The first company to introduce ‘Telecommuting’ in the UK was the Xerox Corporation. The company was going through hard times and wished to make some of their senior people redundant while still using their expertise but just as consultants. Volunteers were asked to become ‘home-workers’. Each ‘home-worker’ was provided with a PC, modem and facsimile (fax) machine. The experiment proved to be successful and the use of home-workers continues. Small agencies, traditionally run from home, can now access databases with their PCs. Distribution organisations can decentralise and yet employees can still connect into the headquarters’ computer systems. In the USA there are dedicated websites listing organisations using teleworkers. One site has a web page called ‘Shaping our Communities’ where you can find many articles on the effects of telecommuting in different parts of the USA. You can also view statistics on telecommuting in the USA and find the results of surveys conducted on the employees.
According to The Teleworker magazine, in 1997 4% of the total number of employees in Britain classed themselves as teleworkers. Powys in Mid Wales has its own website where people can write in their success stories, and where both prospective employers and employees can advertise. Information is provided on what equipment you will need if you want to work from home in this way, together with a helpline. This project has been set up with money from the EU. Glasgow Caledonian University also has a web page devoted to telecommuting.
There are difficulties in working from home in this way. For example, many people miss the social contact of working in an office. And if you do not work regular hours in a factory or office, can you measure the work done and calculate a fair wage?
Some organisations are opting for ‘satellite offices’: a small number of workers in one office close to their own homes, connected through the telecommunication system to a central control system and database. Another way of linking people is to use video conference systems. These allow callers to hold meetings without needing to travel long distances. The aircraft manufacturer Boeing in the USA has had special video conferencing studios built at most of its plants. The savings on hotel bills and staff travel in the first five months covered the costs of their first purpose-built studio. Pictures of moving components can be sent for fault diagnosis. Boeing have found that video conferences reduce the design and manufacturing periods for their new aircraft.
What about video phones? An ordinary black and white video picture occupies the same capacity (bandwidth) as 600 phone calls, so are video phones very expensive to use? There are a number of systems available including Viewphones. In general you get what you pay for: the higher the cost of a call the better the quality of the picture. The higher quality systems use optical fibre networks rather than ordinary telephone lines. But, compared with other communication media, telephones with vision have not so far ‘taken off’. Perhaps people simply don’t want to be seen talking on the telephone. After all, you may just have come out of the bath or shower!
Questions to discuss
1. Which group(s) of people might benefit from teleworking?
Disabled people that find it hard to get out
2. Why do you think teleworking in Powys is being supported by external European funds?
Probably because the EU think that it is worthwhile for the future and has many advantages including reducing pollution from transport.
3. Make suggestions for overcoming the two disadvantages of teleworking mentioned in the passage.
To overcome missing the social contact of working in an office, ‘satellite offices’: a small number of workers in one office close to their own homes, connected through the telecommunication system to a central control system and database, could be set-up. Regular meetings (or e-mails) with employers to discuss and check the work done could determine fair wages.
4. Would you like to carry out your work from home? Comment on the advantages and disadvantages from your point of view.
I think that I would like to work from home (depending on my job), but there are both advantages and disadvantages in doing this:
Advantages – less travelling (reduced fuel costs), more freedom and flexibility, less pressure/stress, better balance of work and family life.
Disadvantages – miss social contacts, may not have adequate facilities or working space, distractions (could be more or less), maybe less advice/support, could be less motivated working alone.
5. Do you think the number of people working at home, yet linked to their employer’s organisation by PC and modem, will increase in coming years? Suggest some reasons for your answer.
Yes, I am pretty sure teleworking will increase in coming years because of rapidly advancing technology. Also more companies will begin to recognise the advantages like much cheaper property costs and large increases in productivity. Remote workers won’t have to commute to work everyday, have more freedom and flexibility, while the environmental benefits may be critical for the future.
6. What could be the effects of a trend towards homeworking on the local economy, the national economy and the environment?
There would be large reductions in the number of commuters on the roads, which will dramatically cut the amount of pollution thus cause a reduction in the greenhouse affect. It will also reduce congestion on the roads. There would be a decrease in the use of public transport, which would have an impact on the local and national economy. Although if the workers are at home they may spend more money on their leisure time, which would have a positive effect on the local economy.
7. Why do you think that Boeing could cut the time needed to design and manufacture their new planes?
Because of improved, world-wide communications. The video conference systems allow callers to hold meetings without needing to travel long distances. Pictures of moving components can be sent for fault diagnosis.
8. Suggest, with reasons, three types of organisations that could benefit from video conferencing.
Manufacturing industries due to improved, world-wide communications and reduced costs for the company.
International property investments because the people wouldn’t have to travel to see the properties.
Film/music industries because if people are far away and cannot meet up, some work could still be done.