Nick Clegg wants employers to be more relaxed about letting their staff work more flexibly, including choosing their own hours and working from home.
The proposals would change the rules so that all employees have the right to ask for more flexible working arrangements and their bosses have to consider their request.
The idea is that this will help drive a culture of change, creating an atmosphere where parents and grandparents felt more able to work flexibly and manage childcare – as well as boosting worker happiness.
Leaving aside whether flexible working arrangements suit all businesses, I wanted to take a look at homeworking. Pretty much everyone I know would work from home if their employer let them.
But as a former commuter turned self-employed homeworker, I’ve seen both sides of the coin. Here’s why it’s wonderful, why it’s dreadful and whether it actually saves you money.
Why I love working from home
I really do love working from home. Cutting out the 8am traffic jams has reduced my stress and fatigue, as well as given me more time in the mornings so I no longer skip breakfast.
There’s no workplace politics to deal with – although I kind of miss the gossip – and no distractions from getting my work finished. I’m always in to accept parcels. In fact, I accept parcels for my entire street, so I now know my neighbours better too.
I’m also far more productive, although that might have something to do with becoming self-employed and paying through the nose for childcare.
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How working from home saves me money
There’s no doubt that working from home saves me cash. Before I went freelance, I spent around £70 a week driving to work. My car insurance quote is around £50 less, probably because I have significantly reduced my annual mileage.
Because I work from home, I can eat up leftovers or make cheap meals at lunchtime, cutting waste and saving me money. I used to spend about £15 a week on shop-bought sandwiches, partly because I was too tired from my commute to make a packed lunch.
I used to work about 48 weeks out of 52, so I’m saving around £4,000 a year. If you could agree to work from home just two days a week, you could cut your costs by two-fifths.
Finally, working flexibly means I am never late collecting my toddler from childcare. Many nurseries and childminders impose harsh penalties on parents who are running late – one nursery I know of charges £5 a minute after a certain time.
Working flexible hours makes it less likely you’ll be caught out by such a painful charge.
Why I loathe working from home
Working from home can save you money, reduce stress and, in theory, make the work/life balance easier to achieve. But it’s not all good.
I have no colleagues to chat to, meaning my only interaction with other adults is through the phone or social media. Cabin fever is a real possibility if I’m not strict about going for a quick walk at lunch.
Also, I never have the satisfaction of leaving work. My desk is always there, lurking in the corner, reminding me that I still haven’t replied to that email or finished that project. It makes it hard to switch off.
How flexible working costs me money
There is one big thing I miss from my days of full-time employment. Heating. This is a home-working cost that it’s worth factoring in.
Whereas I used to work in a great big heated office, I now work in my house – which gets very cold without the heating on. I find myself hitting the ‘extra hour’ button several times a day, which has definitely added to my energy bills.
Not only that, but I miss out on the free fruit, cakes and other goodies that my former employer and colleagues used to supply. So, if you’re wondering which days to work from home, make sure they’re not cake days!
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I also seem to work far more hours. Homeworking has blurred the lines between work and leisure, and I often sit at my computer long into the evening.
Employees should be careful not to ‘give away’ their time like this, it’s surprisingly easy to work unpaid overtime when your office is your home.
Which is best?
Overall, I think flexible home working saves me money; the money I don’t spend on my commute more than makes up for higher energy bills. As a parent, it’s definitely easier to manage my time without losing a couple of hours a day to travel.
However, it’s not a miracle cure for workplace woes. While all qualifying employees are likely to benefit from working flexible hours, not everyone will enjoy working from home. And, of course, not everyone is able to carry out their work from home.
But if you can agree flexible hours with your employer, you can still cut your commuting costs by travelling off-peak and avoiding jams. You can still get to the nursery or school on time and avoid penalties or expensive after-school clubs. More importantly, you can get your work done at a time that suits you.
What do you think? Would you snap up the chance to work flexible hours and do so from home, or is this just another strain on businesses? Share your thoughts with other readers using the comments below.