Notiziario del LavoroReview of Corporate Organization and Culture
|Special Issue: Teleworking|
International experiences: organization and new culture
Organizational fitting and diffusion of new culture: internal telework at Telecoms
Patrizio Di Nicola,
"La Sapienza" University, Rome,
Coordinator Work & Technology Association
Exchanges and mixtures amongst formal and informal experiences are likely to be the best way develop teleworking within Telcos. Such an exchange does not happen, anyway, automatically. Therefore, before adopting teleworking, successful strategies must be adapted to specific organizational features.
The road of telework is strewn with fascinating prophecies that never came true. In 1979 the American and Japanese telephone companies - AT&T and NTT - were convinced that within no more than twenty years practically all and certainly not less than two thirds of the employees of their respective countries would be teleworking. Two years later, following some very thorough studies, British Telecom arrived at the conclusion that telework, considering only the United Kingdom, could be applied to more than 13 million people (cfr. Huws, 1994; 1994a).
The eighties opened with a book (1988, original edition 1980) by Alvin Toffler, a futurologist, that gave new impetus to the dream of telework for the greater part of the population of the industrialized world: families would be re-united, work would become more flexible and less stressing, in short, it would be humanized. Telework forecasts assumed new vigour: in France they expected to have 400,000 teleworkers within the space of a few years, while the American research institutes were speaking at times of 40% of all activities being suitable for teleworking and at others about 15 million future telecommuters. "Empirica", one of the leading German think tanks, thought that there might soon be more than ten million teleworkers in the principal European countries (Cepollaro, 1986, page 150). Ten years later, however, Korte and Wynne used funereal tones: "The more recent the estimates, the less optimistic they become; the various authors are discovering that telework is spreading only at a very slow rate, notwithstanding the constant evolution" (Korte, 1995, page 18). Why is it that telework has not got off the marks as quickly as the early prophets expected? The technology at the disposal of businesses at the time - and all the more so today, following the advent of the personal computer and low-cost data transmission networks - made it possible to do one's work without going to the office. And the advantages of telework - at least those on which practically all the prophets insisted: lower costs, greater motivation, benefits for the collectivity, etc. - are all well known. And yet this was not sufficient to enable telework to pass from the laboratory to the market, from pioneer initiatives to widespread application. Its technical practicability failed to trigger the will to develop it. If - as the European Union's Expert Group on Information Society reminds us, the expansion of telework depends "on the initiative of businesses and individuals" (Luc Soete et al., 1996, page 20), this initiative has proved far from irresistible. Is it that businesses found it to be unprofitable? This may well be the case. In fact: "From a technical point of view, it probably makes little or no difference whether you place a workstation in Alaska or the office next door, but an enterprise will exploit this possibility only if it proves economically advantageous (Telecom Italia, 1996, page 16).
Put in a nutshell, telework - be it on n individual or a network basis - has failed to coagulate the attention of the business world and has not brought into being a strategic vision seeking its adoption as a possible instrument of greater flexibility: "Telework is more than working away from the office. It is significant not only because it is associated with the information and communication technologies, but also because it implies new systems of work management and organization" (Luc Soete et al., 1996, page vi). Though telework satisfies all the requirements for playing the role of a new work paradigm, it has failed to assume this part in the culture of businesses and individuals. Quite a few of the businesses that have experimented with telework were attracted by the possible and immediate cost reduction; others considered it a particularly elaborate "streamlining" mechanisms but, all said and done, of little or no economic advantage: "If an activity can be 'delocalized' (from both the technical and the strategic point of view), it is better to turn to outsourcing and benefit from competition among the suppliers" (Telecom Italia, 1996, page 16). There are only very, very few businesses in the international panorama that have used the modern information technologies, of which telework is an offspring, for a complete rethinking of their organizational structure and management style. As the European Commission notes, what is lacking is a cultural approach to the new technologies that will permit them to become internalized in company organization (European Commission, 1996, page 10).
This situation is underlain by a great variety of causes: first and foremost, there is the fact that the citizens, and therefore both the workers and the businesses, are not by any means familiar with present-day information and communication technologies. A survey carried out in the United States in 1994 reached the conclusion that an individual's capacity of using the instruments of telematics was directly correlated with his readiness to telework. 60% of those who possessed a computer and a modem had spent at least one day working at home in the weeks immediately preceding the interview: this figure went down to 42% for those who had only a computer and amounted to no more than 20% among all the others (Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press, 1994). The need for formation is stressed also by the European Commission, who suggest that periods of unemployment should be used for learning the technologies that constitute the basis of the modern information society: "Rather than having nine million unemployed who become dequalified ... the member states should have nine million people involved in professional updating" (European Commission, 1996, page 22).
But who should have "created business culture" in the matter of telework, developing pilot examples and facilitating emulation processes? The great multinational companies or the small businesses? The advanced tertiary sector or the public administration? Those who are expanding or those who have to defend themselves in the market? Could it be - and here we come to the question mark underlying the present study - that the optimal candidates for absolving this task are the major telecommunication companies? All said and done, the Telecoms can expect substantial advantages from the use of telework and, more generally, the insertion of modern information technologies in their workstations. In fact:
a) The telecoms are companies of giant size, with tens of thousand of employees. Their presence is truly capillary, with personnel, offices and structures in practically every corner of the country they serve. Their product - the processing and transfer of information - is non-material, obtained by means of advanced technologies and, almost by definition, readily teleworkable. Delocalization of activities would render their production process more flexible, as also their relations with user and the supply of their services. Lastly, telework represents a low-cost innovation for the telecoms, because ownership of the networks and the communication technologies is vested in them. Often exclusively so.
b) Experimenting, producing and "selling" integrated solutions for telework could constitute an important line of business for the Telecoms. There is the possibility of stimulating new markets for hard- and software dedicated to a wide variety of specific sectors, from SOHO (Small Office Home Office) right through to the great company networks, tackling aspects like data security, productivity instruments for dispersed work groups, multimediality, and the ergonomics of integrated telework stations. Lastly, of course, telework has an immediate impact on the basic products of the Telecoms: networks, hi-speed links, and data traffic.
It is evident, therefore, that research regarding the spread or, rather, the non-spread of telework must move its first steps from the experiences of the telecommunication companies. Some of these companies, as we shall see, have used telework internally more or less in laboratory conditions and in a strategic manner, generating - at time more by accident than design - a cultural management fertilization process. The solutions they offer the market are "global": though they take due account of the technological problems, they embrace also the psycho-sociology of work, the repositioning of the productive organization, contractual problems and trade union relations, the problems associated with data security, intellectual property and other legal aspects. As we shall see in the six cases analyzed in the present study, these telecoms have contributed - each according to their own company traditions - to the growth both within and without their own structures of an extensive culture that sees telework as modern instrument, though certainly not the only one, for promoting organizational flexibility.
