Working from home

Since the arrival of COVID-19 many people have discovered the pros and cons of working from home.

I have worked from home for over 20 years. I am a graphic designer by trade and a writer and sustainability nut by vocation. I can easily do all of these things from home.

For many years I had a studio in the CBD. It was a 25km commute each way to and from my home near the sea. As well as premises, I had staff, furniture, ICT equipment, filing cabinets, stationery cupboards, staff room, kitchen, male and female toilets, and so on, and so on. In other words a lot of stress!

Now I just have a room at my house. I probably could go back to working in a studio in town but I really wouldn’t want to and here’s why:

The benefits of working from home:

Low, or no, overheads

I do have a few overheads but they are very minor, so nearly all of the money I make I can keep. In addition, I can claim my home studio (a sleep-out) as a business cost and therefore reduce my tax bill.

No commute

Previously, I would spend about two hours a day commuting. That was really wasted time, particularly if I was driving. If I got the bus I could read but then the bus took longer and didn’t run at ideal times.

Less other business travel

I don’t have meetings that often but if clients want to meet me I go to their office just as I did before, so nothing has changed there. I live in Wellington, New Zealand and about half of my work comes from clients in Australia. With email, phone and video-conferencing I can do all the liaison required for an effective and efficient job, and keep my clients happy.

Every day is casual Friday

I can wear whatever I like, whatever is comfortable. I barely put a work suit on any more and I have about 30 suit ties from the old days which I only wear to funerals!

No obligation to work

One of the problems with nine-to-five work (plus commuting) is the obligation to fill your time. In my job there is no steady stream of work. Sometimes there is too much to do in a day and I have to work into the night to get it done. Sometimes there is no work, even after you’ve done admin etc. Quite often I might only have two or three hours of work to do today. I don’t need to sit at my desk until five o’clock – and I don’t.

Less distractions

I can get my work done faster meaning I have time to write and to do Econation. This is probably the greatest benefit to me. If I was working nine-to-five in town I simply wouldn’t have as much time as I would like to fit this other ‘work’ in.

The disadvantages of working from home

Reduced social contact

Working with other people fulfils social needs. Every person needs the amount of social contact they need, and because everyone is different this amount varies. As an introvert I still need social contact but not a lot. Too much social contact drains me. Working from home I still have contact with a variety of people including clients, suppliers and colleagues. 

Fortunately, my partner works from home as well, so we aren’t alone. My partner is a contemporary jeweller so we don’t work in the same business but we work in proximity. Being with your partner 24/7 might sound like a nightmare to some people but my partner and I get on very well and it means we can work well together. I make sure that I get out of the house regularly for walks and writing time, and I catch up with friends and family on a regular basis.

More Distractions

Although I said that working from home produces less distractions, in the form of interruptions by other people for example, there are different types of distractions at home. You can put a load of washing on, do the dishes, tidy the house, or just goof off because there’s no-one watching. In time, you learn to manage those things and turn them into positives. My partner and I use chores as ‘breaks’ meaning that when we are finished for the day, which could be at 11:00 in the morning, we are free from both work and chores.

It does take self-discipline to work from home which is much easier to garner if you are working for yourself. However, even if you are working for someone else you can train yourself to be disciplined. One tip is to have your boss set (reasonable) deadlines, or have an agreed task list to finish in a certain time. If you are like me you will do your tasks as fast as you can and then you have more time for yourself. No nine-to-five.

Separating work and life

I think this is a personal thing and it also relates to how much you enjoy your work. If you enjoy your work it doesn’t really interfere with the rest of life, indeed, it enhances it. If you have a problem with this it is a good idea to have a dedicated work space that you can close or otherwise screen off which will keep the spectre of work at bay.

The waste of work

Obviously, not everyone is able to work from home, for example if you are a factory worker, a hospitality worker, a builder or a school teacher. However, many more people could work from home than currently do, as COVID-19 lockdowns have taught us. 

Perhaps you only need to spend 20% of your time in the office for meetings. In this case you could have a hybrid job where you do four days working at home and one day in the office.

The designer Buckminster Fuller made the point that, “Our beds are empty two-thirds of the time. Our living rooms are empty seven-eighths of the time. Our office buildings are empty one-half of the time. It’s time we gave this some thought.”

The point here is that we collectively have a lot of space that is wasted when it’s not is use. It is a waste to have an office space for someone who only needs it for 20% of their working time, or 8 hours a week. In this case that office space is only being used 4.8% of the time on average. On the other side of the coin, we have houses that are empty while we are at work, which is also a type of waste. If we can collectively use spaces in multifunctional ways we will collectively reduce our individual footprint.

There might be people reading this who wonder how a big corporation can be run properly when everyone works at home. How can you manage productivity and performance? How do you make sure there are no shirkers? Or even worse, what if employees just start using initiative and coming up with their own ideas, undermining the structure of the corporation? You may tell from my tone that I am being facetious. Corporations can’t be run from home, otherwise they will disintegrate, which is something to think about. In any case, Econation favours the ideal business which is small, simple and circular.

The sustainabilism of working from home

As well as all the personal benefits of working from home there are also many sustainabilism benefits including:

  • less cars on the road leads to:
    • less greenhouse gas emissions
    • better air quality and less pollution
    • less congestion (leading to even less emissions)
  • less resources used in:
    • office space
    • infrastructure
    • furniture and furnishings
  • less plastic and paper use
  • tendency to eat less junk/takeaway food
  • less stress overall