Teleworking Over-hyped, Say CIPD
October 3 2006 - A new report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) argues that the phenomenon of teleworking has been over-exaggerated, is unlikely ever to be a prospect for the majority of workers, and may be overshadowing far more effective means of improving work-life balance. Teleworking: trends and prospects suggests that many studies artificially swell the numbers of teleworkers by including "white van men" - tradespeople and others in self-employment who happen to use a computer and telephone as part of their work.
Dr John Philpott, the report's author and chief economist at the CIPD said:
"Many people may have done the odd days work from home over the summer to help manage the childcare conundrum, but as the schools go back, the majority of the summer homeworkers are likely to trudge back into the office for the long haul to Christmas.
"While government ministers and opposition politicians increasingly join forces with work-life balance campaigners and IT businesses to extol the economic, social, and environmental benefits of teleworking it is important not to hype the potential for growth in this kind of flexible work pattern.
"Though teleworking has many merits and is likely to become more common in the future, it is currently far from as widespread as popularly perceived and unlikely ever to be a realistic prospect for the majority of workers. The likelihood is that any major breakthrough on flexible working will for most people take the form of reduced hours, flexi-time or changes in shift patterns - all good for work-life balance but largely developments in fairly mundane existing approaches to managing working time rather than a step toward an entirely new world of work."
The report argues that only 4 per cent of UK employees are full time teleworkers as defined by the Office for National Statistics. However, the percentage rises significantly if the definition is loosened to include anybody who ever uses a computer or phone at home to do some work. The report suggests that casual teleworking of this kind has potential disadvantages as well as advantages.
Dr Philpott commented:
"Whatever the difficulties employers face in managing regular teleworkers these can be compounded if workers swap the office for home on an irregular basis. And casual teleworkers without a clear routine which delineates work from home life are possibly those most prone to the perils of workaholism."
The report notes that the rate of increase in teleworking since the late 1990s has been far faster for the self-employed. This occurred when growth in self-employment was slow suggesting that much of the observed increase is simply due to more self-employed people making greater use of information and communications technology.
The report also suggests that the preponderance of self-employed helps explain other characteristics of teleworkers. More than two-thirds are men, mostly in their forties and fifties, three quarters of whom are working full-time. Almost nine in 10 are in managerial and professional or skilled trade occupations. By contrast, few teleworkers are engaged in personal service occupations, sales and customer services and manufacturing-related occupations.
Dr Philpott continued:
"The typical full-time teleworker is far more likely to be a mature male, white van driving, self-employed jobbing plumber or bricklayer than, as commonly portrayed, a techno savvy post-modern office worker.
"Amongst employees the scope for expansion of teleworking is likely to be confined largely to those engaged in the kinds of managerial and professional occupations which currently have an above average incidence of teleworking. By contrast potential for telework could be limited in occupations currently with below average incidence of teleworking - admin and secretarial staff, those providing personal services, sales and customer services staff, process, plant and machinery workers, and those undertaking jobs that are either necessarily central office or factory based or directly customer or client focused."