The ubiquity of good home broadband connections, the affordability of new and more powerful mobile computers and smartphones, combined with the opportunity to avoid commuting through our ever more congested transport networks: these are all compelling reasons for workers to spend some or all of their working lives doing what they do from home.
There is perhaps one word that sums up the reason why we have this new opportunity for employees to contribute a full 100 percent of their normal working output when outside of the company’s physical office space — and that word is “connectivity”.
Connectivity to email, connectivity to Instant Messaging services and (if needed) connectivity to freely available video conferencing services from Skype to Google+ to Facebook and Microsoft Messenger, it’s all here and it’s here now.
If employers used to be worried that allowing someone to “work from home” meant that they would disappear off for a round of golf or a day out at the beach, the connectivity factor overcomes this. Once a user is logged in, not only is their computer in “always on” mode, but effectively, so are they themselves!
The question we must now ask is, does creating the new connected mobile workforce make people more or less productive?
Social behaviour analysts argue the following points:
- Mobile users are less likely than their office-based workers to visit malicious web sites: they feel they are using “their” own computer and they don’t want to get infected.
- Mobile workers may take more breaks throughout the day, but in general they put in a longer overall working day.
- Employees who are “trusted” to work from home will, generally speaking, repay that trust with a full and committed approach to the work tasks in hand.
Without question, the trend to allow employees to work from home is on the up. According to the UK’s Office for National Statistics, 851,000 employees work "mainly" from the comfort of their own homes. This figure represents 2.9 percent of our national workforce — and this is twice the proportion of homeworkers that Britain recorded 15 years ago in 1996.
Speaking to The Independent newspaper, Telework Association director of development Shirley Borrett has said that "It's not just about employees' rights – teleworking can increase productivity, contribute to retaining skilled staff and can reduce companies' real-estate costs by allowing them to have smaller office buildings.”
British Telecom began a telework scheme in 1986 and now has 15,000 homeworker staff out of 92,000 employees. BT estimates that its homeworkers contribute an average of £6,000 a year each in terms of total cost savings, are 20 percent more productive in terms of their output and take fewer sick days too!
So it seems that working from home and/or being a mobile worker has a lot of potential positives. If we accommodate effectively for the requisite levels of Internet security and protection, mobile workers or homeworkers can form an invaluable part of our national workforce.
Perhaps we should look back at the past in order to most accurately predict the future of mobile working. After all, the Tudors would start the day’s state business from their bedchambers, French novelist Marcel Prout wrote most of his work in bed and Winston Churchill famously spent entire mornings working in a dressing gown surrounded by a mountain of papers, the remains of his breakfast, his cats and various secretaries. So surely, if it’s good enough for Sir Winnie The British Bulldog, it’s good enough for us.