Home working is baaad for you


Home working is baaad for you

Us homeworkers are used to the increasing predictions in recent years of the terrible gloom that will befall us if we move to work from home. The most recent to hit the notice of the press is that it will - yes - actually reduce our work-life balance.

From obstructing the creative juices of the organisation (the Yahoo/Google club approach to homeworking), to being a major inhibitor of our careers (for which the evidence - at least from our 2013 survey of members in BT - is mild, at best) to leaving our office-based colleagues lonely and with no-one to talk to - we now have the argument advanced that working from home could damage our work-life balance (and make us ill).

I'm quoting from The Guardian here, but it was far from unique in reporting this piece of research (although the lack of a comment facility on the story was a little disappointing). And we do need to remember that the journalist wasn't responsible for conducting the research.

Aside from the incredibly insulting references to 'grazing' in the research (as if homeworkers 'snack' their way through their workloads) and also to sickness absence (when the reality is that homeworkers are actually much less likely than average to report sick), the theory is that working from home means that we will be unable to switch off from work since the temptation to check our e-mails marries ever-present temptation with the ability to do something to scratch the itch.

The terror of the 'always-on' worker is indeed something that we should be resisting - and, in the trade union world, we do our best to provide the tools to help us improve our work-life balance. All trade unions, Prospect among them, are actively interested in promoting good work, however we might define that. But - hang on, isn't this the scourge of the modern workplace - that being 'always on' is likely to affect us whether we are in the home, in the office, on a train or in a hotel room? (Or, indeed, 'always in'?) That possession of a work phone and the keys to remote access to the servers isn't necessarily confined only to those who work from home? That, in short, being 'always on' is nothing to do with homeworking at all, but likely to strike any of us and all of us, whether we work from home five days per week or no days at all, ever?

Castigating homeworking as likely to reduce our work-life balance, when the truth is that homeworking is one of the tools to improve it, and to ascribe to it the problems of being 'always on' when these affect many workers, is a quite striking example of a piece of research in search of a coherent theory.

Homeworkers come in many shapes and colours, from those who work permanently from home to those who do so only occasionally; and from those who have actively pursued an option to work from home to those who have been given little option. Advice in this context is more complex and may not be readily generalisable. But, the TUC is right to point out that homeworking, to liberate the full benefits, needs to be voluntary (on both parties); and that those who are regular homeworkers need to be able to have a separate room into which they can shut their work stuff (and indeed close the door, at both ends of the working day). (Those who have actively pursued homeworking as a regular option are well-advised to build this into their case.)

And we all of us, whatever our homeworking status, need to remember that all forms of technology do come with an 'off' button - and that, if we find ourselves in trouble at work for using it, a call to our union rep should be our first response.

And as for homeworking being baaad for you, clearly The Guardian writer forgot to say also that it makes you obese. And rots your teeth. Oh - and it gives you wrinkles, too.