“There is growing evidence that more people these days don’t work from a physical workplace, but work from home or other places,” says David Thorns, director of the social science research centre at the University of Canterbury.
Thorns and his colleague Lorraine Leonard have recently studied aspects of how information and communication technologies change the way people work.
“Online working is an expanding area, here in New Zealand and around the world,” says Thorns.
It is an area that New Zealand could benefit from because of advantages such as the English language culture and the time difference in relation to the northern hemisphere, he says.
“Work that comes out of, for example, the UK can be done over-night in New Zealand.”
Online work outsourced from the northern hemisphere to, for instance, New Zealand and Australia is part of a new global work trend, he says.
“And, it’s part of the growth in the information economy because these are information services. If we don’t get into it, I guess it’s another new economy that we are not part of,” he says. “I think New Zealand has potential to grow in this area because we are interestingly placed time-wise and skill-wise.”
Thorns’ and Leonard’s research is among the first to investigate online working in New Zealand, but research from the UK shows that there are about a million workers there who claim they are home-based workers, says Thorns.
The study looks at online, home-based workers who perform routine jobs, such as data entry, data processing or transcription services, as opposed to people with professional jobs choosing to work from home. The study is based on information from New Zealand online workers employed by a global company.
Nearly all the online workers who participated in the study are women.
“One of the interesting gender aspects that has come through internationally is that men who work from home have to have an office, whereas women who work from home will not necessarily have a dedicated place. They will find space,” says Thorns.
The study found that the downside of working from home include loss of social interaction, as well as issues around technology, such as system or backup problems, which would prevent the contractors from working and earning money.
“The access to decent broadband is [also] still a big issue,” says Thorns. “Expansion of some of these areas of work is limited because of the fact that New Zealand is right at the bottom of the OECD in terms of broadband penetration.”
Another possible limiting factor has to do with security concerns.
“Security is a major issue when working in the digital field. And those problems are far from being solved,” says Thorns.
The positive aspects of working from home include flexible working hours, the ability for workers to manage their own time and the possibility of organising work around family needs, says the study.