What is the importance of telework in the workplace? Since we know that teleworking is a new method which comes from the new needs for society and government. Teleworking is a major factor in the new relation between employment providers and the demands of employees
Current and Future Issues
by Robert Alan LEWIS
COPYRIGHT (C) 2000
by SGDL, 38, rue du Faubourg Saint Jacques, 75014 Paris, France
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, mechanical, photo-copying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author, R.A. Lewis, 25, rue de Lille, Paris, France.
Table of Contents
a) What is telework?
b) Why telework?
II Current situation of telework
a) In Europe (except the UK)
b) In the UK
c) In the USA
III Interviews with teleworking practitioners
What are the current:
d) Un-resolved issues
IV What are the current issues in telework for:
V What are the potential perverse effects, indirect consequences for:
c) The economy
VI What is the future of telework?
a) What effects will teleworking have from an economic standpoint?
b) What are the foreseeable social changes?
c) What effects will it have on family/quality of life?
d) What effects will it have on the work environment?
e) What effects will it have on the planetary environment/urban centers?
f) What effects will it have on the individual as far as motivation and work behaviour are concerned?
a) How has this study clarified the definition of telework?
b) How can this study contribute to current knowledge in the area of telework?
c) Where is the evolution of telework leading us?
IX Annex (teleworking agreement)
WHAT IS TELEWORK?
Current context of telework
‘We are a society overwhelmed by pollution, traffic jams, and seemingly endless commutes to work. Time with our families is often minimal. And we look to teleworking as one solution to these formidable problems’ -United States Office of Personnel Management *
As we focus on the contemporary issues of today such as the environment, our worklives, the economy, and the advancement of society, there is an underlying thread: the need for a more efficient means of human work. Teleworking represents one of these means.
Definition of work
Let us look at the definition of work. Work is an activity leading to a means of existence for an individual or group. Work can also be defined as gainful employment (a full-time job in a company or organization for example). We are witnessing a revolution as the labour market mutates itself in different directions. This mutation creates a work environment that neither individuals, companies, nor governments, are currently prepared to master.
One example of this mutation is the current concept of the ‘work week’ and its related labour laws. The links between the individual, the employment provider, and the state-controlled legal framework are becoming skewed. This era of new technology provides new methods for income and human production, both in the services and goods sectors. New technology has provided effective telecommunication tools available to the end-user: essentially through the use of the personal computer and modem, without geographical restriction, currently inhibited only by lack of phone lines. However, in the near future, this same technology will become completely wireless, giving more speed, mobility, and efficiency.
Other issues which have contributed to the phenomenon
§ The rising level of computer literacy.
§ Peoples’ concept of one job for life.
§ The flattening of hierarchy within the last decade in most company structures.
§ The empowerment of the employee in the workplace
§ Employees’ concern for more quality in their lives (more leisure time).
§ Environmental concerns and inter-urban congestion.
§ Cost-reduction by companies, (office space).
§ The global, highly competitive, and fast-changing work environment
Definition of telework by professional authority
Teleworking is a newly-defined way of working. Clear definitions have yet to be distinguished. Management Technology Association (MTA), a UK-based consulting firm, has the following to state as a definition:
§ “Teleworking is any form of substitution of information technologies (such as telecommunications and related travel) that brings the work to the workers instead of moving the workers to the work”*
§ “Telecommuting is periodic work out of the principal office, one or more days per week, either at home, a centre; the partial or total substitution of information technologies for the commute to reduction or elimination of the daily commute to and from the workplace”**
My definition of telework
So what is telework? More commonly known in the United States as telecommuting (due the the connotation to the definition as a ‘distance’ reduction in work commutes), teleworking and telework have become known as human production outside of a ‘traditional’ workplace.
Teleworking/telecommuting is a new way of working. Telework has been the subject of numerous debates, articles, and academic papers. The difference in definitions currently accepted appears to be minimal. Whatever people choose to call it, the concept is the same:
Teleworking means decentralizing the office, and bringing different ways to bring work to workers.
Let’s define this new method of work more clearly.
The role of telework in society
Teleworking is becoming a new way of work in the new society. The society of today is based on the rapid pace of the development in new technology. Among the technology that has contributed to the spread of teleworking, Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) is currently the newest addition. Following the use of the PC modem, WAP will enable one the receive both Internet access and text via wireless communication. This is a new role that thetelecoms will play in the faster transportation of communication. MTA has the following to say:
“In a global, networked economy, this (teleworking) increases local prosperity and generates work opportunities. “*
“Telework increases the fragility of old-style paid employment”**
Production, salaries, and “earning a living”
The new society brings us the new notion of human production. The theory of production and what one is able to produce are no longer inherently attached to a salary. The new method of earning a living is not necessarily done through one employer. The relationship therefore between work and salary is no longer the same. People will be able to earn more and more of their living through income channels. These concepts of human production, salaryand income channels will be ways of adapting work rythmns and capacity rates (according to the natural fluctuations in production rates and availability of workers) to the needs of both the income provider and worker. The difference with telework is that the worker will no longer be limited to choose income providers because of geographical limitations.
Categories of teleworkers
What categories of teleworkers exist? In Teleworking in Brief, by Mike Johnson, a study for the UK department of transport suggests that there exist three distinct types;
1)marginal, 2)substantive, and 3)dominant teleworkers.
1) Marginal teleworkers are those who telework for up to one day per week. Teleworking is carried out on an infrequent or irregular basis.
2) For the substantive teleworker, the teleworking activity is regular and a routine aspect of his/her work life for more than one full day per week.
3) Telework is the primary means of work for the dominant teleworker. The overall majority of his/her worklife takes place off-site.
Most suitable types of teleworkers and telework
A few basic criteria for teleworkers:
n Self-motivated, reliable, self-disciplined
n Able to work independently, but knows when to communicate and ask for help
n Highly adaptable to changing work requirements
n Enthusiastic about teleworking
These are the top ten tasks for teleworking as described by Mike Johnson in Teleworking in Brief*:
1) Creating, writing and editing reports and proposals
2) Preparing budgets
3) Maintaining personal databases
4) Preparing and developing contracts
5) Developing sales and business plans
6) Finalizing staff reviews and bonus plans
7) Thinking, reading, and reflecting
8) Catching up with business correspondence
9) Project management and task force assignment planning
10) Desk research by phone, fax and e-mail
Developed economies are evolving towards an information-based society. In this information-based society, rates of production of services, or ‘immaterial goods’ are increasing. The links between what is produced by one person and the rate of production are more difficult to define. The value of time and its related human output no longer hold the same value in an information-based society/economy.
Scope of this study
We have defined what the meaning of work is and the new work environment. After the definition of the new work environment comes the location of work. This is the essence of the debate regarding teleworking. To make a living, is an office/workplace a necessity?
This will be the center of our study.
WHY WRITE ABOUT TELEWORK?
Telework is a hot and overwhelming issue.
Telework IS the new world of work. The work environment is changing at a faster pace than ever. Society is searching for means to keep up the pace. Telework is one of these means.
Telework and the workplace
What is the importance of telework in the workplace? Since we know that teleworking is a new method which comes from the new needs for society and government. Teleworking is a major factor in the new relation between employment providers and the demands of employees.
Many decisions must be made both at the executive and governmental levels taking into consideration the direction of future work needs. Companies will need to implement human resource structures which will compensate for the needs of new worker demands. This new employee will be sensitive to changes in the jobmarket and more selective in his/her choice of employer. This is in part due to the lowering rates of unemployment in many developed economies. The evolution of employment market needs is exploding in telecommunications and information-provider sectors. Teleworking is directly-linked to this evolution.
Evolution of telecommunications
Since the introduction of the telephone line, the world-wide use of communication has been forever modified. The spread of the Internet has created the ‘global village’. The lower costs of telephone communications and the introduction of WAP in the near-future will bring wireless information exchange at an affordable cost. All of these elements are linked to the dimensions of teleworking. We are entering the beginning of another renaissance -a technological one in the virtual world of communication.
Technology and Telecoms
Teleworking is at the paramount of this technological renaissance in world-wide communication. Private citizens are involved in the use of telecommunication in their day-to-day lives. The evolution in telecommunications will influence and direct the evolution of the methods used in the workplace.
Essentially, the evolution of technology and telecoms will follow a path according to the following schema:
§ CHANGE IN WORK METHODS brings
§ CHANGE IN THE WORKPLACE brings
§ CHANGE IN THE LIFE OF THE INDIVIDUAL brings
§ CHANGE IN SOCIETY brings
§ CHANGE IN GOVERNMENTAL LEGISLATION
Companies in most sectors traditionally tend to be conservative in the use of investment. Currently, there is a lack of information in the current knowledge base as to what the exact benefits companies will be rewarded by implementing teleworking in some capacity within their respective organisations. With the fast-paced and highly-competitive world of business and the priority to keep stock prices at adequate levels for stockholders, the risk and investment needed for teleworking programmes have not been the highest of priorities in many sectors. A majority of companies have a short term view to return on stockholder investment. This remains a formidable challenge to many sectors where teleworking programmes are not implemented due to financing constraints.
