Network: In the new world, it pays to stay home

Why go into the office if you don't need to? In hi-tech California, workers are being encouraged to work from the house

A RECENTLY published study concluded that only a third of all Californians hold what could be regarded as a regular job, where "regular job" meant "works a full-time day shift on the employer's premises".

Now, what we wacky Californians are up to may not mean much to hard-working Britons like you. This is, after all, the land of Mickey Mouse (works nights and weekends), Madonna (independent contractor) and even stranger creatures, with odder habits, like many of us in the software industry (don't ask). It probably comes as no surprise that the folks left over when America couldn't go any farther West have unusual work habits.

But Californians as a whole may not deserve the bad rap that spills over from some of our more notorious residents. By and large, Californians are a relatively conservative lot - don't forget that politicians such as Ronald Reagan have enjoyed success here (but there I go again on the topic of weird Californians).

And the new work paradigms are not so much because we're odd, but because, in my humble opinion, technology is changing the world, and that change is happening here at least a little ahead of elsewhere.

Two-thirds of Californians either work at home at least part of the time, or are paid as contractors or work nights or are otherwise avoiding "regular" work. A big part of this has to do with the nature of work in this state - we all work, and we tend to put in a lot of hours.

As a result, businesses that serve us have to stay open later, or on weekends, so we can find time to visit them. That explains a lot of the "irregulars" in the workforce.

A lot of jobs require the presence of the worker: hard to imagine short- order cooks or cab drivers telecommuting given the current state of modem technology. But other jobs like writing, or making graphics for websites or programming or all kinds of office tasks, can happen most anywhere. These are information workers, and they now make up two-thirds of the American workforce.

In fact, when you think about it, there's no real reason for a lot of people to do what they do in the office. Many large Californian corporations have moved so-called back-office functions to less expensive states, where salaries and buildings are cheaper. Which makes me wonder why they didn't drop with the buildings all together and move the jobs into the homes of willing workers.

One reason, of course, is managers. Managers don't have a job unless they have people to boss around. But the nature of a lot of jobs is that it's easy to tell if they've been done, and they may get done better without a micro-manager breathing down the worker's neck.

Take this column. It'll be bad wherever I write it, but the expert editors at The Independent can resuscitate sense, syntax, proper British spelling and deep meaning from the incoming string of ASCII characters, regardless of where I sat as I pounded it out. I can work when it's convenient for me (currently it's 4:11am in London), and they can edit it when it's convenient for them (probably not at 4:11am).

They can always find me by e-mail or mobile phone to answer questions ("Just what are you implying by this Mickey-Madonna thing, anyway?"), and the arrangement saves The Independent's owners from paying the bill to provide a desk, a computer, heat, light and a secure, ergonomic, stress- free environment for me to work in.

So I'm free to work in a cold, dark, dangerous place, but that's not the point. There's a lot about the arrangement that works well for both sides. For one thing, it's not a good idea to have correspondents who cover topics such as Silicon Valley, or, say, Russian politics, sitting in the office in London. There is a lot that they might miss by not being where the action is.

But, it seems to me that there are a lot of good reasons to extend this thinking to other workers as well. A lot of office tasks don't require physical presence in the office - they just require secure access to figures or files sitting on corporate servers. Since a lot of this work is already being handled over networks by subsidiaries in low-cost-of-living states, the data-moving part is already happening.

By moving the office desk into the worker's home, the employer saves the bricks-and-mortar costs, while the employee gains flexibility to do things such as remain a wage-earner while raising small children. This can also translate to benefits such as fewer cars on the roads and, consequently, less air pollution.

In fact, a computer company I once worked for had a secure way to extend its network over the Internet called a Virtual Private Network or VPN, which uses strong encryption to protect data as it moves over the public network. Fellow workers and I would exchange e-mail, arrange meetings and collaborate on projects, and often we didn't really know who was in the office and who was not. It was the kind of place where off-the-wall thinking was, at times, very highly valued.

For all I know, Mickey and Madonna were on the team. Come to think of it, they must have been.

cg@gulker.com

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?