Teleworking - Trends in and causes of location independent working.

Project details

Full project title: FUTURES: Teleworking - Trends in and causes of location independent working

Sponsor: Sustainable Urban Environment Programme (EPSRC)

Lead investigator: Professor Glenn Lyons

Principal researcher: Hebba Haddad

Project partners: University of Southampton and University of Leeds

Start date: April 2004

Finish date: March 2009

Project briefing sheet: Download the briefing sheet document (PDF)


FUTURES (Future Urban Technologies: Undertaking Research to Enhance Sustainability) is a major 5-year research programme as part of the EPSRC's Sustainable Urban Environment (SUE) Programme. FUTURES runs from April 2004 until March 2009. The principal academic partners are the Transportation Research Group at the University of Southampton (lead partner), the Institute for Transport Studies at the University of Leeds and the Centre for Transport and Society (CTS) at the University of the West of England. The consortium also involves a number of stakeholder partners. FUTURES is comprised of a number of key elements or activities. There are seven major research activities for which CTS is responsible for three:

Project summary

Statement of need

With changing household structures, longer working hours and a redefined role of women in society, the demands and constraints upon people's time can be considerable. As society has become more mobile, the spatio-temporal patterns of routine activities have tended to become more dispersed. The emergence of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs), particularly the internet, offers the potential to lessen the mobility burden on individuals and in turn on urban environments and enable people to better manage their busy and complex schedules by taking advantage of virtual mobility to render the spatial and temporal constraints of their daily routines more flexible.

Teleworking is one such manifestation of lifestyle pressures combined with ICT opportunities. It sits within a family of flexible working practices which also include annualised hours, compressed week, choice of shift patterns, term-time working, banked hours and job sharing. Teleworking introduces greater location independence into people's working lives. The significance of teleworking to FUTURES is in its potential to exploit new technology to improve people's quality of life and to reduce the traffic burden placed upon the urban environment, particularly during morning and evening peak periods. However, it is not a new phenomenon and there is a substantial base of literature which has sought to address its consequences for (urban) travel (e.g. Mokhtarian, 1991; Niles, 1994; and Lyons, 1998). It would be legitimate to ask, therefore, why another transport-related study of teleworking is now necessary and justified. The case is set out below.

Lack of empirical evidence - A clear mandate for this proposed plus project in FUTURES is given in the ten-year plan for transport: "the likely effects of increasing Internet use on transport and work patterns are still uncertain, but potentially profound, and will need to be monitored closely" (DETR, 2000). Studies of teleworking have often not had travel impacts as their primary concern. Of those which have, many have tended to be detailed but focused on very small samples and concerned with specific trials (e.g. Lyons et al, 1998). A recent study (HOP Associates, 2002) has highlighted the lack of empirical evidence concerning teleworking and transport. This has lead to the problem of much repeated expert speculation being reinforced by citation with the literature, which is a weak foundation for policy considerations.

Changing social trends - Much of the research into teleworking has pre-dated the mainstreaming of internet use into society. Since the Transport White paper of 1998, the proportion of households with Internet access has increased from 9% to 45% in 2002 (ONS, 2003b). The makeup of employment is changing - 75% of the 2.8 million increase in employment levels since 1987 is accounted for by women who now represent 46% of those in paid employment. Pressures of work are increasing - about a quarter of working men and more than one in ten working women are working more than 50 hours a week in the UK (ONS, 2003a). It appears that (perhaps because of social and technological changes) teleworking is now coming of age. Since 1997, the UK Labour Force Survey has asked a limited number of questions concerning teleworkers ("people who do some paid or unpaid work in their own home and could not do so without using a telephone or computer") (Hotopp, 2002). This reveals a 29% increase in teleworkers between 1999 and 2001. The increase in occasional teleworkers (those working at least one day a week at home) is most dramatic, having gone up by nearly half and 82% of occasional teleworkers are employees, rather than self-employed.

Impacts of the information age - The pertinence of new technologies to the above trends and the need now for empirical evidence and understanding arises not simply from the technologies themselves (such as home computers with Internet access, laptops and mobiles phones) but from how such technologies are changing the nature of the workplace. In modern office environments computers and the transfer of information between them has become an integral part of everyday work. Email is used increasingly to communicate in the workplace (frequently even when those communicating are located within the same building or even along the same corridor!). Documents can be exchanged and (jointly) worked upon in ways that were not previously possible. Such impacts of ICTs on the workplace have only occurred significantly in the past five years or so.

To summarise, the social and technological context for teleworking has now changed, rendering the practice of teleworking potentially more significant both socially and in terms of personal travel - empirical evidence and understanding are lacking and this is a shortcoming that needs urgently to be addressed.


The priority for this research is to yield unambiguous and informed evidence and understanding concerning to what extent locational dependence of working is and will be diminishing and what implications result for personal travel and in particular peak period travel in urban areas. Accordingly the objectives are as follows:

  1. To gather longitudinal data nationally on the incidence of flexible working and specifically of ICT-dependent teleworking and the corresponding consequences for commuting in urban areas;
  2. To track the changing practice and nature of teleworking and associated travel for a selected sample of individuals;
  3. To determine how and to what extent the temporal and spatial constraints faced by individuals as a result of their employment and personal lives are influencing the propensity to telework;
  4. To establish the extent to which attributes of the commute are causal factors in teleworking uptake;
  5. To assess the extent to which transport policy can therefore influence the incidence of teleworking;
  6. To produce recommendations on the future importance of teleworking to sustainable urban transport and guidance, accordingly, on whether, to what extent and how government policy should respond.


DETR (2000). Transport 2010 - The Ten Year Plan, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, July, TSO.

HOP Associates (2002). The Impact of Information and Communications Technologies on Travel and Freight Distribution Patterns - Review and Assessment of Literature. Final Report to DTLR, January.

Hotopp, U. (2002). Teleworking the UK. Special Feature in Labour Market Trends, June, ONS.

Lyons, G.D. (1998). An Assessment of Teleworking as a Practice for Travel Demand Management. Transport, 129(4), 195-200, ICE.

Lyons, G.D., Hickford, A.J. and Smith, J.C. (1998). The Nature and Scale of Teleworking's Travel Demand Impacts: Insights From a U.K. Trial. Proc. Third International Workshop on Telework: Teleworking Environments, Turku, Finland, 1-4 September, 312-330.

Mokhtarian, P.L. (1991). Telecommuting and travel: state of practice, state of the art. Transportation, 18(4), 319-342.

Niles, J.S. (1994). Beyond telecommuting: a new paradigm for the effect of telecommunications on travel. Global Telematics.

ONS (2003a). Social Trends. No. 33 - 2003 edition, Office for National Statistics, TSO, London.

ONS (2003b). Internet access: households and individuals. Accessed via www.statistics.gov.uk/pdfdir/int0403.pdf, viewed 29/04/03.