Technology has dissolved the tie between work and workplace (Report, 2 March); knowledge work is substantially “where you are”. Employers now widely use the notion of work as an activity and not a place to serve their objectives: promoting business at client sites and events; contracting real estate with fewer people in the office; as a productivity lever – getting more done with less time on travel. Less travel is also a win for the corporate social responsibility agenda.
And while remote working also benefits workers, this doesn’t necessarily mean working at home, or at home all the time. A recent international study I undertook on “third place” working (places other than home or “the office”) secured almost 18,000 online responses from over 60 countries, and rich data from 86 interviews in coffee shops, libraries and business centres, showing strong interest in working close to, but away from, home. People report distractions and mindset as inhibiting productive work at home. Equally, they want to ringfence home as family or personal space, as a place for downtime. Working close to home makes their lives more manageable, easing the work-family interface.
This picture is not one of people skiving off. Does Yahoo’s position reflect blind belief that physical presence leads to interaction that becomes collaborative and value-adding? Co-presence does not mean engagement. Today’s options are no longer office versus home. Contemporary working is distributed – across a wider range of locations and settings than any company can provide.
Director, ZZA Responsive User Environments
• Marissa Mayer’s claim that speed and quality are compromised when employees work away from the office does not resonate with my PhD research on flexible working; a report sent from across the world can reach a colleague as quickly as one sent by email from 10 metres away. Many employees assert they are able to produce better work in a shorter time at home without the distractions of an office environment.
Alexandra Shulman (2 March) says when she works at home she uses the hours she would have taken travelling to do things around the house. But my research did not find this, with employees starting work at the time they would usually be leaving home (or earlier), glad to have more hours to concentrate on the work in hand. And let’s also not forget the rising cost of travel for employees, whether they use private or public transport, as well as the associated carbon footprint. Trust is a fundamental factor and any manager worth their salary should know which employees would struggle if given the freedom to work from home.
• Alexandra Shulman shows a lack of understanding of the powerful benefits for businesses and individuals. At O2 we favour flexible working as a way of enabling people to work where they can be most productive. But effective flexible working requires good technology, the right culture and teams who can make it work. Our research shows the benefits go far beyond work-life balance. We saved almost £4m by reducing the size of our head office space and cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 50%.
Head of sustainability, O2/Telefonica UK