Internal Telework experience: an overview
MCI, Telstra and Pacific bell are telecommunication managers with extensive telework experience. Their cases, though not falling within the group we have described as "excellent", are particularly interesting on account of the fact that they develop formal and even more often informal approaches to telework that readily lend themselves to being repeated outside the immediate company environment.
The telework strategy of MCI is centered on the personnel in charge of sales and the technicians who provide customer assistance. It is therefore concerned with personnel particularly suitable for mobile telework. In April 1995 this company commenced the automation of their officials working in the field (a total of about 5000 employees), who were supplied width computers, software, network technologies and everything else necessary to enable them to carry out their work without necessarily having to go to the office at the end or the beginning of the day. The investment involved was of the order of 50 million dollars. The second phase of the experiment consists of the construction of rally centres. The first was inaugurated in Boston of 24 January 1996, while some 200 others will eventually be opened in various places in the United States, involving an overall cost of 25 million dollars.
The rally centre is not a classical telecentre, but rather a place of encounter for the sales personnel who normally telework: Rick Ellenberg, director of the project, defines it as "the virtual work place". Thanks to a very advanced architectural design based mobile paneling and furniture, each centre can accommodate more people than a classical office. At Boston, for example, some 138 salesmen and 25 "stable" employees can be accommodated in an are of 7000 sqare meters, a saving of about 35% as compared with traditional offices. There is a very substantial rotation of personnel during the course of the day, facilitated by a computerized space booking system. Conceptually, at least, the operating system is very simple: in the light of his particular needs, each salesman books a desk (or a meeting table) for a certain day and time. The booking system tells him the telephone number assigned to him for the duration of his stay at the centre, as also the colleagues he will find there. The rally centre is made up of four principal environments as follows:
The heart of the virtual office is equipped with a semicircular bar, complete with tables and chairs and a maxi-screen that can be used for running videocassettes for training purposes and video demonstrations of new products.
This is an area equipped with small personal lockers, each with its own key, trolleys for filing documents, etc. All the equipment is mounted on wheels and can therefore be quickly moved to the assigned work places.
This is an area dedicated to individual work and is characterized by a low noise level, thus facilitating concentration. It could be likened to the reading room of library.
This is the conference area of the centre and is provided with meeting tables, projection equipment and videoconference and telephone facilities. Thanks to the improved communications between their field personnel, MCI expect that the new rally centres will increase productivity by about 30%.
Telstra are Australia's largest telecommunication operators. They are running three telework experiments at the present time: telework from home for a wide range of professional figures, mobile telework for technicians engaged in assistance work, each of whom can access the central office database via a portable computer, and "virtual office" for the account executives.
The first of these experiments is the oldest and the most important of the three. In May 1992 the company launched a telework experiment for 31 employees, who henceforth were to work at home for two or three days each week. At first the group suffered from a very high "mortality" rate: by September of the first year only 22 people were still continuing the experiment, thus demonstrating that, notwithstanding the very best intentions that had led the original group to volunteer for the experiment, the problems deriving from the need for reconfiguring one's family and social life constitute, at least in the short term, a very real and consistent obstacle. The experiment also involved the sectoral trade union organizations and eventually gave rise to a teleworking contract (the so-called Teleworking Agreement and Implementation Procedures), which in May 1994 was approved and certified by the Industrial Relation Committee. The agreement covers the following aspects:
- Definition of the appropriate work typologies (those that "imply a high level of autonomy and personal independence, for example, activities involving design, research, market analysis, report writing") and the inappropriate ones ("work that calls for intensive face-to-face interaction with superiors or other members of one's own work group");
- Conditions of the labour relationship, which remain substantially unchanged, with the exception of the transport allowance for travelling while on duty, which are now calculated on the basis of "the work place - office or home - where the employee spends the greater part of his time";
- Work organization. The agreement envisages that employees may work in their own homes for not more than fifteen days in twenty and that he must attend the office for meetings, encounters and updating courses;
- Relations with small children. In this respect the agreement affirms that "telework is not a means for taking care of children or other family members". The worker "must therefore make sure that any persons depending on him will obtain any necessary assistance from third parties while he is working";
- Assessment of results. This is subject to the same mechanisms as are used for other employees, though it is specified that any automatic result measuring systems (even if applied to all) are not to be used as the exclusive means of individually assessing the teleworkers;
- Work environment and employee safety. The agreement makes explicit reference to the regulations in force in Australia. Respect of safety standards is to be certified by the company's "environmental safety delegate"; the result of inspections carried out at the employee's home is to be communicated to the union;
- Care and maintenance of equipment installed in the employee's home: items of equipment owned by the company are to be used without in any way modifying their original configuration;
- Security of company information: this matter is subject to the same regulations as are applied to office workers;
- Communications with superiors and trade union officials: Relations with managers are normally to take place in the office. But the agreement also envisages the right of superiors to go to the employee's home to discuss " work topics". In this case the employee must be given at least one day's notice and may ask that a third party enjoying his confidence be present at the discussions. The same rule is applied to the visits of trade union officials, but the employee has the right to refuse such visits.
This agreement has hitherto been applied to little more than a hundred individual cases, and this notwithstanding the fact that Telstra now have several thousand teleworkers. The greater part of these, evidently, preferred to continue their work from home in an informal manner, based on individual agreements with their direct superior.
Pacific Bell, unlike the others, have made very little ado about their internal telework experiments, because they consider them to constitute a normal practice in support of work flexibility. Ever since the 'seventies, in fact, many of the company's employees, especially those of a medium to high level, have engaged in occasional work from home, generally for some days each week or some hours each day. There were also frequent cases where officials, to cope with work situations of particular urgency, prepared documents and reports at home after the official working hours. Contact with the office evolved in the course of time and was maintained in various ways: access to internal electronic mail, dispatch by telefax, telephone communications, etc. These initiatives, however, were in no manner or wise co-ordinated at the central level and were generally taken on the basis of agreements reached with peripheral executives and in an absolutely informal manner between the worker concerned and his direct superior. The decisive stimulus for the development of telework in the case of Pacific Bell (and many other American companies) came form the approval in 1990 of a federal law on environmental protection, the so-called Clean Air Act, and its implementation by the local government agency responsible for the South Coast Air Quality Management District. The agency issued an autonomous directive that obliged companies with more than 100 employees to attain a ratio of 1.5 between employees present in the office and cars on the move (1). As is well known, the purpose of these regulations was to induce businesses and public administrations to adopt telework as a means of reducing both traffic and the air pollution caused by it. Pacific Bell thus found themselves faced with a great demand for services, equipment and advices for transforming work places in the office into telework activities. In 1994 the company joined the Southern California Emergency Telecommuting Partnership, a consortium of public agencies and private companies, to promote telework as an instrument capable of being used in the event of environmental disasters. In 1995 they opened an Internet site to diffuse their "Telecommuting Guide", a document of considerable importance developed by the company on the basis of their own experiments (2).
