Tuesday, 1 October 2013

State of the world address

I’m not going to go on a hate-filled rant about cheese today, or spend six paragraphs discussing why Rise Against are better than Enter Shikari. Instead, I’m going to make some serious points about something that could change our lives if we’d only let it – working from home.

Every major population centre in the UK experiences gridlock and mayhem on its roads for several hours each weekday, as increasingly ignorant motorists vent their frustration on everyone around them. The trains are crowded, slow and unreliable, while the Glasgow subway is a rattly old shitbox and London’s glossier alternative is simply too crowded to function properly at rush hour. Meanwhile, buses are grubby and erratic stab labs - the last time I was on a bus, the windows got bricked. Clearly, commuting isn’t working in this country. So why do so many of us do it?

Putting aside road accidents or the wrong kind of air around train tracks, most congestion builds up during the ever-lengthening “rush hour” periods because too many commuters are trying to get to (or out of) one place at the same time. Remove the need for everyone to channel their way into overcrowded employment zones, and the sea of people will melt into a more manageable river of humanity. The simplest, most obvious way to achieve this (other than everyone working different hours, which would be a logistical nightmare) is to allow employees to work from home.

When you think about it, home working is potentially a cure for many of the nation’s ills. It offers us the chance to save vast amounts of time, reduce the horrific burden on public transport, lower the numbers of road traffic accidents while cutting pollution and congestion, save everybody pots of money, and create happier staff who will take less stress days (which is now the biggest cause of workplace absenteeism, lest we forget). The time and money saved by not commuting can be redirected to people’s loved ones, so families would benefit and children could become happier than they are in their current latchkey states. Meanwhile, employers would benefit from greater staff productivity, workplace satisfaction and employee retention rates, not to mention smaller offices that in turn save money on overheads.

Obviously, home-working can’t be applied to all jobs – someone has to drive the Mr Kipling cakes to Morrisons, and doctors certainly shouldn’t video-conference an oncology consultation - but most companies will have a percentage of staff who could be based at home either part-time or full-time. Do graphic designers need to be in large city centre offices? Couldn’t call-centre workers operate from home if their employers paid the phone bill? Why are middle managers forced to attend meetings when teleconferencing is now a practical alternative? I spent ten years driving across Scotland to sit at a desk and email documents to people in the next room – now I do it from home and save a fortune on petrol.

This, then, is a direct appeal to any managers or directors who are reading this blog. Why not try letting your employees work from home? Set them work-related targets each Monday, keep in regular contact using the panoply of modern communication methods available nowadays, and if the targets have all been met by Friday teatime, it’s working in every sense of the word. Alternatively, if they end up watching Loose Women and the targets are missed, bring them back to the fold, discipline them, or sack them – they’re probably on Twitter all day in the office anyway. Do the whole country a favour, and start alleviating the rush hour misery that your outdated employment policies are inflicting on society. You know it makes sense.

Right, that’s enough seriousness. Next time I’ll explain why cheese slices are better than heroin.

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