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Opinion: Let's return to our roots working from home

Eyes & Ears

Posted online

Working from home is not a new concept.

However, it’s been a foreign idea since the industrial revolution. That powerful movement took one working parent, sometimes both and the children, and moved them out of the home and into a workplace for the bulk of each day.

Before that, working from home was the norm. Think back to our agrarian societies.

It’s how families provided for themselves – off the land. Sun up to sun down. The family worked together, creating and instilling work ethic and familial unity.

Some of that could be coming back. I hope it does. Ironically, our technological revolutions might be central to returning to our roots of working from home. Whatever this coronavirus pandemic has thrown us into, this could be a way of getting back what the industrial revolution took away. It might not be working the land but working the laptop. Now, technology can afford us this.

I don’t know what kind of revolution is taking place here, if any, but it’s worth a look back in history before determining where we’re going. Our modern way of living and sustaining is heavily influenced by the mode of business ushered in during the 18th and 19th centuries.

National Geographic puts it this way: “The advent of industrial development revamped patterns of human settlement, labor and family life.”

It actually started first in Europe. British men and women worked in their rural homes weaving or blacksmithing for products merchants would buy and sell.

“Married couples and their children often worked side by side on a family farm or in a shop, or otherwise divided their labor for the family’s overall benefit,” according to a National Geographic Resource Library article.

This was called the “putting-out,” or domestic, system.

“However, the rise of factory production and industrial cities meant a separation of the home from the workplace for most,” the article explains. “Even without geographic separation, many types of industrial jobs were so demanding that they left little downtime for workers to spend preserving the relational bonds we associate with family life.”

This is a key point in where I’m going. Our jobs are demanding. And that’s OK. But is there a way we can rewrite our work patterns to preserve necessary bonding time at home?

I understand the family unit isn’t at the core of turning larger profits and meeting shareholder goals. But could the two coexist a little more than our industrialized society has structured it? Technology could be the very thing that enables this. We could work alongside our children on mobile devices rather than spinning wheels.

Let’s take back the preindustrial family – socially and economically. The opportunity is here.

I see it happening among Springfield “family-preneurs.” The Millsaps are a good example, where Curtis, Sarah and their children run a Community Supported Agriculture operation on a farm north of town. (You also may have heard about their Thursday night pizza club.) There was a day when Joe and Christine Daues were making Granolove from their home to distribute at grocery stores and outdoor markets. I also saw this on assignment at Lavender Falls Farm in the James River Valley. Thor and Catherine Bersted at one time made multiple products from over 4,000 lavender plants on their Clever farm. I like what Catherine told me in a 2018 interview: “It’s our kids’ home first. It’s a lavender farm second.”

Many of the stands at farmers markets have similar stories. Next time you’re buying that wagyu beef, soy candle or jar of honey, stop and ask the seller how it’s made and who is behind the work. Chances are it’s a family and the kids are in training, even central to the operation. I’ve heard that story plenty of times.

It’s encouraging, particularly right now.

Sure, it may create a new stress in the home. But it’s also building a new kind of equity together.

It’s time we dust off the work-from-home concept – not out of necessity but by choice.

Springfield Business Journal Eric Olson can be reached at eolson@sbj.net.

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