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Text | Assessing the growth of remote working and its consequences for effort, well-being and work-life balance | 002
appeared in journals such as this one (Hislop and Axtell, 2007; Maruyama et al., 2009; Sardeshmukh et al., 2012; Wheatley, 2012; Vilhelmson and Thulin, 2016).
However, neither assumption has been robustly tested. The growth narrative, for example is based on trend data which do not take into account compositional changes to the economy highlighted by theories which focus on the rise of the knowledge econ- omy, the growth of flexible working and organisational responses to the changing de- mographic profile of the workforce. Only by factoring in these influences can we gauge the scale of change in the spatial ordering of work.
In addition, social survey data on job quality are rarely collected alongside data on where work is carried out. This makes it difficult to assess the associational conse- quences that work location has for work effort, job-related well-being and work-life balance. The article applies social exchange theory and border theory to make theoret- ically informed predictions about the nature of these associations and their direction. These hypotheses are, then, tested empirically using large-scale survey data, hence offering another contribution to the debate.
Theories and evidence
Anecdotal evidence, even personal experience, suggests that paid employment is no longer confined to designated hours carried out in a specified place. This applies espe- cially to managers, professionals and other white-collar workers. Greater technological connectivity facilitates this process by enabling work to be carried out wherever work- ers happen to be and whatever the time (Messenger and Gschwind, 2016). The costs associated with purchasing, building and maintaining sites as places of work can be high and are difficult to justify if usage levels are low and work mobile. This is espe- cially so for office work which can be conducted using electronic technologies that make possible communication—in word, image and speech—with those who are geo- graphically remote (Bain and Taylor, 2000; Felstead et al., 2005).
The raw statistics support this narrative. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) 4.2 million people spent at least half of their working time carrying out work at, from or in the same grounds and buildings as their home in 2014. This repre- sents 13.9 per cent of those employed in the UK and ‘is the highest rate since compara- ble records began in 1998’ (ONS, 2014: 1). Research carried out by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) suggests that over the last decade the number of employees who say they usually work from home has increased by a fifth (TUC, 2016). While the size of the spatial shift varies according to the data sources used and/or the definitional protocols applied, the descriptive evidence suggests that more work is being done away from the conventional workplace. Analysis of the decennial Census of Population, for exam- ple suggests that the proportion of people working mainly at or from home increased from 9.2 per cent in 2001 to 10.3 per cent in 2011 (Gower, 2013).
The direction of change is similar elsewhere, although definitions vary. In the US, for example the share of workers doing some or all of their work at home grew from 19.6 per cent in 2003 to 24.1 per cent in 2015 (BLS, 2016). In Sweden, too, the prevalence of working partly at home has increased from 5.9 per cent in 1999 to 19.7 per cent in 2012 (Vilhelmson and Thulin, 2016). The same applies across Europe as a whole. According to data collected by Eurofound in 2010 around a fifth of workers across Europe said that they mainly worked at home, on clients’ premises, on sites outside the factory or office, and/or in cars or other vehicles. In 2015 around three out of ten said they worked in such places on a daily basis.
Despite this descriptive evidence of change, caution needs to be exercised since the- ories of social and economic change may account for some, or all, of the shift. This ar- ticle focuses on three theories. The first is based on the claim that an economic system is emerging which places more emphasis on intangible economic assets, such as new ideas, software and services, and less on those which take physical form. In this ‘knowl- edge economy’, more emphasis is placed on educated professionals who access bodies of theoretical, specialised and abstract knowledge, and so add value not with their
2 New Technology, Work and Employment
published by Brian Towers (BRITOW) and John Wiley & Sons Ltd
© 2017 The Authors
New Technology, Work and Employment
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