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63rd IFLA General Conference - Conference Programme and Proceedings - August 31- September 5, 1997

Networks and New Ways of Working : Human Aspects

Jean-Philippe Accart
Head Librarian
Secretary of the Special Division
Chair of the IFLA Section of Biological and Medical Libraries
Centre d'Information et de Documentation
Agence Nationale pour l'Amélioration des Conditions de Travail (ANACT)
40-41 quai Fulchiron
69321 LYON Cedex 05 - FRANCE
Tél. : 33 04 72 56 13 34
Fax : 33 04 78 37 96 90
Email : jp.accart@anact.fr


The presentation reviews the existing research on the nature and extent of networking and more precisely teleworking in USA and Europe. Teleworking is a new form of working still in a process of evolution. The article gives a large definition of teleworking (part I) and develops what kind of technology is used (part II) and what are the information workers (part III). The social and economic implications of teleworking are detailed such as transportation issues and trade and industry issues (part IV). The articles concludes on the human aspects of teleworking (part V).



Networking and by extension teleworking are not a single, easily-measured phenomenon but, on the contrary, comprises a range of different types of employment which have in common only the fact that they involve some form of relocation of work which has been facilitated by the combined use of information and communication technologies. These falls into two main categories :

  1. Individualised forms of teleworking, which involve work carried out away from the employer's premises. These may include :

  2. Collective forms of teleworking, which take place on non-domestic premises controlled by the employer or a third party. These forms include :

There is no universal definition of teleworking which can be rigorously and unambiguously applied. The word is used in a variety of different senses in different contexts. Indeed, since this is a comparatively new form of working still in a process of evolution, it would probably be undesirable to attempt to impose a rigid form upon it.

The most useful starting point for any research on the subject is a recognition that the introduction of new information and communication technologies has opened up a range of new options in the organisation of work. Either directly or indirectly, these have facilitated changes in :

Teleworking can be seen as a word which describes the results of some of these changes. It is regarded as one of a number of types of flexiblity rather than any specific form of work. Five major types of teleworking appear, from the available evidence, to be significant :

  1. . Home-based teleworking which in turn breaks into :

  2. Mobile teleworking

  3. Relocated back-office functions (intra-firm teleworking)

  4. Out-sourced back-office functions,whether carried out from telecottages or telecentres or by commercial sub-contractors (inter-firm teleworking)

  5. The Use of telematic links between organisations


Some attempts have been made in the United States to estimate the number of teleworkers from the prevalence of home-based information technology and the uses to which its owners say it is put. During the 1980s, for instance, a Gallup poll found 40 % of home computer owners saying that they used them for "business or office homework" with a smaller proportion (27%) citing "business in home use". Another survey, by Yankelovitch, Skelly and White, found 33% of home computer owners stating that their primary use was for business.

An IBM survey found that 60% of its computers which sold for $2,000 or more were being used in the home and that over half of these home computers were being used primarily for business-related purposes. A further 11 % were being transported between home and office.

Olson's survey of 598 Datamation readers found that 64,5% of these data processing professionals sometimes worked at home in addition to their regular office work, 12,4% did it as an occasional subsitute and 6,2% worked exclusively from home.

More recently, attempts have been made to estimate the numbers of mobile workers from sales of portable technology (such as mobile phones and lap-top computers. In 1994, for instance, New York-based consultants Link Resources drew on such information (along with other sources) to produce their estimate that there are currently seven million mobile teleworkers in the USA, with number predicted to grow to 25 million by the year 2000.


Information workers are defined by the US Department of Transportation Work as individuals whose primary economic activity involves the creation, processing, manipulation or distribution of information. Information workers are projected to increase from 73 million in 1993 to 80 million in 2002 and exceed 85 million by 2010. Onto these projections is then projected a further estimate of the likely growth in teleworking. It is furthermore assumed that the percentage of telecommuters working from home will decline from 99% in 1992 to about 50% by 2002 with a corresponding percentage increase in those working from telecommuting centres and that the average of days per week of telecommuting will increase from between 1 and 2 in 1992 to between 3 and 4 by 2002.


    Transportation issues are of central importance in any discussion of the broad social and economic implications of teleworking. The earliest literature on the subject focused almost exclusively on the opportunities teleworking creates for subsituting electronic communication for physical travel. It may comprises :

    Teleworking offers the promise of becoming an important instrument for improving competitiveness and generating new business and employment opportunities : the tecnologies involved can form the basis of new industries and services ; the productivity and efficiency of enterprises can be improved increasing their market share ; new forms of teamworking, collaboration or telepartnership can be open up ; relocation of work in economically deprived regions can be facilitated, diversifying local economies, creating alternatives.


The human aspects of teleworking are of different types : it has implications on working time, on unemployment, on the development of services, on productivity, and on the equality of opportunities :

Indeed, teleworking can facilitate the restructuring of working hours making easier to introduce part-time working, job-sharing and other flexible forms of work. One point observed is the greater productivity of teleworkers : the increase is about 20 %. A teleworker produces a report more quickly than a comparable worker based in an office.

It could help to reduce unemployment and bring to the labour market groups which were previously excluded because they were unable to offer themselves for full-time work.

The new technologies can bring about improvements in the quality of life, through the introduction of new services such as telemedicine, telebanking, teleshopping.

Equality of opportunities are another aspect. For example :


There is a strong case to be made for joint research on individual forms of teleworking, which could be satisfactorily quantified by means of a general population survey with supplementary information.

Despite an extensive literature on globalisation, the relationship between the introduction of new information and communication technologies and the relocation of employment remains an under-researched field, and that there is a need for further research in this area, inluding employers surveys, case-studies and secondary analysis of existing trade and employment statistics.


  1. Gillepsie A, Review of Telework in Britain : Implications for Public Policy, Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1995

  2. Hirst P, Thompson G, Globalisation in Question, Polity Press, 1996

  3. Huws U, Teleworking, an overwiew of the research, Analytica, 1996

  4. Huws U, Follow up to the White Paper-Teleworking, European Commission Directorate General V Employment Task Force, September 1994

  5. Huws U, Teleworking and Gender, draft report to the European Commission's Equal Opportunities Unit, DGV, 1996

  6. Illingsworth MM, Virtual Managers, Information Week, June 13, 1994

  7. US Department of Energy Office of Policy, Planning and Program Evaluation, Energy, Emissions and the Social Consequences of Telecommuting, US DOE, 1004

  8. Warf B., Telecommunications and the Changing Geographies of Knowledge Transmission in the late 20th century, Urban Studies, vol. 32, n 2, 1995, pp 375-376