Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Nine till Five

Remember that seventies comedy with Dolly Parton about life in an office? Thirty years on, we've dumped the typewriters but most of us are still stuck in the office working nine till five as the song goes. We study more and more on-line and flexible learning has become an relatively accepted part of educational terminology but what about distance working? We can network with people from all corners of the globe and all knowledge is just a mouse click away but we still spend hours commuting to get to the place from where we do all that.

There's an article on this theme in Inside Higher Ed, Decentralized Work: The Final Frontier. Many universities that have extensive distance learning opportunities have not developed distance working to the same extent. I must admit I work very seldom from home even if there is seldom any good reason for not doing so. But very few of my colleagues do so and it just doesn't seem totally acceptable unless in exceptional circumstances. There's no law against it but the important point is there's no encouragement to do so either.

We're still set in our old industrial ways and somehow the feeling that if you're at your desk you're being productive is hard to erase. With all the fuss about swine flu I would guess that home working would be one way round the problem of infection but I haven't heard of any organisation that has tried this. Of course most people enjoy the social side of the workplace and there's no doubt that all the corridor and coffee room chat is important. However I find some days that I have more interaction with people in other towns and countries than I have with colleagues in the same building and therefore I could probably be able to do most of my work from home without interfering with my social contacts.

As the article writes:
"Whether you call it teleworking, Web working, telecommuting, distance working, or e-working, the concept is the same: Work isn’t some place you go, it’s something you do. It focuses on the information-age idea of decentralizing the office, as opposed to the industrial-age idea of bringing everyone to one single location."

Many people would probably work more efficiently from home and many would benefit from not having to commute every weekday but it requires the management to lead the way and make it not only possible but accepted. The technology is all there it's just the mindset that hasn't caught up.

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