There are, however, current counter-examples such as consultancy and accountancy firms with ‘virtual’ offices which are highly successful and have increased value for the company and share-holder. Furthermore, the conservative nature of decision making in many firms is the reason why many telework programmes have been ‘put on the back burner’.
Governmental influence in the world of teleworking is heard through voices in lobbies, voted parliament members, and individual companies.
Legislation has been highly developed to address and protect the rights of both teleworkers and employers in several of the countries studied (Europe and North America).
Nevertheless lobbies and pressure groups have yet to attain the weight necessary to effectively gain the attention of many of the most influential officials in several of the countries we will study. These include national professional associations for teleworkers, company representatives (and pressure groups representing them), as well as other non-governmental representations in various forms. The future of teleworking and its implications in governmental regulation are issues at the forefront of the demands of tomorrow’s society.
II. CURRENT SITUATION OF TELEWORK
CURRENT SITUATION OF TELEWORK IN EUROPE
(except the United Kingdom)
“These changes, the most significant since the industrial revolution, are far-reaching and global. They are not just about technology. They will affect everyone, everywhere. Managing the transformation represents one of the central economic and social challenges facing Europe today”*
European Commission’s view
The European Commission has made this statement in accordance to a set of priorities for Europe’s integration into the information age. The rate of this integration is considered at the time being to be lagging behind that of the United Kingdom, and to a greater extent, that of North America. In Europe the European Commission has set priorities for issues related to telework under the slogan eEurope. This was commented upon on-line by the Association of European Telework On-Line (AETOL). The reply gives a brief overview and powerful insight into the experiences facing teleworkers in Europe.
Why United Kingdom is not included in this section
The countries present in the circle of European teleworkers on-line include those members of the European Union. We will set apart the United Kingdom from this section of the paper. Teleworking in the United Kingdom is the subject of several recent studies. Since the scope of these studies is focused on primarily the United Kingdom’s labour market, we shall look at the situation separately.
Closing the technology “gap”
AETOL condemns the Commission’s approach to ‘closing the gap’ technologically with the USA. It has been said that Europe is “a couple of years behind the USA” and that cheaper access to the Internet will not solve the technological imbalance. The Association of European Teleworkers on-line recognizes the resistance to change in many European knowledge-based industries (publishing for an example), yet claims a certain dynamism within theEuropean sector of telecommunications (especially when one compares with that of Nordic countries and their high rates of telecommunication penetration geographically as well as per inhabitant). According to AETOL, penetration rates for Internet usage in the Nordic countries is in the range of 35 to 45 percent of the total population. This is also in relation to the high level of general education, literacy, and GDP per capita in these same countries.
Education is cited as the next structural barrier to the wide-spread use of teleworking technology according to the Association.
AETOL claims that the heavy burden that national administrations carry in the modernisation of classroom technology creates disparities in the populations regarding computer literacy. According to the association, when the individual instructor in education is not interested in the implementation of technology for either theoretical or on-hands training, the goals for higher levels of computer knowledge are never met. Government goals should be co-ordinated with the instructors when national schemes for improving computer skills are designed. This idea was manifested in the recent approach by France to promote Internet as a nation-wide priority for education. The thrust of the project was not felt throughout all levels of educational administration as 1) appropriate funding was not provided to meet the technological needs in all areas of the population and 2) not all instructors were computer literate.
Computer skills are a requisite for a teleworker. Does the lack of such skills create a social gap? In Europe some countries tend to embrace new technology at a slower rate than others. EEurope considers that the uptake of the Internet in Europe overall has been relatively slow. The US hegemony is considered a threat as it is the primary supplier of Internet-related technologies for teleworking. The United States is seen as:
1) being a source of teleworking methods and creating standards for universal usage and
2) the overall winner in average computer literacy by the greater US population, all ages considered.
The influence of the United States is seen as both a provider of critically needed information and also as a menace to European advancement in the technological areas related to telework by both the European Commission and the Association of European Teleworkers on-line.
CURRENT SITUATION OF TELEWORK IN THE UNITED KINGDOM
§ in comparison to the rest of continental Europe, the United Kingdom had a rate of approximately 13 % of computer-using organisations using teleworking*.
§ the same rate was about 5 % for the European Union, with France as the country with the highest level.*
In 1999, approximately 7% of the United Kingdom’s total working population was teleworkers, and an average of 6 % in continental Europe.*
Categories of teleworkers
Four different categories of teleworkers are active in the United Kingdom (according to the studies carried out by the Parliamentary Office of Science and technology):
1) Electronic homework,
3) Nomadic workers,
4) Remote offices.
1) Electronic homework is the most traditional way of carrying out teleworking.
a) The employee of a company who works one to two days at home, and the rest of the time is spent in the office.
b) Electronic homeworkers can be self-employed
c) These types of workers can also be self-employed working for several providers simultaneously.
2) Telecottages are offices or workcentres where people engaged in teleworking activities can work off-site. Telecottages can also be shared by people who need to carry out work from remote locations. These types of facilities can be shared by several organisations including free-lance professionals and small businesses.
3) Nomadic workers are free to work at home, while travelling, and partly from central offices. These types of teleworking situations are referred to often using the term ‘hot-desking’. This means a worker can be mobile at any given time of a work schedule. In fact, nomadic workers often do not have a pre-determined schedule. These types of workers are the core of savings for companies cutting costs in office space. Hot desking and mobile working also cuts down on customer reaction time, as often workers can meet customer demand with higher levels of service.
4) Remote offices are where firms re-organise by centralising certain functions into one geographical area. The best example of this are call centres. Call centres often can be a way of re-designing and centralising certain job functions using location to benefit the company’s overall costs. Such a situation is partly an offspring of the accessibility and rapid development of telecommunication technology. Some advantages of call centres include:
– the customer doesn’t suffer through repetitive calls or waiting
– the company saves costs in office space
– the employee is closer to home
Barriers to growth
According to the recent studies carried out by the UK Parliament looking at several British-based firms using teleworking technology (such as British Telecom, Mercury Communications, and IBM research labs), the followingbarriers to growth of electronic homeworking were recognized:
-The conservative nature of many organisations’ management
-The cost of information and communications technology
-The social isolation aspect and overcoming ‘household’ problems
-Providing adequate space for teleworkers in the home
-Planning regulations for teleworkers and teleworking programmes at a national level
-Health and Safety regulations and their application to the situation of teleworkers
-Taxation issues (for the self-employed)
Though statistics are difficult to obtain for teleworking activities, the Census of Employment on standard industrial classifications forecasted a five-fold increase for the year 2001 (from 1995).
In 1994 a high level expert group from the European Commission predicted there would be 10 million teleworkers (in Europe) by 2000. In 1999 the number had reached 9 million.
CURRENT SITUATION OF TELEWORK IN THE USA
Approximately 4.4% of the US total workforce was involved in some type of teleworking activity in 1994*
In 1999, approximately 9% of the US labour force was teleworking*
Teleworking in the United States has been the focal point of many high-tech companies’ personnel practice. Telework has also been a vector in a rigorous competitive economic environment where it creates direct cost savings for companies. There is a development in legislation applicable directly to those involved in teleworking acitivities. The United States benefits from a relatively relaxed government involvement in many labour pratices. Trade unions are, along with lobbies, one of the most powerful influences in the US economy today. Among professional groups catering to the specific needs of telework, the American Telecommuting Association (ATA) is specialized in offering nation-wide support.
Changing job needs
Teleworking is a logical solution for a country with considerable geographical distances between major urban centres. Teleworking is particularly suitable for many US workers for other reasons as well. The United States benefits from numerous driving forces in the technological industry. The workforce is dynamic and flexible as a general rule and used to changing job tasks and procedure. This is especially true in the technological sectors. The United States also currently enjoys a robust economy with a rapidly-growing telecommunications sector. Teleworking will continue to support this growing trend.
The ATA provides the potential telecommuter with a suitability index in order to find out what types of tasks are carried out, at which times, and with which tools. The suitability index indicates what rates of work production for what types of tasks are considered reasonable for the average teleworker to accomplish. This could be an early prototype for the standardization of teleworking activities.
The American Telecommuting Association provides its services both to independent professionals and to companies. Employees can also use the Association’s resources in order to investigate teleworking affinity, teleworking job opportunities, or as a means to introduce telework for part/all of their current activities.
US role in telework
The United States will forge the path for the future practice of teleworking activities. Telework is embraced by many, and also remains an enigma to others. Though the concept of telework has yet to be accepted by all in the US public, many believe that telework will become predominant due to the following factors:
“ – In the USA state and national governments are legislating for it as part of clean air acts and getting commuters off streets and freeways.
– Employers are looking to it as a way to cut costs, boost productivity and trim expensive headquarter staffs.
– In-the-know individuals, entrepreneurs and smart companies are using it as a ticket to a new workstyle. “*
III. INTERVIEWS WITH CURRENT TELEWORKING PRACTITIONERS
Interviews were taken from the following individuals:
– An occasional teleworker, employed by an Internet company, in California, USA.
– An independent human resource consultant, in Paris, France.
– A self-employed teleworker, in London, United Kingdom.
