It seems for every two steps forwards; society is always destined to jump one step back. As soon as the necessity for remote work was removed, the misguided backlash against working from home returned.
It’s come from various business leaders and notable figures, including Lord Sugar and MP Jacob Rees-Mogg. And some recent newspaper reports claim that home offices are going to become increasingly expensive due to rising energy costs and other price increases.
While I’m not suggesting anyone who has invested in commercial property might have a conflict of interest, it’s no surprise that anyone who has swapped commuting for freelancing at home has questioned some of the calculations given in the press.
For example, basing the 12-month cost of heating on typical usage in January, which is generally a bit colder than months like June or July. Or that in addition to running your boiler for 24 hours a day, you’ll also be making endless cups of tea.
But rather than negatively picking at the strange arguments for heading back to the office, I’d rather look at the benefits of working from home
WfH is cheaper
Ignoring strange assumptions, like the cost of cooking your lunch in the oven every day for a month rather than having sandwiches or a salad occasionally, the cost benefit for me has been very simple.
I spent 2 years commuting daily from Peterborough to London Kings Cross. With the current cheapest annual option of £7,388 for slower trains, or £8,756 for the faster option, that’s a big saving before the costs of parking at the station, topping up my Oyster Card, and losing 3 hours of my day to train travel. Or cycling to the station in the snow (which has resulted in more than one slip on ice), and then spending the savings on lunch at West End sandwich shop prices.
And as any self-employed professional knows, the cost of a home office can be partially offset against tax.
The cost benefits will vary between individuals. You might have a much cheaper commute, and need your house heated like a tropical rainforest at all times. But there are other benefits…
WfH saves time
From leaving home to arriving at a London office would take me around 2 hours each way. And even when I worked in Peterborough, my car journey was around 20 or 30 minutes assuming no major traffic problems.
That’s been one and four hours I can spend on work, or dealing with other matters. When I’ve been required to sit in an office from 9 until 5.30pm every day, it meant any errands had to be handled during my lunch hour. When everyone else in the area is also rushing to the bank, picking up a sandwich, and trying to pick up a delivery which got rerouted to the local courier depot.
Working remotely with a more flexible schedule means I can schedule errands and appointments for the quietest times. Which means I can sort them much more quickly, and then get back to work without stress and high blood pressure.
It also meant I could regularly pause working to collect my son from school and spend time with him, before resuming work in the evening. Or spend my lunch break getting fresh air and exercise.
WfH can be more sociable
One of the legitimate concerns about working remotely at home is that it can be lonely at times, and you can find it harder to become inspired, collaborate and build relationships with clients or colleagues.
But like so many aspects of becoming self-employed, it really depends on how much time and effort you’re willing to put into that side of your life. I’ve made some good friends from my time commuting to work alongside them every day, and I’ve also met some amazing people by initially connecting online, from local networking and meetup events, or via hobbies and pastimes unrelated to my job.
The main difference is that going into the office everyday forces you to interact with your fellow employees, whether you actually like them or not. Being self-employed gives you greater choice and autonomy about who you spend time with, and how you choose to collaborate.
And there’s always the option of hybrid working, splitting time between home and office visits. Or to work from a local café, coffee shop, pub, or co-working space to get the right amount of interaction to suit your personal preference.
WfH is often more productive
We’ve all seen or heard comments suggesting anyone claiming to work from home is sat in their pyjamas watching Netflix rather than getting things done. And that’s claimed to be a problem with working from home.
For employees, that’s more accurately an issue with a particular individual and their manager. And if you’re self-employed or freelancing, the need to secure an income generally overcomes the desire to procrastinate or chill out around the time rent is due or the fridge is empty.
It also assumes no-one ever wastes time when they’re at a workplace. Which is blatantly untrue if you’ve ever visited one 20 minutes before the end of any Friday. Various studies have looked at increased productivity and satisfaction when people can work from home. And the proof for me is how often I’ve found myself hungry after accidentally working through lunch, dinner, and into the night without realising.
Like an escaping gas, tasks will often expand to fill the available space. If I know I’m stuck at my desk until the clock hits 5.30pm, then why finish a task more efficiently? But if it means more time with my family, enjoying a hobby or relaxing, then I’ve got an important non-financial incentive to get things done.
WfH can be healthier
One thing I do miss from working for a former employer was access to the company gym. But since investing in my home office, I’ve got a more ergonomic desk, chair and computer set-up than I ever saw in a corporate environment, and without huge expense.
Rather than simply visiting the kitchen or being tempted to huddle outside with the smokers, regular breaks can let me exercise, get fresh air, or just move around spending ten or fifteen minutes handling some basic household chores. And I’ve recently added some basic weights and exercise equipment in my home office, along with spending a few minutes following some online Tai Chi courses each day.
I’m also not spending my time breathing in fumes in city centre traffic before sitting next to a colleague coughing and sneezing because they’ve dragged themselves into the office to show their dedication, when they should be at home with some cold medicine and a blanket on the sofa.
And that’s before considering the large number of people who have suppressed, or compromised, immune systems. Or anyone disabled, living with a chronic condition, or neurodiverse. Freelancing and self-employment allows a larger number of individuals the opportunity to work in a way that’s best for them, and their clients.
Ultimately, so many of us have experienced remote working that we can decide for ourselves whether we prefer it or not. Without a misguided backlash against working from home to entice us back into the office through fear and insults.