Working At Home: The Shape Of Work To Come

If you and your employees are still appearing at the office each day and you think that this is the way it is supposed to be, you may be in for a bit of a shock. Over the next few years, the following scenarios will become more and more common. Are you ready for them?

Scenario 1: George gets up in the morning, has a leisurely breakfast, takes his second cup of coffee and still in his housecoat, goes to work. He does this by merely going to the desk in his den and turning on his computer to see what messages there are from his office and to learn what his assignments are for the day. George will not go to the office today and perhaps not for a several days. Yet he will respond to memos, complete reports, “talk” with his fellow workers, “meet” with them, do his bookkeeping chores and myriad other tasks that he used to do at his desk in the office building. All of this will take place by computer and telecommunications. George has become one of the new breeds, a telecommuter. He loves doing his work at home, his family enjoys it, and even his boss likes it.

Scenario 2: Mary, like George, gets up in the morning, has her breakfast, and then goes to work at home. However, in Mary’s case, she doesn’t have an office to which she could go, nor does she have a boss to whom she must report. Mary owns her business and operates it from her home. After 15 years as a faithful but frustrated employee, Mary decided she could earn more, be more creative, have a better lifestyle, and really enjoy her work if she had her own business. Now she has made her dreams come true: she is her own boss, works when she wants to, and never drives to “work” unless she is going back home. Mary is one of another new breed known as home-based business owners.

Lest you think that George’s scenario is just so much pie in the sky or something that is years ahead, consider the facts. Not only are people working this way now, but there are also hundreds of thousands of them doing it; and more and more companies and employees are eagerly getting involved every day. Microcomputers have allowed and encouraged the rapid growth of work-at-home arrangements for people in almost every field. The practice is common in such areas as accounting, law, real estate, sales, stock broking, financial planning, business analysis, research, and in any element of any business that uses word processing. Some firms operate today with as many as 90 per cent of their employees working from their homes. This is not an idea that is about to come; it has already arrived.

At the same time, the increase in home-based businesses has been nothing short of phenomenal. It is no longer a trend; it is the wave of the future as hundreds of people realize the convenience, pleasure, and profits to be gained from owning and operating home-based businesses. After all, Apple Computers, Greyhound Bus Lines, Pepperidge Farms, and even Coca-Cola started from their originators’ homes. Given the current attitudes of the labor force, the demographic changes which have resulted in less upward mobility, and the rewards of being one’s own boss, it is no wonder that home-based businesses are one of the fastest growth areas of small business in both Canada and the U.S.A.

If you are wise, you should be asking yourself, “Do I want to be my own boss? Could I start my own business? Is my firm ready for telecommuting employees? Can we use this approach? Would our employees be interested in it?” There are advantages and disadvantages for everyone, and you should know what these are before you get involved.

Consider the adjustments demanded of telecommuting employees, for instance. While there are significant benefits for both the firm and the employee, you should not enter lightly into the decision to have a telecommuting work force.

There are many advantages to going this route. A firm can have access to a wide variety of people who can do all the things a full-time in-office staff can do, but at a fraction of the cost. Company growth can be controlled and made more manageable; the demand for office space is reduced; specialist or expert help becomes available without long-term commitments; overheads are lower; and experience has shown that the labor force is generally happier and, in the most cases, more productive.

But what about the disadvantages? Motivation and scheduling tend to be problems for both the telecommuting employee and his or her employer. The employee must continually guard against procrastination. Working at home may be like flex-time gone wild, and there is always that tendency to put things off until later. The lack of contact with one’s colleagues may also be a problem. Some have found that more frequent contact with their spouses and children can be very trying indeed when they have work to do. The secret seems to be exercising firm control over yourself and your working environment.

The office manager must also develop new skills and attitudes. He or she must be very well organized, able to schedule work and plan deadlines very accurately, and must learn how to use electronic mail and message boards. And many managers have found it useful to continue having weekly face-to-face staff meetings with everyone.

The situation is somewhat different for home-based business people. If they have carefully thought through what they are doing and assessed their own abilities and potential for success, they probably have a higher degree of motivation and commitment than the telecommuting employee. However, this does not diminish the need to be very organized. Family adjustments, scheduling changes, taking steps to fight off loneliness and isolation and – strange as it may seem – planning for their leisure – are the major problems home-based business people encounter.

Nevertheless, the rewards to be gained from owning and operating your own business can be most satisfying. In addition to financial independence, there are feelings of success, satisfaction, and being in control of your life that can seldom be obtained elsewhere.

Regardless of whether you personally are considering telecommuting or becoming self-employed, you can be assured that you will be coming into contact with these kinds of people more and more often in the months and years ahead. You may or may not wish to join them, but you will find yourself working with them. It’s not too early to start thinking about it and getting ready.

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