In the 1930s, economist James Maynard Keynes predicted that by the start of the 21st century advanced technology would mean we only had to work three hours a day. Furthermore, most of that work could be carried out remotely from our homes.
Fifteen years into the new century, most people still find themselves putting in 40-hour weeks and adding on plenty more on the commute. The three-hour working day might still be a distant dream but for a lucky few working from home has become a reality. But is home working all it’s cracked up to be?
The road to hell
‘Hell is other people’, according to Jean-Paul Satre. But he might have been more accurate if he’d suffixed this with ‘on a commute’. Shoe-horning yourself onto a smelly sweatbox of a train moments after daybreak each morning can rarely be worth any salary. Yet millions do it. Not to mention the countless others staring at brake lights on the M25 or waiting at the bus stop in the pouring rain. The home-worker on the other hand rolls out of bed, flicks on the kettle and eases into the work chair at five to nine, probably still in their pyjamas (or so the stereotype goes, at least).
This is not to overlook the fact that simply getting to work costs a small fortune. Train fares spiral above inflation, with some season tickets costing weeks’ worth of the average national salary. Going back to work after the festive period and knowing that you’ll be working well into February just to pay for your commute is about as soul destroying as it gets.
The home worker also enjoys a life free from irritating colleagues and bosses watching over their shoulder. Tea breaks, lunch and working hours happen according to your own schedule, they’re not dictated by some arbitrary corporate machine.
The dark side of the home office
However, working from home is not all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows. Sure, to begin with it’s everything you thought it would be but after a while the veneer begins to crack. There’s no commute to deal with but when you hit your fourth day in a row without leaving the house you even start to long for the friendly smile of a ticket inspector.
The lack of human interaction will often see a marked drop off in your social skills. When you do venture out into daylight, your pale skin and stilted linguistic skills instantly give you away as a troglodytic home worker. You may avoid the awful jokes and incessant interruptions of co-workers but you also miss out on after-work drinks and Christmas parties (NB you may see this as a plus point). We are social creatures after all, and good relationships can make even the worst jobs worth doing.
Similarly, the lack of regimen may have its upsides when you’re heading to the park on a sunny day whilst all the other suckers are stuck behind their desks. But when you find yourself sitting around in your pants at 4pm, you do begin to yearn for a bit of structure.
Weigh it up
In short, like most things in life, working from home is not for everyone. It has its undeniable advantages but it requires discipline and effort to make it work for you. The grass is always greener. Be careful what you wish for. And plenty other platitudes all apply. So think carefully before you take the plunge.
The three-hour working day on the other hand – now that sounds like a fabulous idea.