The story of Pacific Bell is typical of other American telephone companies who benefited from (and were obliged to consider the possibilities of telework by) the policies adopted by the public administrations. But it would be mistaken to attribute the birth of a robust telework culture solely and exclusively to legislative intervention. A fundamental part was also played the telephone companies' search for new organizational paradigms capable of reducing costs and increasing work flexibility in an extensively deregulated market. The reduction of technology costs constituted a boon for all the companies; there thus commenced a search for new productive models intended to curtail personnel costs. A good example is constituted by the booking services of such major hotel chains as Best Western, who today avail themselves to a very large extent of female detainees in appropriately equipped state prisons. According to Joan Pratt, who studied this particular aspect of telework, the companies who employ prison labour obtain many advantages: a low turnover, low pay, and a high satisfaction level among these rather anomalous employees (3).
The excellent cases
This paragraph will be dedicated to the description of three other cases, those of British Telecom (BT), Bell Canada and Sweden's Telia, that must be considered as constituting some of the most successful examples of how national Telecoms have introduced telework among their own staffs. The special feature common to these three companies is that they did not have the benefit of any outside contributions (for example, legislation to stimulate telework) and found their way into the telework arena solely on the basis of internal experiments, in the course of which they developed and produced an ample documentation that extended well beyond the purely technical aspects.
Telework in British Telecom
The Inverness experiment
The first telework experiment lasted for a year and was commenced in June 1992 and involved eleven telephone operators of the Directory Assistance service at Inverness, in Northern Scotland (4). The experiment was primarily carried out for study and research reasons and was therefore designed by BT's Research Laboratories at Martlesham Heath, near Ipswich. Mike Gray, an electronic engineer who had joined the laboratory in 1972 and in 1988 had become head of its Teleworking Application Group, acted as Project Director. The purpose of the experiment was as follows:
- to demonstrate that telephone operators of the assistance centres could do their work from home;
- to explore the extent to which normal office equipment could be transferred to an employee's home without having to undergo far-reaching modifications; - to understand how telework problems, be they technical or otherwise, could be successfully solved;
- to investigate the manner in which technology can support the work of operators and supervisors;
- to see whether the benefits expected from telework really represent concrete advantages for the parties involved;
- to determine the requirements that are indispensable for applying telework on a large scale at the dial assistance centres.
The experiment had been preceded by a series of thorough studies of telework. in 1990, in particular, the BT laboratories had produced a background report that highlighted the co-ordinates within which future applications in the telephone sector would have to move (BT, 1990). The following year they published a report about telework involving handicapped people (BT, 1991a), another about the influence of telework on family life (BT, 1991b), and had also produced a first guide for managers who had telecommuters working for them (5). Nor was there any lack of detailed studies concerning the domestic working environment. It was quite clear that the ergonomic characteristics of the work stations had to be defined before commencing the experiment, paying particular attention to their aesthetic and functional impact on the home environment (BT, 1992). This led to the design of an integrated work station that could be closed when it was not in use. The basic equipment to be installed in the operators' homes was perfected at the beginning of the experiment. It was to consist of a computer connected to the central database, a console for responding to the user calls, and an ISDN line for the connections. But the feasibility studies and the need for testing innovative and advanced solutions suggested the additional inclusion of equipment and technical solutions intended to facilitate communications between the operator, her colleagues and the manager. The work station eventually used in the experiment thus consisted not only of these basic elements, but also included a videotelephone (integrated into the computer) for contacting the supervisor and interacting with colleagues during breaks from work (6) and a series of other instruments thought to be useful for reducing isolation risks to a minimum, including:
- electronic mail for direct communication with the centre;
- an electronic bulletin board (BBS) for all-round communications;
- a preferential mail system (Newsflash) for urgent communications;
- an SOS system for informing the supervisor of any domestic emergencies;
- a Comfort Break to introduce a pause into the operator's shift.
The results obtained from the experiment were in line with expectations (7) and furnished a great deal of additional information that proved particularly useful: - It brought out the importance of the audio-visual means (videotelephone) as instruments that substantially facilitate communication and interaction. But subject to some qualifications: though the teleworkers greatly appreciated the possibility of seeing their superior while they were talking to her (8), they made far less use of the possibility of interacting with their colleagues at the telecentre.
- It was noted that the support that the supervisor gave to the teleworkers tended to drop after the initial phases of the experiment. This phenomenon considerably aggravated the sense of isolation of the teleworkers and led Company F to pay greater attention to the problem of the managerial handling of their teleworkers.
- Though substantially expected by both the teleworkers and the technicians who had designed the experiment, the sense of isolation had not really constituted a problem. In fact, the greater part of the teleworkers preferred to do their own chores during the breaks rather than trying to socialise via the network as had initially been expected.
- The statistics collected during the year of the experiment showed that working at home does not change the hourly productivity of the workers and does not even exert any effects on the absence rates due to illness. This result was in blatant contradiction with a great deal of the previous publicity material, though this had been produced in connection with a somewhat different type of work: programmers, analysts, technicians, etc. But there was a very strong impression among both the teleworkers and their supervisors that in many cases work at home had avoided absences from work that would otherwise have occurred (9). The UCW (Union of Communication Workers, a trade union since merged into the Communication Workers Union) also produced a report on the Inverness experiment, which proved rather more sceptical than that of the company. According to the union organization, who had stipulated and ad hoc agreement with BT about the carrying out of the experiment, there can be no doubt "that the debate about the merits and demerits of telework will continue. There is only one thing that is certain for the moment: it is of vital importance that the trade unions should be involved and be put in a position to play a significant role, and this not only to defend the members directly concerned as best they can, but also in the interest of their future recruits" (10).
The Southampton experiment
Notwithstanding the experience acquired as a result of the first experiment, BT did not introduce the practice of telework to any appreciable extent among their employees working at the dial assistance centres. Two years were to pass from the end of this experiment before a telesales centre implemented a pilot project that caused 12 of their 25 telephone operators to be transferred to a workstation at home (11). Participation was wholly on a voluntary basis and subject to a selection test in accordance with the following three guide criteria:
a) the apartment had to be suitable not only as regards equipment security, but also free from typical home noise (small children, animals, ecc.);
b) the apartment had to be situated in an area where an ISDN was available;
c) the chosen candidates had to have a good individual curriculum (good work performance, low absenteeism rate, sense of self-discipline, ecc.).
Following extensive negotiations with the trade unions, the candidates, who originally were full-time employees (37 hours per week), were told that they could participate in the telework experiment if they accepted a part-time job for 25 hours per week, a figure that was subsequently raised to 30 when the company came face to face with the difficulty of recruiting volunteers who were prepared to accept such a sharp downturn in their working hours and income. The teleworkers were assigned rather flexible turns, indeed, to quite an appreciable extent they could fix their working hours by agreement among themselves, but also had an obligation to cover the critical times (beginning and end of the working hours of the centre, to cover the gaps left by latecomers and early leavers) and to work on Saturdays. Bearing in mind the more favourable conditions that would eventually be enjoyed by the group of people working from home, their sales targets were also set at a somewhat higher level than for their colleagues who continued to work at the centre. The experiment is still in course and trade union sources, at first rather sceptical about a successful outcome of these trials, have recently admitted that, notwithstanding the limitations imposed on the probands, it seems to be looked upon with favour by both BT and the employees actually involved (Bibby, 1996).
