Table of Contents
Digitization Enables Teleworking
Already today, many people work primarily with digital work equipment (software) and digital work objects (e.g. electronic documents). In this context, people often talk about digitally supported knowledge work. We usually think of mental work, both creative and administrative. In the context of Industry 4.0, the proportion of digitally supported work (Work 4.0) will multiply: status and process data from machines and systems are being processed by the new information and communication technologies available anytime via the Internet.
User interventions on machines and systems can also increasingly be done via the Internet. This makes it possible for more commercial employees, technicians and operational engineers to carry out their activities digitally (e.g. inspections, quality diagnosis, Fast and secure telecommunications networks also allow these activities to be carried out from almost anywhere. The same applies to communication with superiors, colleagues, employees, partners and customers. Working anywhere and anytime is also made easier by mobile devices such as smartphones, tablet PCs and SmartWatches, which many people are familiar with from private use.
New software tools for electronic collaboration are also being added. Today, users can more easily share screen views or software applications (view sharing, application sharing). Tools from the social media area enable employees – for example, project employees – and groups of their employees, customers, suppliers and partners to build up common knowledge (wikis) and coordinate and document activities (instant messaging, blogs, platforms ). Many activities can be carried out as telework with the digital technologies mentioned.
In a broad sense, telework is any work performed outside a company’s workplace using telecommunications media. Teleworking typically occurs at home (home office) or on the go (mobile office). In 2015, only 1.6 per cent of employees in Germany worked mainly, and 6.4 per cent sometimes at home. Given the significantly higher proportions in Great Britain, Scandinavia and the Netherlands, this proportion will likely increase in the coming years.
Advantages And Disadvantages, Chances And Risks
Teleworking offers advantages and opportunities for both the company and the employee:
- Working from home avoids daily commutes. Long journey times significantly impact workload, job satisfaction and mental health problems. The risk of commuting accidents decreases.
- Telework offers free time management and can promote work and private life compatibility. However, especially when caring for relatives and childcare, it should be checked whether the parallel attention for professional and family tasks can be mustered while working from home.
- Mobile work allows waiting and travel times to be used productively (e.g. train journeys, waiting times at customers or in hotels).
- Mobile work at other company locations, with customers or value-added partners, enables direct, personal, and sometimes informal communication, with which new market, synergy and learning potentials are often only recognized.
- Teleworking can create new opportunities for uninterrupted work (e.g. at home by temporarily turning off/redirecting the phone/email reception).
- Telework can save office space in the company (shared workstations/desk sharing).
- Telework meets the expectations of younger generations and increases employer attractiveness among this target group.
There Are The Following Disadvantages
- Direct conversation can no longer be used as a management tool and for coordination in everyday work.
- Employees are not available for ad-hoc activities in the workplace (e.g. short-term customer visits).
- Permanent telework risks social isolation (lack of support from superiors and colleagues, exclusion from informal networks).
- Teleworkers can evolve into “lone workers.” That means a loss of know-how if the “lone worker” leaves the company or falls ill. Informal learning between employees is restricted, and professional development can suffer (absence carries the risk of being “forgotten” in qualification and promotion).
- Data security and confidentiality risks can arise when working remotely (e.g. lower security of private telecommunications systems or theft of data carriers when traveling).
- Teleworkers risk becoming overworked (e.g. long hours, too few breaks, too little rest).
- Compliance with ergonomic standards for VDU workstations (cf. Workplace Ordinance) can sometimes take more work to ensure on the go and at home.
Introduction And Design
First, you should check the suitability of the job for teleworking. Tasks that can be clearly defined and fully delegated, for which the employee can assume responsibility for the results, are particularly suitable. This includes creating analyses, performing calculations, creating drawings, coding and testing programs, writing documentation and reports, making telephone or electronic arrangements with customers and suppliers, and organizing trade fairs and events. Activities could be more suitable for telework.
- Where on-site presence is necessary (e.g. »physically« monitoring product quality, receiving customers)
- That occur spontaneously and are difficult to describe via telecommunication (e.g. demonstration or testing of the work process, non-verbal feedback on the understanding of the task),
- Mission-critical and legally critical data (e.g. data from research and development, personnel data) cannot be used and transmitted securely.
Regardless of the type of work task, the following measures are recommended for designing telework:
- Preferably, provide for a change between company attendance times and remote work to maintain direct social relationships with other employees and managers. Teleworkers should participate in meetings, gatherings, quality circles, etc., to be visible in the company or workgroup. Participation via telephone and video conferences is also sufficient, depending on the corporate culture and individual preferences.
- Introduce new employees to the company first. In this way, new employees know people, processes and shared values informally.
- Agree on transparent rules that set out the factual reasons for face-to-face and telework and set (time) limits and creative leeway (e.g. possible combinations of telework with business trips). This helps to create acceptance – even among employees who cannot work remotely.
- Provide teleworkers with safe and ergonomic work equipment (e.g. notebook with docking station, separate screen and external keyboard) and inform or teach about safe and healthy behavior (e.g. breaks and rest periods).