Telework Snapshots from Around the Globe

Last week wrapped up the second annual Telework Week here in the US.  Over 69,000 pledged their support for the event, saving approximately $5.5 million and removing over 3,000 tons of pollutants from the air.  Although we here in the US like to believe we are leading the way when it comes to telework, many other countries across the globe are also jumping on the telework bandwagon.  Here are some quick snapshots of ongoing efforts in other parts of the world.

1.  United Kingdom

With the upcoming Olympics, UK Transport Secretary Philip Hammond is urging London employees to telework to cut down the expected travel congestion this summer.  London travelers already have a daily, one-way commute of 45-60 minutes.  According to the CBI / Pertemps Employment Trends Survey last year, approximately half of London employers (46%) already offer telework as an option to their employees.  This is up from 14% three years ago and 11% in 2006.

A longtime supporter of telework, British Telecom began their telework program in 1986 and has 16% of their 92,000 employees currently working  from home.  The company claims that each teleworkers saves the company an average of $9,500 annually, is more productive and takes fewer sick days.

2.  Finland

Finland companies began teleworking in the 1990s.  Now, approximately 1 in 6 Finns telework.  Similar to the US Telework Week, Finland’s environmental administration (SYKE) promoted its first annual Telework Day last September.   The event was aimed at reducing traffic congestion and greenhouse emissions.    

Despite some success, some experts in Finland claim that telework has started to plateau.  The challenge for Finnish employers is the same for many other European and North American firms – organizational culture.   Management style for many companies still tends to be a traditional, in-person approach.  However, many employers take advantage of the accessibility to their employees and increase workloads during off hours, potentially disrupting work-life balance.  Sound familiar?

3.  Iran   

Iran has been in the news a lot lately, but not for their telework efforts.  Almost 2 years ago, the Iranian government began a push to allow more public sector workers to work from home.  The aim of the telework policy is similar to Western nations: reduce traffic congestion, increase work flexibility, and increase productivity.  Although a small percentage of government employees already work from home, Iran has an aggressive goal of enabling 60% of its public sector employees to telework later this year.

4.  United Arab Emirates

Although telework has not been very popular with managers in the United Arab Emirates, who prefer to have line-of-sight to their employees, there is some renewed interest.  Teleworkers have been historically found in IT, translation, and media sectors but now telework is seen as a way to bring more Emirati women into the workforce.  It’s believed that the increased flexibility telework offers can help women in Eastern cultures balance many of the responsibilities inside and outside the home. 

5.  Japan

As one can imagine, more Japanese firms are embracing telework after last year’s 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami.  However, many firms already had telework programs, started in the early 2000s, to allow employees to care for aging relatives or young children.    Companies like Hitachi Ltd, which previously allowed a portion of employees to telework, are now expanding the program to all employees.  Softbank Corp, NEC Corp, Teijin Ltd, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp ,and even the Japanese government are all rolling out telework plans. 

The primary driver toward telework is continuity of operations (COOP).  During last year’s disaster, most of the trains around Tokyo and northeaster Japan stopped, leaving many commuters to sleep in their offices.  However, many Japanese companies are pursuing telework to increase productivity, increase work-life balance, reduce carbon emissions, or save money.   The disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and suspension of other nuclear power facilities are causing Japanese firms to examine ways to reduce electricity needs.

6.  Canada

Canadian telework initiatives kicked off in the 1980s and have increased dramatically over the past decade, according to the Canadian telework Association.  Not surprising considering that 80% of Canadians have broadband access.  By 2008, 40% of Canadian companies offered some type of flexible work arrangement compared to 42% in the US.  One of the most successful telework campaigns, in my opinion, is Calgary’s WORKshift initiative.  WORKshift is a “regional initiative to promote, educate and accelerate the adoption of telecommuting in the business community.”  It is definitely the best branded program I’ve seen and has already produced tangible benefits to the Calgary area.        

Don’t see your home country mentioned above?  Let me know the state of telework where you live.

-Jason

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