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The Web and How it is Changing the Nature of Work

Many more workers will be freed from the daily drudgery of commuting and office politics as home working becomes increasingly widespread. In this respect technology is acting as a liberator, enabling a return to the more natural cottage industry of the pre-industrial age.

Business Week reports Charlie Grantham, executive producer of consulting firm Work Design Collaborative statement that "about 14% of the U.S. workforce gets its job done at a home office more than two days per week." Business Week also reports a Gartner Group survey finding teleworkers (home workers using computers or telephones) are 40% more productive than their office-based counterparts.

The UK government's Labour Market Trends October 2005 reports that in Spring 2005 there were around 3.1 million people in the UK who worked mainly in or from their own home, of which 2.4 million (some 8% of the workforce) were teleworkers (ie used a telephone and computer to carry out their work). The proportion of teleworkers doubled from 4% of the workforce just 8 years earlier.

Home, or tele, workers may be either employees, freelance or self-employed workers. The arrangement is beneficial both to the individual and their employer/client/customer. Where technology enables a job to be done remotely it is sensible that it is done so, thus saving both on corporate real estate costs and on commuting time, fuel and pollution.

The concept of the "job-for-life" has all but disappeared from most industrialized nations and that of the salaried employee is increasingly becoming an anachronism. An hourly paid employee is actually being rewarded for making a job take as long as possible! The successful information age corporation will typically have a flatter structure in order to facilitate rapid change. It will also utilize temporary, "virtual" teams, formed to meet the requirements of a specific project and disbanded on its conclusion, in the recognition that no two project's requirements are the same. In an earlier era being on the payroll of an established firm may have bought employee loyalty, but since continuing employment is no longer guaranteed so staff mobility has increased.

The new medium provides unprecedented opportunity for small operators. Whittle [Whittle, David B.; Cyberspace: the human dimension; Freeman 1997] writes "The web site of a small company fills just as much of an individual's screen as the web site of a multi-national conglomerate". 'Net shapers such as Yahoo!, Netscape, Amazon, eBay, and even Microsoft all started small, and the trend continues with YouTube and Facebook.

For those that can best innovate new business models the potential rewards of the information age are great. The very survival of those that simply ignore the challenge is in doubt.

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