Suspicion puts the brakes on employee teleworking

The number of British employees who work from home has jumped by a quarter in a year and only suspicious managers are holding back more from doing so.

Using data from the Government’s spring 2000 Labour Force Survey, the Institute of Employment Studies has found that one in 17 British workers is teleworking.

The institute says that 1.5 million people, mostly senior managers and professionals, are now teleworking against 1.2 million exactly a year ago – a surge of 19 per cent.

Although definitions of telework remain vague, the IES has chosen the definition used widely in Europe of those who work from home for at least one day a week in their main job via computer and telephone.

Seven out of 10 teleworkers are men and more than a quarter work in the business and financial services sectors.

Ursula Huws, associate fellow at the IES, said there was widespread anecdotal evidence of improved working from home. “The main constraint on teleworking is suspicious managers. By definition those employees who are doing it are likely to be those already trusted to be productive.”

She said the data raised new issues for managers who now had to manage a remote workforce and for policy makers, across housing, transport and employment. She said 1998-1999 will be seen by history as the point when our tele-mediated culture achieved critical mass. “It has led to a whole questioning about the nature of the workplace. If people are sending e-mails to someone in the next office, what is the point of them being there?”

BT, which has two-thirds of its white-collar workforce – 40,000 people – able to work from anywhere, says it operates a “presumption that it is possible to work from home” as part of its employment policy for managers. Of these, 4,000 are contracted to work from home.

Head of BT’s Workstyle programme Neil McLocklin said that surveys have found those contracted to work from home to be “significantly happier bunnies” than the rest. But he warns against cause and effect. “Statistically it is evident, but it is hard to draw generalisations, because they may be self-selecting and may have been that way inclined anyway.”

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