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What’s the point in encouraging home-working for a 3-week Olympic period?

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What a careless generalisation. I doubt Boris was referring to those who work at home already, but those who might take it up for the duration. 

Should they do so, they will discover that they’re thinking of a romantic ideal that doesn’t suit every individual or every company. The only disillusionment they might be free of given the time period is the huge reality that most home workers live with: if you don’t work, you don’t eat. 

Given half a chance, I am a home-worker by choice and by nature. Not ideal if you are running a business where the staff is all factory based, so I have to compromise. Rebel that I am, I am not keen at being at other’s beck and call and more than happy to take the responsibility myself. The major reason why I started working from home is the fact that the choices when to work and how to work are all mine.

The other reason why I chose to work from home was to work around my children when they were young. I would have happily sacrificed the greatest career opportunity for being able to earn an income and look after them at the same time. 

There are other advantages too, including not wasting hours of time and energy on travel; and being able to slop around in my jeans or even my dressing gown. In the days when I was a full time ‘work-at-homer’, I was efficient with tax, claiming rent for my home and chunks of overheads. 

Like everything in life working from home isn’t all on the plus side. You are constantly torn between the pile of work and the pile of washing with no total escape from either. There is no one to take the calls you don’t want to. It is intrusive into your home, and there is a huge temptation to overwork – brainwaves at 11pm suddenly find you hitting the computer keys yet again. If you are sociable by nature and thrive on camaraderie and a competitive spirit, it is a lonely world. Above all, you need the most enormous self-discipline and self-motivation and that is not helped by those friends who happily announce they will drop in for a chat ”since you are working at home” and fail to respect your working boundaries. 

And yet, increasing numbers of businesses have started to use home workers. There can be huge advantages, such as improved staff retention, wider pools of applicants to choose from (such as mothers not wanting to leave home for their children). In many cases changing over to working from home resulted in increased productivity, less stress and therefore less sickness. Overheads can go down as well. 

It must be worth it: Companies that have introduced home working have had to invest in it. There are inevitable problems involved in the management, monitoring and training of staff working from home. Some will prove unsuited, thriving on a sociable office culture or the imposed disciplines of office structures and there can be a loss of existing high performers, as they generally become isolated and disorientated.

On top of that is the initial investment. Contracts have to be changed. Health and safety risk assessments for the homes have to be done. Business insurance has to cover all the premises. Equipment has to be provided. Data protection and security has to be looked at. Facilities for paying and monitoring costs and expenses have to be set up. 

Boris has a point in deeming the government’s idea to let London work from home during the Olympics ridiculous. Who would serve all the lovely visitors their meals, tend to their hair? In the meanwhile, those of us with blocked drains or broken down cars would be extremely stuck. Indeed, my staff cannot make our furniture without our machinery and nor can our customers receive it if our delivery drivers stay at home. Home working is not applicable to a huge number of jobs. 

No business should undertake the use of home workers lightly nor can it be set up overnight. I very much doubt that businesses contemplating encouraging people to work at home are seriously going to abide with all the legalities that should be involved for a period of 3-4 weeks. Most of us don’t have the spare cash to do so. Or perhaps the government is going to waive all normal laws in favor of the Olympics? 

Rather than shout at Boris for an albeit careless remark, perhaps we should be questioning the government for such an impractical and truly ridiculous guideline in the first place.

Jan Cavelle is founder of the Jan Cavelle Furniture Company.

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