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June 21, 2005

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Steve

That's interesting - 11% of Brits are self-employed and only 7% of Americans. So much for the "individualist" freedom loving USA and the "quasi-socialist" UK, so beloved of right-wing American commentators.

Monjo

Teleworking in the US makes more sense than the UK in some regards
- longer commuter distances and times (at least for the 1 day in 5 when our rail network actually works).
- Greater penetration of computers and internet
- Lack of decent pubs and the fact they only get 20 min lunch breaks anyway

I certainly agree that (in theory) I could do all my work from home and that my dad could work 2-3 days a week from home.

Katie

I'd be interested to know how many bloggers are self-employed/work from home... Aside from the "free" time they have that is required to blog and read and comment, the personality who prefers this kind of autonomy is the sort of person who in the 1760s in the States would be publishing little pamphlets and distributing them at street corners. A blogger, (or bloggeuse) is, after all, a 21st century one-man vanity press...

rjw

Marglin's papers are indeed fantastic reads. They make the central point that work effort, supervision, incentive structures, technology and the organisation of work are inter-dependent. Technology and work organisation are not neutral things that falls from the sky in the form of a blueprint book of production functions.

One interesting consequence is that more technologically efficient forms of production may be squeezed out if decision makers (capitalists) can appropriate bigger returns from less efficient technologies. In other words, it is possible to see situations in which less efficienct technologies may prevail if they guarantee capitalists a bigger share of the (smaller) cake through the advantages they offer in terms of supervision or control, or bargaining power.

I wonder whether he was really right on the factories though. Fundamentally, you can't drive a power loom in your kitchen. At some point centralised factory production was going to prevail because it was better able to exploit new power sources, independent of other advantages.

rjw

I might add... an interesting alternative explanation for the pin factory - different to Adam Smith's - is given in Harry Braverman's "Labour and monopoly capital". There he argues that factory production allowed the process of production to be split into skilled and less skilled parts - and then each part could be done by people of appropriate skill level. This meant that the relatively unskilled parts could be done by cheaper labour, saving the more expensive labour for trickier tasks. And as the tasks were broken down into constituent elements and standardised, monitoring becomes easier.

Angry Economist

This just reinforces the fact that the 'portfolio working' revolution has turned out to be rather less extensive than predicted by tosh-touting futurologists. Add it to the long list of knowledge economy, new economy, creative class, etc etc etc...

I live in an interesting residential development in London - 200 flats set up for homeworking or businesses from home. But - I have only seen one flat that remotely looks like a home business, as the office bit is usually the front room with a big patio window.

Patrick Crozier

I can't comment on other professions but certainly for computing (of all things) proximity matters. I have seen at first hand two projects buggered up by the key members... hey, scrub that... the members not being in the same place. There are all sorts of minor conversations (especially those involving explanations) that don't really work when distance is involved.

Another friend is involved in the outsourcing to India business. He says that although it can be made to work it requires incredibly detailed specification and a fair smattering of face-to-face conversation.

dearieme

Patrick, may I assume that these subtle - but obvious to anyone with experience - issues may be overlooked by the consultants who recommend outsourcing?

James

I find it is absolutely necessary to see some of my own team's faces at least once every fortnight or so...It keeps us from becoming disjointed voices over the phone.

For many of our clients, they are happy to see people from my team maybe once a week or even as infrequently as once a month as long as there is a steady link of phone calls and e-mails. Right now, however, one of our clients is questioning the frequency with which this is done as our people are not on site all the time (ironically, he works from home).

I noticed that with our clients in the City, that even working from home one day a week makes someone suspect for slacking off, although people will quite often have to work from home for a day to work on all the detail-oriented stuff like project plans and the like because the office environment is just too hectic and noisy for concentration. They like seeing someone in the office even if they never say a word to them.

Patrick, I have about 4 offshore Indian PMs working for me, and I agree, they need detailed instructions, but they do follow simple instructions well and with no questions, unlike their British and Continental cousins. They have problems with ambiguity particularly in the discovery phases of projects, but I've found that true of many Germans that I've worked with. In some cases, it is necessary to have a phone call, a follow-up e-mail, and another phone call for further confirmation.

rjw

an interesting question here though is how we define technically efficient. lack of hierarchy is not inherently efficient. so when do we have too much , too little, or the wrong type? to put it another way, supervision and monitoring are not inherently bad things, so when is 'control' a negative?

One suggestion is when it is used to appropriate rents. But it must be more nuanced. Otherwise you end up with a generalised version of public choice theory.

Kevin Carson

riw,

Kirkpatrick Sale (Human Scale) argues that, simultaneously with the power loom, much more efficient forms of technology compatible with household production were coming out at the same time. And the British state actively intervened to *outlaw* private possession of some of the tools for cottage industry. So some of it may have been a legitimate increase in efficiency of factory production. But apparently the differential wasn't great enough to enable the factory to triumph completely on its own.

dee

Many companies are offering freelance writing, bookkeeping, software, transcription or customer service work at home jobs. These companies do not require any fee and pay well . List of companies(with websites) offering genuine work at home jobs is available at http://www.pcworkathome.net .

kiramatalishah

The Center for Media Research has released a study by Vertical Response that shows just where many of these ‘Main Street’ players are going with their online dollars. The big winners: e-mail and social media. With only 3.8% of small business folks NOT planning on using e-mail marketing and with social media carrying the perception of being free (which they so rudely discover it is far from free) this should make some in the banner and search crowd a little wary.


www.onlineuniversalwork.com

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