The working week

 

                  As I sit in my Westminster office I can look out at a Central London where many people have decided to work from home, fearing they cannot travel in  easily to their usual place of work. It means I can get in and out of the centre much more easily than normal.

                   To many work is still defined by the old factory pattern of the industrial era. People still think a full time job entails attending a factory or office five days a week, and working around 8 hours there each day. The day starts at somewhere between 8 and 9.30 am.  Shift working means doing the same at “anti social”hours, so you might need to start earlier or finish later than the typical 9-5. Remuneration patterns may still reflect this sense of “normal” hours and abnormal hours, with “compensation” for working outside the “working day”. Overtime is paid if you need to work more than the specified hours.

                     The truth now is far more complex for many of us. Highly automated factories need far less labour, but they often need to work the machines round the clock with a three shift pattern. There is no magic to the 9-5 period.  Many service sector businesses need to provide service in the evenings and week-ends. It’s no use wanting to be a retailer but having an aversion to working on Saturdays, the biggest day of the trading week.  It’s no good being in the aviation business if you want to be back home by 6pm every evening.

                     Many executives and professionals work far more than forty hours a week, but may do so “flexibly”, having some choice over where and when they get through the pile of work they have to do. My job as an MP is a good example of how work can be carried out at many times  and in many places.  I offer a reply service to emails and calls seven days a week, and regard myself as  being on call at all times if there were to be a local disaster or serious problem.  I work considerably more than forty hours, but do not sit down in my Westminster office five days a week between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm. I probably do most of the computer and email work from home, but do not have time or the wish  to keep records of how long I spend each day doing it. Indeed, how do you account for time reading newspapers or watching the news? Is that relaxation, or part of the job?  Is attending a local event work, if I go in an official capacity, and pleasure if I go of my own accord?  The dividing line between work and lesiure breaks down in busy and interesting jobs. Do Directors and senior business executives hosting corporate hospitality boxes regard that as work or pleasure?

                More and more people are now taking jobs which require this kind of flexibility. More and more jobs require professional standards and continuous training or striving for improvement. More jobs can now be carried out remotely, away from the office.  More jobs have features which people enjoy and would wish to do anyway, as well as drudgery or unwelcome tasks which have to be done.

                It is time to rethink what we mean by work, and to ask more questions about whether homeworking can become a way of raising productivity and relieving strains on the peak hour transport systems. There will always be those who think homeworking is skiving, and for some it can  be another way of being unproductive. For others it can be a way of raising concentration levels, free from office distractions, and cutting out the wasted time of travelling to a segregated place of work. We need to concentrate more  on getting the tasks done and the work performed, and less  on the hours and place of work.

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71 Comments

  1. alan jutson
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    Agree that fexibility is the key, but home working for the majority, no.

    I believe a study was done a few years ago, (sorry but I cannot remember the source) which suggested that only 15% of the population were actually suited and had the mind set to work from home, and be as productive or more productive than those who visited a place of work.

    The reason given, the loss of social interaction with fellow workers, and the ability to self discipline.

    I myself am one of the 85% who find it difficult to sit down alone, and work from home, although I ran a my own business from a seperate office in the house for 30 years.
    No problem for a few hours at a time, no problem unsocial hours, no problem when having to meet deadlines, but mundane boring paperwork, I had to have a break, hence I deliberately structured my day around visiting my contractors on site (announced and unannounced) made telephone calls to friends, suppliers, etc just for a chat, and of course the endless cups of coffee, and the radio on for background noise, to give the illusion someone else was present.

    A friend of hours is one of the 15% he can, and often does, lock himself away for 8-10 hours at a time without a break (other than the odd cup of coffee) on a regular basis.

    All too often there are too many distractions when working from home, children, shopping, dogs. friends popping around, and all of the other domestic chores get mixed up in the day, yes they can supply some relief to work, but very often they take over the so called working day.

    Now self interested hobbies are a totally different matter, as people are serving a self interest, so hours sitting doing, thinking, reading, working on a computer are a totally different matter.

    Perhaps if more work was more interesting, then home working would work to a degree, but in my experience the masses do not find their own work/job interesting enough, or have the self discipline to work from home.

    For the minority that do, good luck to them.

    I would suggest that it is human nature to want contact with others, want a change of scenery, belong to some sort of team, and receive some praise from management from time – time.

    I do agree that strict 9.00 – 5.00 causes travel problems, and so some flexibility of working hours, where applicable, should prove of benefit to some.

    • Disaffected
      Posted August 8, 2012 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      Flexible working arrangements and working from home are not vey productive in the public sector. Even headmasters do it. It begs the question how they exercise leadership from home, guide people, develop people or even know what is going on etc.

      MPs do not even have to turn up to be paid, they can even go on speech tours earning vast amounts of money and still get paid. They can have a variety of other jobs and be paid by interest groups without having to attend Westminster to collect their £64,000, tax free expenses- that the rest of us pay tax on- are given second homes by the taxpayer and flip flop second homes to avoid tax and they call other quarters of society immoral!! MPs are hardly fine role models to follow or debate such issues.

