Insight No. 4

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Teleworking for Enterprise  
No. 4





Gaining strategic advantage in today's business climate is no easy task. Global competition, demanding customers and increasing uncertainty put pressures on organisations to respond in new ways. Teleworking (or telecommuting) is one such response.

Teleworking (or telecommuting) is broadly defined as

using information and communications electronic networking technologies to work effectively at non-traditional 'office' locations, such as at home, on the move or in serviced offices (telecentres or telecottages).


When deployed as part of a flexible working practices programme teleworking has delivered these proven benefits:

  • 30% or more savings in office and space costs
  • 40% or more productivity improvements for certain types of work
  • reduced need for relocations with attendant employee costs
  • organization flexibility - creating ad-hoc teams with winning skills
  • retention of key skills and reduced staff turnover
  • more resilience in crisis situations (strikes, fires etc.)

Achieving these benefits, though, requires a systematic approach and more than just applying appropriate technologies. Research confirms that the main barriers to success are lack of attention to human and organisation factors. In a recent paper presented in 1993 at The European Distance Working Conference David Skyrme noted that:

"The challenge is one of organisation and management. For many it means having to learn new ways of designing and managing work, workers and workplaces."

How to Achieve the Benefits of Teleworking

Based on many years of practical experience in this field we suggest this 7 Point Action Plan

1. Identify the Key Changes and Opportunities in your Business Environment.
Teleworking is most successful when it is integrated into main-stream business strategy. For example, it can form part of a human resources strategic response to changing labour markets. Alternatively it can provide a cost effective component of a customer services strategy.

2. Rethink Assumptions about Work and the Work place.
Conventional offices grew out of the need for information to accompany manufacturing processes. Today, information technology can bring work to the worker, wherever they may be. Many offices are effectively used for less than 10% of the time - not a very productive use of a costly resource.

3. Understand the Business Benefits of Teleworking.
An audit of current work practices, employee skills and attitudes, of office space and information and communications capabilities provides a basis for identifying the potential and ability to reap benefits.

4. Start with a Pilot Project - Learn as you go.
Successful large-scale flexible work programmes invariably start with a small pilot project. These projects should have a multi-disciplinary task teams.

5. Manage the Enablers/Inhibitors.
A number of factors - IT and telecomms, management and supervision, home office facilities, information management, organising work - help or hinder the success of implementation.

6. Evaluate the Outcomes.
Traditional cost-benefit methods may not be appropriate for evaluating the benefits of flexible work practice programmes.

7. Get Started!
The field is evolving so rapidly that if you do not get started soon, you could be left behind - with a competitive disadvantage.

David J. Skyrme, April 1993

© Copyright. David J. Skyrme. 1993, 1999. This material may be copied or distributed subject to the terms of our copyright conditions (no commercial gain; complete page copying etc.)


Since this was first written the uptake of teleworking has continued to increase at around 10 per cent a year. With rapid advances in mobile telecommunications and portable computers, location independent working has become well established in many organizations. Quite often organizations are using teleworking but do not call it that. What research shows is that there are more employees who wish to telework (around two thirds) than companies who let them do it (less than a third). The major problem is lack of remote management skills by middle managers. What is also apparent is the extent of informal teleworking without a formal organization programme. However, organizations can significanlty enhance effectiveness by having a formal programme and sharing best practices (cf. knowledge management), as well as avoiding potential legal pitfalls, that some organizations have unwittingly found themselves embroiled in. The approach as outlined above is as valid today as it was when written.

In addition, teleworking is just one manifestation of virtualization, such as occurs in virtual teams and virtual organizations or corporations.

David Skyrme, August 1999.


'Flexible Working: Building a Lean and Responsive Organization', David J. Skyrme, Long Range Planning, Vol. 27, No. 5, pp.98-110 (Oct 1994)

'Teleworking: Achieving the Business Benefits', David J. Skyrme, Conference Paper (1993). Word version.

European Telework Online - now the world's premier Web site with over 50,000 visitors monthly (May 1999); many links, resources, country specific information, statistics and discussion forum.

European Telework Week - an annual event in November attacting over 10,000 participants.

David Skyrme Associates can help you exploit the benefits of teleworking by doing the following:

- identify and research the strategic opportunities created by teleworking
- develop the business case for flexible working
- audit and analyse current work patterns
- develop an implementation plan and process
- run change management workshops
- organise and manage the information resources needed for successful training

Our principal consultant, David Skyrme, played a prominent role in setting up the Flexible Work Practices Programme in Digital UK, renowned for its leadership in this field.

Related Insights on these pages include No. 1 The Networked Organization, No. 2 The Virtual Corporation, No. 3 The Learning Organization or see full list.

Management Insights are publications of David Skyrme Associates, who offers strategic consulting, presentations and workshops on many of these topics.

Additional coverage of these topics can be found in our free monthly briefing I3 UPDATE/ENTOVATION International News, various articles, publications and presentations.

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