On the Evolution of Work Systems in the Digital Economy
Societal Structures Influencing Telework Adoption Rate
Previously, we explored cultural as well as psychological and sociological factors determining receptivity to telework implementation in various regions of the world. As you may have guessed, there are still more angles to explore. Here I’ll discuss some societal structures that impact telework adoption as outlined in Growing the Virtual Workplace: The Integrative Value Proposition for Telework by Alain Verbeke, Nathan Greidanus, and Laura Hambley with support from the recently published Remote: Office Not Required by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried.
1. Information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure and transportation infrastructure – Having a developed ICT infrastructure in order to increase telework adoption is self-explanatory. What’s less obvious is how having a developed transportation infrastructure can dampen adoption rate as Verbeke, et al., indicate:
… highly developed transportation infrastructure (for example) may decrease telework adoption (presuming that well-developed transportation infrastructure will reduce commute times, thus partially reducing the benefit of commute time savings to the teleworker). (p. 229)
For this reason, the authors noted that northern Europe had a higher speed of adoption than southern Europe. They stated, “better prerequisites for telework exist in the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands, as these countries have a greater openness toward technological and organizational innovations and possess sufficient and appropriate technical infrastructure for teleworking.” (Source: ECaTT, 2000, “Benchmarking progress on new ways of working and new forms of business across Europe,” ECaTT Final Report).
2. Societal-level telework policies – A bit of history: Just prior to the 21st century, the United States led the way with a telework adoption rate of 25% (while the worldwide rate was about 3.1%) due to the few legal and regulatory barriers in the country (Source: Nilles, J.,1999, Electronic Commerce and New Ways of Working: Penetration, Practice and Future Development in the USA, Los Angeles, CA: JALA International). Verbeke, et al., explain:
… free market regimes are characterized by lower mutual commitment between employers and employees, and thus allow for more experimentation in telework arrangements between the employees and employers. In regulated labour markets, by contrast, labour contracts are tightly regulated. In regulated societies telework adoption cannot be as informal or ad hoc and needs to be introduced with appropriate regulations. Thus, in regulated labour markets telework adoption may be slower than in free market regimes. (p. 229)
Hansson and Fried concur with regard to the freedom to experiment with telework arrangements in stating that people can work remotely from anywhere in the U.S. with the potential for having to pay additional taxes when working in a state outside of the company’s home state being the primary concern (p. 111). However, as I’ve pored over a vast amount of material with regard to telework adoption, I recall that outdated regulations meant for 20th century work arrangements can still impede telework adoption in some states. See, for example, this issue being addressed here for Australia.
3. Employee-level demand for telework – People often think that telework adoption is outside of their scope of control. However, public awareness and demand for telework is one of the biggest influences on telework adoption according to Verbeke, et al. They explain, “… telework will need to be conceived as a mainstream form of work (either full- or part-time), not as an alternative work arrangement as it is so often described” (p. 241).
A couple of years ago, the possibility of working remotely had only just occurred to me when I stumbled upon this topic on the Internet. There are still, of course, a great many more who are unaware of it. Not everyone will like the idea as some perceive it as having an anti-social bent, while others regard their participation in the long commute as a badge of toughness, and still others are complacent. However, here are some points to bring up:
- Rather than undermining fulfillment of our social needs, how about having more time and energy to reforge social connections with your own family and friends? Surely it doesn’t take 40 hours a week to maintain connections with co-workers. Many see their household members for a lot less time than that (time spent sleeping next to your significant other doesn’t count).
- We in the United States have long lamented the decline of a sense of community and civic engagement. I often hear people say “There was a time when we knew our neighbors!” As illustrated by the point above, teleworking allows people to take a more balanced approach to fulfilling social needs. It won’t be all about the people in the office. Forging connections with the people who reside in your immediate area has benefits also.
- For those who have or plan to have children: Envision a world in which your children won’t have to experience this wasteful practice of commuting. Even if you don’t think you will get to enjoy the benefits of telework in your lifetime, wouldn’t you want this for future generations?
- Finally, imagine a future in which where you live is no longer dictated by your job. Yes, that’s right! You would have more control over where you want to raise your children.
In conclusion, make it a priority to inform others about telework. Educate others with regard to how this work style can improve various areas of our lives, how it’s great for organizations that adopt them, and how it helps the environment!