      However, when we have a system where it does not pay to work this topic seems rather trivial. Why not stay at home and not work full stop? No anxiety about making ends meet, travel worries and a guaranteed inflationary rise of 5.2% this year. EU students receiving free university tuition in this country while their English counter parts worry about paying off a life time of debt, which will be taken from their pay at source. Alternatively not work and it is written off.

      Priti Patel MP highlighting the cost of foreign prisoners in our cells today- they do not work but have a standard of living that is better than they would have if they were free in their own country.

      Reply: MPs are required to turn up and vote regularly. If they fail to attend and speak when needed their constituents and their political opponents can soon make an issue of it.

      • norman
        Posted August 8, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

        What’s being done about the right honourable member for Kirkaldy? Not much coming from the Conservative camp regarding his abysmal record.

        You all stick together, don’t try and pretend otherwise. And most constituents in safe seats will vote for a dead rabbit if it has the correct colour of rosette attached.

        Reply: If Mr Brown’s constituents do not think he is doing a good job I am sure they will say so. I have no idea how good he is in the constituency, or how active he is at taking up constituents’ problems, writing to Ministers etc. Whips are not allowed to speak in the Commons, but they can still be good MPs.

      • SadButMadLad
        Posted August 8, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

        “Reply: MPs are required to turn up and vote regularly. If they fail to attend and speak when needed their constituents and their political opponents can soon make an issue of it.”

        As is the case with a certain ex-PM. 🙂 But the constituents, like anywhere else in the UK, aren’t that bothered because in normal day to day life hardly anyone has contact with their MP.

      • Disaffected
        Posted August 8, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

        How many times did Gordon Brown turn up and vote last year? What does regularly constitute?

  2. norman
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    Investing money in this (the future) would be far more productive than HS2 (the past).

    Always fighting the last war.

    • lifelogic
      Posted August 8, 2012 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      They do not care what they do with the money windfarms, house bling, HS2, the Olympics and the rest – so long as they can justify it to the public with some ruse or other, get it past politicians and get well paid and pensioned while doing it. They are just as happy doing something daft as they will be later undoing the damage.

      Wind farms for a good example.

  3. lifelogic
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    Indeed a move to more flexible hours and a 24 hour society has many advantages over the 9-5. You could manage with far fewer shops, schools, hospitals, doctors surgeries, factories, buses, roads, rails and trains etc. – all could be used far more intensively. Buildings and plant are expensive assets and should not be sitting about not being used for most of the week. Saves on heating cost too. Output could perhaps go up by a factor of three using the same level of capital.

    It also would reduce road and transport congestions if the peaks were evened out.

    Still no growth, I see, as the BoE is set to reduce its forecasts again – well Cameron/Clegg/Osborne’s anti growth policies clearly do just as they say on the tin. Why do they not want growth (other than growth in the state sector and tax levels that is)?

    • Jerry
      Posted August 8, 2012 at 7:46 am | Permalink

      Not sure how you work out that a 24/7 society would mean the need for less schools, hospitals and doctors surgeries (in fact the last time I looked, hospitals were part of the 24/7 world and have been since Florence Nightingale!), many shops now have all but 24/7 opening hours whilst are you seriously suggesting that kids could be attending school during the night? As it is many industries/factories not to mention the service sector, as John pointed out, already work shifts, some operate 24/7 on a three shift pattern.

      John’s blog seems to have been aimed towards the “office workers” and city executives, were getting away from a 9am – 5pm work pattern could have it’s advantages, out-of-office [1] working would have even greater benefits as that really would ease transport problems although to do so would mean better IT (broadband/ISDN links) infrastructure. Far to many players in the existing broadband market are more interested in their in-contract subscriber numbers than conductivity, whilst speed is used as a marketing tool ‘Contention ratio’ are rarely ever – thus drop outs, the loss of service, could be a limiting factor in any wide spread up-take of out-of-office working.

      [1] better still, keep the in-office working but relocate?

      • alan jutson
        Posted August 8, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

        Jerry

        NHS Hospital out patients appointments can only be gained during the “normal” working day hours, that is why people wait so long, car parks are full, and people have to take time off of work.

        At least this is the case in our area, as recent experience has shown.

        • James Sutherland
          Posted August 11, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

          Indeed, hospital/GP appointments outside the 9-5/M-F bottleneck would be a big improvement. My dentist and optician both see patients on Saturdays, avoiding the need to miss or reschedule regular work to visit either: why can’t my GP?

          Moreover, it’s been shown in recent studies that even hospitals ARE currently too ‘9-5’ oriented, with the result emergency patients coming in at weekends or late at night have worse outcomes simply because of the time of admission: they get the less experienced and more overworked staff who got the short straw shift. It very nearly killed me, having been born on a Sunday in a small hospital: there were complications, but no experienced staff to treat them because it was Sunday.

