The most relevant drivers and constraints that may influence teleworking implementation in Portugal

Flávio Nunes


Teleworking, as the use of telecommunications to partially or completely replace daily commuting to and from work, is predicted to have a great impact on various fields of society, both directly and indirectly, and because of that it has been a subject of an intense technical and public debate for a few years now. However the high expectations have not yet been realized, ranging from decrease of commuting costs to time savings or the diversification of employment in peripheral and rural areas.

The slow adoption of teleworking practices, among industrialized countries, calls for empirical studies with a careful analysis of all elements that may influence its implementation, which would allow some international comparability in order to respond to the information needs of policy makers. This paper reports the empirical findings of several surveys conducted among enterprises in Portugal in order to identify relevant drivers and constraints that may influence the implementation of telework in the portuguese business environment, and in addition, attention will also be given to the perceived social advantages and disadvantages of pursuing organizational teleworking programmes on portuguese citizens as individuals and as employees.

There are several terms and definitions used to describe a flexible working alternative that involves work done away from the traditional office locations through the use of telecommunications and networking tools. Telework, telecommuting, electronic homeworking, virtual officing, ework are a few examples of an enormous range of terminology that in some cases are restricted to a particular form of remote work, and in other circumstances have the benefit of avoiding over-specificity, like homeworking, and are capable of being applied to any time of work which involves the digital processing of information and which uses telecommunications technologies for receipt or delivery of the work to a remote employer or business client. Obviously its seems clear that in the first part of this paper there’s a need to present and justify a conceptual framework, determined by the need to collect and analyse empirical data, in a precise and unambiguous form, about the diffusion of telework in Portugal.

Although the large-scale implementation of teleworking has not yet occurred in Portugal, this study will try to catch and analyse some visible trends in order to understand the effective role of telework during the past years in some diverse issues:

  • as a new opportunity for the inclusion of marginalized portuguese groups, specifically people with disabilities, because of their comprehensive difficult to combine labour market participation with the temporal and spatial constraints of traditional office work;
  • as a way to exclude those groups without technical skills or financial resources to access the informational technologies, as well as those who live in the portuguese remote rural areas bypassed by the most relevant infostructures (optical cables, wireless web access,?);
  • as an instrument with clear implications for housing planning and land-use policy, as well as for the implementation of transport policies related with the commuting journeys which have been replaced and the alternative forms of travel which have arisen in the context of telework;
  • or as a way to improve the productivity of existing enterprises, in order to enable them to compete more effectively on world markets.

The promotion of teleworking can not merely be based on the high level of awareness, if concrete results are to be achieved, systematic actions are needed and must be improved to allow the attitudes and technical facilities in public and private organizations, as well as facilitate their decision-making concerning teleworking experiments. For this reason, to better understand and evaluate these trends related to the dissemination of telework during the past years, its important to analyse the evolution of portuguese government policies and legislation in this field. What are the main political objectives and what instruments have been created to help the appearance of teleworking programmes on portuguese enterprises and with which results, are questions that need to be answered in this research, in order to better understand the progressive contribute of Portugal to the new strategic goal of the European Union set up by the European Council in Lisbon, March 2000, for the next decade: to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy capable of sustained economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion.

Although Portugal has been somewhat slow in formally adopting telework practices, one of the main results of this paper suggest the high number of potential teleworkers in Portugal. During a research conducted on the APDT (Portuguese Association for the Development of Telework) it was analysed over than one thousand information demands to this institution (done from 1998 to 2002). This paper summarizes the results and findings of this empirical work that give us the opportunity to better understand the profile of the portuguese potential teleworker, in terms of age, gender, marital status, qualification and residence patterns, as well as a better knowledge about what are the most important difficulties to someone who recognise telework as a way of increasing quality of living and well being standards, but can not yet start working in this new form of work organization.