Telework among executives
Although the first experiment carried out by BT is the one that is most frequently cited in literature (12), they subsequently implemented - in May 1992, to be precise - a form of telework that is particularly innovative, at least when one looks at the panorama of the major telecommunication companies in Europe. In September of that year, in fact, the company and the Society of Telecom Executives (STE) signed an agreement that made it possible for executives and members of Telecom's middle management to work from home. This agreement was at first accorded a great deal of publicity by both the company and the union representatives. In this case, once again, BT were primarily concerned with experimenting both the problems and the advantages associated with telework for this particular category of users, thinking also of a possible future market offer. The text of the agreement specified that, on a voluntary basis, all BT managers could apply to be allowed to work from home, though there could not, of course, be any guarantee that their request would be automatically accepted. The application was to be evaluated by the candidate's immediate superior, who was to interview the candidate and the submit a report to his own superior, who was to make the final decision. The aspects taken into consideration in this decisional process were as follows:
- Personal characteristics. The candidate must be strongly motivated in his relations with the company and in his telework intention, have a sense of self-discipline and be capable of working with a minimum of supervision and in the absence of social contacts. This had to be supplemented by good organizational capacities and an aptitude for avoiding risks at work (13).
- Characteristics of the candidate's duties. The candidate had to be reasonably autonomous in his work and capable of maintaining management control and the necessary human contacts with the employees even while working from his home.
- Domestic conditions. The candidate's home had to be suitable for work (existence of isolated or isolable parts) and for the safe keeping of the necessary documents and equipment (out of the reach of children and animals). If children or old people in need of assistance lived in the candidate's home, the necessary assistance had to be provided by persons other than the teleworker.
Once the teleworking request had been accepted, the specific conditions were to be defined in detail by means of an individual agreement, which nevertheless had to contain at least the following conditions agreed between the company and the STE:
- the working hours were to remain unchanged (except in cases where the candidate asked to be transferred to a part-time regime);
- the salary, end-of-service gratuity and pension were likewise to remain unchanged;
- the travelling allowance in respect of missions was to be calculated by considering the home as the place of work;
- the pay differential in favour of employees based in the London area was to remain in force only for those who actually lived there;
- the additional expenses sustained in respect of heating and electricity consumption were to be reimbursed by the company;
- the equipment was to be provided, installed and maintained by BT, who were also to provide any necessary training;
- BT were to assist the employee in complying with the bureaucratic formalities associated with the use office equipment in his home. In particular, the company committed themselves to ensuring that the insurance of the home would not become more burdensome in view of the promiscuous use of the premises;
- nothing was to change as regards co-responsibility for work safety as envisaged by the Health and Safety At Work Act of 1974, an aspect that implied freedom of access for the purpose of checking the equipment;
- every accident had was to be reported to the office at the earliest possible moment, and was to be subject to the same insurance cover as was enjoyed by personnel working in the office;
- the special insurance cover for executives was to remain in force also for those transferred to telework;
- teleworkers were still obliged to go to the office to attend meetings and carry out activities that could not be performed at home, while all information normally distributed in the office was to be appropriately conveyed also to the teleworker's home;
- nothing was to changes as regards career possibilities, human development, and individual training.
As is readily apparent, the philosophy underlying the agreement adumbrated a condition of "quasi-definitive removal" from the office environment. But what happened in actual practice was very different. Though the magnitude of the phenomenon was not made officially known, outside observers affirm that the greater part of the managers who asked to become teleworkers continued to make more or less regular appearances in the office, limiting their work at home to tasks - like reading or drafting complex documents - that are best performed in a more peaceful environment or when their presence in the home was made necessary by family circumstances. In short, the greater part of BT's executives regarded telecommuting as a possibility of rendering their work more flexible and optimising use of their time.
Following the experiments we have just reviewed, which also brought in its wake a considerable production of literature on telework (14), British Telecom drew up a series of recommendations about telework that covered both its technical and socio-psychological aspects and also designed various helpful items of equipment for use in this field (mini videoconference system running on PCs, use of multimedial instruments, work stations for use in home environments, ecc.). The results of the study were circulated to all the company's divisions and stimulated the marketing of specific telework products and services that were managed by a new office (Telework Marketing) set up within the Marketing Division.
Telework at Bell Canada
Telework within Bell Canada commenced in a rather subdued manner: from the beginning of the seventies onwards, a number of local managers allowed some of their employees to access the company networks from home, mainly with a view to enabling them to carry out urgent work outside office hours or to avoid loss of working time on the occasions when adverse weather conditions prevented them from reaching the office. There thus came into being the first telework programmes, which became known as Alternative Work Arrangement, a name that did not even make express use of such words as telework or telecommuting. The programme was unilateral, without formally involving either the company or the trade unions, and for the most part was established by means verbal agreements between the worker concerned and his immediate superior. This process of "implicit telework" tended to expand with the passage of time and the further development of the computer and telematical technologies, which not only made it possible for the employees to perform an ever larger number of even complex tasks from their own homes, but also provided the companies with the necessary means for "opening" the company networks to external connections at a low cost, while yet maintaining reasonable levels of data security.
According to a recent survey, almost 70% of the employees of Bell are now authorized to access the company information system from their own homes, though the equipment used for this purpose is generally their own property. The principal use that is made of this possibility is bound up with the preparation of reports and the reading and transmission of electronic mail, even though in many cases this is done with the help of specialized software installed in the remote computer. The necessary connections are established by means of normal modems and use of the urban telephone lines. The security problems are generally solved by means of either a password or, more frequently, a signature system that requires the user to insert a special ID card in a magnetic reader connected to his home computer.
Bell officialized their internal telework in March 1995. Administration of the new programme, now known as Teleworking Option was entrusted to a newly set up intercompany committee.
A practical teleworking guide was prepared at the beginning of 1996. It consists of a basic document and six appendices, each of which is intended to solve some specific operational aspects bound up with telework (15). The publication also includes a teleworking contract agreed with the unions. The document in question is organized in the form of a questionnaire that makes it extremely straightforward to assess the various factors and circumstances that either suggest or counsel against the adoption of teleworking in the various work situations. The following are particularly interesting:
- Appendix 2, dedicated to the managers who have to select telework candidates. It suggests that scores are to be attributed to twelve "qualities" (experience, competence, capacity for managing time, sense of organization, autonomy, spirit of initiative, motivation, determination, acceptance of company culture, self-discipline, results of previous assessments, characteristics of the candidate's specific work) that should become the basis for calculating individual suitability for telework;
- Appendix 3, likewise dedicated to the managers, which presents a series of formulas that readily lend themselves for quantifying the costs and benefits that can reasonably be expected from telework;
- Appendix 6, a questionnaire for telework candidates and intended as a means for evaluating individual, professional and environmental suitability for telework. Following this document, therefore, the local managers (who are also to be responsible for signing the actual telework agreements with their subordinates) would adopt a logic procedure very similar to the one shown in the form of ma flow chart in Figure 1.
