These topics are very frequently discussed wherever telework is discussed. Here are some suggestions and examples based on messages in the European Telework Online telework discussion forum.
There have been lots of initiatives to try to answer this, some have succeeded but many have failed. Here are some of the key points that emerge from all that experience:
1. Its usually a mistake to start from the teleworker and try to find an employer. Given that in Europe overall there is a serious unemployment problem, there are myriad government and private agencies seeking to find jobs and work for people, they all are “starting from the person and trying to place the person”. If you join this activity, but add the requirement to provide the work “through telework” you are effectively going into competition with “the big boys” in a market that is already very crowded. You will have to be very good indeed to succeed.
2. A better approach is to start from the market – ie the employer or customer – what does he need, how can you supply it, what special “edge” do you have by doing it “at a distance” and from your particular place with your local people? Unless you have really good answers to these questions, how can you expect employers or customers to respond fabvourably?
1. Bringing work to isolated communities
In the Western Isles of Scotland, a beautiful but very remote place, where young people have traditionally left home to find work elsewhere, some 200 people now have regular telework. The process has been to go out and find customers who have a job that needs to be done, then recruit and train local people to do it, organise them into teams, deliver high quality results at competitive rates. The projects for customers have to be significant enough for the customer and and scheme’s organisers to invest a lot of effort in the set up, and there has to be confidence on both sides that the arrangement will succeed and will last.
The work is generally complex and demands intellectual skills, it is not “desktop publishing”, “simple data capture” or “computer programming”, all of those are crowded and competitive markets. Its particular challenging tasks for particular demanding customers. The scheme has needed funding support to cover start up and some of the overheads and to provide a few days of basic computer familiarisation, generally the customer has paid for the specialist training to do his work. Success has been due to the local “champion” who has gone out and personally convinced the customers that he and Western Isles people can deliver the results. The teleworkers concerned don’t have and don’t need “computer skills”, (except that they learn to use the keyboard and the basic functions), they need intellectual and learning capabilities plus the determination to do a good job for the customer.
2. Solving computer problems for small firms
In the UK a big problem for small firms is to get trustworthy support in buying and using computers and to get it at a price they think they can afford. A small group of IT market professionals has established a network of independent computer specialists to meet that need. The “network” is literally that, it happens entirely online. The customer comes to the central marketing point with his problem (by phone usually), the problem goes out to the network, one or more people who live close to the customer “bid”, one of them talks to the customer and does a deal to get the work done for him. The customer is happy because he is dealing direct with a person not an employee, the charges are competitive because the self employed specialists have low overheads. This is a scheme that has been running only in 1996, but I think has the seeds for success, there is a real market need and lots of competent people who want to meet it. Of course the service is available to large firms as well, if someone says “Can you find me four people with WWW-Oracle-VME skills for a month?”, the answer is “yes”.
These two are quite different from each other but the common factor is that they have focused on the customer, not on the teleworker. One has gone for specific, enduring projects with specific customers, the other seeks to meet a general need for which there are large numbers of customers. One has needed public funding, the other is a purely commercial activity. One seeks to bring “work we can do competitively” to people who are remote from urban centres, the other seeks to deliver “scarce skills” wherever they are needed. In the second case you may not think its “telework” since many times the worker actually visits the customers, but once the relationship is established a lot of the customer’s problems can be solved over the ‘phone, and all of the marketing and finding of the right skills is done through “teletrade” and “telecollaboration” and of course the “WWW-Oracle-VME skills” can be delivered from anywhere to anywhere.