HOMEWORKING THROUGH NEW TECHNOLOGY: OPPORTUNITIES AND OPPOSITION — PART ONE

DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/eb057518
Publication Date01 Sep 1988
Pages3-8
AuthorSean Connolly
SubjectEconomics,Information & knowledge management,Management science & operations
HOMEWORKING THROUGH NEW
TECHNOLOGY: OPPORTUNITIES
AND OPPOSITION - PART ONE
by
Sean
Connolly*
Laurie and
Company,
International Recruitment Consultants
Trends A Move to Feasibility
It can be said that many self-employed and professional people already work at home on a regular basis. Only
recently, however, has attention been focused on the possibility of full-time employees working at home rather
than on their employers'
premises[1,
2]. A number of trends can be identified which fuel this debate[1]. Firstly,
as a result of the recent economic recession, there has been an increase in pressure within organisations
to improve worker productivity and retain good employees. Related to this is a wider social concern for "Quality
of Working Life", suggesting that workers should ideally enjoy greater flexibility and independence. Finally,
there has been a wider political and economic concern to conserve energy resources.
These pressures become even greater for the employer
when it is considered that over the last five or ten years,
there have been a number of objective changes which
have dramatically increased the possibility of working
from home with a computer. There has been an
increase in low-cost, fast, cheap and reliable computers,
and the cost of telecommunications is becoming
progressively lower[1]. It is therefore foreseeable that
in the near future it will be cheaper to transport work
to employees in their homes via a telecommunications
link than to move them from home to the work place[3].
Moreover, as the number of dual-career households
increases, with shared income and child-care
responsibilities, employees are more likely to demand
greater flexibility from employers[1]. Thus, computer
homeworking is both technically and economically
feasible, and also desirable by some members of
society.
Values An Interpretation of the Trends
Such commentators as Shirley Williams have suggested
that the developments in microcomputer technology
will lead to the "reuniting of the family", giving workers
greater control and flexibility over their lives[3]. This
tends to fit in with suggestions made by futurologists
such as Alvin Toffler[4], who sees telecommuting as
the "solution to social and transportation problems,
resulting in stronger communities and a healthier
society[5] (p. 18).
This assumes that the change in work patterns and their
resulting effects in the home and in lifestyle are positive
and
good,
a view which contradicts previous experience
with homeworking, or as it was known at the beginning
of the industrial revolution, outworking, where
* This article was written as a result of research undertaken
while the author was at Bath University.
employees were openly exploited[6]. However, before
embarking on a discussion of the effects of
homeworking with new technology, we must quickly
outline how futurologists envisage the growth patterns
of computer homeworking.
Estimates of the number of people working at home
with computers in the United States are about
20,000[7],
a figure which is expected to rise to ten
million by 1990[8], and to 13 million (one-third of the
American work force) by the year 2000[7].
Unfortunately, there are no predicted forecasts for the
UK, but one can assume that work practices in the UK
often follow the US.
These figures are clearly optimistic estimates of the
expansion that telecommuting will experience, but it
must be remembered that computer homeworking is
not a new phenomenon, as many freelancers and
salesmen have worked from home for some time[2].
Care needs to be taken when making such predictions,
as there is often a tendency to become overexcited, and
many articles on computer homeworkers greatly
exaggerate the current situation, predicting either a
complete change in lifestyle or nothing at all[9].
Therefore, great perception is necessary to determine
the true picture emerging from the growth of computer
homeworking[10].
Interested Parties
It is important to understand the nature and extent of
computer homeworking, not just from an academic
point of view, but because many other interested parties
will be affected by a growth or a limitation in computer
homeworking. The Government is interested in the
growth of computer homework, not only to compile
information through the Department of Employment
about the composition of employment in the UK, but
IMDS
September/October
1988
3

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