Home is where the work is

Millions of Britons don't need to make it into the office these days. And the numbers are bound to increase, says Nick Jackson
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The Independent Online

When was the last time you turned up to work in your pyjamas? The answer is probably never.

Casual Friday in the office has nothing on the sartorial liberties of working from home. More importantly, you can save time and cash - and less time spent on gridlocked roads and delayed trains means more time with family and friends. More than three million people now work from home in the UK, nearly a million more than in 1997, and it's easy to see why. With all the new-fangled gadgetry out there for an initial outlay of a few hundred pounds, most of us can do everything we do in the office but within easy reach of the fridge.

Or the Cotswolds. When Alex Priest, 49, moved out of London five years ago he thought he would have to quit his job as a systems manager for the pollsters Ipsos Mori. But, by working from home part of the week, the long commute becomes bearable on the days he has to go in to London.

When I call at half-past four on a Thursday afternoon, he's taking a break with an afternoon stroll through the Gloucestershire countryside. But working from home is certainly no holiday. "I do pretty well everything I do at work here," he says. "I monitor all the servers and fix problems. The only thing I can't do is be there to physically take a piece of equipment apart, but it's very rare that I have to do that anyway."

And he says he is more productive. His first career was as a session musician working with, among others, the "happy-talk-ing" punk-rocker Captain Sensible, and the office is not his natural environment. "Out here there aren't the constant interruptions you get at work," he says. "I don't have to deal with the general hubbub of an open-plan office. Here I can hear myself think."

Some people go the whole hog and get away from the noise and nuisance by ditching not only the office but the boss and the monthly pay cheque as well. Setting up your own business is a gamble, but by cutting costs working from home you can shorten the odds on success.

Adrian Clutterbuck, 52, set up his health and safety consultancy, Accident and Risk Management, after being made redundant five years ago. With little money to spare, Clutterbuck was forced to start from scratch. "I turned the dining room into an office with a desk and a computer," he says. "I had to do everything." With a little help from his wife, that is. Sue does the accounts and runs the office while Adrian is out visiting clients. "We work hand in glove," he says. "Although there have been times when I've stormed out of the office." But five years on he believes it has all been worth it. "You become very self-confident," he says. "You're in control of your own destiny, and you reach a stage where you couldn't work for anybody else."

In some careers, working for yourself is the only option. James Pettifer, 55, fell in love with south-eastern Europe as a classics and English student at Oxford. "I've been doing the same thing ever since," he says, "if in different ways." The different ways have included as a journalist, writer, and academic. He has published a stack of books on the region, most recently an account of his time covering the Kosovan conflict for The Times, Kosova Express, published this summer.

Pettifer has been working from home, on and off, since 1984, long before the silicon rush, at a time when you had trouble fitting a mobile phone into a briefcase. For him, the essential issues of working from home haven't been changed by the onslaught of technology. Writers are not only free from managerial interference, but also from daily contact with clients, so self-discipline is all. "You have to really believe in what you're doing and love the work," he says. "You need that to be able to get down to work at 8.30am every morning." But passion for your work can also bring its own problems. "The big danger these days is overwork," he says. "You can work 24 hours a day if you want."

Few of us love our jobs enough to do that, but the flexibility and autonomy of working from home gives you the option to work as much or as little as you like. So whether you want to move to the country, start your own business, write that book you have always dreamed of, or contribute careers articles for The Independent, dressed only in a pinny, you can find what you are after at home.

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