The telework agreement
A word or two should here be said also about the telework agreement defined by Bell and CTEA, one of the two unions (16) who have members among Bell's employees. The contract, which in each individual case has to be stipulated in written form, is voluntary and reversible at the request of either party. Candidate and supervisor must first of all agree the applicable form of the proposed telework, which is essentially the result of the combination of three basic factors:
a) definition of the locality where the telework is to be performed, which may be the employee's home, a motor car, a satellite office or a special office shared with other teleworkers;
b) telework timetable, to be used for determining the share of the employee's weekly work that is to be performed from home (17) and the type of timetable (i.e. fixed or flexible, with or without paid overtime);
c) means to be employed, which may or may not be Bell's property (at the option of the individual employee concerned).
Aptitude for transfer to telework (i.e. suitability of candidate's home, security problems, family circumstances, motivation, impact on office organization, ecc.) is assessed by the management on the basis of pre-established parameters, which are therefore known also to the candidates. Preliminary authorization must be obtained from an appropriate local commission on which the trade unions are also represented. Bell provide the appropriate equipment (if so requested), all necessary technical assistance and a fixed allowance to cover expenses (electricity, telephone, heating, ecc.). The employees that have so far become involved in the "official" telework programme number about 2500 (18) and cover a wide range of different occupations, though with a decided predominance of programmers, researchers and analysts. The various services providing telephone assistance to users, on the other hand, have only very rare representatives among the teleworkers; this is explained by the high cost of the necessary investments.
The market offer
Bell Canada are also the company who contributed the largest quantity of commercial documentation to the present research project. They are also one of the few Telecoms who use an institutional Internet site to provide a complete overview of their available telework solutions (19), which they subdivide into eight different application typologies as follows:
a) Solutions for individuals:
- after hours, for occasional teleworkers;
- part-time or full-time telework on a continuous basis;
- telework associated with advanced connection needs to a company LAN;
- home agent, for people engaged in tele-sales or teleservices;
- mobile telework.
b) solutions for companies:
- individual teleworkers;
- teleworkers with multiple remote access modes;
- large-scale remote access.
Bell supplement their offer of appropriate hard - and software with a series of consultancy proposals in connection with the implementation of telework in companies that include the following:
- design and management of telework experiments;
- development of company case studies;
- study of potential teleworker requirements;
- consultancy for company communication and/or reorganization solutions;
- testing and corroborating hardware and software for telework;
- equipment transfer between remote offices;
- training courses for workers and executives;
- help desk services for telework.
The wealth of available documentation is inspired not only by Bell's "aggressiveness" in the market, but also by their desire to diffuse telework as a practicable and advantageous organizational solution from which they themselves have obtained considerable benefit.
The case of Sweden's Telia
Sweden is in many respects an ideal country for telework. It has a very low population density, which amounts to no more than 19 inhabitants per km2 (as compared with a European average of 145!); the available dwelling space is very considerable, about 47 m2 per person; the country not only has one of the most advanced telephone systems in the world, but also one of the most deregulated markets in Europe, where Telia (the former monopoly operator known as Televerket) face the competition of both Tele 2 and such foreign companies as British Telecom, America's AT&T, France Telecom and Singapore Telecom; the country is very large and cold, so that travel, at least in some periods of the year, becomes decidedly problematical. Furthermore, the cost of living in Stockholm is so great as often to discourage people from accepting promotions that would require them to move to the country's capital city. These factors are already sufficient to explain why in 1995 about a million people, the equivalent of 29% of the total working population, were working at least occasionally from home, with a predominance of males between 35 and 45 years of age, generally with a university degree; however, a substantial slice (23%) of these teleworkers were mere occasional (see Figure 2). But the diffusion of telework in Sweden is due also to the support it now receives from the trade unions. At their 1982 congress, TCO, Sweden's largest trade union confederation of white collar workers (it represents about 90% of all the office workers) had still assumed an attitude of strong opposition: the congress resolution said quite explicitly that the union "had to be resolute in their opposition to computer-assisted work done from the employee's own home".
At their 1985 congress, however, TCO (and especially the union of bank employees) decided to set up a telework study commission. It was chaired by P.G. Svensson, a union official already well known for being a teleworker. The report the commission presented in 1987 bore the title At Just the Right Distance and represented what might be described as a half-conversion in favour of telework, of which the commission recognized the potential of rendering work more flexible and improving the conditions of life of those who practiced it. But the report expressed itself in sceptical terms as regards the future expansion of this type of work. Indeed. it affirmed:
- that employers would not be able to control their staffs in a satisfactory manner;
- that telework was an obstacle as regards identification with the company;
- that it was difficult to ensure data security;
- that the cost of the new technologies would remain high for a long time to come;
- that the union request that telework should only be part-time and that the employees concerned should preserve the place of work in the office would constitute an economic obstacle for employers;
- that the necessary cultural modifications would not be easy to obtain. Notwithstanding these doubts, the TCO document in question created the opening for a negotiation process based on a number of well-established and generally accepted positions regarding telework (20). Put in a nutshell, the basic requests that the unions asked the employers to respect were as follows:
- telework was to be voluntary, partial and subject to acceptance by the local unions;
- the part of the duties performed at home was to be capable of being controlled by the employee himself;
- the teleworker was to retain all the rights enjoyed all the right enjoyed by those working in the office;
- the employer was to bear all the additional expenses and obtain the necessary authorizations;
- the suitability of the place of work was to be checked and certified by the union's own work safety officers.
This open-minded attitude of the unions, however, does not seem to have given rise to any generalized contractual practice. In a recent study, in fact, Niklas Bruun puts its as follows: "Labour law does not consider teleworkers to constitute a specific group. Even collective telework agreements have so far constituted rare exceptions rather than the rule. The greater part of the teleworkers have informal agreements with their employers that enable them to work from home (or from any other appropriate place). Only a few of them have written individual contracts in the true sense of the term that specify the conditions of employment in some detail" (Bruun & Johnson, 1995). All said and done, therefore, even in the Swedish case telework is an informal practice - a useful instrument for rendering work more flexible to be agreed at an individual level - rather than the result of a formal and collective negotiation mechanism.
Telia are a major telecommunication operator and dispose of a wide range of technical solutions capable of being applied to teleworking. They are also one of the few national companies who have developed a capacity of designing and realizing telecentres in the true sense of the term. The circulation of information about telework, an operation considered of strategic importance for its further spread, is entrusted to an externalized division that operates under the name of Teldok and produces periodic reports about the practical application of the new communication technologies, organizes seminars and conferences, and carries out research projects and experiments.
