Warning over pitfalls of working from home

May 21, 1999

Alison Utley reports from last week's Association of University Teachers summer council in Scarborough

Marking exam scripts from a shady table in the garden while listening to The Archers may sound like heaven and, indeed, working from home is one of the few perks still open to academics. But is it really such a cushy number?

New figures show that the number of people working from home is expected to double to about four million by the end of next year, as more employers recognise the cost-savings to be made and the improved productivity.

The Association of University Teachers decided last week to commission a study of all aspects of working from home, in preparation for issuing home-working agreements that address often-neglected issues such as health and safety, provision of support and costs to the employee.

Dianne Sutton of the Open University said she believed working from home was becoming more common, but that anyone thinking about it should be aware of the pitfalls. "If you are not careful, some of the costs may fall unwittingly on the employee," she said. Email, for instance, was an essential tool, but how many universities were prepared to install a second telephone line in the academic's home? And, if not, how do they separate out the phone bill to distinguish between professional and private use?

Promotion prospects may also be damaged, according to Duncan Martin of Nottingham University: "It has been customary for academics to work from home without formal requirements, but now we are all under pressure to be seen in our departments," he said.

Ms Sutton said it was vital to collect more information on common practices to determine areas of concern. Security, for instance, could be an issue.

Anne Bullman of the OU's school of health and social welfare said there was also the difficulty of networking and bonding with colleagues to consider.

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