When even Yahoo!'s Marissa Mayer wants workers in the office, is the homeworking revolution over?

Companies and employers won’t always give us top marks for our homework, but there are still several forces driving work outside the office

Share

Has working from home peaked? The huge shift towards homeworking has been driven, of course, by the communications revolution, so it should bring us up sharply when a leader of that world – Marissa Mayer, the former senior executive at Google who is now head of Yahoo! – should tell her employees to stop working from home. The policy starts in June and is driven apparently by concerns that homeworking leads to sloppiness.

“Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home,” explained the company’s head of human relations, Jackie Reses. “We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”  

So what should the million Britons who work from home, not to mention the 2.5 million of us who work from a variety of locations using home as a base, think about this? Actually, I don’t think we should worry too much because the economic forces behind the shift to homeworking are so powerful that they will run for a while. Every year in Britain around 100,000 more people become homeworkers. But the push-back from Yahoo! is interesting because it highlights a practical difficulty: how do you manage people if you can’t see them?

More than 20 years ago the management writer Charles Handy identified what has become a dominant shift, the division of people into core workers and portfolio workers: people who run a business and those – some on payroll, some self-employed – who supply services to it. Others have noted the way in which a modern home is becoming a factory where people do a lot of their work, while the office is becoming a club, the place where people go to interact with their colleagues.

To be sure, the “home as a factory; office as a club” distinction does not apply to every activity. Some jobs require physical proximity: a car factory, a hospital, a dealing room all need people on the spot to do what has to be done. But there are several forces that are driving work away from the office to other locations. It is not just that technology makes it possible; it seems to be more efficient.

One of these drivers is the need for calm. Many people, faced with the need to write a long report, find it better to work away from the distraction of the office. Another driver is cost: why pay for more office space than is needed? Another is the desire to reduce commuting time: do the two-hour commute into the office twice a week instead of five times.

Another is the increased globalisation of the world economy – all that pecking away on the laptop in hotel rooms and airport lounges. Overlaying all this is the changing job structures, with self-employment rising as a proportion of total employment, and companies becoming a mix of salaried staffers, people paid on commission, and people who are self-employed.

Self-employment does solve one problem of homeworking. People don’t need to be managed because they manage themselves. But it creates other problems, such as the specification of their contracts and quality control, and beyond a certain size businesses become hard to run if they don’t have the core workers who give direction and make sure customers are satisfied. Once you are the size of Yahoo! and have revenues of $5bn a year, you need people: 11,500 of them.

No trend continues forever and the two associated shifts, to homeworking and to self-employment, will eventually peak. There are certainly good reasons for people to work in physical proximity. This column arose from a 30-second conversation with the deputy editor which would not have taken place had I been writing from home. But I suspect that these twin shifts still have a long way to run.

Should more offices ban working from home? Join our debate here.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'