One argument I’ve been hearing lately is that working from home is better for the environment. I’ve even heard that working from home will save the planet! More amusingly I heard recently that “working from home is such a simple way to do the right thing it is hard to believe no one ever thought about it before.”
Whether working from home will save the planet is something that is open to debate. But working from home is hardly a novel or even new concept. While the common perception is that it used to be that doctors made house calls, that milk was delivered to your door, and that only “housewives” (desperate or otherwise) actually worked at home. But these are just more urban myths, some doctors made house calls while others did not, and this was certainly only something the wealthy could typically afford. Milk was often delivered in the era before stores had refrigerators but then again, few restaurants ever delivered! And many more people than just housewives had once worked from home.
Actually it wasn’t that uncommon in Europe and pre-20th century America for many professionals to work at home. This was notable for lawyers, doctors and even small trades people. In many cases workers lived above or next to their offices or workshops. It wasn’t so much working from home as it was living where you worked.
The industrial revolution brought trades people into large factories, and as cities grew in size it became common for offices to crop up. Eventually devices such as the automobile made it vastly easier to work greater distances from where you lived. But now high gas prices are making many small businesses reconsider the notion of commuting.
For one thing greater technological advances have now allowed us the opportunity to work as a team across greater and greater distances. Ironically too is the fact that just as the cost of gasoline increases the cost for broadband had plummeted. A mere decade ago gasoline was at an all time low (when factoring in inflation) while broadband was still horribly expensive. Today with numerous options including DSL and FIOS, cable and even satellite getting speedy Internet connectivity – even in fairly remote areas – is very affordable.
Likewise, in the 1950s as people escaped the cities for the ‘burbs, the cost of daytime long distance was also very expensive. Today there are numerous “call anywhere” plans, and even near-free options via Voice Over IP (VOIP), while instant messaging and e-mail makes picking up the phone necessary only if you need to talk things through. For simple questions and requests e-mail and IM can make it extremely easy.
So can working from home save the world? Yes, there is an argument from the various green sectors that by staying home you’re helping to save the planet. Once the cables are laid there is little environmental damage by using the Internet, plus if you work from home you do not have to get in the car and drive anywhere.
My take is that you might save a few dollars (or more with the rising costs) on gasoline, and because you’re the one dealing with the trash you can help ensure that recyclable items are indeed recycled (in past offices where I worked I routinely watched the cleaning people dump the recycle bins into the same dumpster). Working from home can save money, can reduce the stress of commuting and can thus allow disciplined workers to be more productive. But it will hardly save the planet.