At the time of writing, the UK is experiencing the unwelcome advance of the Coronavirus, or COVID-19. Sporting events are being suspended, festivals are being cancelled, and commuters are nervously applying hand sanitiser while sweating underneath stifling face masks. We’re being encouraged to avoid large public gatherings and refrain from unnecessary travel, while consumers panic-buy toilet roll and shysters try to sell us 49p bottles of antibacterial gel on eBay for £25.
At this stage, it’s impossible to know how far COVID-19 will spread, or how serious its repercussions will be. However, the latest Government advice is to work from home if possible. And that has raised a wider debate about why millions of people struggle through chaotic rush-hours to reach an inconvenient place for an arbitrary time, to sit at a desk and email people sitting six feet away. Accountancy firm KPMG is running a trial where many of its staff work from home on Fridays, to see whether productivity is affected. In fact, there’s a good chance productivity will increase, since people will be committed to making the trial a success. Plus, they’ll feel more energetic and less fatigued without an early-morning commute…
No place like home
It’s a shame that it’s taken the Coronavirus outbreak to make employers question the necessity of making staff sit in an office all day. The benefits of home working certainly aren’t lost on me. Exactly ten years ago, I quit the safety of a full-time job as a property journalist to become a full-time freelance writer, running my fledgling copywriting agency from a spare bedroom in East Kilbride. That didn’t just mean surrendering a guaranteed salary, a pension scheme and a chance to chat about last night’s episode of Homeland while the kettle boiled. It also meant giving up an expensive and frustratingly slow commute into a draughty and noisy office in an industrial estate, and then repeating the process in reverse when I was tired and it was getting dark. And although the ability to dramatically reduce my exposure to airborne pathogens wasn’t a key factor behind establishing G75 Media, avoiding other people’s germs is one of many advantages to working from home.
Of course, some professions lend themselves to home working better than others, and not everyone has the flexibility a freelance writer enjoys. Doctors can’t squirrel themselves away in their spare rooms, though they could potentially make greater use of video calls. Taxi drivers still have to collect passengers, albeit with their windows open and a box of tissues handy. And nobody expects police officers or firefighters to log on remotely. Yet millions of people could base themselves at home for at least part of the working week, from call centre staff to architects. And if they did, they might discover the following benefits:
- More time. How many hours would you save by not having to endure ten rush-hour journeys every week? You could spend some of this extra time doing additional work, some of it taking proper breaks from your desk, and the rest enjoying quality time with family and friends.
- Less distractions. Office camaraderie can be enjoyable, but small talk and blaring radios become a distraction if you’ve got a deadline to meet. Large offices can be antithetical to productivity, with constant interruptions and background noise. Being based at home may provide greater freedom to concentrate – helping you to be more productive and efficient.
- Greater flexibility. The concept of working from 9am to 5pm with a one-hour lunch break seems archaic in today’s 24-7 global culture, yet this 19th century hangover persists through sheer inertia. Many people work better at other times of day, don’t want a full hour for lunch, or would benefit from more flexible working hours due to family commitments.
- Better breaks. Isn’t it annoying when you have to wait ten minutes to use the solitary microwave because someone’s cooking a baked potato? At home, you can eat and drink whatever you want, whenever you want. No more stolen milk, no more fixed break times, and no more offending everyone around you as you unwrap an egg mayo baguette.
Same. But different.
Many people are surprised to discover how much of their working week relies on technology, rather than proximity. We’ve all emailed colleagues sitting within a few metres of us, driven to meetings which would have been equally productive as a Skype call, and printed off emails to hand out when simply forwarding the email would have saved paper and ink. Collaborative workplace tools like Slack and Trello make project management easier than the traditional whiteboard-and-weekly-meeting approach, and email remains the finest method of data distribution ever invented.
As a freelance writer, I am typing this blog on a laptop at home, which I could relocate anywhere with a decent WiFi connection. According to Google Analytics, you are probably reading it on a portable device – another laptop, a tablet or a smartphone. And while any of us could potentially contract an airborne virus like COVID-19, my ability to avoid public transport while picking and choosing when I leave the house should reduce my risk of (a) being infected and (b) unwittingly infecting other people.
If you’re an employer reading this, it’s worth considering the extent to which you could permit staff to work from home. If you’re an employee, consider what (if any) parts of your job may be achievable while being based at home, and suggest it to your line manager. And if you want to enjoy the benefits of high-quality content production by an award-winning freelance writer, from blogs and listicles through to opinion pieces like this one, drop me an email or give me a call. You don’t need to arrange a face-to-face meeting to benefit from G75 Media’s copywriting and content production services.