There has been a lot about of late about the potential problems of homeworking, such as isolation, but the pros for many, including those with caring responsibilities, are enormous. That is what makes statistics like those in the latest workingmums.co.uk’s annual survey disappointing.
They show only 1% of mums working full time from home, 3% working full time with some homeworking, 2% working part time from home and 5% working part time with some homeworking. That’s just 11% in total and many of these are likely to be self employed. Clearly our audience is people looking for flexible working so maybe there are a lot of contented work from home parents out there. The latest ONS stats, for instance, show more than 1.54 million people work from home for their main job – up from 884,000 10 years ago. Again, it is unclear how many are self employed.
A survey of public sector workers published by the ONS last week showed just 3% worked mainly from home. That is in a sector which is supposedly more female-dominated because it is more flexible. Clearly there are certain jobs in health and education that cannot be done from home, but, still, that is a very low number.
Why is this when technology has improved hugely and working remotely is easier than it has ever been? Part of the answer can be found in a survey from Cityparents this week which suggests many parents feel their bosses do not trust them to work from home.
The image of homeworking as essentially skiving is still deeply entrenched in some quarters, it seems. I’ve worked from home for years and I can honestly say I have never worked as hard. I don’t do my washing while I’m working – and even if I did it would take five minutes to put it on, shorter than I would have taken to say hallo, how was your weekend to a colleague in the workplace. I don’t watch daytime tv. I don’t sit in my pyjamas, mainly because I have to do the school run every day. Those who have employed homeworkers know that in fact, far from skiving, the main issue is overwork and blurring of home and family time. I recall speaking to someone at BT years ago who said that managers of remote workers’ main problem was getting homeworkers to down tools.
My work can be measured by my output – articles written, reports completed, interviews done, emails answered – but it is also built on trust, mutual understanding and respect. Everyone I work with in workingmums.co.uk works remotely. They just get on and do the job – and they do it very well. Yes, there are challenges – personal ones around isolation and managerial ones, making sure everyone feels like a team. A lot of these challenges are to do with communication and creating a team spirit through well thought-through induction policies, regular conference calls, regular physical meet-ups, use of instant messenger and social events. The fact that everyone wants it to work because they have lived the combined stress of commuting and parenting is an added success factor.
In my opinion, combining working from home with regular meet-ups and/or some days in the office is the ideal, but different people have different circumstances and, clearly, some jobs are very much location-based, although even these often have some administrative component. There are other issues around employment rights, technology support and the like which need more attention. Moreover, it’s not a favour and should not be paid at a lower rate. All it is is a different work location. It’s not nirvana, but it definitely does relieve some of the stress associated with working and parenting.