Commuting a life sentence Part 2

All our yesterdays

Empty Rails - Jon Stow

It is almost ten years since I was an employee with a large firm, and at the time they were just thinking about the concept of hot-desking. I must admit I did not like the thought of not having my own space in the office, and having to scramble for one when I got to work.

I believe that we do need our own little workspace or territory and it needs to be a certain size. In my last job, the desks were so crammed together we could hardly move, and they had tried to alleviate the problem by having partitions around four feet high. I felt really hemmed in and uncomfortable in that environment. I was adequately compensated in financial terms up to the point I was included in their indiscriminate staff cuts, but I cannot say that the office environment was pleasant or conducive to allowing concentration on quite technical matters.

Behind the times

Hot-desking twenty years after the concept was thought of seems out-dated, but some of the big City corporates seem to think it is a really good idea, even for their senior staff. I would think it would be a real downer for morale because people are by nature territorial. Of course the idea is to save office space since not all office workers will be in at the same time. I think it could be costly in terms of production due to disaffection of the employees.

Well, you might argue, in the modern age we can work anywhere we wish. That is true in a sense. I take my netbook out and about and I have worked in cafes and hospital waiting rooms in the last few months. It is fine to work on the fly, but I have my own office back at base. Hot-desker employees do not have that refuge or nest to return to.

There is a problem in thinking with senior management, and especially those worried about security. We know that hackers can get into most systems eventually, but surely security could be good enough to allow most office-types to operate from their homes? That way they could have their own territory, feel less oppressed when they did need to go into the office to hot-desk, and they could save on their commuting costs. Need a meeting? We have VOIP and video conferencing. Have they seen the adverts?

Fat controllers

The problem is in management-think. There are many who do not trust even their most senior staff and best workers to apply themselves when out of sight of their boss. This reminds me of the old Bristow cartoons by Frank Dickens which ran for many years in the London Evening Standard. Bristow the buying clerk had a fearsome boss called Fudge who used to tower over Bristow and yell “Get on with your work”. It is precisely that attitude of control-freakery which still seems to reign and which is holding big business back, and requiring unnecessary commuting.

Employees work better when they are trusted and respect their managers. As long as there is good communication there should be no problem. I would have thought that providing more facilities for employees to work from home would more than satisfy the cost-cutting requirements without making the employees uncomfortable as they will be with a daily fight for a “nice” desk in the office.

Goodbye to All That

It might take ten or twenty years, but I believe the days of the daily commute for the majority of office workers are numbered. It is time that big corporates realized what we small business people already know: working from home or from your own chosen office or workspace makes you a lot happier, and also more efficient. How do you see this?

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If only I had…

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There are the chosen few who have never worked for anyone else, and then there are the rest of us who used to be employed but now run our own businesses.

When we were employed we did not have total control of our destiny. Perhaps we didn’t choose the right employer or we could have moved somewhere else and we didn’t, and later we wished we had.

You know the sort of thing?

  • If I had known when I started work that I should have began at an investment bank and then I would have been paid today’s equivalent of 250K per year even if I were still making the tea.
  • I should have made a fortune working for an insurance broker and would have known to get out at the right time.
  • I shouldn’t have worked for XYZ. They were dreadful employers and just used me.
  • I should have earned megabucks in the Far East when I had the chance.
  • I should have stayed with EFG because they had and still have the best pension scheme ever (but I left to preserve my own self-respect).

We might all have certain variations on those themes. All those situations depended either on how we were dealt with by others who had power over us, or would have been pure luck along the lines of “if we had known then what we know now”.

Luck is chance and we can’t do much about unforeseen incidents in our lives. However in being in business for ourselves, we make our own decisions. We shouldn’t be at the mercy of anyone as we might be if with a bad employer. Our future is in our hands. We need to make the right decisions of course, and we need courage sometimes. We will still come to forks in the road and must do our best to take the right one. If we make a mistake we can learn from it, and need not look over our shoulders at what might have been.

When I started work I would have been surprised to be told where I might be now, but as an independent person in business who enjoys his work, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Anyway, if I had started at the investment bank, I wouldn’t be talking to you now, though I might have been a fat cat taking the flak for the economic crisis.

So having regrets is pointless, and being in control of one’s own destiny in business is beyond value, isn’t it? And isn’t business fun?


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