Knowing how many teleworkers
there are is, for many, a way of validating the concept. A
way of saying "Hey look, teleworking is here! It's growing - you
should take notice!" For others, the very same figures can be
used to debunk the idea that the workforce is changing, by
showing it to be a marginal phenomenon.
As important as knowing how
many people are doing it, is knowing something about who's doing
it, and why. Official figures can tell you a little about the
"who", but can only hint at the "why".
According to the UK Labour
Force Survey, there are 2.2 million teleworkers in the UK -
about 7.4% of the workforce. This is people who work at home at
least one day per week.
Teleworkers are defined as
people who work in their own home and who use both a computer
and a telephone for their work. This includes people who:
mainly work from home in
their main job - "teleworker homeworkers"
work in various
locations but use their home as a base - "home-based
don't usually work at home
but do so for at least one day per week - "occasional teleworkers".
The number has been steadily increasing at an
average 13% per year since 1997. The average annual growth rate
for all employees is 1.6%.
It is worth noting that the LFS definition of
teleworking is limited to those who include work at home for a
significant amount of time. There are other kinds of telework or
"e-work" besides the home-oriented varieties: telecentre-based,
mobile (but not using home as a base), location-flexible
telework (using for example, client sites to work from) - and so
Jobs and sectors
The uptake of teleworking in the private and
public sectors almost exactly reflects the split in the wider
workforce between the sectors. 74% of all teleworkers are in the
private sector, 26% in the public sector.
This means that in the past few years there has
been a remarkable catch-up in the public sector, as initial
uptake was almost exclusively in the private sector, with the
self-employed particularly well represented. The self-employed
still form a significant proportion of teleworkers: 43%, as
against 11% of the workforce as a whole.
Taken together, this means that private sector
employees are under-represented in the total numbers of
teleworkers. Perhaps the private sector is not as innovative in
introducing new ways of working as it likes to think. On the
other hand, it is probable that the majority of the
self-employed teleworkers -freelancers and e-lancers - are
working for private sector employers as contractors.
Managers and professionals still predominates
amongst teleworkers - almost two thirds of the total.
This is especially so amongst occasional
teleworkers, where 91% fall into the first 3 occupational groups
- managers (37%), professionals (37%), and associate
professional and technical occupations (17%). There could be a
hidden message in here, often remarked in workplace surveys:
managers see working from home as a privilege of rank, and don't
trust their staff in general to telework.
Administrative and secretarial work is only
relatively common amongst full-time homeworkers (24% of total) -
most of these are women. Skilled trades occupations amongst
teleworkers are predominantly found amongst those who travel
around using home as a base, making up 27% of this category.
Sales and customer service have perhaps
surprisingly low uptake - around 2% of the total. We know of a
number of good examples of home-based/home-working sales staff,
but it seems few organisations are going down this route. They
make up only 3% of the home-based teleworker category, which one
might think would be an ideal solution for sales personnel
having to cover a wide geographical area. But over half of
existing home-based teleworkers are self-employed, so this may
be another area where private sector employers are not grasping
the nettle and setting up their employees to work at the most
The government's figures also break down the
total across industrial sectors, but generally these are not
very illuminating. The sector with the greatest uptake of
teleworking is "real estate, renting and business activities"
(24%) followed by construction (14%), manufacturing (11%) and
education (11%). But to some extent the significant factor is
that the majority are managers and professionals, and that
across all sectors these are the people leading the way into
teleworking. Within these sectors, however, the nature of the
front-line or hands-on work will determine the limits of future
Men and women - a telework
Over two thirds (67%) of teleworkers in the
government figures are men. This contrasts with the workforce as
a whole, where 53% of the workforce is male.
Why the difference? Again, it's the types of
jobs the teleworkers currently do. Managers, professionals,
associate professionals and technical staff are predominantly
male. There was also a good deal of early adoption of
teleworking in the IT and telecoms sectors, which are also
dominated by men. The self-employed are also mainly male, and as
we have seen these make up a greater proportion of teleworkers
than of the workforce as a whole. The only category that women
dominate is that of homeworking administrative and secretarial
jobs. So the gender split in teleworking is a reflection of the
gender split in the types of jobs undertaken through telework at
This may change, however. Increasing numbers of
women managers will make a difference over time. And the
dominance of women in sectors like HR and training, where there
are currently major movements towards greater work-life balance,
may make a difference over time.
