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February 9, 2010

‘Notion of mistrust’ blocking route to home working?

As society becomes ever more connected, bosses at businesses across the UK need to change their attitude towards remote working to be able to realise its full potential, according to a panel of experts from the world of technology, transport and

By Cbr Rolling Blog

As society becomes ever more connected, bosses at businesses across the UK need to change their attitude towards remote working to be able to realise its full potential, according to a panel of experts from the world of technology, transport and the media.

The event, held at the London Transport Museum, discussed Orange’s Connected Britain report, which predicts which cities and areas are likely to see their populations grow – or decrease – depending on the quality of broadband available. The panel discussed what impact a more connected Britain may have on everyday working life, with more people moving out of the cities to live in a more rural location. 

Futurologist James Bellini said that the changes society is going through now can be compared to the industrial changes the country witnessed 200 years ago. “We’re seeing dramatic changes. The degree, scale and pace of change we will see in the next five, 10 or 15 years is comparable to what we saw 200 years ago. We had steam ships, railways, the electric telegraph all coming together at the same time and it transformed the way people lived, life was never the same again.”

For working life to undergo a similarly radical change Bellini believes that enterprise bosses must become more accepting of home working. He said that office culture is based on industrial factories, with every worker under one roof so bosses could keep an eye on them. “A typical office is really a replanting of a notion of mistrust,” he said. “Peoplearen’t trusted by their bosses to work from home.”

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This view was echoed by Robert Ainger, director of corporate marketing for Orange. “About two-thirds of businesses now offer some form of flexibility to their staff so it seems as if options are being opened up. It’s not about sticking to one model; some organisations are sticking to a traditional model of how offices are used but I think an awful lot are changing that and seeing the office as a meeting point, a point of face-to-face contact,” he said.

It is the lack of human interaction that means home-based workers will never fully replace their office-based counterparts. “I don’t think Britain will change that much as a result of connectivity,” saidKulveer Ranger, who advises the Mayor of London on transport issues. “We are social animals. Our working practices may change; technical advances may enable us to work and operate in different ways, but we will still want to be in certain places and people will still want to travel.”

There are clear advantages to working from home, such as productivity gains and a reduction in travel but as Janet Street-Porter pointed out at the event, there are also plenty of drawbacks. “People are muddling their cyber friends with real friends and working at home means people will be connected as disconnected at the same time,” she said.

You can see highlights of the debate on YouTube.

Thanks to Fabio Bruna on Flickr for the carousel image.

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