Working from home isn’t new. It’s a long-awaited return to business as usual.

Working from home is new, right?

Many of us think of the idea of working from home as a new idea. The attitude that people working from home are teleworking, or in the eyes of some, watching telly when they should be working, is a stubborn myth. Organizations as well respected at The Harvard Business Journal, AT&T, The Economist and The New York Times, all agree on its merits.

But when I look back in history, it’s the idea of going to an office that’s the new-fangled and highly inefficient idea.


The industrial revolution

Before the industrial revolution, artisans and skilled craftspeople, a group from which the middle class grew during the industrial revolution, worked from home. Whether they were knitters, weavers, blacksmiths, or a thousand other professions, people lived above their place of work. It was a logical thing to do. Why travel when all the tools you needed were right there. Not that travel was practical anyway. But the idea of living where you work and working where you live was a logical one.

The industrial revolution, starting in the early 1800s, saw the emergence of factories being built to house the range of new machines. These machines were far too large, expensive and power-intensive to put into people’s homes. So the people went to the machines. They had to commute. The administrative functions, or head offices, for running the factories were colocated in the same buildings.

Over the last 40 years, the concept of factories and the backend office functions being collocated has become disassociated. Factories have been relocated to where labor and energy costs are lower. The office has become a separate entity, closer to clients.

And something else has happened. There are less heavy equipment and machines needed to get our work done. Now the “machines” we rely on are tiny, low-cost and powered by the Internet. Most people have more compute power available in their laptop today than a building of a generation ago.

And yet, we continue to go to the office. We continue to fight rush-hour traffic. Why is that? Why do millions of people get in their cars everyday and drive an average commute of 25 minutes in the USA, to use technology that they almost certainly already have at home? One of the primary reasons is habit. Business has, for the last 200 years, used this paradigm. Another is the concept that management and workers have;  that to get effective work done they need to see each other.

Changing the paradigm with video collaboration

One of the great promises of visual communications was the ability to be part of a team without being in the same location. The idea of being there without going there. Until recently that was easier said than done. The cost of the technology was too high, but now groups can get together in huddle rooms with video conferencing solutions costing less than $500, or for under a $1000 for video collaboration device in a larger meeting room.

As video cloud services have taken off, and as the cost of high quality video devices declined, we are finally able to leap forward into a world, that will, look more like the 18th century, an era considered a golden age for Artisans.

The Global Leadership Summit in London found that 34% of businesses said more than half their company’s full-time workforce would be working remotely by 2020.

And why not? The benefits are countless. The environment would benefit massively from less traffic on the roads, Eliminating our commute, would see huge benefits in mental health and work-life balance. The upsides of this are enormous.

When do you think we’ll see that point of inflection? Do you work from home, and if so, how does it compare to going into the office. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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