The interviewees were found through personal contacts. There are three categories of workers: one independent teleworker, one occasional teleworker, and one human resource professional. Additionally, I wanted to find a geographical and if possible international mix. I chose to use the three previously mentioned interviews, based on a questionnaire (which you can find in the annex) from France, the USA, and the UK. The basis of the questionnaire was reviewed with two professors from the human resource field in Europe to test its viability for the purpose of my research.
The next four subsections to address issues concerning teleworking on the basis of information collected via the interviews.
WHAT ARE THE CURRENT BENEFITS OF TELEWORK?
Respondents confirmed that teleworking gives:
1) Additional flexibility in organising work and personal life.
2) Decreased expense in commuting and professional wardrobe.
3) There is also an advantage for more time with family.
4) The higher levels of employment that teleworking can bring to rural areas.
5) Transportation and pollution-related questions were prevalent in all surveys.
6) Almost all also mentioned the reduction in overhead costs for companies.
7) The heightened production capacity due to less interruptions and a less stressful work environment.
8) Another added advantage is the ability to have more time to devote to hobbies and other pastimes (-or adult education).
9) Two respondents also mentioned the increased opportunities for those who wish to work and could not because of mobility reasons.
10) Telework means potential work opportunities for the handicapped.
WHAT ARE THE CURRENT DISADVANTAGES?
There is a risk of longer working hours, and the usage of telework should be established with certain percentages for certain types of work. Interviewees chose to use the example of certain redundant tasks that need to be done, but if were carried out all at one time on a fixed schedule through telework, could be very boring and de-motivating. There is therefore an element of work diversity and employee-empowerment to prioritize schedules and tasks.
One of the disadvantages mentioned is the need for managers to try new methods of work, including teleworking. The management ‘style’ has to be adapted to teleworking and the teleworking ‘environment’. There is a reluctance from employers to encourage employees to make use of teleworking as a compliment to current schedules. It appears that managers are afraid of losing control and not being able to follow workers closely enough.
It is claimed to be more difficult to get help with work when one runs into problems off-site. Assignments are not always as interesting or as stimulating. It is also more difficult for the teleworker to keep up to date on all of the ‘informal’ communication that occurs in an officeplace. This is particularly true regarding work assignments, information regarding promotion opportunities, etc. One solution for this is to provide a newsletter to keep the information flow active.
WHAT ARE THE PITFALLS AND DANGERS?
1) One of the major pitfalls in the case of a teleworker who is employed off-site is confidentiality of data. This is especially critical for telework that is carried out involving highly sensitive data exchange. This is especially true for teleworkers who are off-site more often than at the company.
2) Another danger is the ‘cutting off’ of the teleworker from informal exchange at the workplace. For teleworkers who are ‘out of the loop’, it can be difficult to keep up with the current company climate. This included the element of acompany culture and its influence on worker behaviour, both as individuals and teams.
3) There is an issue of motivation and independence. Certain tasks can become less interesting or stimulating without exchange with colleagues, even on an informal level. There appears to be an overall acceptance that telework is ideal when performed on a part-time basis. Contact with other workers appears to be important to overall employment satisfaction.
4) There is also a need to have family and work time organised at the teleworker’s “home office”. Interruptions can be a pitfall that are not always easy to predict, especially when working in one’s home. The ideal way to accomplish telework from the home is to have a separate office space. This involves costs that cannot always be borne by the individual, specifically when there is no pre-determined office space in the home. Other costs are born by the employer such as a pro-rata reimbursement for heating as well as full reimbursement for Internet access and telephone usage.
5) Teamwork and participation from colleagues is done at a less casual level. Specific requests for information and advice cannot be managed through the informal channels a traditional office environment provides.
6) Computer maintenance is often difficult for the end-user, who is not always used to troubleshooting. Helpdesks and IT support are therefore indispensable. Training and technological support are necessary costs of teleworking.
7) Taylorism is a danger to avoid in a teleworking situation. An “isolated teleworker” must develop an overall comprehension of the processes involved and their contribution to the work goals. Teleworking therefore requires a new approach to the distribution of work.
WHAT UNRESOLVED ISSUES REMAIN?
The prevalent issue for all teleworkers is the absence of formalised legislation, both on an institutional (ie trade unions and associations), and governmental levels. Labour regulations have yet to take comprehensive issues regarding the different categories of teleworkers and their corresponding needs. This is carried out through co-ordination in a pro-active manner.
Companies are currently using teleworking on a voluntary basis to supplement flexibility to the employee. Current practice continues to dictate acute needs for specialized skills and in some areas, employees for certain jobs are difficult to find. Telecommuting will be one way of bringing the work to some of these sought-after employees. This could help to solve problems of relocation and fill the lack of the skilled workforce in some areas.
IV. WHAT ARE THE CURRENT ISSUES IN TELEWORK?
When considering the issues involved in teleworking and the teleworking environment for the employer (ie companies), there are both positive and negative side effects to consider. These will concern three categories: employers, employees (including independent workers).
For the manager the cost issue of primordial importance. The costs involved in a teleworking environment are minimal compared with the costs up maintaining a worksite for every employee. Take the example of Arthur Andersen consulting in Paris. The first European office of the company was to accommodate about 900 employees at any one time, though the total number of employees on-site (at least a the year of conception around 1994) totaled 1400 and above.
The synergy that is created when teams work off-site is often to the company’s advantage. Take the example of the teleworker who has to co-ordinate work and schedules with other team members. The dynamics that are created within the group are enhanced and the communication circle is defined. The fact of working partly off-site can be to an advantage in the teamwork/synergy aspects as well. (This is considering as well that the worker(s) in question telecommute on a part-time basis. Many of these part-time teleworkers are required to spend part of their working time in the office of the employer).
Schedules and teleconferencing
Flexibility in the scheduling of teleworkers for employers to accommodate for lulls or peaks in the demands of its workforce. This is the motivational aspect of accomplishing work ‘when the work needs to be done’ and plays a major role.
In regarding costs once again, teleworkers are often used to working with partners at a distance, which makes teleconferencing a more efficient means of communicating. Teleconferencing saves travel costs, though it is not always possible to teleconference when more ‘sensitive’ debate requires the presence of a human (such as in questions of persuasion and negotiation techniques). Teleworkers are the first to be able to acquire this heightened sense of contact through the use of telecommunication. This will be an area to be developed in the future as travel becomes more of a strain due to increased airline and car traffic as well as less time available to the employee.
Teleworking also is a way for companies to receive specialized, expert work.
The example of the heart surgeon who can ‘telework’ in order to carry out an operation in a remote are of the earth due to the development of telecommunication is one example. This is an area that will be not only beneficial to areas of the world where there is a need for specialized workers, but also to the service providers. The ‘link’ between supply and demand will be met in rythmn with the evolution of the world telecommunications network.
One negative aspect of the teleworking envirnment for the employer is control. The employee is question is no longer required to be present at the will of the company. This has effects on the lotus of control of the manager as well as that of the teleworker. It has been found that teleworkers gain more satisfaction from teleworking part-time, and that employee/employer relations have actually benefited from this. It is surprising to find that teleworkers who were most satisfied with teleworking, even on a timely and part-time basis, were actually more productive.
Insurance questions are very important to the employer. The insurance coverage for the employers must be modified to cover the employee for work-related accidents at home (or at another site). Recent government legislation in the United States has been rectified in order to cover the teleworker for work-related accidents.
Employers must also be ready to provide off-site assistance to the teleworker. This includes material support, but also human resource support. There should be a human resource policy in order to manage the teleworker in areas including attendance, sick-days, holidays, and career issues.
(Cf annex: teleworking agreement between employer and employee. This provides an example of one type of accord currently used.)
Working in a remote location implies a real need to keep abreast of new developments. Work is done at time before, or after an assigned task. New techniques related to professional and management skills for time management and IT training are often required.
For employees, there is an increased liberty to freely organise one’s work schedule. With this new responsibility comes a heightened awareness of the importance of self-discipline and endurance. It is also a question of context. It was re-iterated to me on several occasions as I started to work on this paper that there is a psychological motivation converging to work at the ‘workplace’. A latent jealousy can evolve when some see colleagues permitted higher degrees of ‘freedom’ while others are required to work on the company premises due to the nature of their work. This can bring conflicting situations when one is in a ‘work’ place versus a ‘home’ place.
This idea has been explored by several companies which have teleworking programmes in place. In the majority of the cases, companies require the employee to have a separate office space which is in turn ‘rented by the employer. This is in contradiction with the elimination of the costs related to office-space for the employee/teleworker.
Employees who are independent are free to work at times for several companies at one time. These same employees receive the work from several sources, thus do not have to constantly commute to various sites. This idea of being a multiple employee is one of the advantages that teleworking provides. In this case teleworkers can work for employers when they are needed and on a timely-basis. There are teleworking organisations on a national basis by country. Three of these were used for this research from France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These national organisations provide support and guidance for teleworkers as well as a legal framework that keeps them abreast of their conditions of employment according to the respective legal environment in place.
There is an increased loyalty of the teleworker to his/her employer. Teleworking is seen as an added advantage to many employees. A recent study in the United States showed that the vast majority of ‘new’ teleworkers on a part-time basis were reluctant to return to the ‘traditional office’.
