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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 October 2005, 22:03 GMT 23:03 UK
The rise of the teleworkers
Dan Cruikshank
Work away from the office and home thanks to the internet
The boom in digital technology has revolutionised the working lives of millions of people.

And in the process it has created a growing breed of worker - the teleworker.

These are the people who use phones and computers to work mainly from home.

Government figures show their numbers have more than doubled in the last eight years. And there are now nearly 2.4 million of them.

Who are they?

Typically teleworkers are male, older, self-employed and likely to work in the building and construction industry.

But they are not just plumbers, van drivers and bricklayers who have learned to love their mobile phones.

Technology may be creating some opportunities for older workers to set up at home, do some part-time consultancy work and with much lower overheads than in the past
Alexandra Jones
The Work Foundation
According to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), published in Labour Market Trends, they are also likely to be managerial, technical and professional staff.

"Working from home has remained an important element of teleworking," said the ONS, "but developments in electronic networking now make it possible for people to work in other remote locations, such as neighbourhood centres, internet cafes, hotel rooms, clients' premises, on trains and in cars."

BT has been issuing some of its telephone engineers with PDAs so they can see the job schedule at home and drive straight to the first job of the day, instead of clocking in at a depot first.

And the London Borough of Sutton has been piloting the use of PDAs and hand-held printers by its social workers.

The innovation has helped cut the length of time necessary for their clients to receive their benefits from 12 weeks to just two.

Rising numbers

Teleworkers were first counted back in 1997.

Teleworkers graph

Then, just 921,000 people said they used telephones or computers to let them work at home or to use their homes as a base for work.

Of these, 737,000 said they couldn't in fact work like this without both a computer and phone.

But by early 2005 the number of teleworkers had shot up to 2,377,000.

And most - 2.1 million - said they depended on their digital technology to work from home.

As a result all teleworkers now make up 8% of the working population, up from 4% in 1997.

However, Alexandra Jones of the Work Foundation says: "It's not as big a rise as some people were once predicting during the hype of the dot-com boom."

Same job or new job?

According to the ONS, the big increase in teleworking has been driven by more people working in different places but using home as their base.

Electronic networking now make it possible for people to work in other remote locations
Labour Market Trends

They far outnumber those who simply stay at home to do their work.

One thing the ONS survey does not resolve, though, is one of the key questions dogging the debate over teleworking.

It remains unclear whether the surging numbers are people who are simply doing the same jobs as before but with the aid of mobile phones and computers - or, instead, doing work that they would never have contemplated before.

Alexandra Jones reckons it could be a combination of both.

"Technology may be creating some opportunities for older workers to set up at home, do some part-time consultancy work and with much lower overheads than in the past," she says.


SEE ALSO
Home working trial proves popular
19 Nov 04 |  Technology
New guidelines for teleworkers
30 Aug 03 |  Business
Teleworking myth exploded
15 Oct 02 |  England
Teleworking soars in the UK
06 Jun 02 |  Business

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