          Personally, I’d love to see a reduction in the 9-5 mentality. Some of my colleagues choose to work Sundays, even in the office – nice and quiet, easier to work undisturbed – and why shouldn’t they? Of course, they can’t rely on public transport for that…

      • lifelogic
        Posted August 8, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

        Clearly a lot of capital equipment can you used far more intensively and for longer house than they are currently used. Hospital scanners and the like. Hospital may have emergency services for 24 hours but are far from 24 hours in most respects. Indeed deaths for weekend admissions are far higher, due to lack of proper facilities and staff at weekends.

        • lifelogic
          Posted August 8, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

          sorry “house” should be “hours”.

    • Bazman
      Posted August 8, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

      Could I sign on from home? When I am on the dole seems little point in wasting my dole money on and clogging up the roads or buses getting to the dole office 15 miles away every two weeks in this day and age. If that is not possible could the dole office staff be made to start later? As sometimes I cannot be arsed to get out of bed especially on Thursdays as I play pool and often have a hangover in the morning.
      It’s one rule for some and another for the rest it seems?

      • David Price
        Posted August 9, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

        As of April 2009 you could fill out the forms online but you still had to get your backside out of bed for the interview and every couple of weeks thereafter, things may have changed since.

        • Bazman
          Posted August 9, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

          Which is a good point. You don’t just get a job after a couple of weeks. Though I got my present job within about 15 minutes of loosing the previous one.

  4. John Fitzgerald
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    John

    The concept of home working is a noble one. However we still face an attitude by many managers of “bums on seats” or more famailiarly speaking “if I cannot see you how do I know you are working?” I work in the “sharp end” of the computer industry on design and conceptual build, which could easily be performed at home. I am a freelancer so have all the required equipment in my office which is attached to my house but very seperate by two passageways and two doors. This means once in my (home) office it is the same as working in an office anywhere (I am not at home any more). However in the last 10 years I have only worked from home for a long term once! Most of the time I encounter the aforementioned “bums on seats” mentality!

    Change the managerial mind set and we will change the working practices forever!

    • David Price
      Posted August 8, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

      I’ve done staggered hours (0500 – 1500), teleworking and home working. It works best where there are tangible outputs that can be tracked by the manager and where the individual is highly disciplined. For the most part modern telecoms are up to the task of maintaining contact between team members and large/international companies are generally comfortable with remote working.

      You are right about mindset, but it isn’t just managers. Several years ago on one project I worked from home a lot but people complained they couldn’t contact me, despite my having a company mobile turned on all the time, yet when I was on-site they would never ask to see me in person but call me on the phone.

  5. Alan
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    I think Mr Redwood is raising an important topic. Homeworking could possibly be the next big leap forward in improving the country’s productivity, perhaps even comparable with that which was produced by getting more women into more highly productive work. There is at present a lot of wasted time in people moving from place to place and a lot of wasted opportunities because people are not able to be present at meetings because of lack of time. Very high quality telecommunications could make far better use of peoples’ time and could be a much more profitable investment than railways or roads.

    I doubt that MPs can have much direct effect in bringing about home working. The main impetus has to come from industry. But MPs can have an effect in making industry more aware of the potential gains, in ensuring that regulations do not inadvertently inhibit businesses from adopting home working, and perhaps even in demonstrating that they are making use of these methods. For example, I presume some MPs have tried offering surgeries and election meetings over Skype, but I have heard nothing of the outcome. They could consider House of Commons debates, or at least Select Committee meetings, using teleconferencing.

  6. Mike Stallard
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    I am just wondering if the Chinese factories (or the factories round here full of Baltic workers) would like to have flexi-hours.
    I suspect that a lot of my fellow Englishmen in this town, currently ‘looking for work’ are on flexi time…….

  7. Kevin R. Lohse
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    Skype is rapidly changing working practices at multinational corporations. Face-to -face meetings now increasingly take place using Skype-type software, with the consequent savings on hotel bills, airfares, loss of productivity and expenses.{Maybe unsuitable for parliamentarians? 🙂 } If technology is properly used, managers can keep an eye on productivity. As workers no longer have the stress of commuting, not only is there an increase in productivity but the employee’s quality of life is improved. There are also tax advantages. The main drag on increasing efficiency. apart from Victorian type 1 management, is the antediluvian delivery network for delivering broadband to the country as a whole. Government initiatives are generally too little too late. BT are very pleased with themselves at delivering 2meg/sec to 90% of the country when the requirement is for 100M/sec now, rising to 1000M/sec by 2030-ish. The Government cavils at the cost of installing fibre-optics from junction boxes to the point of use when such cabling would be far less attractive to the scrap-copper thieves that cost the consumer large amounts for the near-constant replacement of copper telephone wire in some areas of the country.

  8. Caterpillar
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    1) At a guess work is our time for which we receive a market (or Govt) price.

    2) I think the “free from office distractions” has much to unpack within it; why are there office distractions, why might people not have the confidence to do some parts of work in the view of others, what are the risks on unethical behaviour, have rules & regulations destroyed privacy, have open plan offices destroyed personal space etc?

