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The end of the office era?

iStock_000009614739SmallIs the traditional daily grind of the commute to work dying out? According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) the number of people commuting to work is actually going down, despite more people than ever joining the workforce. There has been a massive increase – up by 25 per cent – of people working from home over the last ten years, which as someone who began working from home then, I can only say, about time too.

When I first started working from home not having an office base with your own chair to sling a jacket over and a smoking room to escape to, was still considered a euphemism for ‘unemployed’. Even now, a decade later, some office dinosaurs still react to the words  ‘She’s working from home today’ with a long-suffering sigh and a barely audible snort of disdain and disapproval.

With very few exceptions, people who work from home are strivers, not skivers, because not only do they save their bosses time, energy and a fortune in overheads, they are so terrified of having the rug pulled away from them that they go the extra mile to ensure they aren’t dragged kicking and screaming back to the mothership full time.

Since I started combining my writing work with teaching a few months ago, I still see my twice-weekly commute to college on the bus as a bit of a novelty. The camaraderie of a shared office, proper canteen and colleagues to giggle with more than make up for the joy of tumbling out of bed and onto my computer. If it wasn’t for the school run and Doughnut’s thrice-daily demand for a sniff round the park there would be nothing to stop me working all day if I felt like it.

Technology has taken all the grief and stigma out of working from home. Phones and computers are now so advanced that no one can tell where you are anyway. You are expected to write reports, send emails and generally keep busy whether you are on the train, on site, off site or just nipping off to the loo. Emails and mobile phones make traditional office phones completely redundant, and, as the Prime Minister discovered to his cost, being seen to answer your own office phone is seen as not only ridiculously retro, but a wee bit naff, as if you aren’t quite to be trusted with an office smart phone.

It’s a far cry from the early days – when I went to great lengths to pretend that I was not sitting at my own kitchen table interviewing people but in the middle of a huge buzzy office. I would leave the TV news on to drown out the unpredictable wail of small babies and children and bribe any other adults in the house to answer the phone pretending to be colleagues. Fellow new mums would make the place sound like the CNN newsroom as they popped round for a sanity break. “She’s just on deadline,” they’d say, clattering away busily on my computer keyboard as I changed Katy’s nappy, “Can she call you back?” If I did that now I’d probably be trending on Twitter before you could say ‘multitasking mama’.

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