Monday, October 15, 2007

Why do I still do this every day?

There was a time when I had to drive into London every day. And, as I sat on the M40 in a sluggish line of commuter traffic, I was always irritated by the sight of the words Why do I do this every day? writ large on a wooden fence just before the M25 slip road. But it wasn’t the activities of the naughty graffitist that raised my blood pressure. It was the sentiment. Why did I need to do it every day?

At the time, my work was mostly computer-based but there was nothing special about the computer on my desk. The one I had at home was better. Plus, I had a broadband internet connection at home (which, at the time, was pretty spanky and new) while at work we had an old dial-up connection that was slower than a geriatric snail on mogadon travelling uphill through treacle. The journey was just over 32 miles each way and took me at least an hour. On a day with bad weather, you could often double that. Four hours per day in a car travelling 66 miles to do a job that I could do just as efficiently – or even more so - at home. It drove me nuts, if you’ll pardon the pun. So why did I do it every day?

Insecurity. My boss was one of those insecure manager-types who thinks you’re not working unless they can see you at your desk typing. He just couldn’t bring himself to trust us and he wanted bums on seats for eight hours every day. I remember him once having a go at me for reading a book because that wasn’t working; this despite the fact I needed to read the book to complete the project I was working on. I honestly believe that he expected us to indulge in ‘unnecessary’ non-working activities like reading and thinking when we were off the clock. And when we were out of the office, things got even worse. We'd get phone calls every hour or so to check where we were.

That kind of micro-management is why so many of us find ourselves sitting in traffic, or standing packed like sardines on trains, for hours every day. There are many jobs that can be done from home. Fast broadband connections, video conferencing, mobile phones and secure e-mail systems mean that we don’t always have to go into the office any more. I’m not suggesting that we never go to work – sometimes we need to bounce ideas off someone. And it’s healthy to enjoy a degree of human interaction. But just think what a difference it would make to your life if you could spend two or three days at home every week.

We already work longer hours and have fewer holidays than almost anyone else in Europe. And with the state pension system slowly but surely disappearing, we're all relying on our own pension schemes ... but they're not paying out like they used to as they can't keep track of rising inflation. The days of retiring at 65 seem to be well and truly over. So, if we're all going to have to work until we drop, shouldn't we be looking for ways to achieve a better work-life balance? That's something that would be helped by working from home.

And think how much quieter the roads would be. There would be fewer accidents and fatalities, less wear and tear on the roads and our cars and the environment would be all the better for it. Those who would still have to travel to work could do so with less hassle. And what savings we’d all make on petrol and rail fares! You might even get a seat on the train.

And, as nearly all domestic burglaries happen during the day, think how many we’d prevent by being at home! Burglars are opportunists. The first thing they look for when deciding which house to break into is whether anyone’s at home. Very few burglars want to risk a confrontation.
We might be healthier too. A recent report shows that a nap after lunch – the siesta that our continental cousins enjoy – can reduce the incidence of heart attacks by up to 37%. Among working men, that figure rises to a staggering 64% just by taking a quick 40 winks on the sofa before resuming work.

And things could be better for the wider community. A recent Unicef report stated that the UK is the worst industrialised country in the world in which to raise children. In the area of family and peer group relationships, we came 21st out of 21 countries with most children revealing that their families almost never eat a meal together. In the same week, three young men were shot on the streets of south London. I can’t help wonder whether the way we live is partly to blame for these kinds of tragic events. We have some of the most expensive houses and cars in Europe and we pay through the nose for fuel and public transport. The more we earn, the more we’re taxed and we’re taxed on everything - even death. And in most family households, both partners have to work. So who is looking after the children when they get out of school? Not the parents … they’re stuck on the M40 or held at Marylebone station by a recalcitrant leaf on the line. The days of Mum staying at home and playing the dutiful housewife are gone and are unlikely to return. Society has moved on. But someone has to be there for the kids. What if one parent, or both, could spend a few days a week working at home? What if Dad was home for two days a week and Mum for another two? Suddenly, ‘latch-key kids’ become a 20th century anachronism. Now there are communities of people at home during the day and especially at the end of school hours when kids need supervision and feeding.

We were all kids once. We all know that without firm guidance, kids can fall into bad habits – whether it’s bad eating or joining a gang. Peer pressure is strong and can be damaging if it isn’t balanced by parental control. Isn’t it time that employers and employees started looking at ways to achieve a much fairer work/life balance? Obviously there are many jobs that cannot be done from home … but a lot can. We should be seriously looking into more ways to make it happen.

The technology is there. Why isn’t the will?

Oh, by the way, the graffiti on the M40 was altered a year or two back. It now reads Why do I still do this every day?

Why indeed.

Photo taken by FiPZie

No comments: