New approaches to housing

Today I am pleased announce the publication of my new book

Housing: approaches to policy

11th March 2016

My new book will be published on this blogsite in installments. It is about housing policy in the the United Kingdom.

The work grew out of a series of article published on Arts in Leicester. The series called House Bricks looked at the history of house building. The four-part series began in April 2015.

Housing:  history, policy and practice, 2015

I developed the book from these articles, adding lots of new material and discussing the subject of housing policy more widely.

The first installment of the new book commences with Part 1: Policy, practice and History.

See the contents of the book; this links to those parts that have been published.

Information Online

On-line information systems:

current trends and future prospects

This paper summarises current approaches to the electronic distribution of information and looks ahead to where things might be going in the future.
This was written as a contribution to the CivicNet conference in 1997.

The current situation

Public information, as far as the Internet is concerned, tends to be passive – i.e. you have to go out and get it. Libraries are passive – you have to go there to find the books and take them out. Electronic information services give more scope for being proactive – like TV news broadcasts, they pump the content out to the user. Some electronic ticker-tape services present a constant flow of news, others are more episodic. The WWW requires the user to search for the desired content and then to type in a URL or link from the results of a search, get into the page, browse through the site, mark the page to get back to it again.

Newsgroups again are passive and required the users to go into them and browse. List servers however are proactive in that they fire e-mails at the users, usually in daily batches but some are more frequent.

Kiosks provide information at the touch of a screen – are always up and running and only require the users to be in the same place as they are to present their content. Some companies provide TV video to customers – like those queuing at the post office. They run their content on looped video tape or CD ROM.

The Internet

The Internet is a world-wide public information system. One of its biggest components is the World Wide Web. The Internet is a network of several million computers all linked together via the world’s telephone and telecommunications links (including the high capacity ISDN lines). Information travels from one computer to another via the same telephone lines as the spoken word and by special channels called backbones. The Internet provides the capability of sending information, electronic mail, transfer of computers files and other electronic data packages.

World Wide Web

The web is a collection of some four million pages of information. A lot of these are linked together where there is related information and many of them are indexed in search engines. By typing keywords into these search engines, these web pages can be located. Web pages can present text, in full colour, still images, moving images and sounds (including speech and music). A variety of functions can be built into web pages such as the ability to send e-mail back to the authors, to fill in and send forms, purchase good or make orders of other kinds.

Intranets

Sometimes organisations or groups want systems that are geared to their needs and will create intra-nets. These use similar technologies to the Internet and also involve linking together networks of computers, but they are limited to defined computers and users who are admitted to the system.

Current methods of distribution

There a several standard packages for transferring information on the Internet. One of the oldest methods is the electronic bulletin board. This enables simple text to be posted and browsed and is usually available to anyone who finds that particular bulletin board. Similar to these are the newsgroups (Usenet groups) on the Internet. There are probably around about 15,000 of these and they tend to be grouped together by broad subject areas. Text is posted to the group and everyone else can read it. Postings need to be read on a regular basis. Most newsgroups can be read using a web browser or by specialised news group readers.

A new method emerging is what are push clients. These send information to the user, as opposed to news groups which you have to go to read. Push clients make information appear on your computer screen in a variety of ways.
Somewhere, between passive newsgroups and highly dynamic push clients, live the list servers. These are systems to which the user subscribes and which send e-mail like postings to the user’s e-mail address box. These postings are written by the other subscribers to that list or by people who are using the list to push out information. The list servers are like electronic mailing lists. Lists can have any number of subscribers and some have hundreds of subscribers. The software needed is an e-mail reader. By and large only simple unformatted text can be sent although a more recently generation of e-mail packages can now handle colour, fonts and text emphasis, like most word processors.

Where the technology seems to be heading in the future

One important development in the field of public information is digital TV. This is a broadcast media which allows TV pictures to be transmitted in a digital format rather than the analogue format we are currently using for most of what we watch on the TV. The significance of digital TV is that a lot of it is likely to be interactive, allow the users to feedback information, have a control over the content of what is being broadcast.

What I think we will see is a convergence of the Internet with broadcast media. The Internet has become increasingly multi-media. It is likely that the world wide web or something like it will be broadcast in the same way that TV pictures are broadcast and will go out over high band width channels either by satellite or optic cable. But the user will have the same level of selection, control and feedback as people current have on the Internet.
The world wide web is still a rather text-based collected of pages even though the technology exists to create totally multimedia web sites. The web can deliver video, sound and three-dimensional images in full colour but this requires to user to have high specification multi-media computing equipment. This is becoming more common.

However, I think there will be major changes in the hardware. the most common piece of electronic equipment in the world is the television. I think that the Internet will migrate over to TV and will put much of the processing power of a standard PC into the television and give people something like the existing remote control pad to navigate around the content. There might be an optional keyboard for those who feel they want it. But for the domestic users, they want to buy a TV and then be able to use the one box for everything – leisure, domestic information, education and games. It is possible that the same equipment will also be integrated with telephone – the Internet phone – and e-mail – ability to send text over the telephone network.

Broadcast media at national or European level might also be complemented by local networks – providing much more localised content rather like local radio does now. This is where the future of the community network lies. Community Networks (CNs) started out on the Internet, allowing small geographic communities to connect together. As the technical specification of the CNs increases, it is likely that they will merge into local broadcasting and information services. Other CNs will serve communities of interest rather geographical communities and this already happens a lot on the Internet. There is little difference between the two: a geographical community is a community of interest where people share information about their locality.

Community Networks and work

Work is about economic, educational or social activities. Being employed, having a job is part of work but so is being self employed, long term volunteering, studying for a qualification. Work has a variety of forms not just or only economic. Hence in the future we need not be concerned with people who are employed or unemployed – that is just a technicality. Most employed people will be on short term contracts, probably working for one or more employers. More and more people will work flexibly so that the public policy concern is about access to work – having the skills to do work, ensuring that there are effective skills registers (equivalent to yesterday’s employment exchanges or job centres), that people who wish to work have access to training, skills enhancement and the means of production – more and more of which needs to be either in the public sector or publicly available from commercial suppliers. As we move more and more into the information age, the means of production will be distributed on public infrastructures. In industrial societies capital was located in places – factories. The capital of the information age is software and that we be accessed through telecommunications channels.

In the past, work was limited by location: people went to work, they traveling from their homes to their factories, workshops, offices. They still have to do this in large numbers but the world has witnessed a growth in remote working or work that is mobile and not dependent on location. Teleworkers now work at home either as small businesses or employees. Home workers using telecommunications as an aid to their work.

In the past, the exchange or transfer of information was slow compared to today’s capacity for fast (almost instantaneous) communication of information and data. There is a danger of information overload and people need to develop information management skills from school age – start teaching kids information skills in primary schools and updating those skills goes on throughout life. I’m offering courses in effective communications and information management skills for people working in charities, community groups and teleworkers. They are proving to be popular.

In the past, the over-riding adage was ‘it is not what you know but who you know that counts.’ Now, in the information age, the converse it true: it very much is what you know that matters. And it’s about know where to find things out, how to get information, where to put information that make people effective communicators.

So, community networks supply the infrastructures for a range of social, political and economic functions – work, leisure, civic activities, voluntary work and activism, education, training, enterprise, family history, LETS schemes, community banking, credit unions, kids clubs…  a great long list of things that become possible once the technologies are made available.

Networks versus stand alone tools

The old work place was a location with tools on site. The trend now is towards networks where the tools are available in the network or are held centrally. The power of the computer is in the network. There is a battle going on between those who want to build ever more powerful stand alone computers and those who want to put all the processing power and tool kits into the networks so that all the user needs is a simple devise for getting into the network and working on-line.

I think the networkers will win. I think that desk top computers will amalgamate with televisions as far as the domestic user is concerned but that there will be a growing emphasis on the power of the network and that people will need computers that will open up the network and provide its facilities. The computer on our desk will need relatively little power.

The old tool box was one that houses tools. The new tool box is one that opens the door to tools that are distributed around a network and that are picked up and used when needed and then put back when that task has been completed.

The commercial challenge for software houses is that traditionally they have relied on selling large numbers of free-standing packages – or site licences. Now a lot of software is available over the Internet with people paying a registration fee to download it and use it. A new approach is for the software package to be houses on a central server and for a number of users to dial in and use it. But that is not any different from a network (LAN) server providing software to clients.

More and more people are working flexibly – from home – from other offices – mobile workers working from hotel rooms. People have begun to carry laptops around but they tend to be more expensive than desk tops. I favour the idea of the Network Computer – with lots of them being publicly available, in Libraries, in schools, colleges, community centres – places where people might want to work in the public arena and with the servers being dialled up from home. Computing power in the network and widely available through relatively cheap hardware and no personal software costs. Community printer banks mean people can get hard copy printed from high quality, high capacity machines and delivered to them by couriers.

Trevor Locke,  © 2nd June 1997

EconomicsAgeing

The economics of ageing

Over the past few months I have been following the media’s preoccupation with the “baby boomers”. Being over 60,  I am facing up to the challenges of not being in my prime any more. As current policy goes I am in fact only a few years away from retirement age [at the time of writing – see below for original date of publication].  What weighs on my mind however, is that by the time I reach 65 they will have moved the goalposts. I will have to wait till I am am 70 and who knows, by then, they will have probably dismantled the goal posts altogether.

I am most probably part of the work-till-you-drop generation. Retirement is just a passing phase, in the broader historic scheme of things. My grand fathers worked till they dropped and retirement was a luxury afforded only to post-war generations but, as an economic concept, it looks it’s being consigned to the museum of history.

What do we do?  With a labour market that is almost universally geared to people aged between 21 and 31, people in my age group are struggling to find any kind of employment. Despite the government’s blandishments about the need to employ older people, the recruitment industry just does not want to know.

This is why I am building my future around self-employment, where age does not necessarily matter. After 45 years of working life, I consider myself to have a broad range of knowledge, skills and experience. Try telling that to HR consultants. Fortunately I now include in that work profile,  over 15 years experience of running my own micro businesses.

Several things have got me thinking about the future of work.  Notice I use the word work; part of my vision of the future is that employment  is likely to follow retirement  into the graveyard of economic history – at least for a very sizeable segment of the population.

The 21st century is going to experience a sea change in how people earn a living. Large sections of the population are going to have get into self-employment and running their own  businesses, for no other reason than that is the only way they can avoid destitution and poverty. We are enter the age of the “sole trader”. [Current indications are that just under half the UK population of working age is self-employed. According to the Office of National Statistics, ‘Self-employment higher than at any point over past 40 years’, in 2014. ‘ The number of over 65s who are self-employed has more than doubled in the past 5 years to reach nearly half a million’]

We saw the rise of the Entrepreneur in the industrial revolution, the rise of the capitalist and the rise of corporate man in the twentieth century.  All that is waning and the the age of the sole trader is upon us. Company pensions are going to be a thing of the past and indeed several people have said recently that they have given up on the idea of a pension and prefer to invest in more secure containers for their wealth.  It’s an issue that government policy analysts are wrestling with. Western capital has moored itself to the rock of the pension funds, only to find that they have secured themselves to rocks that are beginning to sink to a watery grave, where they will find themselves gathering encrustations alongside the wrecks of “banks” and “building societies”.

In the meantime, my ship of private business is sailing into the new dawn of the twenty first century economy. Those who are aged 55 and over should be thinking about their futures as working men and women. Those futures are largely going to be self-determining.  We are exhorting our children to start paying into pension funds as soon as they start work, planning for a life-time of saving for their retirement.  Don’t.  It’s basing their future on the here and now.  Not a good idea.

I would rather see the nation’s parents exhorting their offspring to go on business courses, so that they have to basic skills to go it alone, if they find themselves bereft of employment  (a not-unlikely scenario, in my view.)
Tax consultants will have to start thinking outside of the box. Post-war society never had it so good because the state could easily collect its revenues from bulk employers: the corporations that could maintain an army of administrators to tax the work force and send the cheques to the treasury. Very cost-efficient. It is not where things will be in the future.

There might well be big corporations for the rest of our life-times but they are likely to be populated with sub-contractors rather than employees.  I am seriously thinking about the amount of time I spend submitting my CVs to companies. My four hours a day of laborious sifting through vacancies could be better spent raising my profile in the market place. So, if you’re the MD of a recruitment agency or a jobs web site, take my advice – plan for the future and re-engineer what you are doing. Your business is likely to find itself resting alongside the wrecks of the pension funds and banks.

The old order is waning. We just need to stand back far enough to see the bigger picture and look for enough head to see the direction in which the world is heading. Listening to a social media guru tonight, I heard her say that she stopped bothering about getting herself listed on job web sites and concentrated on making herself “be found” on the Internet.  Now, people phone her up to ask her to work for them, she claimed.  Much better.  That is where I need to be. recruiters now should be searching for people to hire. if you want a particular type of person, someone with a distinctive profile, you should be out there looking for them.

They [prospective recruiters]  no longer need to apply to you. You need to apply to them. Age is not important.  It’s a complete red-herring (just as is gender.) If you need people with the right skills for the job, go out and find them. As tonight’s speaker said:  NEVER put your real age on a profile, the speaker claimed.  I totally agree and we both understand the reasons why this principle is of prime importance. For me, it mainly to do with identity theft, where date of birth is the key to stealing identity (I know from my years of doing genealogy.)

I have decided not to put my age on my CV and I am busily deleting information that will give a clue to my age. If they are going to judge my application using age as a factor, I don’t want their job, I will just press the next button.

So, what am I going to do that will earn me a living and be consisted with my knowledge, skills and experience? I am going to work (notice the lack of the word job) for companies who can make money from people like me and share the benefits with people who want to work for them. Forget the pension, the PAYE, the office, the set hours of work, the employment contract, the annual leave package. These are legacy already.

Ah!  I can hear some of you whingeing already about the loss of annual leave. Well when you work for yourself you arrange your own holidays. You decide how much holiday you can afford, when you want it and where and how you want to take it.

Wave good bye to the concept of annual leave, conditions of service, benefits (such as the company car), the corporate credit card, health plans and all the other trappings of post-industrial corporate life. If you want something, earn the money and buy it yourself.

I did talk about sole traders  earlier didn’t I? Well, it’s interesting that many of the people who are on the long march into the new economy are working together. Yes they are still sole traders but they seeing the opportunities of working alongside other sole traders in business pods, even in project swarms. Being a sole trader can be lovely and isolating. Until you discover all the other people who are in same situation and suddenly realise that if you all work together,  you can be more than the sum of your parts.

Disheartened?  Frightened? Filled with foreboding?  I’m not. I am excited about the possibilities and the opportunities to show what I can do with my 45 years of experience.

Trevor Locke © 15th December 2010

LeicestershireTeleworking

Teleworking today and tomorrow

A talk given by
Trevor Locke, Chairman of Telenet
at John Storer House, Loughborough, on Thursday 5th February 1998.

Summary

Current patterns of teleworking in Leicestershire and in Europe

What teleworkers do

Nuts and bolts of being a teleworker

How they find work

Future prospects for teleworking in the year 2000

Four year of Telenet in Leicestershire

The impact of the Internet on teleworking

Current patterns of teleworking in Leicestershire

Teleworkers are people who work mostly at home or from home. OK in some cases they work from a small office but the key factor is that they work for clients who are some distance away – hence the ‘tele’ in telework.
Employees of companies are now [1998] more likely to spend some time working at home and on a more regular basis. Telework is becoming accepted as one of a number of flexible working practices available to large employers.
Traffic congestion is a factor in encouraging the growth of teleworking. Commuting has become a costly practice, both in time and expenses. Traffic congestion is increasing, although here in Leicester the problem is not a very great one. The City is about average for ancient Midlands cities in regard to congestion at peak hours. Parking capacity certainly is fully stretched but not necessarily overburdened. The road network is saturated at peak hours due to single car commuters but there is a computerised parking system. The commuting flow can be traced back to several large employers, most notably the City Council itself, the Inland revenue, the Hospitals, Universities and colleges.

Teleworking is for many firms an option for some white-collar workers on an ad hoc basis (a couple of days a week). LCC does have a home working policy whereby staff who are able to do so may work at home if they need to but the practice is not activity encouraged.

The City Council activity encourages staff to walk, cycle and use public transport. The development of the Town Hall Square Cycle Centre is an example of this as are the building of the cycle routes and bus routes. Much more could be done to encourage home working and this could further reduce regular traffic flows by up to 10 per cent.

Self employment

Most of the teleworkers who join the TCA (the national body for teleworkers) are self-employed and working from home. They tend to be white-collar specialists although there are also a large number of people who are home workers who might have a computer and might use it for work but they are not computing specialists – this is however a point where teleworking merges in with the general field of small business and self employment. Only a small number of teleworkers actually use a computer as their main piece of working capital – e.g. programmers, translators and web authors. Most teleworkers use a computer for word processing, accounts, some database work etc.

Teleworking is on the increase right across Europe and teleworkers are now more able to engage in collaborative projects with other teleworkers.
The Internet and competition amongst telecoms providers has meant that we have seen a decrease in telecommunications costs and an increase in the efficiency of telecoms media.

What do teleworkers do?

Some have described teleworkers as knowledge workers – collecting, repackaging and redistributing knowledge – but in many ways this sounds too vague. Let’s look at the list in Telwebsite: Electronic engineer, Software developer, Secretarial Services, Administration, Engineering consultancy, IT Consultant, Writer, Graphics designer, Journalist, Technical author, Multimedia author, Market researcher, Distance learning consultancy, Technical illustrator, Career management adviser, Psychometric tester, Tax adviser, Book keeper, Trainer.

There are a lot of people who have a computer at home, know how to do a bit on it and then are willing to take on any kind of assignment – loads of general administrators. Some are very vague on what they can do but are full of willingness and enthusiasm. Some have a yen to get into business and end up in those awful MLM schemes. Some just try to sell what ever they can over the phone.

The nuts and bolts of being a teleworker

Over the last four years I have tried to boil down the practice of being a teleworker to certain crucial elements:

(a) Working at home

For me teleworking is about being a home worker – working from home rather than at home – or both. I used to be out of the house most days in the week at one time – now I am spending four out of five days a week at home. That presents it own challenges – the fact that I am alone in the house all day. The fact that the office is in the home and if I cant find anything better to do I will work. I keep funny hours – common to work up to 2 in the morning and fall asleep in the last afternoon. Having two rooms solely devoted to office space is a source of friction.

(b) Finding work

I have multiple clients – up to 10 at any one time. I have constantly to be alert to new customers and I have to be all things at once – salesman, manager, operative, book-keeper.

I don’t make enough profit to employ secretaries, book keepers and salesmen though I ought to if I am to maximise the time I spend managing the business. One day I will get to that break point where I can. But I am beginning to work with other teleworkers – I am not so much a lone star as I used to be. That is very important – being able to find other people to work with and to share enterprise with them. I now have half a dozen associates – some in Leicester – one in the Netherlands. I find I am working with individuals and with larger companies.

(c) Doing the work

The biggest challenge is just shifting the vast pile of work that is always present. Having to keep plates spinning. Having to keep a clear sense of priorities – sadly, I have to say, this does always happen. I tend to do easy work in order to avoid the challenge of the really important and difficult stuff. When you work on your own you have to be able to engage in time management because you do not have anyone on your back tell you what to do.

How do teleworkers find work?

With great difficulty! If a teleworking is a generalist – administrator – portfolio worker – they have to do a lot of advertising. Marketing is all important. Yet a lot of work comes by word of mouth. Cross-fertilisation between clients.
You have to have good communications – customers won’t bother to find you if they can’t get an answer to their phone call. Some teleworkers end up working for agencies because it’s easier – marketing takes time and money.

Future prospects

Teleworking will continue to become easier and will be a greater possibility for more and more white-collar workers. House builders are just beginning to realise that people are working at home and are building houses with offices or studies.

Large companies are beginning to understand the benefits for teleworking. They are training managers to manage outputs. People are moving into the countryside out of the cities – this is a topic for the Government at a time when the Green Belt is under stress.

This only exacerbates commuting pressures and costs. Soon it will be cheaper to work at home because of the high cost of car ownership and travel. More student will spend more time studying at home and that will begin to affect school age children.

Four Years of Telenet

We begin with the East Midlands and have focused down on the county. That is more realistic. But the constant pressures of having to organise meetings is a burden for committee members who are very with their work.

We need to know how many of our members are on the Internet. I wonder if it feasible to run the Association for people who are not on the Internet. The sheer cost of doing mailings in time and postage is too great. E-mail and web pages cost so little – they are so easy to operate – there are none of the overheads of stuffing envelopes – doing printing – licking stamps. Perhaps the time has come to say no more paper based mailings. Do we actually need to meet together face to face.

Well many of us do enjoy seeing each other. I would suggest that we need the chance to meet face-to-face but they the bulk of association activities can be done over Internet and we would achieve more if we decided to go down that route. That might lead us to opening up our membership – to see Telenet as a general vehicle for anyone who is a regular work-related user of the Internet. But perhaps that is putting the cart before the horse.

It would be a loss if there was no longer a body to represent the interests of teleworkers, to promote teleworking, to give talks on the subject, to give advice to people who want to do this.

The impact of the Internet on teleworking

There is no doubt in my mind that the Internet has revolutionised teleworking. It has become a standard tool of the trade. It has opened up endless possibilities. It would be impossible to go back to being without it. Just as we would not want to return to manual typewriters or to having to send all communications by postal services. Once we enjoy a technological development there is no going back. But where are we going forward? What technological advances lie ahead of us?

Document created 6/2/98 © Trevor Locke 1998

NetactivismParticipation

Participation, inclusion, exclusion and netactivism:

How the Internet invents new forms of democratic activity.

by Trevor Locke

Community Networks are developing in the UK, just as they have developed in North America and other parts of Europe. They represent an important departure in the provision of community access to information, telecommunications and IT resources.

Community Networks are described as being people-oriented and place-focussed. In the criteria set by the co-ordinating body UK Communities Online, such networks are characterised by some or all of these features:

  • They offer a diverse range of information – not just ‘official’ material.

  • They seek to involve all sectors of the community in their production and consumption.

  • The offer and encourage some level of interaction, from e-mail feed back through to full-scale conferencing.

Such networks can be run by a local charity or association, a regeneration agency, a private individual or by multiple partners. They often provide training and support to users, free public access through a wide range of venues (such as libraries or community centres) [http://www.communities.org.uk].

It is true that communities of interest can and do exist on the Internet as well as naturally in society. UK Communities Online has oriented itself to geographically bounded communities, even though it recognises that communities of interest will co-exist with these networks. Hence, it regards electronic networks as arising from pre-existing social and economic relationships and are part of the development and regeneration of geographical areas and their communities.

Debbie Ellen has formulated a Charter for Community Internets in which she sets out a number of principles or values that characterise community networks. One of these principles is that of inclusion:

commitment to the principle of social inclusion in the ‘information society’ for all (learn from each other networks that have found ways of providing access to the less well educated elderly people afraid of or uncomfortable with the technology, people on low incomes who cannot afford the hardware..) [Ellen, 1997 http://www.comunities.org.uk%5D

A principle often enshrined by these networks is freedom of access. In order to maximise inclusion, the networks are established in such as way as to allow the users to gain access to them at someone else’s expense. Gaining access to the network is about gaining access to the opportunities that flow from it. Freedom of speech is another widely espoused principle associated with the way the networks are set up and operated.

The networks seek to involve all sectors of the community, allow businesses to stand side by side with charities, the arts, recreation clubs and voluntary social services. It is frequently the users who develop the information that is placed on the network. Network developers, as a matter of principle, enable and encourage local groups and individual users to provide information, news and material for the networks. It is felt to be consistent with the general principles of community development that users should feel a sense of ownership for the networks in which they are involved.

Debbie Ellen sees the outcomes of the networks as including

  • improvement of local democracy, through enhancing access to information and improved communication;

  • improving communications between individuals and groups;

  • improving opportunities for work and business;

  • improving input to local planning and development;

  • strengthening self help initiatives;

  • supporting local organisations such as LETS schemes, credit unions, food co-operatives, volunteering or home working [ibid].

David Miller of Sheffield University has considered community information networks (CINs) which serve the needs of users in a specific geographical area. David pointed out that early electronic information systems tended to be based either on video-text or on networked PCs. These were often under the control of some centralised authority with decisions about content, where points of access should be placed and other key characteristics being made by network managers rather than by the users. He argues that the Internet has allowed users to take control of the content and form of the information which they provide.

David distinguishes three types of network (1) those that are initiated and controlled by the local authority, (2) those initiated and developed by the private sector and (3) those initiated and developed by user populations. There are a great many local information systems on the Internet; an index of web sites maintained by the London Borough of Brent includes 262 entries, the same number as the list maintained by the private sector company Tagish (figures taken in August 1997 – new sites are appearing each week). There are many sites in the UK that provide information about local areas and which are maintained by private sector companies, such as local newspapers.

Even though bounded by a geographical area, these are not community networks because they provide only information about a local area. Community Networks are by their nature interactive, multi-functional, user driven and are a function of some broader regime of community development or regeneration. Whilst information provision might well be a key function of many web sites, it is the involvement of local people that determines that an initiative falls into the remit addressed by this article.

The network can be either a specially engineered intranet or one that is provided through the medium of the Internet. Sometimes, the network involves both of these, with gateways allowing access between the two in a controlled manner. Whilst some networks allow completely free access, some require users to register and thereafter logon to the network even if they do not have to pay a registration fee. Sometimes, there are areas on a network that are confined to local users and screened off from unfettered public access.

As Cisler as argued, in an early study of community networks:

Just as electrical systems began to transform urban and small town America a century ago, community computer networks will do so in the 1990’s. The present situation is that few people are aware of the concept of community computing networks, any more than people understood much at all about electricity in 1890. Most of the attention has been paid to national research networks such as the Internet and the commercial consumer services such as Compuserve, GEnie, Prodigy or business services such as MCIMail or Dialcom. On a local level thousands of electronic bulletin boards have been started by dedicated individual hobbyists, small business people, non-profits, corporations, federal agencies, other governments and educational institutions. What is striking about many of these ventures is that each group is relatively unaware of the activities by the other groups. Database providers such as Dialog and Mead Data stay out of the messaging business except for narrow uses; business mail systems are just beginning to make links to bulletin board networks, and the BBS networks are just learning about the Internet. [Community Computer Networks: Building Electronic Greenbelts, Copyright by Steve Cisler, 6/20/93, Apple Library, US]

Community Networks and Political Participation

Community Networks are creating additional platforms for political participation. The network provides a medium through which public and politicians can communicate, exchange information, consult, debate and gauge each other’s opinions on the issues that confront them. It is a medium which replicates the more traditional face to face interactions and exchanges as well as sometimes creating its own unique versions of political interaction.

It does this to the extent that users bring their issues to the network, seek to influence decision-makers who are online, are willing to use its various platforms for debate or are open to being polled on-line. The Internet – with its email and web sites – is too often just an electronic replication of the printed media. Unlike the printed media, the Internet is fully interactive, speeding up the exchange of views and information from say 24 hours to real time (synchronous) communications through chat, video or audio.

Community Networks have grown around the world. Having been created first in North America and flourishing in Europe, they are now firmly established in the UK. As a reflection of their entry to the UK, Communities Online (COL) has been created to co-ordinate, resource and service the needs of this field. COL has an extensive web site of information about community networking [http://www.communities.org.uk].

It aims to bring groups together, to inform the field and to encourage new Community Networks to come into being. Having secured funding it now has a full time Director (David Wilcox) [as at 1997/98] COL provides a list of about 40 Community Networks in the UK and Eire. One of the largest Community Networks in the UK is Hantsweb which has over a quarter of a million pages of information and a county-wide network that provides both a public media of communication and an Internet intranet for the County Council.

Access and inclusion

We know that only a minority of people have access to computers let alone on-line computing. We also know that access to the Internet is rapidly increasing. It was reported that the number of PCs accessing the Internet in the US increased from 15 million in early 1996 to 31 million in the following 12 months. Most Internet access is made from home PCs, although access from work based PCs is growing, increasing by more than 200 per cent since last year [ISOC Forum, 25.7.97, Vo1.3. No.7.]

Whilst it is true that there has been an exponential rate in the growth of the Internet, as measured by the amount of traffic and the volume of web pages, and a considerable increase in the number of people who access it on a regular basis, it is still by no means a mass media. It is limited to social, educational and economic elites.

The issue of access to technology, of inclusion in access and exclusion from it, is an important issue for politicians and educators alike. A recent report bears witness to this. The report (on ensuring social inclusion in the Information Society) was backed by IBM and strongly endorsed community networking as the way forward.

The Net Result, report of the UK National Working Party on Social Inclusion (INSINC), recommended two linked models to ensure social inclusion – local IT community resource centres and community networks. Between them these initiatives provide well-organised information, access, training, and scope for electronic discussion forums. They enable citizens and community groups to become active participants rather than passive receivers of information. The report was launched on June 24 1997 at the headquarters of IBM UK in London. IBM supported the work of the independent working party, together with the Community Development Foundation.

So what role do these local networks play in distributing the opportunities and benefits of new technology? The aim of community networks is to bring the opportunities offered by ICTs and the benefits they confer to people who would not normally be able to gain access. They are oriented to people who are economically excluded from the personal ownership of such technology, to those who would otherwise be excluded from seeking information and from engaging in public communications.

Community networks have a political implications, not least because they enhance and empower access to information. Already local and central government politicians (and local authority officers) have realised the potential of the Internet for communicating with the public and offering them information. It is estimated (in 1997) that over half of all local authorities have some presence on the world wide web.

In Birmingham, the ASSIST project allowed people to discuss Council policy issues, provide a channel of consultation between public and elected members. It enabled people to gather opinion and and to engage in debate in ways that were entirely new. Some Councils have experimented with their financial planning procedures by making Council Tax and spending plan information available on the Internet. Financial information is ideally suited to Internet communication: there is a lot of it, it is almost entirely documentary and textual, it constantly changes and it benefits from graphical presentation.

From the provider side, community networks are seen as enabling citizens to participate more fully in the formal structures of the national and local state. Paying officers to spend time answering public enquiries is expensive – a very resource hungry service. The more that information can be made available on a self service basis, the more cost-effective it becomes. Expensive resources like staff are better deployed on generating new information, implementing policies and evaluating them rather than answering the telephone to tell Joe Public the same thing for the hundredth time.

One of the most frequently asked questions on the Edinburgh Public Information system was reported to have been “where can I get a refuse sack?” Answering that question has probably cost the local authority hundreds of thousands of pounds in staff time. Placing that information on the Internet and on pubic access terminals released valuable resources to deal with other environmental issues.

Access and inclusion will be aided by both the provision of technology and by the intelligent deployment of that technology in the service of the public. Too often information is set out in a dull, uninviting and unimaginative way. Information producers seems to think they can get away with lifeless presentations of text on computers that would never be allowed on more visual media. Fortunately that is beginning to change. Information is becoming more multimedia, more animated, fun to use, and engaging – making it more likely that the user will come back and use the technology again. Paper based media are available to information providers. They have word processors and photocopies and thus the means of production are under their control on a DIY basis. The web however is a technically elite medium requiring specialised resources in its creation and specialised knowledge and skills to deploy those resources. In this regard it is easy for professionals and technicians to gain a powerful hold on the Internet. Fortunately, there is no shortage of people who want to liberate skills and resources for the benefit of the community.

Netactivism

In the US the Rand Corporation completed a massive and seminal study called “Universal access to e-mail: feasibility and societal implications”. The study considered the feasibility of making e-mail as commonplace as the telephone. In the concluding chapter of the report, the authors considered the policy conclusions and made a series of recommendations.

The authors argued:

We find that use of electronic mail is valuable for individuals, for communities, for the practice and spread of democracy, and for the general development of a viable national information infrastructure. Consequently, the nation should support universal access to e-mail through appropriate public and private policies.

and a little latter they observed:

Individuals’ accessibility to e-mail is hampered by increasing income, education, and racial gaps in the availability of computers and access to network services. Some policy remedies appear to be required. These include creative ways to make terminals cheaper; to have them recycled; to provide access in libraries, community centres, and other public venues; and to provide e-mail ‘vouchers’ or support other forms of cross-subsidies.

Their evidence suggested that email played a central role in the promotion and use of electronic networks. Evidence from the town of Blackburg in the US, where Internet access was said to have reached some 60 percent of the residents, suggested that the most popular function to be provided was e-mail. Residents use of email far outstripped that of surfing the World Wide Web.

The next step up from the e-mail is the bulletin board, newsgroup and list-server. For a few months last year I subscribed to the US list-server, Civic Values, provided by the Institute for the Study of Civic Values. It was a very lively and active list, dropping more postings into my mail box each day than I could easily cope with. It was during my subscription to this list that I became aware of the concept of netactivism, primarily through the work of Ed Schwartz, a leading proponent of the application of the Internet to political activism.

Ed’s book Netactivism: How citizens use the Internet was published in 1997. The book described how:

Electronic networks offer new channels for action from the neighborhood to the national level. Now you can quickly find out what the government really does and organize around a cause or around a community using mailing lists, online debates, and websites.

The flyer for the book astutely observed that

this book is not a paean to the Internet. It deals also with the real world outside the Internet. Schwartz takes a hard look at what contemporary political movements need, whether they be about neighborhood empowerment, ecology, children, or electing candidates to public office. The Internet is not an end in itself, but a tool to wield in the constant job of organizing people. This book discusses the roles of mailing lists, Web sites, and community networks, and their relationship to traditional outlets for activism [ibid]

In would concur with these arguments and believe that the Internet is not an end in itself, it is a medium that is used and moulded like all of other media to suit the ends of the users. It does not depersonalise users; people “en-personalise” the Internet.

Future trends and directions

The emergence in the UK of community networking is in itself a key trend that will influence access to information communications and technology. It is very likely that people will learn to use such facilities just as they have learnt to use the telephone, the broadcast media and computers. What drives users is their agendas, their desires, their anger, values, ambition, lust for power, public spirit, commitment to justice and equality, greed …. all the things that have driven humanity for thousands of years. Technology may have changed since the times of the Greeks and Romans, the Egyptians and the Incas, but the underlying motivation and behaviour of its users has remained remarkably constant.

Some might argue that the essence of new technology will radically alter the way that people think and act, that there are inherent properties within the technology that will bring about qualitative changes in human relationships and in social differentiation. It is argued that the Internet is a great leveller – it depersonalises and allows anyone to do anything irrespective of their race, age, sex or class. I doubt this. In fact my experience suggests that this is decidedly not so. In a classic joke of the Internet, a dog (seated at a computer), remarks to another dog that “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”. My role as a Chat Room Host on AOL [in the 80s and 90s] leads me to suspect that whilst the Internet is a cloaking device, in the final analysis the real person always shines through, if only dimly. As people become more fluent with the language of on-line chat, as they master its capacity for social communication, their real selves become revealed. The dog is soused out; his canine properties finally being detected in his mannerisms, style and attitude. You can pass for a human being and fool some of the people some of time but at the end of the day you are still a dog and subject to doggy ways.

Although this might sound trite, it signifies an important principle for electronically mediated human transactions: the more you use the media, the more fluent you become. It’s the same as speaking a language: the more you speak it, think in it, feel with it and live by it, the more difficult it is to detect that it is not your native tongue. No matter what kind of communications media is used, the more it is used the more fluent become its users. Just as language speakers become fluent in the spoken word, so signers become fluent with their medium of communication.

The Internet is still relatively new and there is still a large proportion of people, even in advanced technological societies, who have not been on it. Television however is a technology that is omniscient: can there be even one sighted person in the UK who has not seen television? How many people hardly ever watch it?. Even people who themselves do not own a TV find they end up watching it at the home of a friend or relative. TV has become the technology that has penetrated everyday life and penetrated it the most deeply. Even more than the telephone.

The advent of digital TV will, in my view, have a far more profound impact on everyday life for the majority of the population than the Internet. It is very likely that the Internet will continue to exist alongside the telephone and the wireless but it will be, I suspect, the preserve of the literati; it will attract the devotions of a dedicated following, like citizen band radio still does following the passing of its hey-day. Digital TV however will replace newspapers and the Internet as the main infrastructure for the delivery of information. It will do everything that the exponents of the Internet claim for their own medium but it will do it better.

The Internet is a wonderful thing but the biggest barrier to its success is that you need a computer to get into it. More precisely, the biggest barrier to mass access to the Internet is the keyboard. The keyboard is the artefact of the literary elite, the technically competent and the highly skilled. The mode of communication of the common person is the voice. Even the mouse is not a universally welcome tool amongst the IT-literati. Most people will cope with the remote control of their TV, providing its doesn’t get too complicated. Within a few years, the keyboard will be as obsolete as the inked ribbon is now as we will learn to communicate with technology via our voices. That will open up technology and will be the most important development in providing access to technology.

TV has up to now been a largely passive device; digital TV, combined with a feedback loop with every box with put access into every home. There is still something a little exclusive about the telephone. If that feedback can travel through the electricity supply, then that would open up interactive TV to universal enfranchisement. It will be possible to allow the individual to vote via their TV, ask questions and publish their opinions with needing specialised technologies. Interactive, digital TV carries enormous power because it gives everyone equal access to the means by which political persuasion is produced.

Even now, the media channels public opinion polling into the political arena. All opinion polls are however long-winded, manual procedures that must, in practical terms, utilise relatively small samples. TVs on the grid, however, will allow universal opinion polling and voting. A national referendum would be a routine event.

If we come back in ten years time to reconsider the impact of technology on democracy, we will hear little of the Internet: it was just a passing technology, like the vinyl record and the audio cassette. It will occupy the same place in the history of technology as citizens band radio. Its force and content will have been taken over by digital TV. Its interactivity and connectivity will find a much fuller life and vigour in the mass audiences of the TV set. Within about ten years, every household in Europe will have one box which will combine together our present domestic technologies of TV, telephone and computer. The implications of that for politics and democracy are quite profound.

© Trevor Locke 1998

PlaceToLive

A place to live: a place to work

Teleworking from home: the implications for planning and house design

[This article was published in 1995]

Introduction

An increasing number of people are working from home, either on a full or part time basis, either as employees or as self-employed people. A survey carried out in 1992 for the Employment Department found that 1 in 10 employers use some form of home-based worker, 1 in 20 employs at least one person who could be described as a teleworker and a further 8.5% of employers have actively considered introducing teleworking [Huws, 1993]. By 2001, there will be over 10 million teleworkers, according to the Henley Centre for Forecasting [BT, 1993]. It has been estimated that the total number of homeworkers in the UK is now between 1.3 and 2 million, of whom just over half a million are full-time teleworkers [Smythe, 1994]. This is probably an under-estimation because a lot more people work at home than appear in the statistics.

The 1991 Census suggests that about 5% of the working population work mainly at home [Felstead and Jewson, 1995]. This represents a considerable increase over the 1981 Census results. The highest proportion of homeworkers are employers, managers and those in professional occupations. A report commissioned by Reed Personnel Services found that nearly 14% of large employers now use teleworkers [Reed, 1995]. These increases are probably due to the greater availability of computers, faxes and telecommunications and to the trend towards flexible working practices, such as temporary and fixed term contracts, part-time working and out-sourcing of technical skills.

What does this mean for the house building industry?

It is clear that an increasing number of people are living and working in the same place. This trend poses a number of implications for architects, those who supply homes and town planners. Since the full employment of the 1960s, when a relatively small number of people lived and worked in the same building, the home has been regarded as a place of escape from the demands and pressures of work. The 1980s and 90s have seen a considerable increase in home ownership, a trend away from the rented sector to house buying or some form of social housing. There has been a steady increase in the number of households having a telephone and, more recently, in those having a personal computer at home.

People who spend all or most of their working lives either at home or being based at home are confronted with a range of problems that stem from the fact that society has not adapted to this trend. Companies that insure household contents frequently refuse to cover computers used for business purposes. Local authorities can be confused about how they assess the need for planning permission in cases where small businesses are being from homes in mainly residential areas where offices or workshops would not normally be allowed. The Inland Revenue, it is said, will impose taxes on people who take their computers home from their offices to do work (on the assumption that they could also be used for domestic or leisure purposes).

What kind of homes are needed?

Where house building companies are designing new homes, particularly for those in the executive sector of the new build market, the requirements of working at home are not widely taken into account. Some higher priced houses now include a room that is intended to be used as a study. A few houses have been given garages that could be converted into offices or workshops. Quite a few garages have been converted even though not designed with such a move in mind. A number of design features could be worked on with a view to meeting the requirements of home workers, as for example, the placement of telephone sockets in the bedrooms. Home workers often use bedrooms as offices or work areas. Ground floor rooms that could be used for home working are as yet not widespread and tend to be confined to higher value homes.

Not all home workers are professionals sitting behind computers; some are craft workers, catering for the increasing demand for the products of country crafts, fine art, and decorative object d’art. Some home workers are piece workers, fabricating small items on a very labour intensive basis. These considerations relate both to new build and to conversion designs. Housing Associations converting or refurbishing properties might also take note of the trend towards home working by providing fittings that will meet some of the needs of home workers. Some houses could be designed with purpose built workshops in outbuildings. Some housing estates could be provided with buildings that could serve as neighbourhood offices or light industrial use, such as car repair centres or for craft working. Can certain rooms be designed so that they could be used either for bedrooms or offices, as dining rooms or as studies? Can certain exterior walls be designed so that out buildings or temporary structures can be added to them, for use as workshops?

What are the planning implications for working at home?

Apart from a few exceptions, local authorities have not begun to address the planning issues involved in the trend towards home working. Few have yet identified that the trend exists or, if they have, have responded to it. An exception is Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council, which has adopted a Supplementary Planning Guidance Note on Business Uses in Residential Areas. Having recognised that working patterns are changing and that there are increasing numbers of people employed either full or part time at home, the Note sets out to establish criteria for deciding whether a business use from home requires planning permission. It tackles the question of whether or not planning permission is required for working at home. Use of any part of a house or flat would normally constitute a ‘material change of use’ that required planning permission. However, where someone is working from home in a small scale way, the grant of planning permission is not normally required. The criteria involved include:

  • the main use of the property must remain residential;

  • there must be no alteration to the exterior of the property;

  • no sign or advertisement must be displayed on the dwelling;

  • no person outside the household itself must be employed;

  • there must be no use of garage/sheds and ancillary residential storage in connection with the business;

  • there must be no nuisance to adjoining residents caused by noise, vibration, fumes/smell or unsociable hours if this has a noticeable effect on the privacy of neighbours.

The guidance note advises those thinking of working at home to discuss their proposals with their neighbours. In some cases the Council may impose a temporary permission in order monitor the effects of the business on neighbours. There are other planning issues that are more to do with structure plans than individual houses. Some of these issues are to do with the volume of commuter traffic from outlying areas into city centres. Traffic congestion is now endemic in our cities and towns. The more that local authorities can encourage people to work at home for two or more days in each week, the more commuting traffic can be abated. Clearly, only certain types of work are amenable to home working. Local authorities could play an active role in promoting ad hoc home working with employees and employers. There are good environmental reasons why they should do so.

The rise of the neighbourhood work place.

Not everyone wants to work at home. An alternative is the provision of neighbourhood offices: places that are equipped to offer people desks on demand, computers, telephones, faxes and photocopiers. Telecottages are an example of small business centres that have equipment, particularly computers, that can be hired by the hour. The advantages of these local work spaces is that they enable people to either to walk to them or to travel along different routes, rather than travel into the centre of town and out again. By encouraging flexible hours of use, traffic movements can be evened out. Secondly, such centres provide a broader range of equipment than most people would have at home, particularly if they work away from their offices on an ad hoc basis. Apart from centres catering for office workers, there are nursery units for people who are engaged in more physical work, such as crafts or small scale manufacturing, light engineering and so on. These can be located away from the areas that attract the greatest traffic flows.

For young people there are an increasing number of foyers, buildings that provide accommodation for youngsters to live in and space for work and training. Some tower blocks have been converted to use for single people and some provide common rooms for study or work. High rise flats, unsuitable for families, could well be adapted for mixed residential and occupational uses. Some of the office accommodation that has been over supplied could be adapted to this kind of mixed tenure of living and working. Again, it is likely that planning policy would need to be amended to facilitate this. Central Government might actually encourage the adaptation of surplus office buildings through modifications to Business Rates and Council Tax charges.

CONCLUSIONS

There really is no reason why the home and the work place need be so inexorably separated. The distancing of home and work is a recent phenomenon historically; our ancestors had little choice but to live and work in the same buildings until the industrial revolution brought whole sale changes to the size of factories and mills.

The availability of information and telecommunications technology now allows the home and the workplace to co-exist. This demands that we adapt our attitudes, our culture and our behaviour accordingly. A great deal of down-sizing is going on in firms and public bodies. There is less zeal for the construction of huge office buildings, for people being brought into city centres in their ten of thousands, for a 9 to 5 existence that is dependent on commuting long distances. More and more people are aspiring to self employment, leaning to live on and by their own resources. Competition is favouring the businesses that have lower overheads, than can achieve a high level of productivity without over burdensome overheads. Companies in the service sector are realising that they can reduce their costs by reducing the amount of office accommodation that they have to maintain. Some are dispensing with expensive fleets of company cars.

These trends are conferring an environmental advantage, a green dividend that many companies and local authorities would wish to secure. Our travel systems are straining to cope with the increasing demands made on them. Those who, for one or two days a week, do not have to get into their cars or wait for buses and trains, can increase their performance and out put. They can avoid some of the ills and illnesses resulting from commuting stress and sick building syndrome. Where more people are at home during the day, there is less burglary. Much can be done by housing developers and local authorities to encourage and enable home working. There are many reasons why they would want to do this.

This paper was written by Trevor Locke © Copyright reserved 1995

REFERENCES

BT (1993) The indispensable guide to working from home published by BT 1993. BT (1995) Welcome to Network Services: your user guide.

Farrant, Sue (1995) A Beginner’s Guide to Teleworking, Thames Valley Enterprise Ltd, Newbury College, Oxford Road, Newbury, Berkshire.

Felstead, Alan and Jewson, Nick (1995) Working at home: estimates from the 1991 Census, Employment Gazette, March 1995, pp 95 – 98

Huws, Ursula, (1993) Teleworking in Britain A report to the Employment Department is available from the Research Management Branch, Employment Department.

Huws, Ursula (1995) A Manager’s guide to teleworking.

Murray, Bill (1995) Vital statistics: results of the telecottage survey, The Teleworker, Vol.2. No.2. Feb/Mch 1995 pp 14 – 16

Reed (1995) Shape of work to come: a major research survey and report on changing patterns of work in UK organisations, by Reed Personnel Services and the Home Office Partnership.

Smythe, Kate (1994) Teleworking, in Local Work, Sept/Oct 1994, No.55, pp 1 – 11

(published on this blog 23rd October 2015.)

Teleworking and the Growth of Community Networks

Teleworking and the Growth of Community Networks.

Paper given the second international conference on Telework held in Amsterdam from 2nd September to 5th September 1997.

Trevor Locke

Let me first of all offer some clarifications of terminology. By ‘telecentre’ I mean a building or location offering facilities which support teleworking. By ‘teleworking’ I mean economic activity that involves the use of ICTs as a core business function. By ‘community networks’ I mean ICT mediated connections among a group of users. ICT means Information and Communications Technologies.

Delegates at the conference reception in 1997
Delegates at the conference reception in 1997

1. Telecentres

If we look at what we might call a ‘classical’ model of a telecentre, we would see a building, probably in a rural area, in which we would find computers, printers, software, most likely a photocopier. IT might also have a scanner and a rack of leaflets and brochures about local business support services, what the council does, where to get advice about tax and so on. In the UK and in some parts of Europe, telecentres are sometimes called ‘telecottages’. In the UK well over half of all the units listed by the Telework and Telecottage Association as being telecentres have names that include neither the word ‘telecentre’ or the work ‘telecottage’ but which are called by some business or community name, for example Adur Resource Centre, BOON Ltd, Colne Valley Trust Business Services. All the TCA listed units have had to pass selection criteria in order to be listed in its directory and hence they can be referred to as telecentres, even if they are not called that.

Telecentres emerged in the mid 80s as a response to the demand for access to IT but at a time when PCs were not as affordable as they are today. The first telecottage to open in the UK was the Moorlands Telecottage near Buxton and it is still there today. The first telecottages in Europe started a few years earlier in Sweden but as a concept they were born in the United States where a range of projects and initiatives began to make computing facilities available to people in local communities.

Now [1997] there are about 160 telecentres in the UK in membership of the Telecottages and Teleworkers Association (the TCA). There are some chains of telecentres such as those being developed in Devon – the RATIO project – designed to put some 40 local centres into place across the county. In Norfolk there are half a dozen telecentres established by partnerships and funded by Europe and similarly Powys has a network of local centres. In general however telecentres in the UK tend to be individual units and the majority of them are supported by public funding to some extent, primarily in their first few years before they make the transition to sustainable business. Many are purely business units but most perform dual business and community roles.
The majority are one off projects created locally by people or groups. Very many of them now offer access to the Internet. They are not Cybercafes – there is also a UK network of independently run Cybercafes that offer access to the Internet. The primary function of the telecentre is to provide a physically accessible location for access to Information Technology and its supporting functions of training, consultancy and maintenance.

A map showing the location of the telecentres across the UK indicates that they range from the Islands of Scotland down to the South West peninsula with a concentration in Wales and perhaps something of a scarcity in the Midlands. Despite its population concentration and its large rural counties, the Midlands is not well served by telecentres.

2. Teleworking

Teleworking is a very varied phenomena. It is a form of economic activity that has very open and permeable boundaries. I would argue however that there are some characteristics of teleworking that are essential to its being a definable activity.

There are three defining characteristics of teleworking: the first is working with Information Technology. Teleworking is largely about knowledge or information based activities. It would be difficult to regard someone who does not use a computer as a teleworker. It is often confused with home working. Many teleworkers do work at home but not all and it is not an essential characteristic. There are many home workers who do not use computers as a prime business function; there are home workers who happen to use computers as do many self-employed people or small businesses and there are home workers who have no computers at all and would never need one. A person who receives work in the post from a remote client, processes it without the use of IT and delivers it back by post could claim to be a teleworker and would indeed fit some of the criteria. Hence my argument that the definition is open and not watertight but I don’t think this what most people would regard as teleworking.

Secondly, teleworking, in essence, involves working over distance, involving some form of telecommunications medium such as e-mail, FTP, ISDN and so on. It is possible to telework with a telephone and a fax machine but this would be a very marginal form of teleworking. The mainstream of telework is computer based and in fact ICT oriented. The ability to send files along telephone lines has always been seen to be an important aspect of teleworking and has been possible for over fifteen years now. Some teleworkers have sent their products by computer disk rather than by file transfer. Some are multi-tasking with a portfolio of clients and their output and mode of delivery might vary from one job to another.

Thirdly, it involves the delivery of work to a remote employer to customer or client. This involves a contractual or management relationship different to that normally associated with face to face work in offices. Teleworkers can be employees, self employed or members of a small business, collective or virtual team. There is no point in talking about getting a job as a teleworker: it is a mistake people make who misunderstand the terminology. I often say to them: would you look for a job as an employee? No, of course not. So no one works as a teleworker. People do teleworking as part of their job or business. Some teleworkers have just one customer (possibly an employer) and others have many customers. The key characteristic is that they are far enough away from each other that the cost of traveling to face to face encounters is more than the cost of telecommuting. Another feature is that the telework owns his own means of production and maintains his own workplace but that on its own is not a sufficient characteristic.

3. Telework and Patterns of Work.

Patterns of work are changing and this has fuelled the recent growth of and interest in teleworking together with other forms of flexible patterns of work. The job for life has disappeared and the full time, permanent job is becoming increasingly rare. Jobs as being replaced by contracts, self employment and piece work. Corporations have downsized and shed tiers of specialists and middle managers as they have adopted flatter management structures and have sub-contracted specialist functions. Increasing investment in technology has reduced the need for technical posts. This has in some areas flooded the market with people who need to replace the full time permanent job with some form of self employment.

