Quite the most astonishing phenomenon of the internet age is the sheer number of people who commute to work every day and then spend the most of their working time — isolated — behind a keyboard and screen. Twenty years ago, BT, then beginning to dabble in these matters, reckoned that there were a million and a half people who worked at home and forecasted that the number would grow every year until many millions were doing so. That’s the future in which BT obviously wanted to engage in.
Well, this just hasn’t happened. True — many more people, millions even, work from home these days. There are writers and all sorts of independent users of personal computers and in recent years there’s been an accession of a million or two who make a living directly from the internet and there have been employers who’ve done what Dr BT told them — getting their staff to work from home and thus saving on the purchase or the lease of expensive offices in town.
Nevertheless, the gap between those who could quite easily work from home and those who continue to commute is still very large. The reason is obvious to anybody who knows the teeniest bit about the origins of early man or who have the slightest psychiatric knowledge of individuals who are running off the rails.
We have a profound need for company. This is not to say that all those who work form home alone are likely to lose their wits. Most will have family appearing at different times in the day and those who haven’t will normally have a social life outside their working hours. There are very few people indeed who voluntarily spend all their time alone, week in and week out. When they exist, neighbours usually have good sense to be cautious about them.
But, in any case, it would seem that the jobs structure of the world into which we are heading — highly professionalised, refined jobs — will require the stimulation of new ideas as never before in our job history and where better than in groups? The number favoured fairly widely by anthropologists (the Dunbar number) is of about 80 to 120 individuals for maximum efficiency and mutual kindnesses.
This number is of all age levels — that is, with about a dozen mature adults in the driving seat, with either the retiring old or the aspiring youngsters and children scattered around them. In a curious way we have gone full circle from the hunter-gatherer group where our instincts and perceptual abilities were honed for millions of years to today’s scientific research group or managerial group in business.