EurActiv - Letters to the Editor


Regarding ‘EU to declare war on business trips‘:

Video-conferencing is a subsection of the more general category ‘teleworking’. The rules governing successful teleworking were formalised in the 1970s and 1980s. Early adopters included ICL who used it extensively amongst its programmers. Teleworking tends to work best with functions that are not ‘customer facing’. Where team operation is needed, it is possible to work up to two days per week away from the office without a negative impact on the functioning of the team.

In the early 2000s, a PWR sister company offered desk-top IP-based videophones to various Brussels-based organisations with zero success. Part of the problem was a mindset still focused on conference room-based video-conferencing.

Moving on to Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding’s proposals, there is not a lack of infrastructure to support widespread teleworking or its subset video-conferencing. Perfectly adequate video-conferencing can occur with data rates of 256kbps. The reason why Reding is saying that telecoms networks need fibre is that DG Infosoc has been the subject of a lobbying campaign by the usual suspects, who want the trough (or barrel) refilled.

One of PWR’s proposals to the European Commission was the concept of ‘teleworking centres’ which would be based in communes (by definition within cycling or walking distance of peoples’ homes). This would eliminate the problems of space at home to telework plus privacy. This idea received a rather frosty response until the 2008 Sustainable Energy Week, when Cisco outlined a pilot project with just such an approach in The Netherlands. The EC official who rejected the PWR proposal attended the presentation and was generous enough to admit that PWR was right and the Commission’s view was wrong.

Of course, its is always better to lead by example, something which the EU is trying to do in the case of climate change. Unfortunately, in the case of the Commission and teleworking, it is very much a case of “do as I say not as I do”.

In the 1990s the Commission spent five years cogitating on teleworking before taking some hesitant steps. Even now, in “non-customer facing” services such as translation, teleworking is only reluctantly allowed – it is seen as a priviledge. The current Commission management mindset (which typifies many management mindsets) is that teleworking is difficult to manage. Suggesting that those with such attitudes may not possess the necessary attributes to be managers, imagination and an open mind being two of them.

There is little reason why most of the people travelling into the centre of Brussels each day could not telework 1 or 2 days per week. As in Brussels, so elsewhere. The impact on traffic would be roughly a 20% reduction. Put another way, it would be like travelling into Brussels in the summer break. It won’t happen, because companies have little incentive to move to teleworking, and mindsets, as typified by upper management in the Commission, see teleworking as a problem.

Ms. Reding: I suggest you focus on attitudinal change first before filling the trough. Tell me how many of your own staff (or indeed those in DG Infosoc) actually telework. Let me answer my own question: a) none, or b) don’t know.

Mike Parr


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