Can you work from home without going to office?

THERE was a time in my life when I was a full-time homemaker and a part-time freelancer. I left the workforce to take care of my two boys, and my wife became the sole breadwinner.

I must confess that those were the most cherished years of my life. My wife was also able to take her turn at home when I went back to work.

We learnt to survive on one income. And it was a lot of fun for the boys.

The Public Works Department recently allowed 35 of its draughtsmen to work from home for three months.

The Chief Secretary Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan has given his nod of approval, stating that the work-from-home concept is workable if employees have the integrity to do the work at home as well as it would have been done in the office.

“The civil service is a very big organisation that is outcome-driven, and if working from home will increase productivity, that is something we will definitely recommend to the Government,” he said.

“I also work from home. But I also work from my car, and when I go back to my hometown, I take my work with me. In this age of the Blackberry and Internet, it is not impossible to work from one’s home.”

If you have ever sent Sidek an email, you will learn that he walks the talk because his response is virtually instant. And not just an automated reply, mind you.

Although I spent most of my time at home playing with the boys, I also did the occasional part-time work to supplement the household income and also to keep my brain active.

In those days, such information technology was not available, but that did not prevent me from doing work for an overseas client whom I never even met.

This was a project for a UN body in Cambodia. It involved them sending me the material via a diskette (no CDs or thumb drives in those days) by courier. I edited and laid out the publication and then couriered a draft back to them for approval.

After the okay was given via fax, I proceeded to print the book in Puchong and had the order shipped to Phnom Penh.

They promptly sent me a cheque by mail.

Today, such a project would have seen me fully using the whole plethora of IT tools, including SMS, email and video chat. If the client so desires, I could easily email the book files to any printer in the world. And payment would have been instant through e-banking.

Technology has made so many things possible, not just for the able-bodied people, but also the disabled, and those recovering from serious illness.

Yet, in reality, working from home is not something embraced by most employers.

Somehow, there is the fear that employees cannot be trusted if they are not physically around.

The result is we end up with many employees, not necessarily the most productive ones, hanging around the office way after official working hours, when they could be at home enjoying family time.

The work-from-home concept should be encouraged in both the public and private sectors.

My son, who used to switch off my computer in the midst of work during my stay-at-home days so that I could take him to the park, is now a graduate tutor at a college. When he has to mark the papers, he has the option to do so at home.

It is about integrity, as Sidek rightfully points out. The point is that employers must start to trust their employees more and not just let those who will shirk or shortchange them determine the policy of the company.

Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin believes we can marry modern technology with good old-fashioned values to truly enhance our quality of life in both the workplace and the home.

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