Internal telework is widely used in this company, but it is not equally well documented and, as elsewhere in this particular country, springs more from an empirical practice than a rigorous contractual approach. In this informal context, therefore, considerable importance attaches to an experiment recently carried out by Telia Research AB in collaboration with the Stockholm School of Economics.
The experiment, designed for a duration of twelve months, was set out to study eleven teleworkers within the company (for the most part either software engineers or telecommunication specialists) and a control group of identical size made up of people who for one reason or another have become indirectly involved in teleworking problems: colleagues, husbands or wives of teleworkers, personnel responsible for computer maintenance, middle-grade employees who have teleworkers among the staff they control, executives and administrators of the services affected by teleworking.
The first results of this study were recently presented in the course of a conference (Rognes et ali, 1996) and highlighted no less than four paradoxes:
- The rigidity/flexibility paradox
Notwithstanding the fact that greater flexibility is often cited as one of the principal reasons that make it desirable for both companies and employees to have recourse to telework, the experiment under consideration clearly pinpointed the existence of a limiting factor. Even before they were selected for the experiment, all the teleworkers involved enjoyed a great deal of freedom in planning their day. Being generally inserted in some team or work group, all the co-ordination activities within the group were performed, generally in a rather informal manner, during their stay at the office, often in the form of a one-to-one interaction. All said and done, there were only rare occasions when the group had to call meetings that required the presence of all the team members. The first effect of the decentralization of some of the team members is therefore that the resource of informal co-ordination is no longer available at the office. This immediately gives rise to the need for a codified exchange of information, which obliges all the members of the group to reorganize their activities in such a way as to leave room for frequent meetings. This becomes an element of greater rigidity not only for the teleworker, who is obliged to go to the office at pre-established times, but also for his colleagues, who now have to arrange their work schedules around meeting cycles at set times.
- The leisure time paradox
The study also highlighted the fact that, at least in the initial phases, the greater part of the time gained by having to do less travelling is dedicated to the work itself. But the interviews arranged at intervals of six months bring out very substantial modifications in the organization of family life: more time can be dedicated to the children and some of the teleworkers started cooking their own meals. The periods of over-work would therefore seem to be bound up more with the progress of the project in which the teleworker is involved than with any intrinsic inclination for hyperactivity induced by the telework itself.
- The creativity paradox
Creativity can be categorized as analysis and generation of new ideas. According to the researchers responsible for the experiment, working from home tends to increase analytical creativity, because the working environment in one's own home, being free from disturbance (21), makes possible greater concentration and therefore better problem solving activities. But there is a downturn in the capacity of creating new concepts, because the separation from one's colleagues reduces the creative stimuli and the occasions for checking one's ideas against those of the others.
- The isolation/communication paradox
There are times when the office is the least suitable place for carrying out certain activities that, above all, call for isolation and quiet, writing, studying and planning activities being cases in point. Telia themselves had carried out a telework market survey in 1995 which had brought out the fact that the principal reasons underlying the adoption of telework was the hope that it might render work more efficient (41% of the interviewees). The solution of particular family problems and the reduction of daily travelling time appeared somewhat secondary in importance and were mentioned only by, respectively, 15 and 12 percent of the interviewed sample.
Telia's experiment brought out the fact that, side by side with the need for remaining isolated if certain activities are to be properly performed, the probands voiced an almost obsessive demand for having at their disposal the greatest possible number of technological devices that facilitate communication with others. These devices can be divided into two great families: the interactive technologies, like the telephone and the videoconference, which in real time recreate the interaction that exists at the office, and the asynchronous technologies, which include telefax, the voice box systems and electronic mail and make it possible to be reached without being accessible. The conclusion of the researchers is that the communication instruments so insistently requested of and duly provided by the company are in practice under-utilized by the teleworkers and, in any case, are far more powerful than what is really necessary for the work. But the mere availability of these means of communication reduces the psychological risk of isolation.
Following this phase of telework seen as a normal, though technologically advanced practice of rendering working hours more flexible, Telia would now seem intentioned to pay greater attention to gaining a proper understanding of the sociological, psychological and organizational aspects of telework. The company, who are now applying the results deduced from the ongoing experiment to both internal telework and to their public offer of equipment and services, may well come to play a fundamental part in the development of a modern telework culture in Sweden.
In a service-dominated society, in the information society, telework appears as one of avenues for decentralizing activities in both space and time. The process obviously requires a major cultural change, that should be made in the right way: it needs managers able to judge their collaborators according to goals and results (and not according to the hours they spend in the office), it needs responsible and motivated workers, and trade unions willing to change. Only a culturally open attitude by all the players of the process, but first and foremost by companies and unions, will make it possible to overcome the undeniable organizational, regulatory and sociological difficulties.
The analysis so far performed shows very clearly that the Telecoms who have already matured significant experiences of telework in their own midst also have a very pronounced capacity for spreading the culture of telework among the public at large. And, in an appropriate ranking list in order of importance, this takes precedence over "ability" in "selling the telework product", although they are undoubtedly also well provided with this latter capacity.
More particularly, all the "excellent" cases analyzed by us show that the problems that had to be overcome were not by any means solely of a technical character, but also involved human resource management, here understood as agreement, motivation and valuation. This made it possible for the managers to become fully conscious of the extra-technological problematic associated with telework. This consciousness also derives from the fact that in all these excellent experiments the managers were themselves involved in telework activities and therefore have first-hand experience of it. But we shall leave this aspect for discussion at a later stage. Side by side with internal telework, the Telecoms have also developed their offer of services intended to solve organizational, trade union, psychological, training and attitudinal problems. It does not seem a mere matter of chance, for example, that quite a few companies not only place the accent on the need for undertaking a careful in-depth valuation of the persons to be authorized to engage in telework, but also stress the desirability of developing individualized teleworking models, approaches that we might define as attempts to formulate micro-sociological indicators of an individual teleworking capacity. Others, working in environments that are potentially favourable and well suited to the introduction of telework, are trying to gain greater insight into the multidimensional relationship that exists between the factors that speak in favour of telework and those that counsel against it.
The organization for telework
Among the telework development factors in the companies taken into consideration in our project, mention must here be made, side by side with the development of specific commercial offers in keeping with the experiences already made, of the coming into being of a telework "responsibility chain" in the wake of the experiments made both within and without the companies. Entrusting the responsibility for internal and external experimentation and sales of telework in an unequivocal and centralized manner to multidisciplinary bodies or committees standing in a direct staff relationship with top management has had the effect of gathering knowledge and experience. But this was a centralization more in appearance than in reality: it facilitated the expansion of telework within the culture of the companies involved and made it easier for the divisional structures to perfect the "overall" and multiscope strategies associated witch telework. In the absence of such an approach telework would have become the object of piecemeal market offers, possibly quite profitable in the immediate future, but culturally far from incisive.
