Collective Connects Sept 2012

The World Wide Web brought with it a dramatic flattening of our global village. Today there are nearly six billion connected mobile devices and two billion people on the internet. On-demand cloud computing and sharing services connect globally dispersed employees, allowing business to be conducted anyplace, anytime, anywhere. The global recession and climate change have spurred companies to seek the benefits of teleworking and some governments are encouraging it with tax breaks.

In contrast to 2009, there were an estimated 137 million teleworkers worldwide; today 1 in 5 (17%) employees are teleworking. Employees in emerging markets of the Middle East and Africa (27%), Latin America (25%) and Asia-Pacific (24%) are considerably more likely to telework than those in North America (9%) and Europe (9%) due to continually changing, developing, and hence, unsettled work environments.

Comparatively, employees in India (56%), Indonesia (34%), Mexico (30%), Argentina (29%), South Africa (28%) and Turkey (27%) are most likely to be pursuing teleworking. On the other hand, those in Canada (8%), France (7%), Italy (7%), Sweden (6%), Germany (5%) and Hungary (3%) are least likely to telework on a consistent basis. Overall, teleworking as a percentage of the workforce is 7% in the UK and 10% in the US.

Around the world, education and age continue to be big factors. Employees with a high level of education are most likely to telework frequently (25%), followed by those under 35 (20%), and those with a high household income (20%). Men (19%) are more likely than women (16%) to telework on a consistent basis. Moreover, teleworking allows women a way to combine work and care giving, keeping talented women working. Given more flexible arrangements, worker productivity is seen to increase by eliminating daily commutes and supporting people’s work-life balance which lowers stress and improves wellbeing.

Adversely, personal interaction is critical for new employees or people without a working track record. Because supervisors must monitor motivation and build trust among dispersed co-workers, managing teleworking teams requires 25% more effort than teams that are physically adjacent. A global survey found that 62% of teleworkers noted that working outside the office produces feelings of social isolation. About half also feel that teleworking hinders promotions and creates family conflicts because staffers may have difficulty creating boundaries between work and home life.

Real estate and people – two of the largest business operational costs – are also dominant drivers for companies turning to teleworking. Needing to reduce overhead and diminish expense, corporations often look to streamline this overhead by allowing employees to work remotely. While the financial sector continues to explore workplace efficiencies in the UK, technology companies in Australia have begun providing virtual offices, thus reducing office space needs by 25%, costing about 50% less than having fixed real-estate costs.

A Chinese study looking into the differences between home and office work, concluded a 13% performance increase for teleworkers which was contributed to working more per shift with fewer breaks and sick-days and a quieter working environment. Home workers also reported improved work satisfaction cutting job attrition by half. It is estimated the study saved about $2,000 per employee from working at home.

The countries from Central and Eastern Europe lag somewhat behind in telework penetration (average: 5.5%) a pattern which is partly determined by the economic wealth of each country as measured in GDP per person.

Industries are increasingly competing on a level playing field. The new competitive advantage lies in the ability to carve out new markets through the fusion of business, technology and creativity. Teleworking in today’s global market place demands greater design sensitivities and solutions, from the tools and appliances we use to the spaces we live in. Design, which functions to bring about such convergence, has emerged as the key differentiation strategy for businesses.