Hello, I’m Marieke Guy and I work for a digital information research group called (http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/) UKOLN. I’ve been there for 9 years now and have worked on a variety of different ‘information management’ projects in the community and outreach team, there’s more about what I do on my staff page (http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/ukoln/staff/m.guy/).

UKOLN is based at the University of Bath (http://www.bath.ac.uk/). For those of you who haven’t heard of Bath it’s a small but very beautiful city in the south west of England and a top tourist haunt because of its Roman connections. The most famous landmark is the Roman Baths but there is lots of other amazing architecture including the Royal Crescent, the Circus, the Weir and Pulteney Bridge. Being such a great city Bath is an expensive place to live and soon as we’d started a family it made sense to move out of the city to somewhere we could get more for our money. We now live about 40 minutes out of Bath in a small town called Melksham.

After I started back to work following my third lot of maternity leave (poor old UKOLN!) commuting to work no longer made sense. Getting to Bath usually involves sitting in a long traffic jam twiddling your thumbs, and doing the school run now meant that I was permanently late. UKOLN has a great attitude towards flexible working and was happy to let me work from home. As time moved on and I got into the swing of things (the technologies to use, keeping yourself motivated, how to work on the move, what to eat for lunch!) I was given the role of ‘Remote Worker Champion’ and became the main representative for the remote workers (there are currently 7 UKOLN remote workers). I really wanted to take a proactive approach to remote worker support so have written a number of articles on related issues and set up a blog (Ramblings of a Remote Worker http://remoteworker.wordpress.com ) to share my thoughts.

My experiences of remote working have been highly positive but it’s not quite the same story everywhere else…

The Lows and Highs

In the UK the right to request flexible working was recently extended to include parents of children under the age of 17 (previously it was only children under the age of 5). This now means that most parents can ‘ask’ if they can work from home (or somewhere outside of their office) and achieve a better work/life balance. This sounds like a great opportunity for many people but the reality is that there is no pressure on organisations to agree to any requests. Recent statistics from the National Centre for Social Research Omnibus Survey and the National Travel Survey show that in 2008 around 3 per cent of workers always worked from home, 7 per cent did so at least once a week and 5 per cent at least once a month. The report also found that the extent of home working has remained relatively stable since 2002 despite an increasing number of people saying they could do some of their work at home (http://www.dft.gov.uk/adobepdf/162469/221412/221513/438774/homeinternetreport.pdf).

It seems people do want to work from home but there are often cultural and occasionally technological reasons why they can’t. Management attitudes to home/remote workers remain outdated and issues like blurred boundaries, corporate identity, poor broadband, lack of communication with colleagues and low morale don’t help. The recession has had a negative effect too. In the UK, as is I’m sure the case in North America, people are clinging onto their jobs and now doesn’t seem to be a good time to complain about working practices. Even for those who are lucky enough to been given home working rights there are worries that as employees they will end up at the back of the queue when it comes to many things (promotion, work opportunities) and at the front when it comes to others (redundancy). My own personal research into the matter has shown me that at the moment the public sector (e.g. Universities and some government institutions) and forward-thinking commercial companies (especially those working in technology areas) lead the way. The rest of the working country is really dragging its heels.

That said the benefits of home/remote working are becoming clearer. Remote workers are often more productive, more loyal, absent from work less and given the rise in office space have lower overheads to account for. There are also environmental benefits to add to the mix. I know the Coffee Shop Office has posted at length about the many advantages home/remote/teleworking offers.

It’s proving to be a slow journey and the coffee shop culture that Lori and Gregg blog about is still but a pipe dream here in the UK, but we are making some progress. The recent National Work from Home Day, which encourages people to work from home, instead of commuting to their usual place of work, organised by Workwise UK (http://www.workwiseuk.org/index.html) got quite a lot of media coverage, especially the Twitter/Google mash up that it generated (http://www.speedcommunications.com/NWFHD/). People could Tweet in their postcode (zipcode) and any comments about how their home working day was going. Also recent events like the heavy UK snow fall in February and the Swine Flu threat have made employers realise that remote working solutions need to be in place.

So we are lagging a little bit behind you North American folk. As Mark Twain famously said “An Englishman is a person who does things because they have been done before. An American is a person who does things because they haven’t been done before.” Maybe there is a small fear of the unknown, but working practices will change, primarily because people want them to.

Thanks

Marieke

Marieke Guy

Marieke Guy

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