It may therefore be worthwhile to dwell on this aspect for a moment or two, all the more so as we deem it to be altogether crucial. "Selling telework" is not only a market operation of the Telecoms, but also a cultural and knowledge-spreading process that gathers momentum from within and thus constitutes a virtuous spiral. In fact, the experiments so far carried out and reported in the relevant literature (22) highlight the fact that the development of telework in the industrialized societies invariably involves a number of well defined and fundamental elements:
- the demand of flexibility expressed by the workers (and to a lesser extent also by the companies), almost always bound up with the existence of unfavourable geographic or climatic conditions and intended to facilitate and optimize the manner in which individuals distribute their time between life and work. This, for example, is the variable that contributes to explaining the rapid growth of telework in such vast, cold and sparsely populated regions as Canada and Sweden (23);
- the support of the public authorities, who by means of appropriate laws and regulations, often with the ultimate aim of reducing environmental pollution and traffic, grant fiscal facilitation to companies who adopt teleworking. This is the case, for example, of the state of California and of the United States of America in general;
- the birth of a telework culture production sponsored by the managers of the telecommunication networks.
Although these three aspects become all the more important when they are jointly present and therefore exert a combined effect, it seems to us that the last component is ultimately the really decisive factor in creating a "virtuous telework circle". The offer of culture and knowledge originating from the Telecoms triggers expectations in the private sector and stimulates the public sector in the direction of legislative interventions in support of teleworking. Frequent publication of winning examples of telework generates a process of emulation and imitation that, in its turn, facilitates the growth of new cultural phenomena that come to confirm the original ones. We are here concerned with an obligatory process that can not be given up: telework breaks up and puts an end to may of the schemes and patterns underlying the pre-existing culture of the industrial societies that, starting with Adam Smith and right through to Taylorism and Fordism, gave rise not only to a particular production mode, but also to a cultural model that is today being called into question by these new forms of work. It is precisely for these reasons that many of the authors today tend to underscore that the chains that have so far prevented telework from really getting off the ground are inherent in our old and timeworn management paradigms.
Telework twixt codification and informality
Yet another important characteristic that can be found in all the cases of internal telework so far implemented by the Telecoms is the existence of two levels at which the relevant experimental work was carried out.
a) At the first level, which one might call the formal or codified level, the work was advanced by involving personnel of homogeneous qualifications for whom the technicians had designed a specific workstation, while an appropriate teleworking agreement was reached with the unions that represented them and acted on their behalf. This gave rise to "rigid" experiences: the workers involved in these experiments started to work at home, though with clearly defined working hours, had to observe equally clearly defined periods when they could be contacted, and generally respected the classical models of interaction with their colleagues and superiors. All said and done, these experiments tended to create traditional work places in the worker's home and the desk he used there had to become as far as possible a mere appendage of the office. Though often not admitted, the ultimate scope of these experiments was to transform into telework a number of activities characterized by a low variance, and therefore distinguished by a substantial repetitiveness of the individual tasks and few unforeseeable factors, this with a view to producing work "mechanisms" that could be sold and adopted outside the company without in any way interfering with the buyer's pre-existing organization. We are here concerned with an approach that, being rigid on the labour side, seeks to have a minimal impact on business or company culture. The design idea underlying these experiments accepted all the principal Taylorist paradigms: the division between those who design the work and those who carry it out, the rigid determination of the tasks obtained by means of a scientific study of what has to be done, the ambition of creating a single "best way", in this case of a purely technological nature, conceiving domestic workstations dedicated to a single type of work (for example: answering the telephone, searching for specified information in an appropriate database and then communicating the findings to the caller). These attempts, which sought to introduce telework without modifying the pre-existing organization, in the end proved useful means of collecting data and information about behaviour patterns, but did little or nothing as regards the repeatability or expansion of the proposed solution. At British Telecom, where the best documented of these experiments was carried out, the results obtained were applied only in one other case, some two years later and even then only for experimental purposes. So much so that the company now state quite clearly that the they will henceforth aim at constructing custom-made telework applications rather than generalized solutions (24).
b) The second and more profitable line along which the telework experiments of the Telecoms have hitherto been pushed forward is the informal one. In these cases, peripheral management, subject to complying with a set of rules or principles (generally in the form of recommendations), were given the possibility of agreeing specific teleworking modalities with interested employees, and the arrangements therefore had to be convenient and advantageous for both parties. The central office in these cases offered consultancy services on telework and instruments to support the decision, but the responsibility for codifying the work relationship, at times in a somewhat slack manner, was left with the periphery, together with an ample margin of discretion. In support of this practice there always existed some kind of framework agreement with the unions, often setting out mere principles, that established the minimum criteria that had to be observed. The subjects of these telework relationships were almost invariably high-grade officials, often the managers themselves, whose activities, or at least some part of them, lend themselves to being more efficiently performed at home.
Strictly speaking, therefore, we are here concerned with part-time forms of telework, this in the sense that the teleworkers work was done partly at home and partly in the office. These attempts substantially reduced not only the fear of isolation and exclusion, but also the risk of weakening the teleworker's identification with the company, and were truly innovative, because they were always implemented as part of work scenarios characterized by a maximum of performance flexibility. Among others, the choice of the managers as the first subjects of telework tended to provide a concrete answer not only to the fear of the other employees that telework would force them into a "tunnel" that could not but lead to their exclusion from the company, but also to the need of at least adumbrating new paradigms in company culture. At the end of an experiment that had lasted for a year, the telephone operators at the Inverness exchange complained that they had gradually lost visibility within the company and stressed the importance of having supervisors who were likewise teleworkers. In this way they evidently gave voice to the need they felt for being responsible to people who shared their own experiences, an indispensable condition for building up an efficient working relationship oriented towards the solution of problems intimately known to both parties. Authorizing the higher-grade employees to do their work from home - always, of course, in accordance with their specificities - also has the enormous advantage of facilitating the expansion of the experience and therefore makes it easier to pass from a managerial culture of "controlling the work" to the new approach of "controlling the result".
As is readily shown by the cases studied by us and the whole of the relevant scientific literature, the true obstacle to overcome in the endeavour of expanding telework consists of the passage from the paradigm of the office in the first place, that is to say, the office seen as the place where all the activities can be and are best performed, to a paradigm of the work in the first place. This implies that one has to see the work environment with the eyes of a layman: the office remains the place where ideas are born and verified and where creativity and project promotion find stimuli, drive and collective verification, but not necessarily the ideal place for coming to grips with every type of work. There will inevitably be cases where the optimal working environment is the drawing room of one's own home.
A mixture of formal and informal experience and a constant interchange between the two types of experience therefore seems to have constituted the most fruitful road for the growth and development of telework. The kind of relationship that is generated in these cases between the various ongoing experiments in one and the same company can be schematically represented as shown in Figure 3 below.
