Monday, August 20, 2012

Changing the way we work

So many people I know or have met recently no longer work the traditional 9am to 5pm workday schedule in a formal workplace. And they seem perfectly happy about this. It struck me more on this trip to New York; that this trend seems to have become a major societal change during the past few years--one for the better, if you ask me. A good number of people I know in both the USA and Europe are working for private companies, but are doing so from the comfort of their own homes. Many of them have home offices. Others work from home one or two days a week. All of them arrange their workday according to what is suitable. Some of them work in the mornings, take the afternoons free, and then work late into the evenings. Whatever the arrangement, I like the flexibility involved, as well as the trust factor. Companies must trust that their employees are going to deliver the goods—that employees will be effective and productive workers when they are working at home. It can be difficult—to get structured enough so that you use your home time productively. When I was starting out in the work world, I liked the more rigid structure and discipline of a formal workplace; now I welcome the flexibility of my home office days. I don’t need a formal workplace to make me a productive employee. I can do what I need to do as a scientist (working in the public sector) from home for the most part (except for the occasional lab experiments that require bench time)—read and write articles, review grants, write grants, and design experiments. I have changed, and I am glad for the change. I feel more creative when I work from home; I am not as distracted by what is going on around me as I often am when I go to my workplace. It’s easy to get lost in idle conversation with co-workers, and as enjoyable as that social contact can be, you suddenly realize that a large chunk of time has been lost from the workday. That doesn’t happen at home; even though I am in close contact with my co-workers should they need me. They only contact me, or I them, when it’s absolutely necessary, and then it’s usually to ask or answer a specific question. Sometimes we can do this via email; other times we need to talk. However it transpires, it works, and it works well. Some of my more productive years during the past decade have been years when I worked a lot from home. I think it has to do with a ‘pared-down’ existence—no gossip, no office politics, no superfluous meetings, less time wasting. It amazes me how much time can be wasted in a workplace.  In any case, I’m glad to see that private companies have recognized the need for flexibility in the way their employees work. By allowing for home offices or home office days, they are changing the face of work and the definition of the workplace, and they are welcome changes. The future of the work world is being created through these changes.

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