Notably absent from culture-shaping TV series such as Mad Men, The West Wing or Newsroom are scenes in which the lead character settles down at the kitchen table in their pajamas with a laptop and a mug of tea to get medieval on a PowerPoint. That’s because we still celebrate the office as a place where grand life moments and soaring ideas happen. Apart from in The Office. But the future of office work is the kitchen table. Or beneath the duvet. Telecommuting is not only here to stay. It’s about to shut down the conference room.
Tear down that cubicle
Quite simply, we’re working differently. Within any modern company, employees are already sending messages to co-workers right next to them through Outlook and Slack, collaborating on shared files stored on the cloud, or liaising with clients over video conferencing. We no longer need to make the daily pilgrimage to the temple of free coffee, ergonomic chairs and jammed printers. In fact, doing so is making us less effective.
Offices aren’t working
A study by one Stanford University professor found that employees working from home made 13.5% more calls at home than in the office by the end of the week. Put someone in a cubicle, and they give you hours. Give them the freedom to work from home, and they give you tasks. Plus, studies also show that you’re more likely to stay with an employer who gives you the flexibility to work at least a couple of days a week at home.
It’s good for the environment
Drive to work and your daily commute can account for up to 98% of your carbon footprint. Not to mention the fact that you’ll typically be shelling out around $2,000 a year on fuel alone, with you picking up the tab, not your employer. Factor in the vast sums spent on keeping office blocks hot, cold or just downright funky, and even the board room has to recognize that there are alternative ways to slash overheads than firing middle management.
Commuting is not a necessary hell
The world average for commuting is 40 minutes a day. In the UK, the figure is 54 minutes; in Bangkok up to 8 hours. In fact, we spend a year of our lives getting to and from work. That’s a whole year of staring gloomily out a rain-spattered window watching our childhood dreams speed by. Part of the joy of taking a sick day is remembering that it takes just a few seconds to get from the bed to the wine rack. The masters of tomorrow’s universe will be making deals before even putting on their underpants, not after an hour nuzzled against a stranger’s armpit on the subway.
It’s your right
In the UK, employees with 26 weeks’ service have a statutory right to request home working. That doesn’t mean arranging for your calls to be patched through to the nearest pub, though. Typically, it means allocating one or two days a week for home work. And it works. Britain already has 5.4 million homeworkers, while in the US 38% of graduate-level employees do some or all of their work from home. The rest are unemployed, of course.
Ode to the office
Consider those moments when you’re not majestically standing in a glass office overlooking Manhattan or doing lines off a hooker in the boardroom. The office can be a world of petty rivalry, gossip, annoying habits, distracting noise, rampant egos and small talk. You don’t need another pointless meeting, or awkward encounter with Steve from sales by the watercooler. You can be just as effective with Jeremy Kyle on in the background, the curtains closed, and a bacon sandwich with a whiskey chaser at your domestic ‘workstation’.
You’re already doing it
There was a time when you sat up in bed with a laptop and enjoyed it, but you were a teenager and it as Not Safe For Work. Think how many times in the last month you skipped dinner or conversation with your family in order to finish off a presentation or report. Or spent the weekend getting ready for Monday, rather than winding down from Friday. Face it, there’s already enough pressure to take your work home with you – in many cases it’s assumed. So much so that it needs legislation to secure the right of employees not to respond to emails out of office hours. You never agreed that Dunder Mifflin would be moving into your Man Cave. Now it’s time to take it back.
But not always
Before you put down your arc welder, scalpel or sniper rifle and march into the boss’s office demanding to work from home, bear in mind that not all professions are suited to telecommuting. Typically, we’re restricted to task-based roles where the measure of productivity is in calls made, reports written or sales recorded. And you’re still going to have to go in occasionally to nod in meetings or get drunk at the Christmas party.