In addition, the cascading down of telework from
the upper levels of organisations - if it happens - would in all
probability redress the gender imbalance. The growth of virtual
customer service centres (as with the AA) or home-based data
processing (as the East Riding of Yorkshire Council) will see
the growth of teleworking in roles currently dominated by women.
Arguably there are all kinds of equality and opportunity issues
arising from this, but this is what we can expect as the nature
of the teleworking workforce begins to reflect more exactly the
workforce as a whole.
It is interesting that the current gender split
in teleworking is almost the mirror image of "traditional"
homeworking, i.e. the technology-free variety. This has always
been female-dominated, mainly low paid, and with low
representation amongst managerial and professional workers.
Revolutionary change - or a marginal
It's kind of a cliché to knock the "R" off
revolution to leave an "evolution". It's not the overnight
transformation of society that you might have read about in the
Sunday supplements. Who decides when evolution is happening fast
enough or radically enough to make a revolution? What we have,
at any rate, is clear evidence of change, and our concepts and
our experience of the workplace are evolving.
Sceptics will point to the fact that these
changes currently involve less than 10% of the workforce. But
2.2 million people makes for a lot of change happening. Perhaps
more significant, is the rate of change, with an increase of
around 13% per year. We are talking about a pretty new
phenomenon, too. The technologies used are really only in
their infancy, and prices are much higher than they should be
The figures only loosely address levels of
teleworking - i.e. how often people telework. The 600,000 people
who work mainly at home are supplemented by others who, as found
in other surveys, work at home around 1.5 days per week. This
means at any one time, there are probably about 1.1 million
people teleworking from home.
There is some evidence, however, that while the
location of work is changing, organisations are not being very
adventurous in their approach. Much of the teleworking activity
seems to consist of managers and professionals getting away from
the office to do what they normally do, only with fewer
interruptions. There is anecdotal evidence that managerial
teleworking increases substantially during test matches,
Wimbledon and the Open. If there were more substantial
organisational change, and modernising of business processes, we
would expect to see more teleworking identified at al levels.
While official statistics tell us something
about the growth of the teleworking and who is doing it, there
is much that isn't revealed, for example
why are they teleworking?
what kinds of technology and connectivity do
how is the uptake of teleworking affected by
different kinds of implementation?
how typical is teleworking within their
organisations (if employed)?
what about other - less home-oriented - forms of
Understanding more about the motivations and
obstacles world give some insight into the shape of future
trends. But for the time being, we have evidence that something,
and there must be social and economic driving forces behind it.
There is, of course, a key question: is it
happening for you, or should it be? In the final analysis,
social historians will decide how revolutionary this all is. But
in the meantime any organisation can decide to revolutionise the
way they work, and introduce flexible location working. And if
they do, they'll know they are not alone.
The LFS also uses a second,
narrower, definition of teleworking where you're only counted in
if a computer and telephone
are "essential" to your work. It calls these people "TC
teleworkers". This makes almost no difference to the proportions
of people in sectors, occupational group or male/female
ratios, although it lowers the total number.
This definition arrives at 1.8
million teleworkers, made up as follows:
teleworker homeworkers: 412,
The rate of increase per year is
slightly higher for "TC teleworkers". This is likely to be the
result of subjective interpretations of what it means to say
that use of a telephone and computer is "required".
The "requiring" aspect, or saying
that both telephone and computer are "essential to perform
their job" seems to incorporate personal, organisational
or process issues that interviewees for the survey will
interpret differently. It is simpler and more informative to
find out who does use computer and/or telephone, rather
than who thinks their job "requires" them.
The figures referred to are taken
Labour Market Trends, published by National Statistics, June
2002 and October 2002 editions,.