If you're a factory worker or a green grocer, you're obviously not going to phone it in. Increasingly though, things like home health care and field services are growing remote workforces with less need for a "home office" (in the old sense of the word).
A pessimist will say that any work that can be done from home can be outsourced. An optimist will say that easy access to work that calls for my skill will bring more work to me. But if you are a call-center worker, a data center manager with remote access -- or any kind of information worker really -- the odds are going up that you're going to be working from your own domicile at least part of the time someday.
I ought to know. Though I have a cubicle in our big office in Manhattan (that I love going to), I've been working mostly from home for more than 10 years. Ever since the demise of the teletype and the networked green screen computer monitor, information comes to me much more easily than the effort it takes for me to get up and go to it. I probably go to conferences and events almost as often as I go to the office.
There is a good and bad to this I've been reflecting on, especially right now as most of our editors at Information Management are about to take their jobs mostly home for the first time. As a former foul-mouthed commuter, I can tell them they are not going to miss their morning and evening rush hours. As they are located in Wisconsin, they definitely will not miss the adventure of stupendous, ridiculous snowfalls that bury their cars at daybreak and block their path at every turn. For work at least, they will experience fewer gut-dropping moments of lost traction or gunning their engine to get up the hill that leads to our office.
I am not fearful for their productivity because in our business, value is self-evident. You can easily look at the growth of online certifications and training as well as work (value creation) to see the convenience and cost drivers for doing so. It's definitely not productivity you lose in your home office.
The good thing about working from home is you're always there and ready to work.
The bad thing about working from home is you're always there and ready to work.
If you're not careful, you'll find yourself easily putting in more hours than you ever did at the office. The nice thing I remember about being a producer or managing editor at a network is that when your shift was done, you walked away from the building without a care until the next day, when you'd spend the first hour of your shift catching up. You couldn't really do this from home.
Now it feels like the task list keeps growing and it's an act of will to stop myself from finding extra-hour opportunities to get ahead of it. As I write this it seems a glum look at the rest of my life and I doubt I am alone.
When I work at home it's much the same as in our big office in Battery Park, where information on a screen draws the focus and keeps everyone's heads down. The different and best part of those visits are the meeting and face time, even a casual lunch that reacquaints me with my peers, comparing perceptions and ideas that makes me part of something bigger and reminds us all we are working together. Even if we are not all pulling on the same big rope, there's a lot to be learned and shared and gained by comparing calluses in person.
That's what makes me a little nostalgic already at one more office going virtual. The networks and lines and mail addresses and workarounds are already in place for everything short of the office lunchroom. But going into our next 20 years we won't have that old propinquity, not with Skype or instant messaging. Instead of kicking the snow off our boots and sharing horror stories we saw on the way in, we'll look out the window and maybe call to have a laugh about it and plan to have lunch sometime.