Teleworking has been growing on a constant rate and workers are satisfied, but there is a question of isolation as well. Is it recommended to some employees to telework at all? The question not only lies within what sectors of industry are best-suited for this type of work, but also to the worker. The types of teleworkers include those who can handle isolation for lengthened-periods of time (not all teleworkers are constantly geographicall/physically isolated). Teleworkers must also be able to be self-managing for a distinct part of their work. Time management is an integral part of this as well. Though a regular contact may be pre-determined by the teleworker and the managing company, there is the question of quality of work and performance.
Quality of performance
The quality of performance is often different and differentiated from the material results of an employee. An employee may be “efficient” -that is to say ‘doing things the right way’, but not necessarily “effective”- ‘doing the right things’. These notions are even more difficult to evaluate when one considers teleworking. Once again, the human resource function of either the company or host organisation (such as professional affiliation for teleworkers) must be prepared to provide support for these questions.. In the end, the ideal result is when both the employer and employee find satisfaction in the teleworking situation.
V. WHAT ARE THE POTENTENTIAL PERVERSE EFFECTS/INDIRECT CONSEQUENCES FOR:
Managers and employers are obliged in most cases to provide material to work from home for their employees (this except the case of someone who works as an independent teleworker for example). The logistics that are involved in the implementation of a telework programme are often neglected and overlooked. There is an initial orientation that is invaluable for the employer and employee to agree upon.
Control and communication
Normally within a telework programme there are methods of control and regular communication. This can be done through regular calls or hours during which the telework must be available for consultation. One of the indirect consequences of this is the psychological effect that teleworking can have on employers. Employers can often lose touch with employees and lack of informal exchange. The role this plays in a workplace is altered in a telework situation. In order for the employer to adequate assess and evaluate the work being carried out, a high level of commitment and availability to communicate is required.
The organisation of the workload is done through punctual meeting times, and this is through the agreement of the employer with the employee. This requires a high level of organisation. Regular communication between the manager and the teleworker can often bring conflict when other employees are not in a teleworking programme. When teleworking is not obligatory, the pressure for the teleworker to maintain his/her rapport with colleagues left in the office can be the scene for relationship difficulties. This is linked to the notion of teleworking’s role in company spirit or culture.
Teleworkers and their employers are still part of a company ‘culture’. This culture is created through formal and informal channels. In taking into account some of the perverse effects that teleworking can bring to the employer, then we should look at some of the elements that contribute to the company culture on the ‘informal’ level. What is the importance of informal exchange at the coffee bar? Or at the lunch area or elevator/stairs? These are also areas where decisions are sometimes made and people’s careers are charted. The overall exchange mechanism that is in place at a company site is altered when teleworking is put into practice. Personal interaction is an activity that cannot be replaced.
The majority of teleworking programmes that have been put in place require a minimum six month full-time presence on site. For many organisations, the time one spends being ‘incorporated’ into the company culture is just as important as the individual contributions to company goals. There is therefore a clear link between the company’s objectives and the means used to carry them out through the modeling and management of human capital.
It is interesting to note that when teleworking is done at all levels of authority (such as management and subordinate participation in teleworking schemes), the role it plays influences company culture as well. The more homogenous the implementation of a teleworking programme, the more evenly distributed and ‘virtual’ its effects will be on company culture. The effects that teleworking will have on a company culture will turn communication tools from the traditional newsletters and meetings to other forms of virtual communication (such as on-line training and virtual conferences).
The future of the teleworking coporate culture will be virtual as well.
Support and communication
For the employee one of the greatest pitfalls is a lack of support and communication from the employer. This is accomplished at two levels. Firstly, the employee must agree to the guidelines in the teleworking programme. Secondly, the employee should be provided with regular opportunities to voice any difficulties. Material support from the employer involves regular maintenance of work material (such a PC, phone, printer).
The questions linked to career advancement for the teleworker are often neglected. Employees who telecommute can often be overseen for promotion or for assignments which do not fit into their schedules and work arrangements. Employee supervision and evaluation play roles in this as well. Career management for the teleworker must be accomplished actively not only by the current manager in place, but also by the human resource professions or professional organisation. The roles that political relationships in the workplace and internal practice for both promotion and the administration of work and human resources must be looked at closely in a case by case basis. Models for guidelines and methods for the teleworker have yet to be firmly established by local government through work legislation.
Labour laws involve unsolved issues which influence the schedules of workers according to location (through local and national legislation). Unions as well as professional organisations are making inroads to many governmental institutions in the developed economies in order to create a binding legal framework beneficial to both the employer and employee. But we are far from an ideal situation. Current labour laws in many countries make it difficult to manage the pay and insurance aspects related to a telework programme. This also makes it difficult for teleworkers which are committed to a maximum level of flexibility, but are hindered by stringent regulations in regard to overtime, weekend work (to name a few).
Unions can also be a hindrance to modify laws, rules, and regulations within a work environment. The unions’ influence can be an obstacle for some potential teleworkers as well as for their companies.
One perverse effect of the ‘cross-national border’ teleworking is subcontracting to an area with a more flexible, and above all less-expensive labour force. It is known that there are many software producers which have outsourced many of its development to India, where labour is cheaper and the talent available. The internationalisation of the workplace and the growth of telecommunication has made it possible to move call centres overseas. These call centers benefit from tax incentives in many host countries as well as a qualified workforce. International competition is a dangerous feature of independent telework.
In the global economy, the rate of production is rising at levels that have not been seen in over twenty to thirty years in many of the developed economies. This rise in production levels has affected the workload for employees as well. There is a substantial increase in the opportunities for individual employees to contribute to the work of an organisation such as work through the Internet, mobile phones, and of course telework.
Because of the different means than an individual worker has at his/her disposal to accomplish more and more tasks at a more rapid pace, the impact on the human stress threshold level is staggering. The knowledge worker and those employed in service sectors are becoming vectors in the rise of economic output. Teleworking is a means to enhance this phenomenon (through increased output at optimum rates (taking advantage of flexibility) as well as provide further tools to make work life more bearable (less transportation for the worker, higher levels of organisation of schedules).
Pace of tomorrow
In the economy of tomorrow we will be facing an influx of information at a more rapid pace and with greater means. The development of networks will enable the individual to have access to worldwide communication from almost anywhere on the planet. With these new types of application of information technology comes new responsibilities. In the new society who will take the lead to provide regulation of the accessibility of this new technology? (such as the current use of the local phone line for Internet access, which in some of the developed countries, has unlimited local access for a base fee). The economic implications are numerous and yet to be defined. In recent talks of the G7 world leaders discussed the need for world-wide regulatory means for technology. We have yet to see a concrete answer to the current situation. A crucial area for discussion within the technology sectors is database security.
Since the economies of the developed countries have benefited from the increase of the knowledge worker to the economy, has teleworking been a major factor? Will is continue to be? The answer is yes and no to both questions as well will see in the following section.
Impact on society
What is therefore the future of telework’s impact on society?
Teleworking has been on the fore-front of the implementation of teleworking methods for companies which have wished to cut costs on office-space, and allow workers for more flexible schedules. Not all workers have had theopportunity to take part in a teleworking programme. Not all workers have the technical knowledge to do so.
As far as the future of the question is concerned, we need to address what is being called the social fracture. Today’s society appears to be moving at an intensive rate. The impact this rate has on today’s knowledge worker is alarming. A knowledge worker of today must be up-to-date in current methods or can be quickly left behind. In society now there are categories of workers who are computer-literate and those who are left behind.
The computer literate are those who is able to confront new technology and adapt to change. The computer literate also take additional training on a timely basis in order to keep abreast of new developments in the technological sector (either through employee training schemes or individual training). Some workers are not computer-literate yet are able to function using often several computer applications (often in a employment environment), though are not abreast nor interested in seeking out additional knowledge.
The social fracture that this situation entails is becoming more and more prevalent in societies of the developed and non-developed countries.
The developing world
The social fracture in the developing world must not be overlooked.
The developing world is also experiencing this social fracture that has arrived as a consequence of the development of new technology. The developed countries, at a basic minimum, have all access to reliable phone lines for private citizens, and free access to computers, either be it through government programmes, or corporations (such as those assisting computer financing for employees). The tools of communication that link the world are not accessible to all of the world’s citizens. Is this going to change with the increased availability of technological tools to society and the introduction of wireless data communications (WAP)? La Fontaine wrote “The opinion of the strongest will always be the best”*. With questions involving who will have the technology of the future and who will have access to it, we must look at who will be the strongest players in the global economy. The control and influence will be derived from these players.
The developed economies will need to take a closer look at what the major barriers will be to implementing both telework and computer-access for employees. The most dynamic companies have begun to either sell or lease computer to all categories of employees as a ‘perk’. This ‘perk’ has two advantages.
1) The employee has access to a relatively cost-less personal computer and in most cases access to the Internet.
2) The company also has an employee network that will be ready to work from home when needed, thus the opportunity no only to provide teleworking programmes, but also hands-on computer training. In the same vein, the rates of computer literacy also rise, due to the home use of new technology.
Family life links
Family life is also an important element to consider. With employee absenteeism at higher rates for parents, this rate can be even higher for mono-parental employees. For employees working at a company site, it is often unavoidable to lose work time due to family obligations.
