Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Home-Shoring Remedy for Presenteeism?

One very positive way to address distraction- or health-driven presenteeism is providing a work environment that includes a "home-shoring" option. One of the more innovative comes from Scotland.

Michael Wolff, a Scottish-based entrepreneur refers to this modern adaptation of homeworking as "ki-working." "Ki-working comes from the word ki - which loosely translated means "trusted relationship" - (borrowed) from the Japanese."

"Ki-working, he says, can demonstrate cost-savings per "effective hour"- that is each hour of work that is actually productive - that can compete with the Indian experience. His calculations show that home ki-workers cost £13.74 an hour to employ, exactly the same as an employee in an Indian call centre. The cost per effective hour for a standard UK-based worker is just over £20 in the same analysis."

"These numbers are based on the premise that the wages of an employee in an Indian call centre are only 15% of the total cost of employing them. The remaining 85% of the cost goes on operational overheads such as maintaining IT infrastructure and office space which means that the relatively low hourly wages are mitigated by the cost of maintaining the office space."

THE GUARDIAN via NewsEdge Corporation : Mr Wolff argues that a ki-worker can earn about the same as in a UK call centre but the savings are made for companies because they are cheaper to employ as there are no costly overheads and they can be switched on and off as necessary.

"In this model, the ki-worker earns roughly the same amount per effective hour as the UK employee but needs to be available only 70% of the total time. The ki-worker has been able to compete head on with offshoring and save his or her job and the employer has achieved the same savings," he said.

"Ki-working is for people whose work-life balance is a priority but who need to have high quality work and be part of a high quality team," Mr Wolff said.

At the moment the idea is largely hypothetical and not working anywhere in the UK on a large scale. The AA has 150 workers answering breakdown calls and in 1992 BT conducted a year-long pilot on homeworking for a dozen or so directory inquiry call handlers who used to commute to its Inverness call centre.

Mitch Reid, a BT spokesman based in Aberdeen who has worked from home for the past two years, said the experiment found that stress levels fell and that the anticipated feelings of isolation did not arise. The homeworking project for the Inverness call centre workers was never intended to be anything other than an experiment, he said. The Inverness operation was closed in September, however, as cost-cutting refocused work in three other centres in Scotland.

The travel industry might catch on to the idea. Some companies are handling business this way already and lastminute.com is ready to consider the use of a network of homeworkers in the new year. A backlash against offshoring might be a spur.

In the banking industry, NatWest is basing its marketing on the fact that it does not use call centres overseas in contrast to rivals such as HSBC.

Alan Denbigh, executive director of the Telework Association, points out that issues such as trusting the homeworker and managing them has made the concept put forward by Mr Wolff difficult to operate in practice.

"Remote working is more exacting in terms of management," Mr Denbigh said, adding that it tends to work best with higher skilled individuals. Even so, Mr Wolff thinks that it is just a matter of time before it catches on and points to the experience of the US.

Earlier this month the research firm IDC claimed companies were using "home-shoring" for call centre work and calculated that in some cases moving work stations into homes could boost productivity and efficiency while continuing to reduce costs. Some 100,000 people are already working this way inAmerica, IDC said. .end (paragraph)<>

<< Copyright ©2004 The Guardian. >>


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