Lots of tweets today suggesting that rather than investing billions in building the high speed rail network in the UK, (HS2), this money would be better invested in improving broadband services to encourage teleworking. The idea here is that better broadband connectivity and availability would mean more people could work from home, conduct meetings over Skype and all those high speed train journeys just wouldn’t be necessary.
Makes sense in principle, but unfortunately this fails to recognise what the biggest barriers to teleworking really are. It’s not about connectivity. The simple truth is that most individuals and businesses – certainly in the major cities – currently already have more than adequate connectivity to be able to work from home. For most businesses, we’re talking about a good enough connection for email and standard information-based websites. Technologies such as Citrix and RSA secureID dongles, VPNs and the like are well-established, so there is no technological reason why more people shouldn’t work from home. And yet our tubes and trains are still packed every day with commuters wasting many hours and hundreds of pounds travelling to and from an office that they don’t really need to be at.
As ever, what is required here is a cultural change, not a technological change. The simple truth is that businesses and business leaders are still not entirely comfortable with the idea of their employees working from home, perhaps fearful that they’re going to spend the whole day in pyjamas watching Diagnosis Murder when they really should be filing that report. I work predominantly from home but still find myself travelling to too many meetings that really could just as easily have been done over the phone or on Skype. But sometimes there really is no substitute for looking someone in the eye, shaking their hand at the close of business and – more than anything – that sense of commitment to the project or business-in-hand that people like to see illustrated by the fact that you’ve actually bothered to turn up in person.
Perhaps the time is right for a bigger discussion about teleworking and a real examination as to why it isn’t happening and what can be done about it. I suspect the answer lies more in training and support for businesses to implement the significant cultural changes required throughout their organisations to go this route rather than in improving networks.