Mobile workers more productive: ILO report

Uncoupling of paid work from traditional office spaces is catching up


Mobile workers can play a part in policies that aim to promote inclusive labour markets. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Mobile workers can play a part in policies that aim to promote inclusive labour markets. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

New Delhi: As the world of work debates the ‘right to disconnect’ from the work place, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has come up with a report that says the uncoupling of paid work from traditional office spaces is catching up across many economies, including India.

The report released on Wednesday found that the trend is growing and seen as a win-win for both employees and employers. For employers, this means requirement of less office space and utilization of other resources; for employees, it means convenience, less intrusiveness and better work-life balance. The outcome is more productivity, says the report, titled Working anytime, anywhere: The effects on the world of work.

According to the ILO, some 19% of all Indians employed in the formal sector are “T/ICTM workers”. People working outside the office space including from home at least one day a week have been classified as T/ICTM, short for teleworkers/information communication technology mobile workers. Similarly, 20% of the total US workers, 16% in Japan, 32% Sweden and 28% in Finland are mobile workers.

“The uncoupling of paid work from traditional office spaces has been a crucial factor in this development. Today’s office work and, more broadly, knowledge work, is supported by the Internet, and can be carried out from practically any location and at any time,” the report said.

“Regarding the positive effects of T/ICTM, workers report a reduction in commuting time, greater working time autonomy leading to more flexibility in terms of working time organization, better overall work–life balance, and higher productivity. Companies benefit from the improvement in work–life balance, which can lead to increased motivation and reduced turnover as well as enhanced productivity and efficiency, and from a reduction in the need for office space and associated costs,” it added.

The ILO report said both companies and government policies in India are yet to start a debate on the matter. “(In) India, there has been little public debate on T/ICTM as a possible response and flexible working time arrangements are not part of the prevailing business model,” ILO said.

It said that mobile workers can play a part in policies “that aim to promote inclusive labour markets and societies, as some country examples indicate that it increases the labour market participation of certain groups, such as older workers, young women with children and people with disabilities.”

For example, in India the female labour force participation rate is less than 23% at a time when women constitute nearly 50% of the total population. In the absence of female workers, up to 80.4% of mobile workers are men, the report said. “While the gender distribution in India can be partly associated with a higher response rate among men than women in the survey, the labour force participation is substantially higher among men than women in India,” it added.

The ILO report, however, underlined that technology-enabled mobile workers have a tendency to work longer hours.

It said there is resistance from employers to allow this flexibility and among countries it studied “management resistance to T/ICTM is perhaps strongest in India”. “In fact, to reclaim their power the supervisors may increase direction and control (of) work procedures or even increase the surveillance of subordinates,” the ILO report said.

It said though Indian workers work more than 48 hours a week, “only 10%” workers in India were paid for work beyond their regular office hours, and “the share among T/ICTM workers is even lower (4%), despite the fact that these workers work more overtime”.

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