    3) The remote working discussion may re-surface a transport investment vs. broadband investment, it should be recognised that this is a false dichotomy both improves train & broadband enable and are enabled by denser living patterns. Sharing time between the home office and the corporate office again fot with both. I guess that the UK sees these concepts in opposition not as mutually supporting.

    • Caterpillar
      Posted August 8, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      4. I suppose a full ‘flexible working’ policy will also need to discuss the storage (aka school) of children.

  9. D K McGregor
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Should homeworkers pay business rates on that part of their home they use for work? Taking this to its logical conclusion , businesses would require much less office space with the consequence that business rates take would fall. Perhaps a serious look at getting all levels of government efficient would be a better and more productive avenue to follow than increasing the obesity epidemic by making employees spend all day next to cheese filled fridges.h/t BoJo

    • JimF
      Posted August 8, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

      Should homeworkers pay business rates on that part of their home they use for work?
      Now there’s a question. Look at the rules, and guess what?
      If you’re working for MegaCorp Ltd from home, using a telephone and pretty well devoting a living space to weekday working-no business rates.
      If you’re Mr. Professional, say accountant, doctor, physio etc with patients sic. visiting the same space – business rates payable.
      I’m uncertain where this leaves MPs.

  10. Iain Gill
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    I worked for one of the big companies which is forever winning awards for its “home working” policies and practises. Sadly I have to report in reality it is an excuse for lots of middle class folk to skive off at home and not pull their weight. Layered with a lot of “equality” nonsense which disregards the longer hours the men really work (despite what the timesheet systems are rigged to say), and the majority of folk working extended periods away from home on the more complex projects being men… Leads to a badly performing organisation in my view.
    On the other hand I have worked for other organisations where true flexible working is part and parcel of the job and culture, home, other office, customer site, where ever, to get the job done. Works well but you do need a core amount of time together to build team spirit and knowledge of each others strengths and weaknesses.
    For the UK staggered working days would be a good innovation, especially in the big cities where transport is crowded. There is no real need for everyone to work 9 to 5, if folk were given staggered working days it would make a tremendous difference to transport. Indeed this also happens informally in many companies but needs a much bigger takeup to make a real difference.

    • backofanenvelope
      Posted August 8, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      Of course, for central London, the government could set an example. The whole of Whitehall could move to staggered hours. My last 3 years in MoD were 0700-1530. Travel in from Chiswick was much easier, except for the children in the afternoon.

  11. Jerry
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Two issues, one is economic and needs to be answered first – Were will the UK economy be, were should it be, in five, ten, thirty years? Out-of-office (most likely home working) is fine if we are broadly going to be in the high-end service or finance industry sectors, home working won’t -nay, can’t- work if we are going to revitalise our manufacturing sectors. The second question is about productivity, whilst some people will be able to maintain and separate off (either physically or mentally) their paid work from their domestic life, others will not, the wider implementation of home working could mean that previously skilled and productive people become less so or even unproductive. Some people need an office environment and perhaps even fixed hours.

    As I mentioned in a reply to points made by Lifelogic, planned relocation might be a better approach if the main consideration is transport/infrastructure issues and the lack of productivity these problems create. Rather than living with ones work, as would be the case with home working, living ‘next door (or at least very local) to ones work might be a better answer. This might be far to radical for many though as it does smack of the post-war grand social planning of old.

    As an aside, as you mention the Olympics John, whilst there are no doubt many people working from home or different locations than normal rather than fighting their way into central London during the Olympics I do wonder what the economic productivity figures will be if many people are simply are not working as they normally would, having had the usual office discipline removed. Perhaps there will be a surge in ‘overtime’ next week…

    • norman
      Posted August 8, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      Number 308342 you have been assigned to Magnitogorsk iron works, here are your travel papers. Your train departs next Wednesday, apartment no.203 in block 18 has been assigned to you.

      I think I’ll take a pass on that one.

      • Jerry
        Posted August 8, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

        Norman, I was thinking more about moving companies out of the various metropolitan areas, not assigning staff to places of employment! For many companies relocating from say central London would have few if any down-sides and many potential advantages, even more so if there were tax breaks for doing so.

        All to often companies are located were they used to do physical business, now people sit in the same offices and do such business via the internet using web, email and video/teleconferencing etc.

    • David Price
      Posted August 8, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

      In the context of your first question there are some interesting developments in dektop manufacturing going on.

      With regards to your second point about some people not coping with the isolation of home working, I think flexible working arrangements need to be able to accomodate those who want a traditional office environment. The last company I worked for operated a mix of environments including “hot desking” and office “hotels”. Also, peoples needs change over time, initially I might want flexibility to cope with a young family but later on I may want a more traditional environment. Good employers will recognise these circumstances and adapt their working environments and practices, some already do.

      Alternatively the team might organise itself to suit, on one project we met in each other’s houses.