The codified experiments bring the organizations face to face with the need of englobing the new working modalities, which at least at the beginning must necessarily appear atypical as compared with what was done in the past, and reducing them to normal everyday practice. For managers there thus arises the problem of adapting their behaviour patterns to face up to these novelties. This is not by any means a revolutionary process, at the very most it could be described as a little "troublesome", and is in any case mitigated by the consideration of finding oneself in a "transition phase" and therefore necessarily "under observation". In telework experiment situations, moreover, it may even be advantageous for many managers to find themselves at the "heart of the storm", because this render them more visible in the eyes of the company hierarchy. This explains why it is so rare for codified telework experiments to trigger a generation process of new norms and regulations (understood as forms of behaviour shared by the majority of the people concerned - Gallino, 1993, pp.458-462) capable of making a contribution to the transformation of the organizational structure (25).
Informal experiments, on the other hand, often come into being as pioneer operations and at times spring from the entrepreneurial genius (Schumpeter, 1932) of a number of managers who feel the need for rendering both their own work relationships and those of their subordinates more flexible (though they must, of course, dispose of the operational autonomy necessary to do so). As shown in Figure 3, the typical effect obtained in such situations is that of combining new work modalities with the diffusion of a telework culture understood as a practice of flexibility and informality. In these cases it is very rare for telework to spring from experiments planned on the drawing board, as it were. But the very manner in which it comes into being ensures that the organization will sooner or later feel the need for collecting the data that describe what is happening in its midst. Though scientific practices of data collection as a means of interpreting reality tend to "explore the informal" and thus necessarily render it a little less informal, they also systematize the experiences that are being made and thus enlarge the fallout as far as company culture is concerned.
Even more interesting is what happens when formality, informality and detailed knowledge obtained from the experiments succeed in cohabiting. In these cases - which in all truth are few and far between - one can generally observe the coming into being of new managerial cultures that tend to spread and, in so doing, succeed in generating new models and new behaviour patterns. In short, one will see telework become transformed from being the foible of the few into something perfectly normal. Working away from the office - with or without sophisticate computer instruments - will simply become an intrinsic possibility that the organization makes available for all the activities that can take due advantage of it from the point of view of productivity, quality or creativity. The organization will no longer fear telework as triggering a variance of its social architecture, for telework will have succeeded in the operation of generating within the organization not only the culture, but also the social and managerial norms for managing it, rendering it useful, advantageous and, above all, normal.
The mixture of formality and informality: adapting before adopting
At this point one cannot but wonder why, seeing that such a linear procedure is quite sufficient to produce a telework culture within a company organization, there are still so few cases in which this actually happened, as is also borne out by our own study. The informal approach requires one essential condition to be satisfied: that there should exist a hierarchical structure that will make it possible. All said and done therefore, an organization must in some way envisage the possibility of innovating its own paradigms, its own reference standards: innovation must be a value to be pursued as a source of benefit. Although the scope of the present study does not extend to analyzing the managerial cultures of present-day company organizations, it nevertheless seems unavoidable at least to attempt a problem-setting operation with a view to pinpointing the principal variables that have to be taken into account and, if possible, also the interrelations between them.
In 1961, Rensis Likert published an important book on management styles, which - in his opinion - could be based on four great theoretical models. Firstly, he distinguished what he called the authoritarian exploitation style, a style in which command is in the hands of unquestioned and unquestionable leaders (the demiurges, as C.W. Mills would have them), the rules are fixed from above and seem immutable, at least until a new leadership renders them obsolete. In organization of this type any innovation ushered in from the bottom is practically impossible, it is neither permitted nor even conceivable. A second approach identified by Likert is the benevolent (or paternalistic) authoritarian style: if it is to wield its power, management must necessarily seek at least an apparent consensus, no matter how fleeting or uncertain it may prove in practice. The third model is defined as the consultative style: in this case the decisional activities of the manager are legitimated by the fact that he consults his subordinates, even though there is no guarantee that the decisions eventually taken by him will by the suggestions they may make. Lastly, the author tries to demonstrate the superiority of what he terms the group participation model that seeks to involve the subordinates and should therefore provide optimal results for the companies that adopt it:
«such an organization will have as its results a high productivity; high-quality products; low costs; a low rate of personnel turnover; a high capacity of adapting itself to meet changing circumstances in an efficient manner; a high level of enthusiasm and satisfaction among its employees, customers and shareholders; and good relations with the unions». (Likert, 1973, p.294). In actual practice Likert's motivationalist approach has been subjected to criticisms of various kinds (26), but this is hardly the place for trying to discuss them. What is of immediate interest here is the fourfold subdivision proposed by this American socio-psychologist, because they can be usefully employed - within the ambit of a detailed analysis, as a yardstick of the degree to which a complex company organization is open to the introduction of telework. Starting from the assumption that the formal approach to telework is more congenial to companies based on an authoritarian leadership model, in fact, one may arrive at the conclusion that the informal approach lends itself more readily to companies that encourage staff participation. It follows that the mix between the two modalities will generally be tailor-made to fit the leadership characteristics of the particular organization under consideration. One should not forget here that in the greater part of companies it is perfectly possible for different management models to coexist at the various levels, just as an individual manager may find betwixt and between two different management styles: the one the hierarchy uses to control him and the one he himself adopts vis-à-vis his subordinates. The junction points or interfaces between the various ambits (leadership models and power recognition mechanisms) may therefore render possible a theoretically balanced approach.
A second contribution to a proper understanding of the leadership problems is provided by Anita Etzion, once again in a book originally published in 1961, where she tries to pinpoint the variables for classifying and comparing different company organizations. The author develops two important concepts: firstly, the concept of compliance, namely a general disposition for obedience that springs from the interaction between the type of control exercised from above and the orientation of those who are subjected to the said control, and then that of leadership legitimation. Dwelling on this latter aspect, the author holds that a "boss" may be such either on account of his personal qualities or on account of the part he plays in the hierarchy. These two variables, as Bonazzi would have it, "are independent of each other, this in the sense that personal qualities may not be accompanied by a corresponding formal office in the hierarchy, and the opposite may be just as true" (Bonazzi, 1994, p.229). Combining the two sources of legitimation in different ways, Etzioni thus obtains three theoretical leadership models: formal, when it is officially attributed to individuals whose personal qualities enjoy all-round recognition; informal, when the qualities of the individual have no counterpart as far as hierarchical office is concerned; and bureaucratic when the opposite is the case. This modelling can once again be usefully employed for forecasting the optimal approach to telework for any given company organization: wherever leadership springs from an external investiture and is not sustained by personal legitimation, it will become more difficult to follow the informal approach.
It follows from what has just been said that the mixture of the formal, informal and experimental approaches that successful opened the road to telework in the cases here reviewed cannot be mechanically applied to all company organizations. Rather, it may prove altogether disfunctional for companies who de facto (27) adopt authoritarian imposed management styles. Consequently, and we are anxious to stress this, there cannot exist any standard way of introducing telework in a company. The process will necessarily depend on the existing leadership patterns and the real command and authority models. It therefore follows that one must necessarily study each individual organization to understand its particular features and then, substantially respecting the typology one has ascertained, to intervene in such a way as to enable it to benefit from the advantages of telework.
(1) It should be noted that this directive incentivated not only telework, but the use of so-called pool cars by groups of employees.