Teleworking today and tomorrow
A talk given by
Trevor Locke, Chairman of Telenet
at John Storer House, Loughborough, on Thursday 5th February 1998.
Current patterns of teleworking in Leicestershire and in Europe
What teleworkers do
Nuts and bolts of being a teleworker
How they find work
Future prospects for teleworking in the year 2000
Four year of Telenet in Leicestershire
The impact of the Internet on teleworking
Current patterns of teleworking in Leicestershire
Teleworkers are people who work mostly at home or from home. OK in some cases they work from a small office but the key factor is that they work for clients who are some distance away – hence the ‘tele’ in telework.
Employees of companies are now  more likely to spend some time working at home and on a more regular basis. Telework is becoming accepted as one of a number of flexible working practices available to large employers.
Traffic congestion is a factor in encouraging the growth of teleworking. Commuting has become a costly practice, both in time and expenses. Traffic congestion is increasing, although here in Leicester the problem is not a very great one. The City is about average for ancient Midlands cities in regard to congestion at peak hours. Parking capacity certainly is fully stretched but not necessarily overburdened. The road network is saturated at peak hours due to single car commuters but there is a computerised parking system. The commuting flow can be traced back to several large employers, most notably the City Council itself, the Inland revenue, the Hospitals, Universities and colleges.
Teleworking is for many firms an option for some white-collar workers on an ad hoc basis (a couple of days a week). LCC does have a home working policy whereby staff who are able to do so may work at home if they need to but the practice is not activity encouraged.
The City Council activity encourages staff to walk, cycle and use public transport. The development of the Town Hall Square Cycle Centre is an example of this as are the building of the cycle routes and bus routes. Much more could be done to encourage home working and this could further reduce regular traffic flows by up to 10 per cent.
Most of the teleworkers who join the TCA (the national body for teleworkers) are self-employed and working from home. They tend to be white-collar specialists although there are also a large number of people who are home workers who might have a computer and might use it for work but they are not computing specialists – this is however a point where teleworking merges in with the general field of small business and self employment. Only a small number of teleworkers actually use a computer as their main piece of working capital – e.g. programmers, translators and web authors. Most teleworkers use a computer for word processing, accounts, some database work etc.
Teleworking is on the increase right across Europe and teleworkers are now more able to engage in collaborative projects with other teleworkers.
The Internet and competition amongst telecoms providers has meant that we have seen a decrease in telecommunications costs and an increase in the efficiency of telecoms media.
What do teleworkers do?
Some have described teleworkers as knowledge workers – collecting, repackaging and redistributing knowledge – but in many ways this sounds too vague. Let’s look at the list in Telwebsite: Electronic engineer, Software developer, Secretarial Services, Administration, Engineering consultancy, IT Consultant, Writer, Graphics designer, Journalist, Technical author, Multimedia author, Market researcher, Distance learning consultancy, Technical illustrator, Career management adviser, Psychometric tester, Tax adviser, Book keeper, Trainer.
There are a lot of people who have a computer at home, know how to do a bit on it and then are willing to take on any kind of assignment – loads of general administrators. Some are very vague on what they can do but are full of willingness and enthusiasm. Some have a yen to get into business and end up in those awful MLM schemes. Some just try to sell what ever they can over the phone.
The nuts and bolts of being a teleworker
Over the last four years I have tried to boil down the practice of being a teleworker to certain crucial elements:
(a) Working at home
For me teleworking is about being a home worker – working from home rather than at home – or both. I used to be out of the house most days in the week at one time – now I am spending four out of five days a week at home. That presents it own challenges – the fact that I am alone in the house all day. The fact that the office is in the home and if I cant find anything better to do I will work. I keep funny hours – common to work up to 2 in the morning and fall asleep in the last afternoon. Having two rooms solely devoted to office space is a source of friction.
(b) Finding work
I have multiple clients – up to 10 at any one time. I have constantly to be alert to new customers and I have to be all things at once – salesman, manager, operative, book-keeper.
I don’t make enough profit to employ secretaries, book keepers and salesmen though I ought to if I am to maximise the time I spend managing the business. One day I will get to that break point where I can. But I am beginning to work with other teleworkers – I am not so much a lone star as I used to be. That is very important – being able to find other people to work with and to share enterprise with them. I now have half a dozen associates – some in Leicester – one in the Netherlands. I find I am working with individuals and with larger companies.
(c) Doing the work
The biggest challenge is just shifting the vast pile of work that is always present. Having to keep plates spinning. Having to keep a clear sense of priorities – sadly, I have to say, this does always happen. I tend to do easy work in order to avoid the challenge of the really important and difficult stuff. When you work on your own you have to be able to engage in time management because you do not have anyone on your back tell you what to do.
How do teleworkers find work?
With great difficulty! If a teleworking is a generalist – administrator – portfolio worker – they have to do a lot of advertising. Marketing is all important. Yet a lot of work comes by word of mouth. Cross-fertilisation between clients.
You have to have good communications – customers won’t bother to find you if they can’t get an answer to their phone call. Some teleworkers end up working for agencies because it’s easier – marketing takes time and money.
Teleworking will continue to become easier and will be a greater possibility for more and more white-collar workers. House builders are just beginning to realise that people are working at home and are building houses with offices or studies.
Large companies are beginning to understand the benefits for teleworking. They are training managers to manage outputs. People are moving into the countryside out of the cities – this is a topic for the Government at a time when the Green Belt is under stress.
This only exacerbates commuting pressures and costs. Soon it will be cheaper to work at home because of the high cost of car ownership and travel. More student will spend more time studying at home and that will begin to affect school age children.
Four Years of Telenet
We begin with the East Midlands and have focused down on the county. That is more realistic. But the constant pressures of having to organise meetings is a burden for committee members who are very with their work.
We need to know how many of our members are on the Internet. I wonder if it feasible to run the Association for people who are not on the Internet. The sheer cost of doing mailings in time and postage is too great. E-mail and web pages cost so little – they are so easy to operate – there are none of the overheads of stuffing envelopes – doing printing – licking stamps. Perhaps the time has come to say no more paper based mailings. Do we actually need to meet together face to face.
Well many of us do enjoy seeing each other. I would suggest that we need the chance to meet face-to-face but they the bulk of association activities can be done over Internet and we would achieve more if we decided to go down that route. That might lead us to opening up our membership – to see Telenet as a general vehicle for anyone who is a regular work-related user of the Internet. But perhaps that is putting the cart before the horse.
It would be a loss if there was no longer a body to represent the interests of teleworkers, to promote teleworking, to give talks on the subject, to give advice to people who want to do this.
The impact of the Internet on teleworking
There is no doubt in my mind that the Internet has revolutionised teleworking. It has become a standard tool of the trade. It has opened up endless possibilities. It would be impossible to go back to being without it. Just as we would not want to return to manual typewriters or to having to send all communications by postal services. Once we enjoy a technological development there is no going back. But where are we going forward? What technological advances lie ahead of us?
Document created 6/2/98 © Trevor Locke 1998