  12. Syd
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    “There is at present a lot of wasted time in people moving from place to place.”

    This is the key for me – I live in Mr Redwood’s constituency, and work in Reading – it is only 14 miles away, but the commute in rush-hour takes the best part of an hour, whether I drive or take public transport, so that is 10 hours a week ‘lost’ to almost completely unproductive activity. Luckily, I work from home 3 days a week, so my business saves 6 hours per week, or 300 hours per year – that’s a lot of extra hours devoted to my business.

  13. Cllr. Robert Barnard
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Very much agree with the need for flexibility and I often choose to work in the evening as so much more can be achieved with fewer distractions. Councillors, like MPs, are never really off duty either.

    Personally I have never understood the scepticism about working from home as past experience suggests the conventional office environment has so many “distractions” that it is less productive. I could give many examples but would need to change names to protect the guilty!

    Representing an area with residents who commute long distances to work I know how many would appreciate working from home at least some of the time. However, some parts of the country and especially rural communities suffer from very poor broadband speed – less than 1Mbps in many cases. Improving that would be simpler, easier and quicker than HS2 and would benefit more areas and especially those rural communities which already suffer from lack of easy access to services taken for granted by people in urban centres.

  14. Geoff
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    I infrequently agree with John Redwood but agree wholeheartedly here. I have worked from home between 1 and 5 days a week for the last 15 years.
    I find it liberating and saves me a 3 hour commute each day. Also saves significant carbon emissions.
    In the 15 years my productivity has always been recognised and rewarded. However different managers have had varying views on me working from home with far too many with a closed mind and wanting to see me with my bum on a seat
    I hope he continues to publish his thoughts and pursues this matter with the vigour he’s shown to his anti European agenda. I may become a follower!

  15. English Pensioner
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Home working in many areas presents a staff management problem rather that a practical problem. Too many staff, particularly in an office environment are lazy and it is often not easy to ensure that they do an honest day’s work and it would be even harder if they were at home.
    My daughter works from home occasionally using her company lap-top, but tends to prefer to be in the office where she is not distracted by home problems (the sun’s come out, I’d better hang out the washing, etc) and even the most honest worker will probably find it difficult unless they have an office where they can shut the door to domestic interruptions.
    But on balance, it would be better (and greener) to spend money improving our communications systems such as broadband to enable more home working, rather than building more railways, which by the time they are finished probably won’t be needed.

    • Jerry
      Posted August 8, 2012 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

      Home working in many areas presents a staff management problem rather that a practical problem. Too many staff, particularly in an office environment are lazy and it is often not easy to ensure that they do an honest day’s work and it would be even harder if they were at home.

      That doesn’t follow, if someone is login into the companies VPN, not only can management or the IT dept. tell who has done so but from were they have done so (especially if the staff were each provided with fixed IP numbers for their home broadband access), what files have been accessed/altered, even what changes were made.

  16. Luca
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    If any British administration to date had prepared for the home-working revolution which has long been forecast, we might now have more local government involvement in the digital infrastructure that supports it.

    I am frustrated that my own local administration should be struggling for revenue generation while a new digital economy has grown in and around it in which is it not an agent. And it is unfortunate that it is left to private iniatives to launch digital communities that are only now beginning to reflect a truer image of our local economies.

    The sad truth, however, is that the dogmatic resistance in this country to the involvement of the state in the provision of core services has meant the digital “legacy” will always be only indirect at best.

    Our local administations should be fully engaged in providing connectivity and using their networks to generate revenues they need so badly as well as offering direct support to emerging businesses — many of which are home-based when they start. And perhaps if they had access to the new digital high streett, they might feel less pressure to turn our physical high streets into tired buntings of charity shops, take-aways and liquor outlets.

  17. Duyfken
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    I consider myself as being really lucky for having had the freedom to work at home and elsewhere as appropriate, this from becoming self-employed (as an expert witness and arbitrator). Not all can be so fortunate and maybe it is not suited for everyone, but the ability to arrange my day as I wanted, which may for instance mean starting work at 5 am or alternatively working into the small hours, was perfect. I found that if I could put in about 6 hours of concentrated effort before the pubs opened (I jest), this was worth twice the number of hours which would be needed were I ensconced in an office. What became so evident was the amount of time previously wasted in a City office by my commuting, dealing with office trivia and politics and other distractions, and worst of all the endless and pointless office meetings.

    It is not for all, and working from home should also be leavened by some outside contact, which for most would be needed anyway for contact with clients and the like.

    All that said, the majority of jobs must surely always necessitate going to work rather than having the work come to oneself. JR’s viewpoint is attractive, particularly for professionals, other consultants and some office-workers, but it is not something which the average employee (manual workers et al) can hope to achieve.

