Network: I'm getting wired for a life in the country

Say goodbye to stress and Pret a Manger lunches and hello to increased productivity at home
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The Independent Culture
IT'S OFFICIAL: the end of city living is upon us. According to the latest United Nations forecast, London is shrinking, Paris has stopped growing and New York and Tokyo are slowing down. It seems the cool thing to do is to dump the city dirt, get ISDN, and head for the hills, computer and printer in tow.

Yet this is not an "I'm-tired-of-life" scenario or a repeat of the hippy exodus of the 1960s. It's a radically different migration of young professionals who are finally able to free themselves from the constraints of the office and able to take the job with them to a cottage in the countryside. The key to modern living seems to be: to keep the city income but live close to nature, in a barn, far away from the misery of privatised trains and the Northern Line.

With the high cost of office space hitting the pockets of large companies, a growing number of UK bosses are coming around to the notion of their key people working most of, or even the whole week, from home. I've seen some intriguing new titles popping up on the managerial course lists, such as "How to manage Virtual Teams" or "Motivating the Internet Telecommuter". Better late than never, I say, as the technology has been here for a while now, but the old work habits of many companies die hard.

Studies of remote working indicate that teleworkers are more productive than their office-based counterparts. This is not surprising, considering how uncomfortable most offices are these days. At home you can "personalise" your workspace in the same way you manage My Yahoo!. The office is a big, faceless, bland portal, where your plants are standard issue, your furniture picked out by office managers to fit their safety standards and your computer is at least three upgrades behind the curve, as your IT department is deep in the Y2K freeze.

At home, you set up your own IT standards, your plants can be the most offensive man-eating weeds and, instead of queuing in the canteen, your favourite sushi is in the fridge, delivered daily by the web-based Japanese grocer. Work from home and you will never have to face another rushed Pret A Manger lunch. You can be obsessively clean or radically messy, and nobody will care. But the best thing is that you can watch your bank balance grow on the back of your increased productivity that you obtained through the cut in your commuting time to the 10 seconds it takes to walk from your bedroom to studio.

What has allowed some of my close friends to liberate themselves from the chains of the office is the falling costs of ISDN. You now can run a fairly efficient home office communications system for the same money you would spend on a season ticket. In addition, considering that the average commuting time is around seven and a half hours per week, your productivity will go up and your fatigue and stress levels will go down.

Teleworking has much in common with the old agrarian model of society, where life was firmly centered around the home. Farmers and village folk worked and spent their social time where they lived. The downside was that all you had for social interaction was a small pool of neighbours - too bad if you didn't like them.

Today, though, with chat rooms, e-mail, newsgroups and online communities, there is the same level of virtual social activity as in the physical space marked by pubs, wine bars and cafes. But the people in these virtual cities are drawn from a much larger pool, and so are a lot more likely to produce a few individuals whom you actually like.

I have noticed that a lot of virtual work teams have also become their own support communities - and not just on work-related issues. Online work and life blend together seamlessly, without the sharp cut-off that is imposed by long commuting distances. The modern, digital world doesn't have a centre, so you should never feel "out of it", even if you work from some tiny hamlet in Devon.

By the year 2010, it has been estimated that around 18 per cent of us will be working from home. Those homes are most likely to be away from the cities, with the trend towards village living. The post-agrarian, techno-rural lifestyle will change the way we do business, conduct social life and shop.

If the current trend continues, within the next few years London will be left to tourists, civil servants and politicians, the rest of the working population hooked up at home with their computers, breathing the fresh country air, taking long walks during lunchtime and getting their city- size pay-cheques for increased productivity.

I'm ready to swap the city loft for a barn with a satellite Internet connection - as long as I don't have to use a videophone. Wiltshire, here I come.

eva@never.com

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