The role of the state in the teleworking environment has yet to be defined. It is not always clear how all countries view he issue. Those countries with deregulated telecommunication industry (no longer a state monopoly which was the case until very recently in many European countries), the cost of the current local is established through the local telecommunications provider. This cost is different country by country. In North America, where local calls have been established at a nominal fee with unlimited access, the increased use of the phone lines for Internet access, thus teleworking possibilities, is abundant.
Where labour laws have been extremely developed in the past, authorities should consider the implications of remote working as a critical factor of change and regulate accordingly. Not only are means of telecommunication becoming a focus of the debate, but the nature of working conditions are as well. These conditions are changing and are becoming difficult to assimilate according to the rules of the previous work environment.
The legal and administrative framework that the telecommunication industry operates under varies from country to country. For the time being there is no ‘supra’ national regulator for wireless communication (such as the future WAP) nor the use of Internet commerce. Currently, governmental decisions have an impact not only on the commercial environment, but also on the individual worker. Insurance questions which protect the teleworking both at home and at the workplace have begun to become part of legislation in the United States. In Belgium there is also recent legislation that makes it more attractive for companies to pay a teleworker (for tax matters). These situations can be double-edged swords as both companies and employees (independent for not) seek to gain protection in the new telework environment.
Lobbies and unions
The roles of lobbies and trade unions are therefore ways of being heard in the government and legislation process. The role of the state is to address these issues according to the needs of the people and often in accordance to a ‘political agenda’. As the links between needs of companies and employees involved in teleworking become more apparent (such as the need to less pollution and diminish urban congestion in many areas), governments will become more active in the promotion of legislation encouraging teleworking activities.
VI. WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF TELEWORK?
WHAT EFFECTS WILL IT HAVE FROM AN ECONOMIC STANDPOINT?
‘There is a good chance that the advanced power of computing will be used to help people stay in or create new kinds of communities, both virtual and real. In some parts of the world this could mean a return to villages and less urban settings. In other regions perhaps where there is a better infrastructure or other attractions, people will stick to their “silicon valley”. In either case, the use of computing power will allow us to make choices about where and how we live and work that were not possible before. The trade-offs imposed by DISTANCE will change in the networked world of 2025. Physical isolation no longer needs to impose as great an economic or social penalty’ *
Forces of tomorrow
The economic forces that once shaped and limited the workforce of today will be within an entirely different framework in the working world of tomorrow. The rapid expansion of technological innovation will allow high-density data flows to reach locations throughout the planet at instant speed. People and people’s work will also become part of the ‘global economy’ in the largest sense of the term. The future worker will be involved in some type of teleworking due to the ever present implementation of electronic data exchange versus manual.
Globalisation and growth of technology
There is an ongoing debate about the relationship between globalisation and the growth of information and communication technologies. “At the centre of this process is of course the cluster of new information and communication technologies and their ability to reduce communication and information handling and processing costs dramatically. While it might be something of a misnomer to talk about ‘global’ access in a world in which half the population has no direct access to public telephony, there is nonetheless a trend towards worldwide access that is intrinsically linked with the ability of ICTs to transmit information and knowledge over both distance and time”.**
Economical questions related to the national and international competitiveness of firms will be linked with those same firms’ ability to keep up with the pace of technology and practices within their respective sectors of activity. Issues related to telework will be of substantial importance and paramount to the ‘global’ firms survival. A new definition is be given to ‘global’ firms.
New way of “being global”
‘Global’ firms are no longer to be considered multinationals.
Being global today also means being local.
Through the impact of e-business and worldwide competition through the initiatives of SMEs, what is required of the local economy can be a derivative of a need on a global level. SMEs are the major players in the globalisation of the world economy and intrinsically linked to the newest developments in information technology. In the future world economy, not only the largest enterprises will control the markets, but SMEs will play major roles in the implementation and use of information and communication technology. Internet business is one example. In a 1999 study by the International Data Corporation on Small Business Administration, it was shown that more that 52 percent of small business access the Internet, and by 2003 research estimates that this number will reach 70 percent. On-line traffic has been doubling every 100 days!
New world of work
As we hear about the new economy, we must also channel our concentration of the new market and world of work. Through adaptation and adoption of new technologies both in the workplace and re-forced through both government and institutional forces (trade and professional unions), the new conditions of both employment and the role of telework will change and be forged consequently.
WHAT ARE THE FORESEEABLE SOCIAL CHANGES?
View from an expert in the field
In a report by F. Pichault* of the University of Liège, Belgium, teleworking is presented as a new form of work derived from the launching of new technology in the last decade. Mr. Pichault questions the social impact that these new technologies will have, especially concerning workers rights and social protection. The main thrust of Mr. Pichault’s argument lies within the ‘dogma of competition’, as he calls it. This ‘dogma of competition’ allows for compromise and sacrifice under the pretext that companies must survive under fierce global competition. Government and regulatory institutions have major roles to play in the process of the future standards in teleworking practices for not only the employer, but also the employee.
Mr. Pichault investigates further the situation regarding new work methods linked to new technology (including teleworking) and states that there are two distinct poles of activity. One focuses on the relationship between the individual and the company he/she works for. The other is the structural arrangements of the organisation to adopt new working methods. In a nutshell, Mr. Pichault claims that the human resource functions of the future will have to drastically change current mode of reasoning and move into an ‘accompanying’ work method in order to trace and follow the trends of the emergence of ‘the new world’ of labour.
Governments will also need to take steps in order to address the social issues related to the emergence of teleworking and new technology-related work labour activity. In a recent report by the OECD, the following is stated: “Owing to the speed of the information technology revolution, it is impossible to gauge the full range of social impacts and their net effect on the basis of the situation at a single point in time.
From developments observed to date, however, the societal outcomes of electronic commerce appear to be of substantial interest to policy makers in several areas. For instance, some electronic commerce applications (teleworking?), are emerging as effective means of enhancing the social infrastructure”.*
Influences on social infrastructure
The social infrastructure has been influenced by electronic commerce and notably teleworking (as one of its derivatives) by 1)individuals, 2) companies and 3) professional teleworking organisations.
1) Individuals bring new knowledge to society at large. The social infrastructure is enhanced through a) higher levels of technical competency through now skills and b) the dissemination of those skills to other workers.
2) Companies contribute to the social infrastructure traditionally by offering employment and a ‘work life’ (as previously discussed). This role is changing and the individual worker’s role within the company is becoming less of an ‘emotional’ attachment. Workers of tomorrow will no longer have one employer for life. Companies offer workers:
a) work schedule flexibility and teleworking possibilities.
b) perks and benefits (to attract and retain talent).
3) Professional organisations contribute to the social infrastructure by 1) providing a forum to recognise teleworkers’ needs and 2) representing a support mechanism for teleworkers (source for legislation interpretation and problem-solving for teleworkers).
If the OECD, several governments, as well as companies recognize the need for policy in order to meet the needs of the teleworker, what is actually being practiced? Bernard Brunhes of the French “Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers” (National Research Institute for Arts) claims that there are not only policies but also mechanisms to be put into place to prepare for the ideal teleworking situation. Mr. Brunhes underlines that people need to become accustomed to new methods and for employers to be conscious of the new working world, and to adapt accordingly. He claims that many are not. At the eve of a technological revolution, many industry players are still dragging their feet. In a vivid example of Mr. Brunhes, it is stated that electricity took two generations to become available for common usage, and the computers double their performance capacity every eighteen months!
Employers concerns in policy areas
Employers are afraid of the outcomes that teleworking can bring. The fear that the advancement of technology in the workplace and its application by the teleworker represents the fear of a loss of control. The world is changing and managers are not all trained to follow the technological advancements in the workplace. Telework is a trailblazer in the use of technology in the workplace. The traditional role of the manager is to lead the employee in work development. The world of technology has changed and some managers have yet to adapt.
The ‘misfit’ in the social structure in the new world of work in Europe is outlined in the report “Teleworking: Guidelines for Good Practice”, written by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) in the United Kingdom. “Because of their differing positions in the labour market and in society at large, men and women are likely to be affected differently by this process of restructuring. It is therefore important to examine the gender impact of these changes in work organisation in order to identify both the new opportunities they open up and the risks which they pose to equality opportunity”.*
Mens’ and womens’ roles in the new “tele”workplace
Teleworking has an impact on the basic social structure of society, down to the home and roles that men and women play. The report by the IES claims that there is a potential danger for male and female roles to become less equal through the usage of telework. The Institute iterates that men will become more of a ‘protected’ core workforce and women more and more excluded in the social dialogue.
The roles that men and women play in the workplace are objects of debate. Gender issues are important factors in the role that human resource department’s play in offering ‘equal opportunity’ for both sexes. In telework, the question of gender can bring at least three more elements to view.
1) Women often lack support for promotion. This is especially critical in situations where women telework where many support mechanisms from management are absent.
2) Work role conflict can arise when more or less women than men are teleworkers for one employer.
3) Communication and dialogue in order to support telework acitvities must be re-enforced through management roles (optimistically by both genders).
