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Teleworking can also be productive

Teleworking is gradually finding a foothold in Spain, and has been championed by some leading companies. Repsol has started a combined teleworking/office hours programme in which almost 1,000 workers have already enrolled. Surveys conducted on both workers and management have shown that the system works, and that the balance between working and family life is made easier by modern technologies.
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Until recently, allowing the staff of private companies or government offices to work from their homes would have seemed like something out of a science fiction movie; now, it is a technological reality. However, IT alone does not ensure success. In order for teleworking to catch on both company management and workers must lend their support, and traditional attitudes that attach more importance to physical presence than results will have to change.

Towards work by objectives

Campus Repsol
The idea of teleworking was born in the 70s when the American physicist Jack Niles, exploring how best to optimise resources, created the concept of 'telecommuting'. He proposed 'taking the work to the worker, and not the worker to the work', thus saving the daily trip to and from the office. However, it was not until the 90s that developments in IT made it possible for large US corporations such as AT&T to adopt this system.
 
Since then, teleworking has gradually gained acceptance, and in countries such as Finland and the US more than 15% of the working population works from home. Progress in Spain has been slower, with estimates suggesting that around 8% of workers work from home on either a full- or part-time basis. Teleworking is closely linked to values such the concept of working by objectives, trust between employers and employee, or reconciliation.


"Some people still don’t think of teleworking as real work. I still get phone calls from people who apologise for calling me at home, although attitudes are changing" explains Jorge Prats a technician from Repsol's Safety, Environment and Quality department who works from home one day a week. "I increasingly find, after working with colleagues, that either one or both of us are working from home, but our working relationship is equally fluid and profitable".

Teleworking in Repsol

Jorge is one of the almost 1,000 Repsol employees who have joined the company's teleworking programme. Those taking part in this project do part of their working hours from home. Repsol offers different teleworking options, ranging from working from home one or two whole days a week, or for 20% of daily working hours.
 
The programme started in 2006 following the results of a work-place climate survey that revealed the need to introduce reconciliation measures. "Teleworking makes my day to day activity much easier. I have two small children, and this option enables me to spend more family time without this affecting my professional obligations" explains Begoña Navas, Repsol Strategic Marketing Manager, who teleworks for 20% of her working day.
 
Workers take part in the project on a voluntary basis; they still have access to their office space and retain all their rights and job benefits. The bases of the programme have been agreed with the trade unions, and the option is available to all professional categories, provided it can be adapted to suit the requirements of the job. Repsol provides its employees with the necessary resources: broadband, computer and mobile phone.
 
Parallel to the introduction of teleworking Repsol has carried out a survey of both employees and management, with both groups expressing a very high opinion of the system. In the opinion of Begoña Navas, "You feel happier and more motivated, and I think that has a very positive effect on the quality of your work". Repsol managers, for their part, do not believe that teleworking has any negative effect on their workers’ performance or that of other team members, and claim it reduces employee stress.

Teleworking has its limits

Persona ante un ordenador
The pilot project also revealed some risks associated with this system, leading to changes being made to the project before it is fully implemented. For example, a 3-day-a-week teleworking schedule was initially included, though this was abandoned when employees reported that they felt too detached from the day-to-day working of the company. To avoid isolation, a weekly limit of 40% of working hours has been established, together with regular follow-up and contact meetings.
 
According to Jorge Prats, tele-employees must be capable of managing their time: "Misunderstanding the concept of flexibility can result in working more hours than necessary due to bad organisation of your time. To begin with, I had to make an effort to plan what tasks I could do more effectively from here. By here, I mean my home, because I am doing this interview from my home. Now, it's just a matter of course."

Having established these limitations, employees taking part in the project did not agree with a widely accepted premise, namely, that teleworking can be an obstacle to professional advancement. "I have never felt that this could be a handicap", said Begoña Navas. "In fact, I know quite a few people taking part in the project who have been promoted, and even appointed to new jobs which involve team management".
 
In Repsol, teleworking is understood as a reconciliation measure in the broadest sense of the term, and no employees requesting telework are quizzed about their motives. Six out of every ten participants are teleworkers, and most are between 30 and 49 years old. Cases such as that of Jorge Prats show that this option is not only available for team leaders: "I am familiar with new technologies and I am interested in innovation, and that's why I thought this would be a good opportunity for me. I have always thought it was a good way to balance working and personal life".
 
"Some think that teleworking is just for organising your schedule better when you have small kids,” he adds. “I think it can be very beneficial in such circumstances, although in a large company like ours there are also other circumstances such as mine, where teleworking can be an ideal solution".

Teleworking in Spain

There are no specific legal regulations governing teleworking in Spain, although the government has announced that it intends to promote the concept as part of its reconciliation policies. Some autonomous regions, such as Euskadi and Castile and Leon, are already working on legislation. Teleworking is gaining ground in large corporations and government offices, but has yet to be widely accepted by SMEs. As one of the companies with most teleworkers, Repsol is preparing a White Paper to promote its experience in this field and help other companies.
 
The spread of fibre optic networks or the development of mobile devices should further facilitate teleworking, and a number of studies suggest that society is also ready for this change. According to a survey carried out by the employment portal Monster.es, 57% of the Spanish workforce would like their company to offer them the option of working from home.


"In my opinion", says Begoña, "and with the exception of a few jobs, the quality and amount of work done is not affected by whether you are working from home or the office. What's more, I think any employee who opts for telework, and is given the opportunity to do so, is extremely motivated. For me, it's a win-win situation". Perhaps the future lies in combined systems, such as that adopted by Repsol, which combines office hours with working from home in an attempt to make the most of both worlds.
Last updated: June 2011