What's your problem?

WORKING FROM HOME IS MAKING ME SEMI-DETACHED. I am pioneering working from home in our small company - but it's patently not working. Decisions are made without me, colleagues insist on calling me a 'part-timer', and the boss keeps making heavy hints about things I've missed 'because you're never in the office'.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

 I'm reluctant to admit defeat but the concept isn't exactly catching on. Will working from home irretrievably damage my standing at work?

A: If, 20 years or so ago, you believed some of the more confident futurologists, you must now be disappointed to find that the reality of the paperless office recedes daily and that very little manufacturing industry is based in outer space. The widely predicted trend of working from home - tele-working from tele-villages - has been almost as slow to materialise; yet no-one whose educational experience included schools with both boarding and day pupils should be at all surprised.

Technologically, working from home still makes rational sense. There you are, in your well-equipped den, looking out over the Chiltern Hills, linked by high-speed broadband to the whole world, with fax, mobile and landline as back up. Of course you can work as well from home: probably even more productively, because there are fewer interruptions, fewer people dropping by for a gossip, and no time-consuming, energy-draining commute.

But rational analysis ignores the human instinct to pick sides, to form teams. It's not a noble instinct and it can be cruel, but we followed it at school and we follow it as adults. Boarders and day-bugs were segregated tribes. To boarders, day-bugs were irretrievably inferior. And you, I'm sorry to say, are a day-bug now.

There may even be some truth in your boss's suggestion that you're missing something. Those interruptions and distractions, those moments of apparently idle gossip, can have a unifying effect that no amount of texting, phoning or e-mailing will ever replace. If you were in the majority, it might be different. But that's clearly not going to happen quickly in your present company.

If working from home has become extremely important to you, you might be able to find another firm that actively encourages the practice. Failing that - and I feel a bit feeble saying so - I think you'd better call off the experiment. But please don't see it as admitting defeat: experiments don't have to succeed to be worthwhile.

Please address your problems to Jeremy Bullmore at: Management Today, 174 Hammersmith Road, London W6 7JP. Or e-mail: management.today@haynet.com. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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