New challenges for employees
Telecommuting employees are also facing new challenges. They are relatively independent, but the stimulation to keep them focused in work which stems from an office environment is missing. In order to eliminate distractions, these workers need new often higher levels of self-discipline in non work-related surroundings. These same workers also require:
n Strong time management skills
n Sense of organisation
The above-cited skills are in one sense a compensation on behalf of the teleworker in exchange for the larger span of freedom in work-related acitivities.
In order to integrate all elements of teleworking and its role in the new world of work in employment method and policy, workers and employers must take a pro-active role. Programmes have been implemented by many employers to address the issue of equal opportunity. Teleworking is an important element to be considered in these programmes. At least in Europe the Institute for Employment Studies claims:
“We now stand at a crossroads in the development of European society. Decisions made now, by policy-makers, by employers, by trade unions and by individuals, either consciously or by default, will shape the new social institutions of the information society, and will determine the extent to which these new opportunities are maximised, and the risks minimised”.*
WHAT EFFECTS WILL TELEKORKING HAVE ON
FAMILY/QUALITY OF LIFE?
A recent study carried out in France in co-ordination with the daily Le Monde (June 20th, 2000) showed that in 78 percent of those surveyed claimed that the most important element in work life in the next twenty years for them will be to be able to find a balance between work and private life. 40 percent of the same people surveyed claimed to desire a higher level of independence in the organisation of work tasks. Telework is and will continue to be a vital part of both.
“Family-friendly, flexible and fair work arrangements, including telecommuting, can benefit individual employees and their families, employers, and society as a whole”.* This is part of a current directive set to offices by the Labour Department of the United States as part of a policy statement that says it will not hold companies responsible for the safety of telecommuting employees’ home offices. The directive also states that the government will not inspect home offices and expects employers to inspect them through company policy. Individual companies are presently held responsible under new legislation in the United States for the safety of employees working at the home or the office. This aspect of insurance matters therefore currently being addressed as an ongoing message that teleworking is become a part of daily life. Daily life in this context involved both professional and private activities. The safety, therefore, of teleworkers in home offices is another facet of the potential problems that arise with off-site activities. (See section: “Effects on the Work Environment”).
Daily life for teleworkers in the home can bring another set of problems. Often the family needs to be explained the teleworking situation and the new set of house rules. Teleworkers in the home need to have a place set aside where they cannot be interrupted. When children and members of the extended family are not adequately informed about the obligations telework imposes, conflict can arise. One area of concern is when family members interrupt the teleworker. In the same line of thought, family members can visualise the home office as being a way of ‘neglecting’ family needs. It is the responsibility of the teleworker to clarify the telework situation to all inhabitants of the home (in the case of a home-based teleworker). Telecottages have become a means of creating an effective environment for teleworkers who do not have adequate home offices and yet would like to telecommute.
Another factor in teleworking to address are the needs that a quality family life can insure. The hierarchial needs, such as those found by Maslow, can be acquired by a healthy social/family climate.
The family climate can benefit from teleworking in at least 6 ways:
n Working parents benefit by having more time at home due to less commuting.
n Single parent families can be less prone to work absence due to a sick child or lack of childcare.
n Stress is reduced for parents.
n Fatigue levels due to heavy commutes decline.
n The family becomes more aware of computer technology though on-hands use.
n Working parents can give a positive image to other family members about the world of work.
It is becoming clearer through testimonials and surveys that the effects of teleworking are having a positive impact on the quality of family life. Work at the home can make people feel “less strenuous emotionally”*, therefore freeing employees to forge new attitudes about work and lower stress.
Technological barriers for employees
The majority of employees already use computers in their daily work, so the transition to teleworking, even at limited levels, in not perceived as a major concern. “A lot of HR people think employees are afraid of new technology, but they aren’t”, said Carl Van Horn, director of John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers’ main campus in New Brunswick, New Jersey. “If I were an HR vice president, I’d be looking at distance learning and telecommuting right now”, Van Horn said.**
Other human resource professionals are less convinced. Many claim that the workers of tomorrow are not as enticed about the idea of teleworking as one may think. A major area of concern is the fear of managers losing control of workers and not being able to be constantly informed of work developments. When teleworking is done on a voluntary basis many of these biases are eliminated, yet others mushroom.
Team work and synergy
In team work, where synergy plays an important role, telework can be a basis for inter-group conflict. When only part of a team teleworks, the other members may:
1) resent those workers and
2) “group think” may develop. (Group think is the phenomenon when one group of people may convince itself of an unfounded outcome due to self-convincing).
These situations can separate or empower the group depending on the leadership involved.
Company’s pay workers for results, not for the means to earn those results. A certain number of tools are however required for teleworkers. The costs for teleworkers are different from the costs of the traditional on-site worker. Though companies can save costs on office space, computer installation and maintenance are requirements for the teleworker.
On average, 68 percent of employees in the United States use a computer for their daily work, and those same employees spend about 35 percent of each workday on the screen. For each three hours on the computer, about 23 percent of those same people use the Internet. The study was done in the United States, which reportedly as of May 2000 has a national Internet penetration rate of 49 percent (percentage of the total population with Internet in the home). This is followed by the Scandinavian countries, Germany, and the United Kingdom, with national rates above 30 percent. Many other countries in continental Europe have rates well below, with that of France close to 20 percent. (I mention these countries as being pertinent to the scope of studies and survey carried-out for this particular paper).
Employees are not afraid that their jobs will be lost as an effect of the implementation of new technology and the use of Internet and teleworking activities. On the contrary, in a recent study in the United States published by HR News in April 2000 showed that 89 percent of workers surveyed believed that a computer or other technology will replace their jobs within the next three years. (with a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percent).
The climate can sometimes become perturbed when teleworking activities become so invasive that the individual “drops out” of the community/family/organisation. These people are called “wired loners”. “The highly individualistic qualities of Wired Loners come through the most dramatically in geeks, the renegades and outsiders whose technological savvy has moved them from the margins to the center of the social-economic nexus. But even as sympathetic as observer as John Katz, author of the recent publication Geeks, find that the political ineptitude of these bright whiz kids jeopardizes their independence and influence within the larger corporate world.”* Mr. Katz goes further to say that many of these ‘geeks’ actually strive to retain some order in their lives through the creation of pseudo ‘hierarchy’. In some cases ‘wired loners’ became members of teleworking groups, then those groups chose leaders and became formalize organisations. Is there then a need for some structure in a teleworking activity? And do the effects on the quality of life in general and family life stem from a need of a minimum amount of rules and order? The answer to both questions is yes. The degrees of perception of what the minimum and maximum levels in telework considered appropriate vary from organisation to organisation, as well as from individual to individual. It is generally accepted (through experience and current practice) that only rare individuals can cope with a full-time teleworking schedule (without regular consultation). Most consider teleworking as a complimentary part of work-life and a way to integrate personal and professional activities. The family and social elements to consider in a teleworking context are, therefore, important to consider when seeking to ‘strike a balance’ with the workers needs of the 21st century.
WHAT EFFECTS WILL IT HAVE ON THE WORK ENVIRONMENT?
In a recent report “Nothing but Net”, released by Rutgers University and the University of Connecticut, employees “feel strongly that employers should play a more active role in making telecommuting and distance-based learning available, and 47 percent of employers would support tax breaks to reward employers who boost telecommuting”.* The work environment is therefore currently experiencing a boost in the request from workers for more flexible working conditions.
In the past, workers were imposed sets of rules and regulations based on employer practice and local legislation. Having employees work in the same place for a given set of employer goals required a complete set of rules and regulations.
In order to achieve these same goals with a decentralised workforce, employment providers will now need to use another organisational approach.
New work environment
It is forecasted that the needs of the worker has changed, but the work environment has been slow to catch up to speed. In the same report “Nothing but Net”, it was found that forty-one percent of employees said they believe they could perform their jobs someplace other than at their current workplaces if they had a phone, a fax machine, and a computer with Internet access. Further future technological improvements will allow people to do call-center work from the home as well. We are witnessing a mutation in workplace practices
Social protection and insurance issues
Trade unions and governments need to become aware of the new needs of the teleworking environment for both the employment provider and the teleworker. As workers are no longer under one roof at the company, social protection and insurance issues arise. New types of insurance schemes must be developed to accommodate the teleworker and companies in order to protects rights. Work accidents are no longer the same since the definition of ‘workplace’ and ‘work commute’ have mutated. Traditionally work accidents fall under the responsibility of the employer, but when remote access to work becomes commonplace, the situation is more difficult to manage through insurance coverage currently available to employers. The responsibility of the employer becomes nebulous with the decentralization of employees through telework.
In most western countries the burden has been on the employer. The situation for insurance coverage is exacerbated as employers are responsible under Belgian law for all work-related accidents, regardless of responsibility for the accident. This example brings a new angle to the regulatory debate. In the new context of telework, questions are yet to be answered as to:
1) Combine the privacy and professional environment under the law in the home of the teleworker,
2) What controls are needed to counter- balance any mandatory burden of indemnisation.
3) Many labour issues will need to find regulatory solutions.
Management will also have to change since the parameters have changed. The notion of management has to be adapted to telework.
Traditionally managers play three roles:
1) Managing, leading, directing
2) Providing authority
1) The notion of ‘managing’ is no longer the same thing at a distance. Training must be in-line with the needs of the teleworker and management style must adapt. Training for management for teleworker should be done one three levels:
A) The highest level of authority should be the vector in not only the teleworking programme, but in the training scheme.