  18. The Prangwizard
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    I was very fortunate to get an early retirement package including a pension, ie. made redundant at 50. I’ve worked here and there since and still do and I am one of those people who is quite happy with my own company, and haven’t missed being in a working environment. I am not the lazy type and have never been a 9-5 er, but I’m not sure I have the self discipline to work efficiently away from a working environment for long and in any case teamwork and keeping up to date is impossible when there is too much fragmentation. My preference would be for a completely flexible system, a practice which is probably widespread now anyway, but given the wide variety of businesses this flexible ideal and getting away from 9-5 can only be left to individual employers and employees. There should be no legislation for or against. However, discipline will need to be maintained and the employer must have much easier rights of dismissal, because there is no doubt that employees who are not as dedicated as others will need an incentive to make the best use of time and not waste it. Let’s face it, if an employee can type a report into a laptop while in a garden or at a scenic viewpoint there can be no complaint that his working conditions are harsh. At the same time employers must not be allowed to take advantage, so when an employee is off duty that employer must stay well away, no sneaky emails, fake emergencies etc..

  19. oldtimer
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    No doubt the workplace is changing fast with 24 hour access and/or operation indispensable to any capital intensive operation. People are having to adapt to this new world. Homeworking, aided by new technology, helps make this possible. My eldest son runs his own business from home and, as far as I can tell, much of it is encapsulated and integrated on his smart phone/transformer tablet/pc – he is very IT literate. Yet even in the age of Skype video conferencing, personal contact remains very necessary.

    Re corporate hospitality boxes, I used them as an opportunity to meet customers and to get feedback and signals on how we were doing be it good or bad. It was a huge timesaver and provided the opportunities for personal contacts that otherwise would not have been available. Sponsorship can offer the same benefits, but at a much greater cost. I would not have attended these (mostly weekend) events otherwise.

  20. Neil Craig
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Within 20 years there will be millions of people working in space. They will be doing it from office or home. Remote handling of machinery & robots is already does not demanf more proportionate computer capacity than remote answering of customer’s queries by call centres in Bombay did when that started. The obvious place where such robotic work will most usefuly replace non-virtual workers is in space.

    • Bazman
      Posted August 8, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

      Will I have to eat pills and toothpaste for lunch?

    • uanime5
      Posted August 8, 2012 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

      What are millions of robots going to be doing in space? Given how much it costs to send things into space and the difficulty of building in zero gravity construction projects can be ruled out.

    • David Price
      Posted August 10, 2012 at 6:04 am | Permalink

      Or on the sea bed, lots of rare earth minerals on the off the coast of Japan apparently.

  21. Adam5x5
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    The main problem with moving away from the 9-5 model is a cultural one – on Friday night, everyone wants to go out/home/see friends/etc.

    Few people want to be at work so productivity dives and is much lower friday evening through sunday evening. This can be seen where I work, where the weekend is optional overtime. People volunteer to come in, but still do less than during the week.

    I would be against the wholescale changing of hours because I currently work shifts and my 20min commute would take longer if people didn’t work 9-5.
    Slightly staggered working hours would be a better idea with some companies working 7-3, others 8-4, 9-5, 10-6. That way the peak commute times would broaden and be more pleasant to travel in. It would also assist in the collection of small persons from the education centres.

    Working from home would be quite easy for a lot of modern companies and employees, provided that the proper metrics were used. I don’t believe a lot of companies would like it though as the difficulty of firing underperforming staff makes it unattractive.

    • norman
      Posted August 8, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      Where I am currently we can start any time between 7 and 9 and finish between 4 and 6, and can finish at lunch time on a Friday if you’ve put in the 40 hours.

      Great for someone like me with a 40 mile commute, miss all the lorries leaving early so more or less clear roads and home in time to sit down for dinner at 5 most nights.

      Why every company – where applicable – doesn’t do this is a complete mystery to me.

      • Jerry
        Posted August 8, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

        Norman, because if everyone did it all that would happen is that is ‘the rush hour’ and thus the congestion will just gets moved to a different time of day, it would be like that comment the media always make come out with when congestion is expected, “stager your journey”, so everyone leaves an hour earlier to miss the jams…

      • a-tracy
        Posted August 8, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

        It’s only good for you because you’re in the minority if everyone had a choice the majority would pick an early start/early finish and you’d be worse off. From experience it is easy to get staff for the early start shifts but the later start/later finish shifts aren’t easy to recruit for.

        There’s no point having workers in business to business call centres from 7am to 9am. Flexible hours suit administrators/accounting staff but service staff need to be in at times and places the clients are there to sell your services to.

        • Jerry
          Posted August 9, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

          There’s no point having workers in business to business call centres from 7am to 9am.

          Depends on where they do business, 7am to 9am catches the start of most if not all of Europe. Think international time-zones…

          • a-tracy
            Posted August 10, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

            Fair point I should have clarified UK business to business calls 😉 from experience there isn’t sufficient UK businesses open or taking calls in those hours we’ve trialled that shift.

  22. kfc1404
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Yes, indeed, I have work which is very similar. I can choose whether to, clean, hoover, wash or iron or go shopping at the local supermarket! Oh, I forgot cook! And I can choose at what time of the day I perform these tasks.

