Sally brown, who was born in Vermont in the early 1800s, had a typically varied schedule for a working woman of the time. As her diary shows, one day she is finishing stockings; another she is milking a cow; another she is refining wool. All of her jobs were done from home.
The shift from offices to kitchen tables among white-collar workers in 2020 seems unprecedented, and only possible with Slack and Zoom. But it is nothing new.
Indeed, the history of home-working suggests some surprising parallels with today.
The emergence of capitalism in Britain and elsewhere from the 1600s to the mid-19th century did not take place primarily in factories, but in people’s houses.
Workers made everything from dresses to shoes to matchboxes in their kitchens or bedrooms.
When Adam Smith wrote “The Wealth of Nations” in 1776, it was perfectly common to work from home. Smith famously described the operation of the division of labour in pin-making, but not in a dark, satanic mill. He was describing a “small manufactory” of perhaps ten people—which could well have been in or attached to somebody’s house.
The emergence of an at-home industrial workforce had two main causes.
The growth of global trade and the rise in per-person income from the 1600s onwards raised demand for manufactured goods such as woollens and watches.
But the emerging new technology was more suited to small-scale working than large scale factories (the spinning jenny, the machine which kick started the industrial revolution, was not invented until the 1760s). Homes were the obvious place to be.
Some economic historians suggest that workers were mercilessly exploited under the putting-out system.
① Those who owned the machines and raw materials enjoyed enormous power over those they employed. With workers dispersed across a county, it was difficult for them to team up against exploitative bosses to demand better pay, let alone form trade unions. Bosses “could easily gang up against the rural spinner who faced a take-it-or-leave-it offer of work,” argue Jane Humphries and Ben Schneider of Oxford University, in a paper from 2019.
对于自己雇来的人，拥有机器和原材料的人享有巨大的权力。由于工人分散在郡内各处，他们很难联合起来向剥削人的老板要求加工资，更不用说成立工会了。牛津大学的简·汉弗莱斯(Jane Humphries)和本·施耐德(Ben Schneider)在2019年的一篇论文中指出，老板们“很容易联合起来，打压那些没什么选择，‘要么干，要么走人’的农村纺织工人”。
② Some workers truly struggled. Thomas Hood’s poem “The Song of the Shirt” evokes a home-working woman labouring in poverty.
一些工人确实挣扎过活。读托马斯·胡德( Thomas Hood) 的诗《衬衫之歌》( The Song of the Shirt)，脑海中就会浮现在家工作的贫苦妇女辛苦劳作的画面。
Some employer resistance to flexible working can stem from a belief that the speed of completing a task will be affected if people are working away from the office. = Most people believe that work can be done most productively from the office.
And for those away from the office, they may lose a sense of belonging to a team, or pick up resentment from colleagues because they are not physically present to manage unforeseen urgent issues. There is definitely a need for more in-house coaching to reflect this new way of working.
Some employers don’t realise they have health and safety obligations if staff are working from home, so they ideally need to conduct a safety risk assessment of home working spaces.
There is the problem of isolation and increasingly blurred boundaries between home and work that can feel unhealthy.
As a result, some historians welcome the development of the factory system from the late 18th century onwards.
Workers moved from a place where domestic life intermingled freely with economic production to a place solely dedicated to the pursuit of efficiency.
It is hardly surprising that labour productivity was higher in the factory, nor that the factory system gradually outperformed the putting-out system and came to replace it.
Crammed together in a factory, workers could more easily club together to ask for higher wages; trade unions started to grow from the 1850s onwards. According to English data, factory workers were paid 10-20% more than home-workers.
One such advantage was economic. Home-workers may have been poorly paid relative to factory folk, but they could earn income by other means.
Wool-industry home-workers would receive a given quantity of material and were then supposed to return the same weight of material fashioned into stockings. But by exposing the wool to steam, it would weigh more, allowing the workers to keep some of the raw materials.
That was not the only advantage. Home-workers in rural or semi-rural areas could forage for fuel and food, and so boost their meagre incomes.
One observer in 1813 noted sniffily that women in Surrey, a county close to London, were making three shillings a week from cutting down heath to make brooms—“miserable productions and trifling employments”, in his view. But three shillings a week was not far off average female earnings at the time.
Home-workers also had more control over their time.
So long as the work was done to the required standard and on time, they were not told exactly when or how to do it. That was in sharp contrast to the factory, where every aspect of life was planned in advance and workers were closely monitored. And home-workers could decide on the exact mix between work and leisure—in contrast to factory workers, who either worked the12-or 14-hour days stipulated by the factory owner or none at all. Average working hours in the 18th century were shorter than they became in the 19th. After drinking heavily on Sunday evening, homeworkers often took the day off before they went “reluctantly back to work Tuesday, warmed to the task Wednesday, and laboured furiously Thursday and Friday”, as David Landes, an economic historian at Harvard University, put it. People also got more sleep.
他们无需遵循具体的工作时间和工作方式，只要能依照标准按时完成工作就行。这与工厂形成了鲜明的对比，在工厂里，生活的方方面面都是预先计划好的，工人们也会受到密切监视。在家工作的人可以自主分配工作和休闲的时间，而工厂工人要么得按照厂主的规定每天工作12或14 小时，要么一整天一点活也不干。18世纪的平均工作时长比19世纪要短。正如哈佛大学的经济史学家大卫·兰德斯( David Landes)所说，周日晚上喝个烂醉后，在家工作的人周一通常会休息一天，“周二不情不愿地回到工作岗位，周三找找工作状态，周四和周五再拼命苦干”。当时人们的睡眠时间也更多。
This greater autonomy was especially important for mothers. Ina world where men did little by way of family work, women could combine child care with contributing to the family income.
It was far from easy. Sometimes women would give their infants “Godfrey’s Cordial”, a mixture of sugar syrup and laudanum, to knock them out for a while. But home-working allowed for the combination of paid work and family work in a way that the factory system did not. As factories spread, female labour-force participation fell.
结论：In 1920 Max Weber, a German sociologist, argued that the separation of the worker’s place of work from their home had “extraordinarily far-reaching” consequences. The factory was more efficient than the home-based system which had preceded it—but it was also a space in which workers had less control over their lives, and where they had much less fun. Depending on how permanent it proves to be, today’s pandemic-induced shift back to the home could have similarly far-reaching effects.