B) Managers should take training to initiate them to the teleworking tools and the programmes in place.
C) The impact of the training should assessed in performance reviews, both on the subordinate and management levels. (If possible, in a 360° -type scheme)
2) Authority at a distance is an abrupt change in the managerial-subordinate relationship. Managers should at least:
A) Set-up regular meeting times with their subordinates.
B) Telephone communication should be outlined with guidelines (times, etc).
C) Sign a teleworking agreement together with the teleworker.
3) Control is lost in a telework relationship. In order to address this issue, the manager should:
A) Take part in training meant to provide answers to questions related to control in a teleworking situation.
B) Remain open to change
C) Communicate with the teleworker about the new situation and sets of rules
In order for management to effectively 1) interpret and 2) implement teleworking programmes, human resource professionals should be set up as ‘advisors’. These actors in the set-up of a telework environment are essential for three reasons:
1) The company culture is spread in a homogenous manner
2) Telework is implemented through a third party, thus less conflictual for some.
3) Telework can be enthusiastically shown as a new management ‘tool’
Flexibility has proven to be a prime request from the candidates seeking new positions. This is another thrust to the entrance of the notion of flexible work set-ups into the mainstream. “Consider: in 1990, about half of employers offered some type of flexible scheduling, such as part-time work, compressed workweeks, flexible start and stop times, job sharing and telecommuting. That number has jumped to 76 percent today, according to Hewitt and Associates, a human-resources consulting firm”.*
Flexible schedules and teleworking are wanted by employees. Employers are nevertheless still reluctant to fully embrace telework programmes. The tight labour market has now forced employers to focus differently on their recruiting practice and strategy. Employees are asking for, and receiving, more control over their time. “Many Companies still think that there are business needs over here and employee needs over there and they contradict each other. Ultimately, if you have employees who are more satisfied on the job, more committed, and feeling like they don’t have to make choices constantly between surviving on the home front and the work front, they will be able to work more effectively”.**
Demands in Europe
In Europe, the number of people willing to telework is 70 percent of the active working population according to the European Commission. IBM Europe is a vector in the implementation of teleworking in Europe. The company currently installed telecottages, in the Paris region called ‘immeubles de proximité’, which allow employees to cut down their work commute and telework. According to the experience IBM, there was a fear that management and employees would be ready for such a programme. The teleworking programme currently at IBM in the Paris region allows for workers to volunteer and telecommute for up to two days a week. Nevertheless, according to a recent article in Le Monde (29th March 2000), teleworking is going to require a “mentality shift” within the management structure.
IBM Belgium has gone even further. The company has only one day obligatory on-site. Telework is a programme open to all employees on a voluntary basis. It is felt that the first six months of employment should be carried-out in the office in order to integrate the corporate culture and practices more effectively.
In both IBM France and IBM Belgium, training is required on-line by all employees, with fixed minimums.
Impact in the United Kingdom
Teleworking is having an impact on the social structures of town and communities, as seen in the recent study carried out by the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies at the University of Newcastle. In this paper it was discovered that teleworking has been increasing in rural areas for non-manual labour, though the majority of telework activity is concentrated in urban regions or other large cities (in the United Kingdom). “It is nevertheless clear that more remote areas can provide a viable location for some kinds of home-based professional work as a number of case studies have shown. The evidence which we have taken from the 1991 census has shown that, while non-manual workers who work mainly from home are represented in the largest numbers in urban and suburban locations, it is peripheral and rural areas were working from home is most prevalent for non-manual workers”*
Urban centre phenomenon
Most workers come to urban centres to seek employment for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it is first and foremost the urban centres which traditionally attract business. Non-manual labour has been forced to ‘move to where employment is provided’. This represents the large influx of many ‘knowledge workers’ to the world’s biggest cities. This implies a certain number of consequences:
n Work centres have been concentrated in large urban areas.
n Rural areas have been less developed on national-scales
n Employees have experienced higher levels of stress due to commuting.
n Higher levels of stress and fatigue in overcrowded environments.
WHAT EFFECTS WILL IT HAVE ON THE PLANETARY ENVIRONMENT/URBAN CENTERS?
Quote from an expert
‘At the end of the last century, the Victorians were convinced that is traffic in London continued to increase, Picadilly Circus would be several feet deep in horse droppings. This did not happen, because the car became more popular than ever imagined. Now we have the problem of congestion caused by the car, and the more roads we build the more people use their cars. The solution is telecommunications – the problem is our lack of imagination. People have to comprehend the idea that the telephone wire is a motorway or railway down which you can travel in a spit second’ – Ashley Dobbs, President, Telecottages UK
The comment by Mr. Dobbs of Telecottages UK is inspiring for several reasons. The future of the planetary environment and urban center congestion depends upon human solutions. The urban sprawl has made major cities in the United Kingdom, Continental Europe, and The United States prone to major traffic congestion and pollution. Many of the elements connected to the problems that the major urban centres face are connected to the notion that ‘cities offer wealth and jobs’. That notion is changing as telework modifies the geographical element.
Offices and ‘making a living’
Workers of the future will no longer be dependent on the office as the primary place to make a living. Work location will become virtual. ‘Making a living’ reinforces the concept that ‘channels’ of income rather than one income provider (ie one company/employer) will become increasingly prevalent. Telecommuting will be a primary thrust in ‘making a living’.
In the future salaried work will not longer be the same as ‘making a living’. ‘Making a living’ will prevail as workers will be provided employment opportunities on a more timely-basis than in the past. Worker flexibility will be key to the successful transition for the individual. Telework will remain at the leading edge in these opportunities for employment.
If urban traffic could be cut by even 20 percent (as a hypothetical number), we can imagine the benefits the individual as well as companies could gain. Employers could count on higher levels of reliability and lower rates of absenteeism. Employees could enjoy the benefits of less commuting, and using less of their cars or public transportation,
All forms of traffic congestion is currently reaching the saturation point in many densely-populated urban areas.
Considering urban congestion and its effects on the environment, leads to problems related to petrol usage. Petrol prices are maintained at artificially high levels in many countries around the world. “High gasoline prices force employers to view teleworking in more of a business light instead of merely as a way to accomodate employees. While the primary reasons to increase teleworking are to ease traffic congestion and reduce pollution, the issue becomes increasingly important when gas prices rise”.*
Mergers and Acquisitions have raised questions related to the new needs of global management. Global competition has obliged in many cases some of the worlds largest corporations to join forces and create entities that have never been seen before. Some of the world’s largest multinationals have become so complex that remote site management is unavoidable. There are several factors that have led to this.
-Broader control span for these ‘mega’ corporations.
-New needs for managing a workforce in different geographical locations.
There are also new demands on the employees. The effects of synergy are unfelt in many levels of hierarchy when ‘old boys clubs’ of professional groups remain after a merger has been carried out. In order for some employees to gather information, several challenges remain. Employees do not always have access to information channels in the new organisation, including professional relationships.
Finally, with the agenda of many political parties, as well as the increased support of the ‘green-conscious’ populations in all areas of the world, the trend will be to diminish contributors to planetary pollution and urban congestion. The green conscious population of the world has set trends in almost all areas of consumerism. Teleworking is identifiable as a contributor to the ‘green’ factor in planetary conservation. The choices that future policy makers will have can be influenced by the arguments linked to teleworking’s positive influence on these issues.
Teleworking once again, is one solution to these issues.
WHAT EFFECTS WILL IT HAVE ON INDIVIDUAL
MOTIVATION AND WORK BEHAVIOUR?
Factors of motivation
In the workplace several factors influence motivation. According to Herzberg, the motivators are the work itself, achievement, recognition, responsibility, and advancement. “These are often labeled ‘intrinsic’ elements of the job”*. Extrinsic elements of the job are those which do not motivate alone such as salary, supervision, and work conditions. Herzberg claims this universal to human motivation. Finally, he states “it is the job content which makes people act, not the job context”.*
Telework does, however, imply that the worker be able to provide both the discipline and drive required to complete tasks off-site. When the elements for human motivation are present, telework can be carried out effectively.
When there are significant motivational concerns on behalf of the employer for a teleworker, these often become apparent during a trial period. The key to success in the teleworking situation is one where the teleworker and employer find both motivation and satisfaction. In many instances, just as in job selection in general, the requirements of a teleworking assignment must be viewed carefully.
According to the theory of Herzberg, teleworkers would be more inclined to take their orders ‘from the situation’, and not from one or several power sources. This is an interesting aspect to think about for both employers and employees who are often skeptical of the lack of ‘motivational’ structure in teleworking situations.
View from an expert
There are often links between motivation and the level of commitment that telework fosters. In a UK study, the study carried out by teleworking expert Mr. Paul Jackson claims that apart from measures in the organisational allocation dimension, the organisation can also try to influence commitment by offering challenging jobs with a high degree of autonomy. We already mentioned this is an antecedent of commitment that is affected positively through telework, which means that we are focusing on how telework affected this factor. Here, we see it as a commitment-enhancing measure and focus on how it can enhance commitment given that teleworking has been introduced (and consequently has had an effect). Through the empirical research carried out by Mr. Jackson, one can see the results of not only the increased levels of motivation for teleworkers, but also the heightened levels of commitment to their jobs, and employers.