    • BobE
      Posted August 8, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      I do hope he’s keeping you barefoot and pregnant up against the kitchen sink!

  23. Bert Young
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Corporate culture has a lot to do with the social interaction at work ,and, the motivation that leadership can provide has much influence on the development of skills . Home-working may have advantages concerning the costs of operating , but , overall the pros and cons should be deliberated by the employer and the employee very carefully . Influence and persuasion had a significant part to play in the international organisation that I ran and I can’t conceive how home-working could have contributed to its success .

  24. BobE
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    In my previous job you could elect, with line manager aproval, to work 8-4, 9-5 or 10-6.
    This is a good compromise and works for many people. It spreads the rush hour over 3 hours.
    BobE

  25. peter davies
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    I have worked from home for years but do miss the office banter and social interaction. Some jobs are well suited to this but others not so. I think your description of using the home office for all the computer/paperwork etc is spot on but it does need to be mixed with periods of social interaction/leadership etc.

  26. Atlas
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    I worked for an organisation that decided it had to keep up with the latest management fad and so we were moved to an open-plan office. For me it was hell on earth and we parted company not long after. Nevertheless I do know that there are others who thrive on the open plan “buzz” (which were just distractions to me), yet they were not the type to do the job I was being paid to do.

    I think home or office depends crucially on the type of job you are doing.

  27. Bob
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    It maybe okay for office workers, but not for cleaners, bus drivers, maintenance workers etc. etc.

    But I suppose if the office workers stayed at home, you wouldn’t need so many cleaners, bus drivers and maintenance workers etc. etc.

  28. Cliff. Wokingham
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    John,

    I personally believe there are far more fundamental questions that need to be addressed before your questions are answered.

    I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s and was expected to work from 08-00hrs until 18-00hrs Monday through Thursday, 08-00 until 17-00hrs Friday and 08-00hrs until noon on Saturdays once I left full time education, just to earn my basic pay. We were always told that, in the future, we would work far less hours and would enjoy more and more free time as machines and robots did more and more of the work.
    In the 1970s and early 1980s, we did start to see working hours come down but, in recent years, it seems to me, that longer hours are becoming the norm yet again. We see media and politicians “egging” people on to work more and more and branding people as lazy if they don’t dedicate their lives to business and work all hours God sends. We already work longer hours than most of our European partners, take less holidays and retire later, but still we are branded by politicians and their media friends as, work-shy, lazy and uncooperative.

    This raises, in my opinion, fundamental questions;
    Do we live to work or work to live?
    Is our purpose in life merely to work?
    Have all the advances we have made in medical science and other fields been purely made to keep us shackled for longer?

    Until recently, I had always worked, not because I wanted to, but because I had to; it is the curse of being born poor.
    I can accept that those in interesting jobs, such as MPs, media, professional sportsmen and Captains of industries etc, will be very happy to work long hours and after hours but, I wonder how many checkout workers, shelf fillers, floor sweepers, cleaners etc feel the same? Not many I suspect.

    Even in my former profession, I had days when I would have preferred to have been elsewhere and often felt pressured into working longer hours.

    I was recently in a local supermarket where I witnessed a manager shouting at a young shelf filler on the shop floor in front of customers; I honestly thought this style of man management went out thirty years ago but, I now see it again. His final remarks to the hapless youngster was, if you can’t get it right, there are thousands on the dole that would be glad of your job. Again, I thought this attitude died decades ago. It must be depressing for young people to think that they are likely to have to work until they’re in their Seventies or beyond, especially if they don’t have the abilities to get into a well paid, interesting job.

    What many businesses appear to not have grasped is that, when they take someone on, they buy their time, not them.

    There seems to be an obsession with GDP. As it increases, so government spends more and invents more to do. Do we really benefit from all this stuff our government does? Do we really benefit from the reams of rules and regulation they put in place each year? How did we manage pre Blair, Brown and Cameron when we had much less government and rules and laws?

    Why do politicians always expect GDP to keep growing? What happens when the market reaches saturation point?

    I think we need less government, less interference, fewer laws and a government that just concerns itself with the basics such as, law and order, security, education and perhaps medical facilities. We do not need politicians, be that local, national or Bloody Brussels managing every aspect of our lives.

    May I recommend reading some of the excellent works by the late Dr Magnus Pyke; look at these three titles;
    Science Myths
    Slaves Unaware
    And
    There and Back
    Although these now out of print works were penned in the 1960s, they are very relevant today. They are not that easy to get hold off, but worth the effort.

    • JimF
      Posted August 8, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

      Yes I often think we were told in the seventies that there would be more leisure time by now due to computerisation and robots taking over. We were also told we’d probably retire at 50, same reason.
      What went wrong?
      It is completely bizarre now that people remain working at 65-70 “to qualify for their pensions” whilst we have high youth unemployment.

