Solutions to help keep connected with loved ones when work takes you away from home

Professor Ladkin at the London Design Museum showing the in car speaker which relays messages from y

Professor Ladkin at the London Design Museum showing the in car speaker which relays messages from your children - Credit: Archant

Can technology help maintain family life when work takes you away from home? Professor Adele Ladkin of Bournemouth University reveals some interesting solutions to help keep us connected with our loved ones

Mobile working in the UK is on the rise, with more and more of us travelling for work or being away from home for long periods. The effects on home and family life can be significant. For example, someone working Monday to Friday in a location away from home might miss out on valuable time spent with a young family, while another worker travelling for long periods may have difficulties finding time to spend with a partner. The increase in mobile working raises questions about what home and family life mean to us and what the effects are of being separated from routines and rituals that are important to us.

For the last couple of years my research has centred on these issues, and I’ve been privileged to work with academics from all over the UK on this project. Together, we’ve combined our very different areas of knowledge and expertise to look at people’s domestic routines and rituals and how they are disrupted by mobile working. We then explored five specific cases and came up with innovative and fun technological designs to help them maintain their domestic routines while travelling. These recently went on display at an exhibition as part of the London Design Festival.

In an era of communication, with instant access to social media and the prevalence of smart phones, it is, of course, easy to stay in touch with family while away from home. But is communication the only important thing about family life? Our research found that the things people miss most can be quite simple – and yet hard to replicate when away. A glass of wine with your partner at the end of a long week, or hearing the chatter of your children as they tell you the little details of their day. Even the regular routine of housework can be appealing when you’re a long way from home!

As well as carrying out research with employers and employees to find out about the support available for mobile workers, we worked closely with five families who are affected by mobile working to come up with some technological solutions for the routines they miss most when away from home. These ranged from a machine that pours a glass of wine at home when their partner opens a bottle of beer with a special bottle opener, to a robot vacuum cleaner that moves whenever the absent family member begins his daily commute, to messages from children played through a jam jar speaker while their mum drives long distance lorries.

These devices picked up on aspects of home life most important to the families involved and gave them a fun and creative way of keeping those routines going even when apart. While we don’t expect our designs will provide a solution to the issue of mobile working and separation from home, we do hope it will spark a debate about what home and family life mean and what the effects of separation from them can be.

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