Social Impact of Working From Home

A few days ago I was once again reminded by Joshua Levy and his piece “One Blogger Asks: Is the Grass Really Greener on the Web Worker’s Lawn?” on his blog Web Worker Daily that I wanted to write a piece about what I believe to be the social impact of home working.

Joshua is asking some interesting questions about working from home:

So is all of this freedom actually liberating us? Does web work actually represent an evolution in the working conditions of the masses? Or are we fooling ourselves, blind to the reality that we can’t have it two ways — you can’t have the freedom AND have someone else, er, pay the bills.

If I ask myself these and other questions I’m invariably drawn to find answers in my personal work life and how it has changed in the last decade.

In 1999 I was still office based, traveled from one of our offices around the world to the next and was rarely home. In fact most of the time those years I came home Friday very late or Saturday and then often left Sunday night again. So I saw little of my family and especially my son who is now grown-up and ready to go to university.

Then in 1999 I sold my ISP-business and went back to run WinWeb. This time around I worked from home, right from the start I did not want to be in an office and lead the same life as before. So for the past eight years I have been there when my son came home from school, I even picked him up often enough. I was here when he came home with the latest music CD, I had to listen to – not always easy, I admit – or the latest sport-shoes form addidas had finally arrived at the shops.

Similarly I spend much more time with my wife, going for lunch, doing some “essential” gardening – I hated gardening, but love it now. I could give you many more examples, but you get the picture.

While there are many challenges for home workers, I believe we are seeing the beginning of an “reversal” trend. I would like to list here some challenges I believe our society is facing currently:

  • Child care – in our work dominated society we often outsource most of our child-care, in kindergarten, boarding schools, and other institutions, here our children will not receive the same level of care and love they deserve and need;
  • Care for the Elderly – our lifestyles often separate us from our loved ones and in times of need we are often not able to care for our relatives or friends, because we live in different cities or even countries for example;
  • Environment – many of us spend hours every day alone in cars or on trains – not alone, but still isolated – and contribute to the carbon emissions that change our climate.

There are many more examples. This whole process began with the “Industrial Revolution” some 150 years ago. Some of us may even remember a time when three or even four generations of a family lived in one house. People worked in their villages, child-care or care for family “just” happened – was that a bad or good thing? Looking at single parent families and the impact on our children, I would argue it was a good thing, and so would the many parents working from home exactly for that reason – to provide a healthy family environment for their loved ones.

I believe that the whole trend of home working may in the future allow us to have a much more natural work/life balance and will reverse some of the damaging effects of the post industrial revolution changes in our society. People will live closer to family, local communities will be revived – I believe that is happening as we speak, and our children will benefit from “more family”, and all this will have a profound impact on all our lives and the environment.

I would encourage Joshua and everyone else working from home to relearn the social skills of building local friendships, or live near family and give you the social life you need.

After all, this technology we at WinWeb and others supply makes it possible to work from anywhere, gives you a tremendous amount of freedom to live the life you want, where you want.

Let’s hope in hundred years from now people will see this era not only as the “Information Age”, but also the age when we learned to live a better work/life balance, in tune with our emotional and social needs as individuals, families and society as a whole. What do you think?

Have a great weekend with your family and friends.

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