It’s 9am on a Monday morning as I write this, and my working day is beginning. Similar to many other workers at the moment, I have to face a rather short commute: from my bedroom to my living room or kitchen table. Just like 42% of the entire US labour force , nearly one-third of Australians, and almost half of British workers, I too am working from home. But unlike many others, I’m not new to this situation.
My home-working history dates back to 2012, when I left my full-time job as a digital fashion editor in Milan and moved to London to be a freelance journalist. During my first months in this big, unfamiliar city, my husband found a job away from home, meaning that I found myself on my own with my laptop and my assignments. Cooped up in the tiny bedroom in our shared apartment, or wandering around cafes looking for the best Wi-Fi connection, I felt lost and lonely. It wasn’t long until I gave up freelancing in favour of an office job.
Given this experience, it’s no wonder that I was hesitant towards working from home when another opportunity to do so presented itself. I now had my absolute dream job at an animal rights organisation and had been working full-time in the office for a year and a half, when my husband and I moved from London to nearby Brighton. As I prepared to become a remote employee, I worried about the same issues I had when freelancing: from potential legal and financial risks (note: could be avoided by using clearly defined SOW templates at the beginning of each new project) to loneliness and feeling isolated (note: coworking spaces help combat this issue pretty well, promoting a culture of collaboration, social interaction, and productivity). Turns out, I didn’t have to worry about any of that. Three and a half years on, I’m a happy remote employee in my role, and absolutely loving it. I love working from a different place every day (although with the pandemic, locations have obviously been limited to those inside my home). I love having breakfast and lunch with my husband, who also frequently works from home. And I absolutely adore living a commute-free life. It’s really made me ponder the astonishing chunks of our lives that we spend commuting.
The lack of a commute is one of the ways the planet benefits from more people working from home. Another one is cutting down on plastic waste thanks to eliminating takeaway lunch (think about all the money we’re saving on that, too). Saving on office resources is also a relevant upside. According to research from engineering consulting firm WSP, in countries like the UK, where I live, remote workers’ carbon footprint is lower than those of office workers in the summer months (although it shoots up in the winter, due to heating many apartments instead of one office building).
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Another great reason to keep #WFH even after the pandemic subsides is diversity. Where before businesses were tied to only hiring people from their own towns, opening up to remote work can also allow for a bigger pool of talent to choose from, which would in turn allow employees to stay in their hometowns or move somewhere entirely different rather than going where the job is. This would lead to less crowded cities and less congested public transport – which may lead to a lower rate of COVID-19 emissions.
Parents benefit from flexible working because it makes it easier to adapt childcare to a working schedule. One parent who knows this is London parenting blogger Anna Whitehouse, also known as Mother Pukka. Whitehouse is the founder of flexible-working initiative Flex Appeal, which promotes new ways to work that would also be more inclusive. “It’s only as a parent that I’ve realised how important some flexibility is,” writes Anna in a post about Flex Appeal on her website. “It’s rare to find a daycare that opens beyond 8am to 6pm. Combine those hours and the average UK commute and it might mean working from 08.30 to 5.30 every day. But if just one of you has a longer commute, the whole thing is scuppered. By school age, collecting kids becomes impossible without paid help or very understanding grandparents.”
But flexible working is not just about parents. People with disabilities benefit massively from home working and flexibility. Getting dressed and ready for work – something able-bodied people don’t think twice about – can be difficult if you have a disability. Commuting can be challenging and sometimes dangerous, and not all offices are equipped for people with disabilities. Allowing for remote working lets these employees tailor their working environment to fit their needs – and opens up for increased diversity in hiring.
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And lastly, there is the issue of companion animals: especially in the case of dogs, who thrive on human contact and sometimes suffer from separation anxiety when left at home alone, the contact offered by home-working can be a godsend – not to mention the money saved on doggy daycare!
As I end my working day and prepare to go to the beach (which is a ten-minute walk from my home, and with no trains or buses to catch, I can easily be soaking up the rays by 5.30pm), I have to add a note on productivity: a growing body of research is finding that remote employees are more effective in their roles than office-based staff. My hope is that lockdown has prompted companies to realise that working from home doesn’t impact productivity in any way except maybe a positive one, and that adapting to changing times will only bring benefits to both themselves and their employees.
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Cover image by Vlada Karpovich.