Tom Ashton (AKA Ashton Editorial) has been a freelance project manager for nearly a year now. Here he shares an overview of his experience. I must say, he does look rather happy!
Early last year, in a meeting room one day over a conference call, I realized I had traveled 40 miles that morning, only to speak to someone over the phone. Over the course of a week, I wondered: if you take all the benefits of working in a centralized environment, like an office, vs those gained by remote working, how do the two compare?
My assumption was that on one hand, a business benefits from its workforce being in close physical proximity, and that similarly an individual will, socially. On the other hand, offices involve numerous overheads – power, heating, health&safety, maintenance staff and elaborate Christmas parties, and individually, we have to provide the time, finances and energy to get to work in the first place (In the UK we’re apparently averaging a 4 full weeks of commuting a year, according to a BBC report.
Since becoming self-employed almost a year ago now, I’m coming to think of the financial and personal cost of commuting as one of several arguments in favour of increased ‘home-working’ – whether via freelance staff or for employees.
Commercially, beside the question of office overheads, freelancers are flexible, highly-focused and allow employers to avoid making long-term financial commitment to contracts and redundancy packages. The home-worker can meanwhile charge more per hour relative to their employed counterpart, while living ‘off-peak’ – i.e. working flexibly, often at odd hours and at short notice, while structuring shopping, travel and leisure to periods of low demand (which are cheaper of course, generally).
Ecologically, they barely contribute to transport pollution, and even consume less energy, as they’re not maintaining an empty home for 40 out of 168 hours in the week. Politically, they encourage ‘localism’ by increasing their contribution to local businesses but also – in true ‘Big Society’ style – through having greater opportunity to participate in local activity, whether they be in volunteering initiatives, for childcare, or leisure activities not possible or practical within the structure of a 9-5 working arrangement. My experience has been that in addition to these opportunities, one can be remain every bit as much part of a working team, whether present in person or not. With a combination of email and regular client visits, (and presumably, greater take-up of video in the near-future), I’ve felt little sense of isolation and often, found myself to be more focused and productive than in comparable open-plan office environments.
Of course, there are a range of practical considerations to be made, and some specific challenges involved to freelancing. Having declared yourself self-employed, one immediately must become an accountant (handling cash flow, invoicing, and planning revenue), taxman (learning about self-declaring tax and the technicalities of type 2 and type 4 National Insurance), and handle fee negotiation. You provide your own marketing, IT support, and training. A strategy is needed too on how to integrate your professional and domestic life, and how to prevent either adversely interfering with each other. Perhaps the best solution for a permanent settled home-worker is ‘shed working’ – i.e. establishing HQ at the end of your garden (see http://www.shedworking.co.uk)
Beside the financial risk and lack of security inherent in self-employment, these considerations make this type of lifestyle to some extent a matter of personal choice, however, given the current state of the politics, the economy and technology, one I believe worth careful consideration.
For more details on Ashton Editorial, please follow @AshtoEditorial on twitter or check out http://www.ashtoneditorial.co.uk