Telecommuting - an alternative

Emerging technological phenomenon called telecommuting (or telework) is changing focus from physical presence at the primary work site to what an employee can deliver. While the concept of telecommuting has been in existence for some time, the technological tools available today are making it possible to practice it more productively. The trend has steadily grown over the past two decades in the developed world.

Elsewhere, “Businesses that let 100 employees work half of their time from home can save more than $1 million a year’ according to Telework Research Network's latest study of telework programs and their benefits. This alone is one big incentive for local businesses to take advantage of the telecommuting work model.

In a job market where it is tough for employable workforce to find regular jobs what to talk of telecommute, the trend has yet not started. It is in this context that the telecommuting phenomenon is viewed here.

What is telecommuting? This is a work practice made possible by use of telecommunication and collaborative technologies to facilitate work at a site away from the traditional office location and environment. Employees enjoy flexibility in work place and time (within certain limits) and save the daily commute to a central place of work. The focus is that "work is something you do, not something you travel to".

Let me hasten to add that telecommuting is not only for computing related fields as it wrongly perceived sometime. Even a semester living stitching shirts for a foreign-based concern can be telecommuter rather than a contractual worker. Also there is a difference between freelancing, contract work and telecommuting.

The availability of bandwidth and fast Internet connections, social methodologies for balancing work control and work freedom, the perceived values and economies in telecommuting, the opportunities and need for working collaboratively are some of the factors that should be considered to view possibilities of the telecommuting picking up in our country.

Pakistan so far is a less connected country. Despite all whirls we are going through, majority of the areas are still without Internet coverage. Teledensity has increased but is far from being adequate. Corporate Pakistan has not yet embraced IT, exceptions (some of them very good) notwithstanding. No effects can be seen on ground or in term of revenues in the account books. What has been achieved by Pakistan IT industry and some end user futuristic concerns so far is nothing more than a scratch on the surface. Reasons are many: Resistance to change and lack of trust in technical solutions for business processes that has diverted IT employment from raising productivity by revolutionizing production methods and techniques and taping human resource potentials through cooperation and collaboration; tasks what IT is best at.

Moreover, the latest technologies have not been made use of due to lack of a standard business culture of strategic thinking and planning. These factors are inimical to the long-term investment in time and resources needed for IT to develop and deliver.

Another impediment that seems standing in the way of telecommuting picking up in Pakistan is societal rather than technological. In a number of ways corporate sector seems to have distrust in IT solution what to talk of shared ones. Dr. Professor Manzoor Ahmed, an international marketing expert, opines, "The generation at the helms of business affairs, mostly family run, thinks that what has been working for them in the past is good enough. They hesitate to take new incentives into the untested area. The strength of this social impulse reins back the widespread IT employment in any area." Other limitations with the flexible trend are poor or lack of necessary infrastructure, illiteracy, slow speed or non availability of Internet access or things like electric shutdowns."

Let us have a look at the users' base. The majority of the online community in our country is of medium users. This group includes everyone from those ‘whiz kids’ with ambitions and degrees from IT institutions and international certifications to self-taught - experienced professionals in their own respective fields - who have learnt to use the IT facilities at their own later in life. These users can perceive the modern technologies as a great leveler to work and make their lives better. But they do not find very many openings when it comes to putting their skills and experience to work on ground.

As of today, no university in Pakistan is teaching telecommunication courses to its business students. This subject should be included in all business programs as is being done in reputed business schools abroad. This will empower young graduate from local universities to take telecommuting opportunities abroad now and in local market when they come up in future.

Pakistan has a world-class workforce. Local businesses should plan to plunge in to telecommuting boldly. They already have opportunities of learning from the successful experiences in the developed countries by closely examining the work methodologies being implemented with success and at much lower costs. Before that, the public sector should focus on improving infrastructure and ensuring uninterrupted supply of bandwidth, electricity and telephone everywhere. The potential employees should start learning and be ready to take up the openings when they come by. Meanwhile, all stakeholders should take extensive confidence building measures in the employment of information technology.

Hopes are that demand driven telecommunication will pick up here and Pakistan corporate sector will become telecommuting friendly. One wishes to see it happen as soon as possible. This has not started happening yet though.


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