6th Internet, Law and Politics Conference (IV). Cloud Computing: A New Dimension in Teleworking?

Notes from the 6th Internet, Law and Politics Conference: Cloud Computing: Law and Politics in the Cloud, organized by the Open University of Catalonia, School of Law and Political Science, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on July 7th and 8th, 2010. More notes on this event: idp2010.

Cloud Computing: A New Dimension in Teleworking?
Chairs: Ignacio Beltrán de Heredia

Nomadic Workers
Javier Llinares, Autoritas Consulting.

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Teleworking taken to the limit or “nomadic working”: it is not about having an office and from time to time staying home and telework, but your office is where you are, provided there’s connectivity to the Internet.

Autoritas Consulting has 12 employees all over Spain and customers all over the world. Four key decisions: to work from home, to use open source, be an open business and be based in Apple devices.

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Pros: Total freedom of schedules; no commuting costs; no license costs; no office costs; work on a self-service principle (you want it, you use/do it).

Cons: Reluctance to change and have to learn to adapt to the new realities; if there is no office, there is no support; cost of ownership (licenses) shifts towards cost of use (customize, external support, etc.); is this a standardized society? what if you do not work with standards (i.e. Apple)?; is self-service / DIY an inconvenient where you have to do it by yourself?; this design only applies if you work goal-based.

Issues: miss meetings (e.g. we are disorganized, etc.); routines are difficult to break, change of systems, new ways of doing things; where are the limits? what is my working time? from flexible schedules to flexible life; where does personal life and work life begin and end? does it matter?; need to see hear each other, to ‘see’ each other, do we need personal touch?

Changes in the law: what means workplace security when you don’t have a workplace in a strict sense? What actually means workplace when everyone stays at home?

In the Internet you are connected with many people, but it’s you alone in front of the computer. The coffee break with the colleagues does not compare with a “twitter break”. New rules, new procedures.

Opportunities: more self-responsibility; self-management; “the consultant kit”; comfortability in the many solutions.

Inconvenients: responsibility, discipline, common sense; difficulty in tracing the limits.

The impact of technological decentralization at the workplace: teleworking
Javier Thibault Aranda, Complutense University of Madrid.

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Several benefits:

  • For the enterprise: flexibility, more possibilities of hiring (no geographic limits), decrease of costs, etc.
  • For people: reduction of costs, more job market access for disabled people, etc.
  • For the society: specific collectives more hireable, etc.

Several risks:

  • Teleworking practices to hide actual outsourcing of jobs.
  • Some social agreements at stake: separation of personal and professional life, the concept of “breaks” and resting times, etc.
  • Limited impact of this working organization in Spain, huge reluctance at the corporate level, lack of explicit regulation.

Regarding the law, in Spain the Statute of the Worker has a 13th where “working at home” is referred to, but in very different terms as what now teleworking is. On the other hand, collective action of workers is based in critical mass working together and in the same place (sort of), which does not apply to teleworking. At the European level there is an framework agreement on teleworking, but it has not been translated to Spanish law.

The European Framework agreement on telework states that telework:

  • Is another way of doing the same thing: teleworking is about changing your location, not your job specificities.
  • Physical externalization does not imply legal externalization.
  • Teleworking is volunteer and cannot be imposed. Sometimes the inner conditions of the enterprise could force the shift, but acknowledgement of the worker is needed. This only applies to working from home: if there is a need to work at the customers’ offices, then no acknowledgement is needed.
  • Teleworking can imply a technological control, which usually happens to be tighter than physical control. But, can the employer access the computer of the employee? It depends, but the employee must be aware of it, aware of any kind of control that will be put into practice.
  • The worker has the same rights as any other worker, but not more rights that other workers do not have.

Cloud computing: a new dimension of teleworking?
Carmen Pérez Sánchez, Internet Interdisciplinary Institute.

If you cannot see the video, please visit <a href="http://ictlogy.net/?p=3409">http://ictlogy.net/?p=3409</a>

Results of a survey about teleworking women: teleworking only adopted by 3-8% of people; most of them (in the sample) with dependants; and most of them working in great corporations, including some public administrations.

The definition of teleworking comes from Jack Nilles and has three requisites: work takes place in a different location from where it is intended to be delivered/used; intensive use of ICTs, a communicaton link from employer and employee.

More than 50% of teleworkers (of the previous sample) consider teleworking as a good option to be able to cope personal with professional life: take care of home and or kids and or other dependants, etc. The focal point is flexibility, and thus quality of life increases (or, at least, the perception of it).

Though positively evaluated, there are some drawbacks:

  • Social and professional isolation.
  • Longer working hours.
  • Feeling of guilt: really depending on whether teleworking is taken as natural, as a core value of the firm, or whether teleworking is seen as a “favour” that your boss allows you to benefit from. Normalization of telework leads to enjoying it, otherwise arises feelings of guilt or feelings.
  • Many times, telework is actually an extension of your working hours, not a change of workplace. You’re given the freedom to keep working from home. This is quite usual in many and many firms.
  • Many times, too, staying at home means assuming all the home tasks naturally: the one that “already is at home” is the one that “naturally” goes shopping, cleaning, etc. It is rarely seen teleworkers locking themselves in their home-office and forgetting about what is not work during working hours.
  • Sometimes too, the culture of “sitting at your desk” or remaining lots of hours home (definitely spread all over Spain) rewards the ones that do not telework. Thus, teleworking means less presence at work and giving up at being promoted. Most of the times it is a conscious choice — personal life or family vs. professional career — instead of a way to cope with both.

Summing up, the definition of telework and, over all, telling whether it is positive or negative depends on many variables that are by no means agreed or common ground among employees and employers. There is a need of a former and thorough planning, great transparency and agreement on the conditions, that teleworking is something for men and women (not only for “mothers”), and that teleworking is also an option for whatever level of the hierarchy.

Discussion

Ismael Peña-López: digital competences, are a pre-requisite of the worker that wants to telework, or an obligation of the firm to train them? And, related to training, what if the teleworker does any harm to a third party (e.g. online) or does any illegal activity (e.g. intellectual property right infringement). Thibault: the firm, as in the offline wold, it is the firm that is liable for any harm to third parties, at least when the employee is not an independent worker but dependent from the organization. Related to training, training is both an obligation (in Spanish law the employee has to keep up with the technical changes that happen in their workplace) and a right, the right to be trained by the firm. Pérez: The reality tells us that there is no or poor training and, most of the times, it is more about informing the employees (e.g. about some specific novelties) rather than explicit and planned training. Llinares: we have to take into account also the difference between switching to teleworking or directly joining a firm where teleworking is the norm. Same about being up-to-date: in some works (e.g. e-government consultancy) teleworking skills are not only a means or a tool, but also a goal, as it is part of the product being offered to the firm’s costumers.

See also

6th Internet, Law and Politics Conference (2010)