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WFH and TV

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By Brian Clegg

In a recent article, the redoubtable comedian David Mitchell noted that the office supply company Toner Giant had published research showing that a high percentage of those working from home (yes, it was WFH not WTF) watch daytime TV. Sadly, as is often the case when the media comments on data, Mitchell did not provide a link to the original source – it’s here if you want it.

There are two interesting bits to this – one is what people allegedly watch and why Toner Giant is telling us (Mitchell struggles to understand why they did this, presumably because he didn’t read the whole original piece, which tells you) – and the other is whether or not this is a problem.

The claim is 82% of UK hybrid workers admit to watching TV when working from home – this is based on a ‘survey of 2,000 British hybrid workers’, though we aren’t told how they were selected and hence how representative they were (or weren’t). Why does Toner Giant care? Because they claim that personal printing from working at home costs £121,323,121.90 each year – and, by implication, if you use their toner it’ll be cheaper.

This is, of course, a wonderfully, ridiculous accurate figure – a sure sign of dodgy statistics. Leaving aside that mindboggling 90p, it’s based on an estimation that the average spend per year on employee’s printing needs is £700 (remind me how this can get to an number ending with 90p). They sourced this cost from a company that sells digital document handling, presumably who have a small axe to grind here, but give no details of how this number was calculated. I’ve worked from home for decades, and that’s a good five times bigger than my most costly year.

But going back to the claim about watching TV, this underlines a point I’ve been making ever since trying to get more working from home when I was a senior manager in a corporate in the early 1990s. I had other managers saying effectively ‘Unless we can see them, they are not going to be working all the time. They’ll skive off.’ And that’s still the viewpoint today, highlighted by this article. I’m not saying that there aren’t any people watching TV or whatever instead of working – but the point I made way back then, and that still holds, was that this should be totally irrelevant.

If we have a decent management system, how employees divide up their time should not make any difference – because we should be managing on output, not input. If WFH employees produce the desired quality and volume of output, they are doing the job well. Whether it takes them 12 hours a day or 2 is totally irrelevant. Of course there are many jobs where this can’t apply, just as there are many jobs that can’t be done from home. But if you are doing anything from writing code to processing forms, time at the grindstone is no measure of doing a good job. I got that resistance back then because many managers simply didn’t know enough about the jobs they were managing to be able to monitor quality of output – and I suspect that’s still the case. The problem with WFH is not workers taking time away from the computer to make their day more interesting… it’s management incompetence..

Image by Minja Radonja from Unsplash

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Now Appearing is the blog of science writer Brian Clegg (, author of Inflight Science, Before the Big Bang and The God Effect.


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