“Independent people work harder”* was at the headline of a recent article in the Belgian publication Mediar. Part-time teleworking reinforced workers both mentally and socially. The positive view of the worker augmented, as well as that vis-à-vis the organisation worked for. Workers with higher levels of responsibilities, coupled with higher levels of autonomy through teleworking, show greater levels of team cohesion and production, in terms of both quantity and quality. Managers adapt to the new work environment with some apprehension, but the overall benefits show to outweigh the shortcomings.
Individuals will have to not only learn how to work alone but also how to work differently. Work habits will no longer rely on the work environment per se. Managers will need to take into account these new needs. A specialised type of employment review which balances the new emotional requirements in teleworking positions is one solution. This could be done under the auspices of a teleworking association together with task forces already in place for the development of such a project. This new breed of employment review would be beneficial in three ways:
1) The workers and employment provider’s needs would be taken into account.
2) The legal framework of the teleworking environment would be shaped.
3) Governments and regulatory bodies would become more aware of the importance of teleworking.
Workers were claimed to gain new skills in project management and emotional self-control through the implementation of part-time teleworking. (for teleworkers who worked on the average 2 days out of 5 at the home). Finally, the time that was lost in the past due to sometimes long commutes, were a factor in determining the lower fatigue and higher output of workers examined.
“Teleworkers derive their work motivation from being recognised as a valuable part of their organisations. Accordingly, they stress that telework should be used as a way of enhancing work motivation, first, through a formal recognition of the organisational value of the teleworker, and second, through ensuring that telework remains a purely voluntary arrangement whereby an employee continues to feel connected to, and a vital part of, the corporation”** We can see in this example taken through actual case studies of teleworkers that that self-empowerment teleworking brings to the employee, along with the higher levels of ‘pride’ and responsibility is a valuable asset to organisations.
Motivation is also linked to personal satisfaction in the workplace. When teleworkers’ visibility can be enhanced through active participation in announcing the results of teleworking activities in the company, this can be achieved. During meetings managers and colleagues have the opportunity to announce the results and benefits provided to the employer through teleworkers’ efforts. The perception of telework must be developed within the company.
Communication difficulties can create barriers to motivation for workers who are jealous because they cannot telework. Groups of jealous workers can create a negative synergy which can divide teams and workplaces. Internal policies must be developed in order to address this issue. Certain colleagues may also feel aggravation since they feel that teleworkers do not deserve promotion since their presence is not visible at the workplace. The quality of internal communication will direct and mold the teleworking climate of an enterprise. This quality must be controlled and monitored. The effects of a negative work climate can be felt directly throughout all levels of an organisation when conflictual areas exist due to the implementation of a teleworking programme.
In today’s workplace motivation and its manifestations in the issues related to teleworking are just part of the overall picture. With lower levels of unemployment and the higher levels of independent ‘knowledge’ workers in the workplace, teleworking offers both greater means of autonomy and responsibility. Employers who wish to attract the highest caliber of employees possible, will find that teleworking is one way of providing tangible additions to offer packages for top candidates.
HOW HAS THIS PAPER CLARIFIED THE
DEFINITION OF TELEWORKING?
This research shapes the definition of telework using four main scopes.
1) The reader has gained a firm grasp of the current practice of teleworking in general terms in the United Kingdom, continental Europe, and the United States.
2) The links between telework and its impact in the world economy will open dialogue on these issues.
3) The reader is convinced that telework is a compelling argument to be utilized as a solution to a number of the problems facing today’s workplace.
4) Telework is in full mutation and will necessitate the full attention of all players described-above.
The definition of telework is complex. Varied sources of information were employed in the research from several angles. This paper is not meant to be an exhaustive reference, but an opening to further research. This research was aimed at identifying the various players in the world of telework and their subsequent roles. The mutation and evolution of these roles will continued to be influenced by forces that involve the economy today, as well as those yet to be identified within the next decade, and even century. Most of these forces will be derived from the advancement of technology and its effect on the workplace of the future. This study has prepared a mental ‘groundwork’ for those interested in obtaining a concrete idea of the stakes involved in telework’s history, present, and future.
This research contributes to a change in perception of the future of the workplace. These few words speak for themselves as Gil Gordon writes about worklife in “Doing the Office Work Without the Office”.*
‘Life used to be much simpler. There was a place called “the office” and there was an activity called “office work”, and the former was where we did the later. Except for the occasional business trip, everyone came to the office in the morning and stayed there most of the day. While some people dutifully toted a briefcase home, it was as often as not filled with work that wasn’t urgent and was only somewhat likely to be done at home at night….Wake up and smell the latte. The world of work has changed. In a matter of approximately a decade, we’ve seen a dramatic shift in the definition of “office work” and of the “office – and most important, the severing of the historic link between the two.’
HOW CAN THIS PAPER CONTRIBUTE TO CURRENT
KNOWLEDGE IN THE AREA OF TELEWORK?
This research on teleworking will contribute to current knowledge in three main areas.
First, the information compiled in this research will provide for reflection on the dynamics within the relationship between the individual and telework.
Secondly, the reflection (within the previously-mentioned context) will be possible within the relationship between the teleworking provider and the teleworker.
Finally, reflection of the dynamics amongst the individual, the teleworking provider, and the regulatory authorities (ie trade unions, government) will be fostered.
WHERE IS THE EVOLUTION OF TELEWORKING LEADING US?
Teleworking is guiding us into a period of reflection of how individuals function in the workplace.
The evolution of teleworking is also leading us into a time of uncertainty. The ‘status quo’ will be shattered and a meaningful framework of reference for those involved in teleworking activities will be established. I propose two hypothetical scenarii with subsequent consequences in order to envisage teleworking’s role in the workplace of tomorrow. These scenarios are meant to provide basis for reflection, rationalisation, and analysis of the various issues involved in multiple outcomes.
SCENARIO I –
Teleworking would become a substantial element of all knowledge-based employment by the year 2020 (under the best conditions).
–Employee/employer relationships would be influenced through lobbies, labour unions, and governmental experts who would all foster teleworking activities.
–Legislation would have been passed in all developed economies as well as in some developing ones to protect the teleworker, either independent or company-employed.
–An international teleworking association would have been formed and would meet regularly to inform members of the latest developments on teleworking issues.
-It would have become accepted common-practice to offer employment with the option to telework part-time in almost all sectors.
-The most successful companies in the world would be those with substantive telework programmes implemented. These same companies’ teleworking programmes would be used as benchmarks for others.
-The world economy would have created a dearth of qualified teleworking professionals capable of implementing programmes and consulting in several sectors.
–The International Labour Organisation would have recognised telework as one of the pioneers in both the creation of new jobs, and maintaining significant employment levels in non-urban centres.
Teleworking would become an insignificant element of all knowledge-based employment be the year 2020 (under the worst conditions).
–Employers would have yet to fully adopt teleworking programmes that would have been clearly identified as ideal for many years. Lobbies would not have had enough influence on regulatory powers.
–Legislation would have yet to be adequate for the teleworking professional and many employees would hesitate to commence teleworking activities due to this unregulated situation.
-There would be a lack of teleworking associations on a multi-national level. The economy would have bonded across many national borders in several sectors. The workforce would have become as global as ever, yet teleworking would have lagged behind.
–Employers would be hesitant to let their employees telework and those who do offer it remain to would do so on a voluntary basis as in the past.
–Several companies would have become extremely successful implementing telework programmes. These would be known as more of the eldorados by international workplace standards.
–Certain countries would not have recognized teleworkers and these workers would have left the local employment market or offered their services in other countries.
-Most urban centres would have become congested and the International Labour Organisation would have called for a consortium of the largest global companies together with government institutions to find solutions to the effects overcrowded motorways and problems linked with significant levels of population growth in the world’s major cities.
SOME FINAL WORDS
A major area of concern for both employment providers and governments will continue to be the social gap between those computer-literate and those unable to be trained. This will be an area for debate on national scales which has enormous consequences due to both the large number of people it effects and the many factors involved in growing global competition.
As policy is developed in many sectors to accommodate distance-based employment, the dynamics amongst employees, employers, and regulatory bodies for labour must be reinforced and harnessed in order to take full advantage of the benefits telework can bring.
In order to do this, teleworking must be a focus of debate and discussion at all levels.
Mr. Gil Gordon describes this in “Doing the Office Work without the Office”* as he states: “The technology is ready, the employees are ready, and the knowledge about how to make telecommuting work is readily available. It’s time to start thinking about moving some of your work beyond the four walls of your building”.
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* “Teleworking in Brief, page 105.
* La Fontaine, “The Wolf and the Lamb”, Tale I: 10
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** “21st Century Technologies, Promises and Perils of a Dynamic Future”, OECD, Paris 1998, page 150
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* ”Teleworking: Guidelines for Good Practice, Institut for Employment Studies, Brighton, United Kingdom, 1997, page 3.
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* “Doing the Office Work Without the Office”, Gordon, Gil, Employment Relations Today, summer 1997.