Technology is changing our lives very fast. With our smartphones we access to internet even when located remotely. It is as if we live in what would be a science-fiction movie three decades ago. There is something else, changing considerable and along with the improvements brought by technology: it is work.
The world we live in today can be said to be shaped by the information age. People living in the most varied parts of the world, are now easily connected and have ubiquitous access to information. Organizations changed also, becoming global structures spread throughout the world. Technologies such as mobility, cloud computing, web conferencing and telepresence have driven connectivity across the globe. Employees can work in different locations or on the road and still collaborate. All these recent trends, are causing a transformation in work and one of the emergent trends in work is teleworking.
How have these changes affected us on a personal basis?
I was born 44 years ago, in Mozambique, and for the first years of my life, I had no television. When I was around five years old, I saw with dismay a television screen for the first time. I still remember that moment very well, as it was one of the greaestt surprises of my life.
Nowadays, I work as a professor in a Portuguese public distance learning University called Universidade Aberta (Open University). In a certain way, I belong to a career group that has been able to work far away from home for centuries, since a lot of our time is taken with research, and writing articles and books, or evaluating exams and works. Much of these types of activities can be done anywhere.
Lecturers and college professors usually have the option to do most of their activities in a nice office or alternatively, they can choose others places as working environments.
But it turned out that unfortunately, working remotely for me isn´t a real option anymore but rather an obligation! Portugal was deeply affected by the latest European crisis and my University decided to cut costs, obliged by the cuts occuring on public funding. Understandably, management was forced to change most of the installations of our University located in the center of Lisbon ( which included my department) to the outskirts, to cut costs. But now, it takes me one hour and half to arrive to the University and the same to comeback. :/ Office space was as well drastically reduced which means that several professors share the same desk. Therefore, we can´t be there at same time.
Even though I like working remotely, I would like that this situation would have been an option rather than an almost mandatory one. I have two friends who say that teleworking is a wonderful option for them. One of them is a Canadian that works for a Toronto company from Lisbon. She enjoys working remotely and from home, but mentions that the only real problem is that she has to work at odd hours to be in contact with clients and colleagues . located in a different time zone, which means six hours of difference between Lisbon and Toronto. The other case is an American writer that travels around the world writing. Famous writers were privileged in relation to working remotely through centuries – as you can write everywhere. Fortunately,that is a privilege that no longer pertains just to them.
Now, most of the meetings I have with my colleagues are doneremotely through the Internet. I don´t read my students papers at the University: I either do it at home or in public places like coffee shops. I have been noticing that the procedures of my University are slowly shifting towards remote work. One example is the process of marking and awarding grades to students. Even though I still have to sign with a real pen the hard copy of the student grades, most of the procedures are now virtual.
Even though I don´t have data to support my view, I think that due to telework costs were reduced and productivity increased in my University. Now, my University is considering allocating part of the administrative employees also in remote work.
In my opinion working remotely has its downsizes as well. One of the problems I feel is an increased sensation of confusion between work and my private life. But I think this question can be partially tackled with more discipline: for example, to consult only the professional email at specific times. I am considering to have two computers – one only for work and other for the rest.
Other problem is that l feel lack of social contact with colleagues. What is funny is that before working remotely I didn´t know I could feel the lack of social contact with colleagues. 🙂 Now, I seek to resume relations with friends that I don´t see often (I hope they don´t read this article :)) and going to activities where I can meet people.
One final problem I that there is a difference between virtual and non-virtual contact. The professors that have more non-virtual contact with colleagues and heads of departments have more work opportunities. I don’t think there is any conspiracy. The university professors are also human: for example, they share important information quickly to people who have more non-virtual.
I think telework come to stay in the world and in my University. For me and a lot of other people is to adapt or “die”. Like Bob Dylan sings, times are changing. In a way they never changed so fast and the increase important of telework is only one the symptoms. Times are changing and we can´t go back to simpler times.
Ivo Dias de Sousa is a Portuguese writer born in Mozambique. Ivo is also a Professor at Universidade Aberta, Portugal, giving courses on information management. Currently, Ivo is interested in using his experience on information management to construct applications (see http://windit-app.com/ ) for smartphones, in collaboration with others. Ivo holds a Master in Statistics and Information Management (Universidade Nova de Lisboa) and a Ph.D. in Information Management (Universidade Aberta). Amongst his main interests are information management, psychology of luck and literature.