Telework occurs when information and communications technologies (ICTs) are applied to enable work to be done at a distance from the place where the work results are needed or where the work would conventionally have been done. It includes:
- Home-based telework or “telecommuting”, when an employee or contractor works at home instead of travelling to an employer’s or a customer’s premises.
- Mobile telework, when executives, professionals or service staffs using ICTs to enable them to spend more time with customers and to deliver “on the road” a range of services and capabilities that previously would have involved office based staff or visits to the company offices;
- Telecentres, providing local office facilities for people who prefer not to work at home but wish to avoid the cost, time and inconvenience of commuting;
- Telecottages, which provide local communities with access to skills development, high performance ICTs, and the networking and socialisation aspects of work that may be missed by a home based worker.
- Functional relocation, where business functions that previously were located close to the customer are concentrated and delivered at a distance; examples include both “front office” (selling activities previously done in the High Street, now delivered by phone or computer networks) and “back office” (service and maintenance work previously done “on site”, which may now be done anywhere in the world using remote access to systems).
Telework also affects some kinds of “outsourcing”, in that many kinds of work can now be done from thousands of miles away and “outsourced” across national borders. Telework has also been said to include “dispersed team working”, in which (for example) an engineering company uses three or more teams in different time zones to work 24 hours a day on a time-sensitive customer tender, with each team “passing the baton” to the next at the end of its working day.
As well as affecting the individual and the enterprise telework has significant economic and trade implications, for example many jobs in computer programing that might previously have been done in California or in Sweden are now done in Bangalore. Understanding telework in all its ramifications is essential to the future of work and jobs.