It’s a big trend in working life. Of course there have always been occupations that have allowed for people to earn a living without leaving their front doors. Opportunities for some, like taking in laundry and ironing or changing the turn-ups on trousers, have no doubt shrunk over the years, but child-minding or the early days of jam or pickle making are as relevant as they ever were.
Those preferring a more cerebral and less hands-on way of providing for themselves could always turn to freelance journalism, proofreading or writing something more demanding. All of these occupations are important in their own ways, but are more peripheral in the overall working world than, say, train driving or teaching, fixing broken bones or rescuing dogs from unlikely predicaments. Or, of course, from hopping, either eagerly or stoically, onto the07:15, nodding to your perennial fellow passengers, and looking forward with enthusiasm or dread to the air-conditioned day ahead.
Return to the rat-race for some, a marvelous stroke of luck to earn their livings out of the rain for others. Either way, the place of work for a large part of the workforce in theUKis the office. It has been this way for a long time, and it still is, but things are changing. Working from home undoubtedly suits some companies more than others, and it’s more appropriate for some roles than others. But more and more people who would have anticipated a career in a glass box are finding themselves at liberty to choose not to commute.
For the employer, the advantages are not difficult to imagine. Rental space in commercial property isn’t cheap and the reduction in overhead for a business large enough to think in terms of rationalizing the number of buildings they occupy can be vast. Every desk not lighted is a little bite out of the electricity bill, every employee not on the premises is one off the headcount for security, one off the numbers that need to be allowed for at the emergency mustering point.
For the ex-office worker the saving in traveling costs and clawing back of dead time are obvious boons. The ability to work in less than even informal dress, drink a better brand of coffee, dovetail the proper job with a spot of gardening, or a school run, or an hour in the fresh air, and generally take advantage of a more relaxed shape to the day must be attractive to many.
Sounds great, but are there downsides? For many, what would be for many the loss of the camaraderie of the office, the gossip at the water cooler, the making of friendships across departments, sharing facilities like gyms and opportunities like playing sports for the company team might not loom large at first. Not to mention being able to ask the engineer to take a look right away at your laptop that has just decided to blue screen on a Friday when you are booked on standby support for the weekend. And I’ve heard it said that many companies are now wondering whether physical distance weakens the important ties of effort and assessment between them and their employees.
So, offices continue to send many people, almost always at their request, home to their new little mini-offices with their shrunken desks and shrunken floor space. The printer they would have shared with their colleagues now sits on their home office. I wonder how many regret it now and wish they had stayed. Maybe the office is the best part of an office job.