Individuals can benefit from
teleworking, but successful communities need teletrade - doing
business over networks - says Horace Mitchell of the European
Telework Development Initiative.
As I write this article, at the end
of 1996, only about one in a hundred Europeans are using the Internet
every day - for work, for pleasure, for education and the hundred
other things you can read about in these pages. In the UK we are well
ahead of the average, with perhaps two or even three per cent
"connected and networking". So why should we concern ourselves with
matters such as working-by-wire (telework) or
doing-business-across-networks (teletrade)? The short answer is: to
open up opportunities we cannot afford to miss.
Telework opens up new ways to do today's job and new work opportunities beyond today's job (or beyond unemployment). Teletrade is the other side of the coin: it opens up new ways to do business, to find new customers, even to invent and sell new products and services. Any individual who feels he or she doesn't need such new opportunities is either very lucky or perhaps just optimistic. Any community leader who doesn't see such needs just isn't looking!
The television, radio and newspapers
have paid quite a lot of attention to telework over the past few
years, but the picture they've painted is not the whole story. Most
of us are familiar with just one aspect of telework - working at home
instead of travelling to a company office.
But working at home is only one aspect of telework. Telework means using the Internet and similar technologies to "change the geography of work". That can mean bringing work into a local community from outside - very important in some communities, for example where there is high unemployment or where the kind of work on offer locally is very limited so that creative young people want to move away. Changing the geography of work can also mean losing work from the local community; over half of all the work done in Europe today could in future be done elsewhere using telework methods. So "being good at telework" is an important safety precaution for any community.
Teletrade means "doing business
across the networks" and it can apply to any kind of business. It
will become increasingly important over the next 20 years as
telecommunication costs fall and bureaucratic barriers to
international trade are reduced.
Some products and services can be sold, bought and delivered entirely on the Internet, as when I "download" a new piece of software from Microsoft's website to my own personal computer. Some products and services can be promoted and ordered online but have to be delivered physically, as when I order a book or a report and I want to get the paper version, or when I order a video recorder or a bunch of flowers - yes, all these items can already by bought "online" here in the UK. Of course, some products I might not buy online, for example a house - I just might want to go and look before I buy - but even with these I can use the network to track down likely offers. Indeed this last example - the product I'm unlikely to buy online - is where the significance of teletrade can be seen most clearly. Once I get into the habit of "looking online", I'm inclined to favour suppliers who do a good job of presenting their products and services online, regardless of what those products might be.
The message for communities and for community networking is clear - if you want to be a prosperous community, with successful companies, a good supply of jobs and work - local as well as telework - and the financial capacity and independence to do all the exciting things you can read about in these pages, make sure that people and companies in your community understand about teletrade and have started learning to do it well.
So what can you do personally to benefit from telework and teletrade? Like so many questions the answer starts "It all depends" . . . .
The European Telework Development
Initiative has been established by some forty organisations across
Europe with support from the European Commission to help people,
organisations and communities to "get connected" and start to benefit
from telework and teletrade as quickly as possible. It offers
information, advice and practical examples in most European
You can find more through the European Telework Online website (http://www.eto.org.uk), or by emailing the Initiative at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the UK, contact the Initiative's UK coordinator (The Telework, Telecottage and Telecentre Association): website http://www.tca.org.uk/, email email@example.com, fax 01203 696538 and phone 01203 696986.