The fundamental concept of telework is location independence, the idea that one’s work can be independent of one’s physical location. The bad news is that location independence is usually restricted to information workers; those whose work consists mainly of generating, manipulating or transforming information.
The good news is that roughly three-fifths of the population of developed countries are information workers and about 80% of their work is partially or totally location independent. A little quick arithmetic shows that about half of the workforce of developed countries are potential teleworkers.
The next bad news, to those in developed countries, or good news, to those in developing countries, is that a growing part of the workforces in developing countries are location independent information workers who can and will work for less money than workers in developed countries. This is the core of the well publicized problem called outsourcing; moving work from America or the UK to India, for example. I picked India in this example because Indians have one advantage over workers in other developing countries: English is a very familiar language for them. English is the de facto international language of business. So the most important barrier to information worker location independence—lack of a common language—does not exist for many educated Indians (or Pakistanis or Filipinos, among others). Consequently, there has been considerable hue and cry in recent years about information jobs, such as call center and other information services work, moving to India.
Now comes Tom Friedman, of the New York Times, with a May 19th column about the next phase of adoption of location independence. Friedman describes a conversation with Ramalinga Raju, chairman of India’s Satyam Computer Services, an outsourcee of information services work from the U.S., in which Mr. Raju describes outsourcing some of his work from the big city to villages in India. Friedman further reports that Google Finance “. . . was entirely conceived by the Google team in India and then Google engineers from around the world fed into that team ” rather than the project’s being driven by Google headquarters in Silicon Valley. Aroundsourcing.
One of the major side effects of telework, as I have stated for a few decades, is that it brings the world closer together. People really can work together apart. As the work becomes interconnected, all parties in the new networks can benefit. Now Tom Friedman has provided some new examples of this work in progress.