Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Home-working and its contribution to the environment...

Two recent events have highlighted - and it is to be hoped changed the minds of governments and citizens - about the need to encourage more homeworking as a part- or full-time option. The two events are of course the serious air pollution in Paris and some other French cities, and disruption of the London Underground and commuter rail networks.

In Paris and other French cities, the levels of air pollution have led to bans on inner city driving (alternative days for odd and even numbered vehicles), speed restrictions and other controls such as banning older vehicles (already operated in Paris) and on diesel powered vehicles. Meanwhile there is a serious 'flu epidemic with hospitals reporting crisis conditions and the concelling of many scheduled operations.

The sight of literally millions of commuters trying to reach their jobs in Central London was sad to behold - mile long traffic jams, near riot conditions to get on to a bus or the occasional comuuter train or Underground service, and literally hours spent getting from into and from work.

Much of the pain could be alleviated and many lives improved if more people were allowed/prepared to work from home, fulfilling remotely the tasks performed on a comuter that could be done at home and do not require daily travel to the office. In an earlier post (see below) I looked at the rise in (temporary) office sharing and concluded from the evidence that daily physical contact with one co-workers was not necessary.

Nor is it the case that home-working necessarily means retiring to the countryside and 'dropping out' of society (as we said in the 1960s). I have worked at/from home all my life, long before the invention of the computer,  as a writer/consultant/visting lecturer in both Paris and Central London . My clients were generally local (walking distance from home) or involved a journey out of town - travelling in the opposite direction to the commuters pouring into the capital. I gave up my car in Central London due to high parking fees and the hours wasted trying to find a designated residents' parking space. My salvation was the opening of a national car rental company in the basement garage of where I lived and the luxury of a new, clean car whenever I needed one. Over a twelve month period the costs were much lower than owning.

Two other life-changers were the opening of Euruostar service to Bussels (from Waterloo, walking distance from my home), after years of uncertain ferries, hovercrraft and airline trips; and the arrival of the mobile phone which became my travelling office, together with any hotel lobby near to the Berlaymont Building, home of the European Commission.

Central Paris is a more manageable size, with most meetings within walking distance of my home or using the efficient Metro/RER services and French Rail for out-of-town visits using the TGV services which are much lower priced than in Britain - even in first class. Comparatively few Central Paris dwellers own a car, which tended to be use only at weekends to drive to the (usully inherited) country cottage/second home. Now there are organised car pools and journey-sharing websites and - suprisingly late compare with Britain - a growing networdk of long-distance bus services.

Finally, communication and the internet have revolutionised the way we work. Even in the seventies and eighties the only 'on-line' information service I used was Dialog, based in Palo-Alto  (California) which required a keyboard send/receive terminal connected to a special phone line, which put me in touch with a library of citations. Search results  had then to be ordered and sent in printed form by post from the USA!

Given the enormous advances in online commications, which are continuing, and the availability of sources such as Wikipedia, there is no reasonswhy many more of us should not be working from home!

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