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Research into the topic area has failed to determine a universal definition. There is not even an agreed term: Tele working, telecommunicating, working at home, home working, working at a distance, offsite workers, or remote workers. All these terms may have similar meanings and are used inter changeably (Lamond 1997) Teleworking could take the form of working from home some or all of the time, working while on the move, working from a remotely sited office. The lack of a universally accepted definition of teleworking causes problems: it makes it almost impossible to find out how many people and organisations practise teleworking.
"Teleworker's are employees who perform all or a substantial part of their work physically separate from the location of their employer, using IT for operation and communication" (Toffler 1980)
The variation in definition is due to the sheer number of tasks that can now be carried out remotely, and the number of ways in which this can be achieved. The consistent feature of all definitions appearing in literature is their emphasis on the utilisation of electronic communications as a main channel of contact between the e-work carried out and the employing organisation (Cooper 1996).
The total number of teleworkers in the UK has increased by between 65 and 70 per cent over the period 1997 to 2001 (Appendix 2) About two-thirds of all teleworkers are men. Some occupations and industries are more likely to offer telework. Based on the existing information and communications technologies infrastructure very high rates of teleworking are possible. New technologies are expected to make it even easier to work remotely and increase the number of occupations and industries able to offer teleworking opportunities.
If the work-at-home employee needs access to company proprietary information to do the job, how can the company be comfortable that the information will remain confidential? The employer can normally expect higher productivity from a teleworker with corresponding lower wage costs. They can reduce office costs by reducing the amount of office space required. But how will employers change when the number of available teleworker's increases? Senge (1993) said that companies must adapt to survive.
Organisations must learn as they evolve. During the nineteen eighties several people proposed the flexible firm model. This suggests replacing . . . . . . A system of homogenous employment patterns, standardised contracts, uniform payment schemes and traditional labour deployment practices with more varied and flexible arrangements. The flexible organisation is seen as having a core of highly trained workers, supported by a complex periphery of temporary, part-time and low skilled workers. (Blyton & Morris, 1991)
Organizations that face the choice of implementing more flexible working arrangements, such as telecommuting, should pay attention to the personal suitability of candidates for these positions, and the special demands entailed in carrying out the job. When an organization adopts a telecommuting work pattern, or even when individuals take it upon themselves to work independently in this manner, it is important to examine the potential suitability of the individual for the job, in order to improve the chances of success and satisfaction for all parties involved.
Different variables that are likely to be instrumental in success or failure should be considered. Several writers, notably Senge (1993), are now suggesting that organisations will change radically with the introduction of teleworking. Employers must be aware of the social consequences and how they can benefit from them. As teleworking has captured the interest of the employer, it has also caught the attention of the trade unions. Trades unions came about with the Industrial Revolution when large factories replaced the cottage industries.
Trades unions are very concerned that teleworking may see the return of the cottage industry and be used as an excuse for low-pay and long hours. They are also aware that the advance of teleworking is outside their control and is putting their efforts into ensuring their members are not exploited by its arrival. Olson (1987) suggests four scenarios for remote working and teleworking that have been used as a basis for evaluation by other researchers, notably Huws, Korte and Robinson (1990).
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