Vol.6, May 1997, Num 24
Telework Update: Norway

Mr. John W. Bakke, a research scientist at "Telenor" visited Japan earlier in the year, meeting with IFF to provide an overview of telework in Norway. The following is an abridged transcript of his presentation.

Global attention to telework began in the 1970's, while it was in the 1980's that the Norwegian government started addressing telework as one of its policies. According to a Norwegian official report on the prospect of telematics, telework was considered as a means for promoting decentralization, job creation and the dissemination of information to rural areas. In other words, the promotion of telework attracted attention from two aspects: its technological possibilities and as a solution for social problems.

In the 1980's, research and studies on telework flourished, but the slow development of teleworking made most researchers consider it as a fad or temporary fashion. In the mid-1990's, teleworking again attracted attention and comprehensive surveys of teleworking were initiated. Based on the recognition that teleworking had become a key factor for social development with the shift to the information society, Norway tried to develop its information infrastruc-ture, taking its proposal for "National Information Networks", proposed by the Research Council of Norway which including experts, administrative officials, and academic representatives, as the core of its strategy. Teleworking is one of the ten main action programs presented in the NIN proposal. The activities of the Teleworking Program, financed by the Council and whose implementation is supported by Telenor Research and Development, are to conduct research from various aspects such as the present situation of teleworking in Norway, teleworking and labor-related laws, interviewing people involved in teleworking and the like, as well as to implement several pilot projects of teleworking in organizations. After implementation, interest in teleworking has mounted among business firms, administrative organizations, employer organizations and labor unions.

The objective of the Teleworking Development Project is to advance teleworking as a new, attractive way of working. To achieve this goal, a Teleworking Handbook was issued as a reference for corporations, which tried to promote teleworking or to raise awareness of teleworking among the general public. The future goal of the project is to establish a Teleworking Forum to encourage information exchange and deepen understanding of teleworking.

In terms of organizational structure, the Teleworking Development Project consists of: a teleworking expert group specifying a project consisting of a series of pilot experiments; a reference group which monitors and advises the project; a number of working groups that supplement and support the expert group by investigating various teleworking-related problems and developing policies to solve these problems; a project group that was formed to coordinate activities and keep contact with pilot experiments and the working group.

Among the companies for field experiments with teleworking, branches of an insurance company were first selected as subjects. This company wanted to disperse its work force in order to accomplish greater geographical representation and better contact with their customers. Later on, a telecom manufacturing company, a consultant who wants to establish a telework center in a rural area, a journalist, employees at a university, a branch of a major bank, a computer consultant company, and an institute of higher education were added to the list of experiments. To implement the pilot, each participating firm needs to develop their own plan, obtain support of the employer and management level, and acquire a consensus of the parties concerned, consulting with the labor union.

After implementing a number of pilot projects, it has been recognized that the companies dem-onstrate a wide variety of intentions, ambitions and practices in introducing telework; and that since the establishment of telework systems in companies needs a long period of time, their practices and set-ups had to be modified.

The issues that the working group of the Teleworking Development Project have addressed are labour legislation, advanced information technology and information security, taxation, management, and teleworking and the employment of disabled people. As far as labor legislation is concerned, as teleworking at home-based offices is outside the legal framework, development of appropriate legislation is required together with the involvement of labour, management and administrative officials. Although there are some who criticized that teleworking might intensify the isolation of disabled people, a collaborative project is underway in cooperation with the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs and representatives of a hospital for rehabilitation patients to achieve the goal of establishing a teleworking center at the hospital.

The Teleworking Handbook consists of a case study section including the development of pilot teleworking projects and an examination of the results of working groups, and a general section including an explanation of the idea of telework, a summary of potential benefits and disadvantages of teleworking, and other related materials.

When looking at overseas teleworking, we see various projects have been conducted in developed countries, but there are a variety of goals and positions in government policies occupied by teleworking projects. For example, telework in the U.S. has been closely related with the Clean Air Acts or the Al Gore initiative for information superhighways. Here, teleworking is just an instrument, and there is little attention given to the specific characteristics of this new way of working. By contrast, in EU countries and Finland, a different type of plan is presented. Their plans of teleworking seem to have practical goals like 10 million teleworking jobs by the year 2000. In Norway and Finland, teleworking has been promoted mainly by the government, while the EU initiatives have been relatively private-sector led. Those differences might come from differences in labour-management relations, att-itudes to management, labour ethics and so on. It will be desirable in the future that we have not only comparative studies of teleworking situa-tions, but a lot more evaluations of actually implemented teleworking projects in various countries.

Contact: John W. Bakke, Telenor R & D