Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited
Teleworking and globalization
Keywords Globalization, Telecommuting
New information technologies are bringing about major upheavals in the global distribution of employment. As telework expert, Ursula Huws, Associate Fellow of the Institute for Employment Studies, observes:
A modern corporation might source software development from India or Russia, data entry from Jamaica or the Philippines, and site call centres in Ireland, New Brunswick or Tasmania. But up to now we have had no way of measuring the employment impacts of this development or predicting future patterns.
Teleworking and Globalisation, published by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), aims to provide an objective balance to the cyber-economy hype. Drawing on 20 years' research on teleworking, and an analysis of over 50 statistical indicators for 206 countries, it sets out a framework for charting the new international division of labour emerging in telemediated information-processing work, identifying the unique role played by each country in this new industrial geography, and benchmarking progress towards a knowledge-based economy.
Where in the world to work
International statistical comparisons make it possible to find out what countries attract particular kinds of telework: call centres, relocated back-offices, software development, data entry, etc., or which, while likely to encourage domestic markets, do not attract export markets. Countries with a good supply of software specialists and with comparatively low wages are strong in the market as destination countries for software development (e.g. Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, the Philippines, China, Indonesia and Brazil). Those which offer the lowest wages, however, will always attract the attention of low-skill data processing. And such work can always be kept moving, to find the cheapest source of labour.
When it comes to attracting telemediated work, even language is not always a precondition. One Chinese data entry facility has been reported as being more reliable than and half the price of US low-skill sources, even though the operators are only familiar with the English alphabet, not the language. Call centres are different, and fluency in English, French or Spanish, for example, is important. But here other factors come into play. Denmark and The Netherlands are in the market for English, and Greece for French, because these are common second languages, whereas former French or Spanish colonies may not have sufficient people with fluency in those languages, or may lack the quality of infrastructure to support a large call centre.
Apart from the state of development of telecommunications infrastructure, other non-human factors are also important, such as the cost to the user of non-dedicated lines. Time zones also matter, when companies are trying to keep call centres, software development, or data entry running 24 hours around the world.
The report also includes an analysis of the UK teleworking workforce, based on the 1998 Labour Force Survey. Understanding the shape and growth trends of telemediated work is a vital part of policy for our own national competitiveness.
Objective information needed
Fashionable debates about both globalization and the information society are high in interest and theory but low in empirical content. Researchers attempting to assess their development find themselves confronted by vague assertions rather than facts; anecdotes rather than hard evidence.
However, the rapid movement of whole classes of work can radically boost a nation's economy or drain it. There are new winners and new losers. A country riding the wave may suddenly be left behind again as the work moves on. Moreover, the economic and social consequences are more rapid and harder to predict, since many of the traditional measures such as occupational and sectoral classifications, and definitions of "organization" or "export", have lost meaning, and new occupations and ways of working have not been universally defined.
This report offers a new framework for analysis which provides comparative information to inform economic and social research (including statistics collection); regional policy; employment and equal opportunities policy; education and training; technology policy; overseas development and aid policy.
Teleworking and Globalisation, by U. Huws, N. Jagger and S. O'Regan (IES Report 358, 1999, ISBN 1 85184 287 X, £30.00) may be purchased from Grantham Book Services Ltd, Isaac Newton Way, Alma Park Industrial Estate, Grantham NG31 9SD. Tel: 01476 541080.