The tools most of us need to work flexibly and establish our own form of work-life balance are now freely available. Mobile telecoms, broadband, home computing and all the other technological innovations of the last couple of decades has made it possible for white-collar workers everywhere to work wholly or partly from home.
In fact, given the high cost of office space and the pathetically low levels of utilisation of the average square foot of work space on any given day
of the week, employers should be
falling over themselves to persuade staff to hot-desk and to work on the road, in the home - anywhere but the profit-draining office cubicle.
So why is it taking so long for home-working to become a reality? One reason is that organisations are often incredibly slow to adapt to technological change. Ten years after electricity became commonly available, architects were still designing factories as if there would be a single power point available for the whole building.
In addition, although we've come a long way in including the people dimension in planning office moves, too often the plan is drawn up by the finance or facilities management department, and any truly radical ideas about work-space utilisation - and
the kind of culture change that can go with it - don't tend to get aired.
However, if it takes a long time for the built environment to adapt to changing technology, it takes even longer for managers.
Too many still regard 'working from home' as a euphemism for watching Neighbours and catching up on the ironing. In place of the old adage 'if you can't measure it, you can't manage it', British supervisors tend to operate
on the principle that 'if you can't see it, then it isn't actually happening'.
All of which is daft: just put in place standards for agreeing what work will be completed by what time. Assuming the work isn't time-sensitive or a video conference call to your top client in Japan, it doesn't matter whether it gets done by a suited employee between nine and five or on a laptop in the garden at 8pm in a pair of shorts.
In some ways, a bigger problem, at least for workers who spend most or all of their time outside the office, is the lack of interaction with fellow workers, the 'buzz' that you get from team-working, the casual water-cooler conversations that spread knowledge and can lead to huge breakthroughs (or at least the realisation that you are working on the same piece of work).
Until we can replicate the experience of working in an office across 'virtual teams', and encourage casual knowledge-sharing between people who may never meet, one of the main obstacles to flexible working will be the people who ought to be doing it. n
Steve Crabb is editor of online
magazine People Management