Monday, May 30, 2011

Reading :: Teleworking in the Countryside

Teleworking in the Countryside: Home-Based Working in the Information Society
By Michael Antony Clark

This 2000 book studies telework in rural Britain. Clark defines teleworkers "by the nature of their work, in that it involves the production and communication of information from home" (p.5). Citing Toffler's prediction of the "electronic cottage" and later concerns that such home-based work is isolating, (p.17), Clark designed a study with two parts: (1) a survey of how telecottages facilitated telework and (2) interview-based case studies of teleworkers.

A word about telecottages. This book was the first source I've read on telecottages, which were typically funded by local development groups and furnished internet connections, computer labs, and training for those who wanted to learn about information and communication technologies (ICT). These were not what later became known as coworking spaces: spaces where teleworkers and others could come to work in each others' presence. In fact, Clark found that telecottages were quite underused, and at the end of the book he recommended "the establishment of a register of teleworkers and the promotion of small business clubs, maybe via telecottages, which could be integrated into a larger European network of teleworkers" (p.173). That is, Clark recognized that teleworkers didn't need ICT access and training so much as they needed places where they could network and work alongside each other. Remarkably, his recommendation predated the coworking movement by about five years.

Back to the study. Clark found that organizations hired teleworkers as part of the general desire to subcontract work (p.94). Teleworkers themselves gave several reasons for wanting to telework: their workstyle, lifestyle, access to childcare, the threat of unemployment, forced unemployment, and being economically active in-migrants (i.e., moving to a rural area but still wanting to work at an old job) (pp.116-127). They appreciated their autonomy, particularly their control over workflows, work tasks, leisure time, and client sectors served (p.148). Such teleworkers knew about telecottages, but "none had used the telecottage as a workspace" (p.143).

"Social isolation was only mentioned by a few respondents as a significant problem," Clark reports (p.155). Local networks reduced isolation for most respondents (p.156), but professional isolation was a problem for all; one complains that "'I've never had it really, the ability to bounce ideas off of somebody else, and this is a common problem'" (p.157).

Although Clark's book was published in 2000, much of Clark's discussion is still quite fresh and relevant to people working from home. If you're interested in the effects of telework, certainly pick it up.

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