A room of one’s own

In Virginia Woolf’s famous essay of 1929,  the author argued that a women needed financial independence and “a room of her own” to be able to write (as well as men, was the inference).

The line now is that women need flexibility to be able to participate fully in the employment market, which explains why more and more women are now choosing to work from home.

A recent survey by the Confederation of British Industry, the employers’ organisation, and Harvey Nash, the recruitment group, showed that 59 per cent of employers offered teleworking to staff in 2011, compared with 46 per cent in 2008 and 14 per cent in  2006.

The report noted that organisations recognised that giving the employee more control over their working hours improved not only employee morale but also staff retention and productivity.

And it is not just those of us employed by large organisations. The FT recently highlighted research conducted by Live Work Network, a specialist consultancy on home-based business, which showed that “the number of those  employed at home is expanding at five times the rate of employment  overall”.

While overall the “British workplace grew a relatively modest 4.8 per cent between 2001 and the end of 2010… the number of self-employed homeworkers grew 24  per cent in the same period.”

According to this view more than one in 12 of the UK’s workforce are now employed from home. I count myself among this group – writing from home and only sporadically making forays into the offices of the media organisations  for which I work.

Yet while the flexibility offered by teleworking is undoubtedly a good thing, there are great, sometimes unsung, benefits to working in an office. Solitary confinement can give you time to think, but some of the best ideas emerge from interactions between colleagues.

In Richard Koch and Greg Lockwood’s book, Superconnect, the authors explored the implications of a sociological finding called “the strength of weak ties”. They argued that the most valuable ideas and information do not come from those closest to us but disproportionately  from weak links or distant acquaintances.

The home office, wired into the world, is a great place to write and to think, but real management development needs human interaction, ideally between people with different, even opposing sets of skills and ideas.

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