Without the office, what are we?


Date: 28 July 2010

The current hoo-hah about advertised vs. actual speeds shouldn't detract from one of the biggest benefits of broadband — it allows home workers at least some form of access to the office network. Mums on school runs, carers for the elderly, those who actually believe the designated arrival times of gas company engineers — we all benefit from this flexibility. For the firms whose business models allow the luxury of home working, IT is the great enabler. We're free, free from the office! Flexible yes, but productive? Early arguments about home workers’ productivity focused on the reliability of the IT and the potential for domestic distractions. Chatting about last night’s Eastenders around the office kettle is just part of office life; hanging the washing out while awaiting a critical phone call might not been seen in such a kindly light. Nevertheless, issues of individual productivity are dealt with easily enough these days, while our computers, phones, routers and switches are generally up to the job. There's an irony, though; communication technology means less communication — at least, of a face-to-face kind. The big question about home working is this: can a more dispersed employee base be such a good thing? I'm not so sure. Our new IT tools are wonderful indeed, but can social media, instant messaging, conference calls et al really make up for a lack of face-to-face contact? In praise of the office Apart from its role as a company's central 'hub', the office provides priceless social interaction. An efficiently run office environment can be literally inspirational to those that work within it. Ideas can be floated, project teams constructed and product development nurtured. What's more, office politics —  a term too frequently used in a pejorative sense — are a necessary part of the ebb and flow of people and power that ultimately fuels a company's sense of, well, company. We’re all human, after all. The character of a small business is defined as much by the interplay of its employees in the work environment as by its presentation of products to market. As IT allows ever more staff to work from home (the law obliges firms to consider employees' flexible working requests), don't we run the risk of dissolving the 'glue' which keeps our businesses together?

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