usher in an era of telecommuting.

Two decades later, there’s no obvious signs we’re any closer to delivering on this dream.

But there’s arguably never been greater opportunity to fundamentally challenge the way so many of us work.


More and more tasks at work are now being done on a computer. More and more tasks are capable of being done anywhere there’s a fast digital connection, including face-to-face updates but still there’s no major movement towards more home-working. Why is this?

After all, it’s accepted that commuting contributes to daily stress. It’s accepted that commuting causes environmental problems. It’s accepted that spending more time with your family or friends contributes to a better work-life balance.

And, it’s accepted that we now have the technology to reduce time at the office in many occupations without damaging communication or ability to complete tasks.

The core reason such profound positives go disregarded is possibly cultural: a failure of trust by employers and a long-standing commitment among managers to visible control.

An inability to sidestep the old corporate mentality of control and monitoring which has been with us since people clocked in and clocked off.

It is also a failure of realising the potential returns of a happier workforce on productivity, and a failure to embrace the potentialities of the new digital world we inhabit and shake up some cultural hang-ups of the industrial age.

But it’s not only backwards thinking which prevents the potential for more telecommuting in many industries from being realised.

Marissa Mayer made headlines when taking the reigns as CEO of Yahoo recently by ordering the telecommuters back to the office, claiming that home-working was no substitute for face-to-face collaboration.

In this, I’d completely agree. The digital sector was unsurprisingly an early adopter of telecommuting and possibly at Yahoo it went too far, with very little team interaction. There is always a social side to being in an office and forging working relationships which should never be lost.

However, the problem is that many office workers are not seeing any of the potential for home-working, despite them often spending their time at a computer in an office when they could quite as easily complete such tasks from home.

Ideally, more employers need to take an enlightened approach and trial home-working for one day a week for an employee.

If it doesn’t work, then simple, return to as before.

The home computer of employees can be set up to clock hours worked with screen shots generated fulfilling a manager’s monitoring and proving that a productive day really has been spent.

Three days would be spent at home rather than the usual two.

And, the main cause of work-based absenteeism-stress and anxiety-may also be reduced leading to greater benefits for both employer and employee, along with a reduced demand among employees for occupational health services to help them cope with work-related problems

Certainly, the core reason why we always had to congregate together in one place to work is no longer central for productive outcomes.

But cultural change among employers seems the main challenge before we can deliver on the digital dream and trust employees to work competently at home for a part of their working life.

Employers adopting such an approach would probably then reap the benefits attracting the best personnel, encouraged by the prospect of only a four day week spent in the office.

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