Nicholas Bloom – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT
I’m guessing many of you are pretty suspicious about working from home.
When I worked in London, I worked in McKinsey and the Treasury, which is the finance ministry. My friends would tease me all the time about working from home. They would say working from home is shirking from home or working remotely is remotely working.
They were not very kind to me about working from home; they claimed I watched those old black and white movies all day and actually did nothing at all.
If you’ve travelled on the subway, you’ve probably seen these sketchy adverts that say things like “Work from home, earn thousands of dollars monthly,” which strikes me as, A, an implausibly large amount of money and, B, way too many exclamation marks even for someone who’s done middle-school English.
In another direction, if you listen to music or follow the charts, you may know this song: it’s “Work from Home” by Fifth Harmony. You can probably figure it’s not a very good representation of the positivity of working from home. This was about the cleanest cut photo I could get from the album; they had the most amount of clothes on in this picture compared to anything else.
To tell you how bad it is, the chorus line is:
“Ain’t nothing but sheets between us,
Let my body do the work,
You’re the boss at home.”
Which tells you this is really not about work, something else is going on.
So this is, you know, also very negative about working from home.
Online, it’s similar. If you go to Google or to Bing and you punch in “working from home” into image search, what do you get? Well, you get something that looks like this. A lot of pictures are basically naked people, cartoons, people juggling way too many babies to actually be doing anything constructive.
The reason I show you Bing is that Bing nicely shows you multiple other searches which are common searches that go with this. You can see other common searches are “working from home funny,” “working from home comics,” and my favorite one is “working from home in underwear.”
Apparently, people are regularly searching for it all the time, maybe you can push it up to top if you go and search for it now. And it’s not just online.
The media – I talk to journalists quite a lot, and journalists, most of the time, are actually working from home. Despite that, they were very suspicious about working from home when the big storm erupted after that leaked memo from Yahoo in 2013. If you cast your mind back, you may remember Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo.
Back in 2013, on a quite Sunday, some memo gets leaked out, claiming they are going to ban working from home at the firm. Marissa Mayer probably never could have guessed that in her long time at Yahoo, going through her start, her time there, all the ups and downs, and eventually exiting, this would be the event generating the most press coverage for her.
The press went wild for the next two weeks, there was masses of coverage in printed media, radio media, on TV media. And you can see here, I put up some examples from the Economist, from the Wall Street Journal, from the New York Times, from Bloomberg. All of it was debating very heavily about pros and cons of working from home.
On one hand, there were people saying, “They are loafing off, not doing anything; they’re watching TV in their underwear.”
The other side saying, “This is the workplace of the future; it’s a more productive way to operate.”
I should actually end by saying that probably the example of why working from home is potentially seen as so bad is – a friend of mine told me a great anecdote. She said her 12-year-old daughter went out shopping with some friends. Her 12-year-old daughter came back, and she had bought a baseball cap, and on the baseball cap it said “working from home.”
Her mom said to her, “You are not wearing that baseball cap out of the house!” As if it was like a T-shirt that said “Hey, big boy, I’m easy” or something.
Shows you how low the working from home has sunk as a concept. I work from home a lot. I’m very positive about working from home, and I actually think it has enormous potential, as much potential as, say, something like the driverless car.
Let me explain why.
The average American spends about 45 minutes a day commuting into work and about another 45 minutes a day commuting back from work. Almost all of that is done by car. There are about 150 million working Americans, there is probably about another 500 million people working in similar situations in Europe and South America and Asia and Africa.
Now, imagine if we could take just some share of those people and allow them to work from home on a daily basis. The enormous amount of time you’d save, the huge amount of money you’d save in terms of reduced car travel, and moreover, the amazing impact you’d have on reducing pollution. So I think it has a tremendous potential.
And then you should ask yourself: why do we focus so much on working in the office. This tradition has gone back a couple of hundred years to the Industrial Revolution. So I guess in many ways you can blame the British for this, but before the Industrial Revolution, around 1800, everyone basically worked from home: we were farmers, we were artisans, we were craftsmen.
Around 1800, modern workplaces started to be formed, we started to mass in factories and offices, and the modern form of commuting to the office and back or to the factory and back started to be set and stored.
But a lot has changed in the last 200 years, in a sense, we don’t need to be like this anymore. There’s modern communications, modern computer systems, the Internet.
So one of the things I want to argue is the way that we organize the office, the way we organize factories is something that is very backward looking, and it doesn’t need to be that way anymore. I have kids, and it reminds me a lot of these long summer holidays.
The summer holidays for three months is a huge challenge for parents. What on earth to do with your children for three months? You ask, “Why do we have these long summer holidays?”
Again, it’s one of these throw-back things because when the school day was starting to be structured a couple of hundred years ago, we’d release kids to go and harvest the fields. And I don’t know about any parents here, but my kids certainly are not doing any harvesting anymore in the, you know, the bare in the summer.