The popular sociology of my University of Chicago years was a book called The Lonely Crowd ostensibly by David Riesman. (In reality it was written with the great sociologist Nathan Glazer and Reuel Denney.)
The book focused on the idea of an inner-directed person and an other-directed person. Presumably an inner-directed person would do well working at home by themselves, but an other-directed person couldn't.
For Sumitomo in the late 1980’s I was doing research on the issue of working at home which the Japanese saw as the future. My partners and I did research on the Japanese idea of having small satellite offices that homeworkers would come to on a regular daily basis.
Neither of these elements of my past have any relevance to the culture of working at home.
There are many inner-directed people who can’t work by themselves, they are so self indulgent, and a few other-directed people who are so driven by money that they can.
Most Japanese need to come to the main office frequently and the rest have their own businesses.
Increasingly Americans are working at home. My guess would be that the number is now somewhere between 10 and 20 million people and growing. There are many people in this group who work at home part time.
What it takes for someone to work at home successfully, means being self-motivated, having a strong internal identity and a source of energy that is self generated.
These are precisely the skills needed to start and run a business. But the self motivated business entrepreneur also needs the same elements on steroids because the barriers to success are large, impending anti-business pressures are strong and such a person requires a persistence that is rarely found in individuals without support from others.
What is amazing, when you look at the world, is how few cultures have the elements that generate the kind of person who can work at home. The Japanese have many, Chinese coastal regions have many and a few other entrepreneurial societies have such people. But the rest of the world doesn't. Americans are educated to have these qualities in abundance. And we are becoming better at it every year.
Our American culture leaves us to fend for ourselves as infants, puts us in a separate room to cry ourselves to sleep. Our high schools leave us pretty much to fend for ourselves living a leisurely self-directed high school life. Our colleges let us create our own curricula.
I long ago did a study of very small businesses and found that for most businesses, under 10 workers, 10 independent workers were many times more efficient than 10 people working together. Many times more efficient. One person working alone with independent contractors, can out-produce six people in a group.
This alone may be the reason for the dramatic increases in productivity that we have seen in the past 15 years. Unfortunately, a high percentage of the unemployed are not suited for self employment or home office work. Government training programs to retrain the unemployed can do little to create home office workers, the growing market for new employment.
There is a culture of home office workers in the U.S.... fortunately and it is growing.