      • Atlas
        Posted August 9, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

        Indeed we were told in the ’70s about increasing leisure time due to automation. We’ve had the automation, but the ‘leisure’ time is now the dole queue with politicians berating us as ‘lazy’. Who scammed all the pensions eh? It was not just Maxwell…

      • Jerry
        Posted August 9, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

        “What went wrong?” The nation turned again both high tax levels and the welfare-state, that’s what…

  29. Jon
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    I think it will only be appropriate for certain jobs, the means to do so has existed for some time yet the companies have not been jumping at this.

    Those who work remotely still depend on a central hub and the facilities there in to augment their work. There can be issues such as data security and connectivity. Take the offices, the IT there is not cheap but connectivity is high delivering a high productivity. The same kind of work spec lines and back ups are not going to be routed to each home. A central hub can house facilities such as marketing, research as well as machinery that becomes cost effective is used by my but far too expensive to house in the workforces homes.

    There is also the key benefit of shared thinking, ideas, innovation, problem solving, training, coaching and not least inspiring the workforce. A email is not the same as face to face.

    Yes homeworking will increase but there is a reason why cities, business and industrial parks are still there and why companies have not rushed to do this wholesale.

  30. Bazman
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    Many companies now expect shift and overtime to be at the same rate as day work, you can be sure the middle class middle managers weekends are as sacred as they ever were. No shift work for him. Being avalible means talking on the phone to his lackeys at out of hours times. I have worked the 6-2, 2-10 and 10-6 shift system with four hours overtime either side in the good times. Can have advantages of getting thing done around the house, going to the bank etc. The disadvantages being strangely tired though can still go to the gym some thing I find difficult on my now 8-5 hours. Night shift is bad for the health and the mind. Turning night into day does not work. For the same money? Ram it.

    • Mark
      Posted August 9, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      Ewe don’t say?

  31. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    With all this flexibility, you have to feel a little sorry for the divisional manager. Suppose he/she is running a software development unit of 10 people and has been given an overall target for sellable programs. However, 7 of the 10 work at home a lot and 9 months into the year productivity appears to be running 10% behind target. What is he/she to do?

    • Mark
      Posted August 9, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      Manage better?

      Letting his project get 10% behind schedule is not good management. Good project management builds in some contingency, so failure to be ahead of plan is a warning sign that all is not right. That should provoke investigation and action.

  32. uanime5
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    Factory jobs weren’t originally 9-5 Monday to Friday, they were 9-5 everyday until Parliament outlawed this and prevented people working in the latter half of Saturday and all of Sunday; creating the weekend. Though this law was later relaxed to the current trading laws.

    I believe that working from home is now called “home-sourcing” and is seen as an alternative to outsourcing (sending the jobs abroad) because a home-sourcing company doesn’t need to build/rent an office or pay to maintain it. Though they do need to provide their employees with the necessary equipment, and contribute to broadband and electricity costs.

  33. Mark
    Posted August 9, 2012 at 2:06 am | Permalink

    Homes aren’t the only locations that could be used for more local working: there is no reason why offices need to be located in city centres, even when there is a perceived need for supervised working and an element of co-location. A “village office” could house several smaller departments for different firms or organisations for example (and located near a school to cut school run journeys in addition). There could be advantages to such structures in encouraging competition between locations, and the ability for ideas to be generated and tested without being crushed by a central monolith.

    There are other ways in which commuting could be reduced. I suspect many might be quite surprised to see the degree of criss-cross commutes for e.g. supermarket workers even working for the same chain that could be reduced by reallocating staff to branches closer to their homes.

    Employers need an incentive to discover these kinds of solutions: that is why I advocate requiring employers to bear some of the commuting costs associated with the provision of expensive rush hour capacity and longer distance commutes. Of course, some employers will find it essential to maintain their locations – for example banking deals depend on computers that can lose out simply because they are too far away from the exchange (light travels 300 metres in a microsecond, during which a computer can execute thousands or even a million instructions for a teraflop machine).

  34. David Langley
    Posted August 9, 2012 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    All servicemen and women are employed 24/7 which means their hourly pay is in the main probably less than the minimum wage. Clearly they have down time, especially when they are on a home posting depending on their individual circumstances. All are immediately available however for 24/7 work. The Olympics being a case in point. After I left it was strange not having to go on duty, and having each weekend and public holidays off. It has taken years to get over the whining people saying “I didnt have enough time” when asked if they went to bed last night you get a strange look. Going to work does not mean you did any John!!

  35. Terry
    Posted August 9, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    A great idea but I see one problem.

    A wife who does not see her husband as “working” from home but merely available for all chores. Doing the washing up, being ever watchful lest it rain on the washing, re-arranging the furniture, taking the dog for a walk, etc, etc.
    “Can you do this and that while I’m out Darling”?
    Constant interruptions to update the husband of the state of nothing in particular and nothing that is life threatening but nonetheless, important to wifey that hubby is made aware of it. This continual barrage, certainly is not conducive to good working practice and does give advantage to “working way from home” despite the potential travel horrors.

    • Bazman
      Posted August 9, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

      They need need to squeak up for themselves.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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