The move to a cottage economy?

Something interesting is happening in the world today. Whilst the first big step in technological evolution – the industrialization of the early 20th century- pulled masses of people out of their cottages and organised the workforce around large centralized institutions, the second wave underpinned by Information Technology revolution is seemingly reversing that trend and driving people back to their ‘cottage’. How is that?

Let’s take a few innovations that have become integral parts of our personal and business lives. Relatively recent yet ubiquitous innovations – the internet, social networks, the PC even and the mobile phone, or more lately the blackberry – what do all these have in common other than a few microchips? They are increasingly making us more connected, more mobile, more interdependent yet more independent in terms of how where and when we work. And ultimately more in control of our own time and space. So is this rendering the traditional office as we know it obsolete?

Well, lets look at some statistics that may, or may not, suggest so:

– Small business – the driving force of the UK economy – are growing faster than any other sector according to the DTI, in excess of 10% annually.
– There are 4.5m small businesses (under 50 employees) in the UK accounting for a whopping 35% of enterprise turnover. Of these 2.1million (almost half) are home based businesses
– Home businesses now account for a whopping 28% of employment in the UK
– Over 60% of new businesses are now started from home. There are about 450,000 new businesses starting in the UK annually, so that’s ca 270,000 new home based businesses per year!
– Home businesses aside, there are over 3.7m self-employed people in the UK in 2007 up by a million (or ca 30%) since 1986!

Still, the above lags behind the USA where almost 85% of employment is in SMEs (small-medium sized enterprises) so if the usual catch-up of the UK to the USA is anything to go by then this is a trend that will carry on.

But more fundamentally, what’s fuelling this are real and growing drivers that indicate that this is neither a fad nor a short-lived trend that will subside

a) More women are constantly entering the workforce, so when they take maternity leave we naturally have a growing ‘workforce capacity’ at home. Till now that was difficult to tap into but with sites like it is

b) Technology is making us more mobile and connected – indeed most homes can now be turned into a small office with very little effort. With broadband penetration approaching 90% of homes and mobile penetration exceeding 100% (a lot of people have more than 2 phones), we’re all a click of a button away

c) Increasingly people are becoming more conscious of their work-life balance. A survey conducted by the Equal Opportunities Commission in 2006 showed that over 40% of UK women and 10% of men are now making lifestyle choices which involve opting for part-time or occasional work patterns, rather than the traditional ‘9 to 5’ regime.

So what are the benefits of working from home?

We asked people registered on our site ( to give us their own personal insight in this as professional freelancers. Here were some of their comments

Increased job satisfaction – I am able to work on the projects that I enjoy and work in areas that I am passionate about. Work is never boring, every project is different. Working from home independently and partnering my skills with a broad range of advertising agencies and creative industry professionals is stimulating and rewarding. Significantly better work/life mix. Sue Dunn, Shout Copywriting

My personal life has improved greatly, from having breakfast as a family to being able to make time for simple things like taking our daughter to feed the ducks, or taking an hour out of the week to take her to swimming lessons. I am also less stressed as being the master of my own destiny so to speak I can manage my time better which benefits my marriage and our joint happiness. Johnathan Whalvin, Design Vent

A major drop in mileage and travel time, enjoying self-motivation and challenges, no office politics or hierarchy, no senseless or distant decisions, direct action and reaction between myself and clients, total responsibility – all this and more made me a happier and more fulfilled person with greater self esteem. Also I maintain that I haven’t got time to be ill therefore rarely am eg one cold a year, [and that’s usually because I’ve overworked], perhaps but never that general feeling of malaise many employed people suffer – I haven’t got time to be ill and I’m certainly too stimulated to feel off colour. A Roe, Virtual Assistant

So whilst home working can save you cost (as for example in travelling), have tax benefits (although beware – you must have at least 3 different clients to be able to convince the Inland Revenue that you’re not a full-time employee hiding behind a company), as well as potentially earning allow you to more money by being more flexible and in command of your work, it seems that the most commonly perceived benefit is the personal satisfaction it creates in being able to sustain a better work-life balance.

So if you haven’t considered home working yet, perhaps you should. Our site is a good place to start – you can get tips on home working from our Blog, and more importantly supplement your income by finding and bidding for business.

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