HOMEWORKING THROUGH NEW TECHNOLOGY: OPPORTUNITIES AND OPPOSITION — PART TWO

Pages7-12
DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/eb057525
Publication Date01 Nov 1988
AuthorSean Connolly
SubjectEconomics,Information & knowledge management,Management science & operations
HOMEWORKING THROUGH NEW
TECHNOLOGY: OPPORTUNITIES
AND OPPOSITION - PART TWO
by
Sean
Connolly
Laurie and
Company,
International Recruitment Consultants
Introduction
In Part Two of this article, I intend to test the theories and hypotheses outlined in Part One against the evidence
presented.
The main conclusions, implications and effects of the British evidence, which has been collected
from interviews with Rank Xerox, ICL and journal articles, will then be presented.
Evidence
Hypothesis 1 There will be a Growth in the
Numbers of People Working at Home Using
New Technology
Statistical support for this hypothesis can be found in
estimates from two national surveys which suggested
that there has been an increase in homeworking over
the last 12 years from 1.5 million in the 1971 population
census to 1.68 million or seven per cent of the
workforce in the 1981 survey[1]. However, a declining
percentage of this figure is made up of manufacturing
homework 29 per cent and there is little evidence
to suggest that a growth in homeworking is related to
technology, except in the computer industry[2]. A
second statistic released in 1985 showed that ten per
cent of Britain's labour force is now self-employed, the
largest figure since
1921
[3].
On the other hand, the
company F-lnternational, of which 83 per cent of the
workforce work at home, provides concrete evidence
to support the growth of computer homeworking. This
software support company, which was created in 1962
with only £6 and four programmers, now employs 900
people, the majority of whom are part-time, self-
employed females[4]. However, although providing a
software support service, and so being involved with
new technology, the majority of F-lnternational's "panel
members" do not have new technology in the form of
a computer terminal installed in their home, so their
status as telecommuters is questionable; this again
highlights the definitional problem of computer
homeworking, especially since only
41
per cent of those
labelled as homeworking in the UK have a direct
computer/telecommunications link with their employer
[2].
The growth in part-time homeworking is not reflected
in the practices of most large employers, as no major
company has opted for a work-at-home strategy[5,6].
"Few company's have conducted formal experiments
with homeworking; an even smaller number have
committed themselves to the idea by establishing
permanent policies or programs"[7] (p. 134). This view
is confirmed by Phil Judkins, the operational manager
of Rank Xerox UK's "Networking" scheme, which
currently has 50 ex-employees working from home on
a fixed subcontract consultancy basis.
The evidence, whilst confirming in part a growth of
computer homeworking, does not extend to cover those
large organisations, who, because they employ many
people, will strongly affect the growth of the
phenomenon. In general, where it exists at all, growth
of computer homeworking in the UK tends to be limited
to experimentation.
Hypothesis 2 The Relative Bargaining Position
of Employees will Determine their Ability to Influence
Management Strategy
Probably the most appropriate support for this
hypothesis comes from the introduction of
homeworking at ICL (Britain's main computer
manufacturer) in 1969. In the late 1960s, ICL was in
need of pruning, and so Central Programming Services
(CPS) was transformed from a full-time department of
mostly professional women on a subcontracting basis
from their hornes. Although the arrangement seems to
have worked relatively well for the 250 members of CPS,
their choice to opt for homeworking was limited to
homeworking for ICL, or redundancy. In particular,
pregnant professional women tend to be in a poor
bargaining position in relation to management, and so
tend to undervalue themselves, being anxious to accept
any job[2]. A second example may be cited that
suggests that core employees in a strong bargaining
position can not only oppose, but also change, the
strategies of management. Rank Xerox became aware
that a large number of their top executives were leaving
Xerox to start businesses of their own[5]. This prompted
Xerox, which was at the time considering methods of
reducing costly London office space, to develop the
"Networking" scheme, in order to retain a working
relationship with top employees and reduce overhead
costs.
As there appears no evidence to refute this hypothesis,
the bargaining power of the potential employees to be
involved in a homeworking scheme is then likely to
affect whether a management proceeds with a
programme, and the ways in which it goes about it.
IMDS
November/December
1988
7

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