Telecentres do support teleworkers but alongside other species of self-employed worker and micro business. They also support volunteers from local communities and provide resources for the employed teleworker. They often perform both business incubation and community support functions.
The number of teleworking employees has grown steadily as large companies have realised the economic benefits to be gained from offer teleworking is one of a number of flexible working practices. This grow has been supported by the market for ICT: costs have reduced comparatively but at the same time the productivity of the technology has increased. Teleworking still remains however a marginal mode of working even within ‘white collar’ and professional occupations. No UK government has yet adopted taxation policies designed to offer incentives to employers to developing teleworking. The increasing costs of transport (especially commuter transport) has also pushed teleworking and as urban traffic congestion increases and the cost per mile of commuting increases, so the pressure towards teleworking will grow.

4. Community Networks (C-Nets)

The 1970s and 80s saw the rise of the low cost personal computer. The last 80s and the 90s have witnesses the mass ownership of PCs. The 90s have seen the phenomenal growth of the Internet. These trends in the IT market have resulted in the development and spread of community networks – C-nets – as ICTs have become more accessible and affordable. Underlying these trends in IT have been fundamental changes in the power and sophistication of telephone networks. There has been a convergence of telephone and computer technologies.

Terrestrial telephone networks have increased in power and sophistication. Teleworking products have been developed for the small office and home office markets. ISDN is becoming less expensive, mobile phone or satellite telephone networks have grown enormously and the traditional copper wire has been replaced by fibre optic and satellite connections over many of the principle trunk routes.

In response to these trends in the technology, C-nets have arisen, driven by economic, education and social agendas. Often these came into being (in the USA) by colleges or libraries reaching out into the community to bring in people who were otherwise unable or unwilling to access the resources they had to offer. The features that distinguish C-Nets from other activities on the Internet are (a) the offer a diverse range of information, (b) they serve all sectors of the community and (c) they offer and encourage levels of interaction from email to synchronous conferencing. But above all they are people-focused and place-oriented. This definition can be found on the web site of UK Communities On-Line, the organisation that acts as the focus for C-Nets in the UK. David Miller of Sheffield University has written a paper discussing types of electronic information networks [commities.org.uk]
David focuses on geographical networks rather than those which function as a community of interest. He argues that C-Nets should be free at the point of access and owned and controlled by the communities served. A comprehensive list of local community networks in the UK can be found communities.org.uk [no longer on this website].

The significance of C-Nets for teleworking is that they perform functions that are similar to telecentres in supporting individual teleworkers. Local C-Nets can act as distributed telecentres, providing teleworkers with many of the functions previously available only at telecentres. C-Nets can support both geographical communities and communities of interest. The Telework Forum at America on Line is a community of interest, being a network mediated group of teleworkers, mainly from the UK but with some from North America and Europe, receiving support and interacting with each other via the Internet.

A street in Amsterdam, 1997
A street in Amsterdam, 1997

5. The World Wide Growth in C-Nets

Freenets came into being in the USA and Canada and then found a foothold in Europe. They have now arrived in the UK having become a world wide phenomenon. The first Freenet was established in Cleveland, Ohio in 1986 and is now said to be the “largest community network in the world”.
Freenet Finland is an Internet based network for Finnish elementary, secondary and high schools that provides free access to the Internet. It enables the whole community to gain access to learning. It is financed by the National Board for Education and its costs about 95,000 per year and has some 70,000 subscribers.

To take another example, the Seattle Community Network is a free, public computer network run by volunteers. It is committed to running equal access to information for all users. User registration is free and includes an e-mail account. Visitors can read Usenet newsgroups, participate in forums and join some face to face activities including regular general meetings of the users. Many neighbourhoods, environmental groups, arts groups, political parties, schools, health care and social advocates, outdoor clubs and others discuss their activities on this network. The SCN is a non-profit organisation [www.scn.org].

Cheap internet access in the US has in some areas resulted in about half the population being on line on a regular basis. An article in the Washington Post (May 1997) reports that more than 50% of the 37,000 residents of Blacksburg, VA, regularly use the Internet. E-mail is the most popular activity followed by personal web pages and reading on-line news. A recent survey discovered that people often spend as much as an hour a day dealing with e-mail. Some voluntary organisations have reported increased attendance at face to face meetings as a result of publishing notices about them on the Internet.
Community networks offer much more than just information or communications. They offer multiple functions: (a) Information through web pages, e-mailing lists, on-line newsletters, newsgroups (b) Communications through e-mail and chat rooms (c) Training either on line or face to face, formal courses and skills exchange programmes and (d) Access to IT and software through the provisional of kiosks, terminals and resource centres.
Where connectivity is concerned, C-nets can network through the Internet, through cable intranets or through wireless. A full community network is more than just hardware and connectivity: it involves agendas that are about community support and change. They can provide a platform for business incubation, learning, entertainment, debate, net-activism, democracy or youth work. They are infrastructures for the delivery of community development or social action and for the support and maintenance of various forms of economic activity.

C-nets have many features and functions available to them and have the capacity to become information rich. Hence one of the most important features is content. Web sites are becoming ubiquitous and information is becoming available through web browsers as a standard medium for navigation and display. Some of the information systems set up using Teletext are now converting to Internet compatible web browsers. Other information systems rely on touch screen technology which has become very sophisticated in recent years.

The characteristics of community networks therefore include (a) organised providers and users of information, (b) provision of an information rich system generating organised and navigable content, (c) open public access or registered users, (d) connectivity through telephone dialup, cable or wireless, (e) social and community agendas including civic engagement, democracy, citizen empowerment, business support, incubation and regeneration, social and cultural enrichment, a medium for community communication.

These networks grow out of pre-existing communities, providing a medium that will to be some extent replace paper with electronics. The first generation of C-nets were very text based using bulletin board techniques. HTML’s growth allowed more graphical content to develop and content to become livelier and more colourful. Improvements in the technology and software permitted interactive techniques, such as chat to enrich communications.
Local governments are beginning to see the potential for using ICTs to gather feedback from service users. There has always been and no less so now a considerable use of ICTs in the field of education. The voluntary sector is gradually taking up Internet functions but is one of the slowest sectors to move in this direction.

6. Telecenters versus community networks

Telecentres have played their part in providing access to IT but that role is now being challenged as PCs become cheaper, modems become cheaper and more and more computers are being brought on-line. This enables C-nets to provide remote access to facilities such as printers, high spec peripherals and software banks. What I envisage is that telecentres will become smaller and will cease to provide much in the way of access to PCs but will concentrate on providing high specification and high value facilities that can be accessed remotely. They might take on the role of resource and training centres for local communities of self employed people, teleworkers and those running offices at home. They will need to base their business plans not on casual users but on contract users who contribute to subscriptions and sub-contract packages on an annual basis. There will be insufficient demand for access to PCs and mass consumption software to sustain these as viable business units on that function alone.

There will still be demand for access but through existing community channels such as schools, colleges, libraries and community centres rather than through specialist units such as telecentres. Telecentres need to be compared with networks in terms of the access facilities that they provide.
The future pattern of service provision envisaged here is of small resource hubs comprising servers supporting a small amount of direct hands on utilisation but with a much large amount of remote utilisation. High value, high capacity printers will be accessed by remote users and the output couriered or posted back, depending on quality and distance. Some out put might be manually channelled into the postal services. Some units might offer call centre and paper handling services for contract clients. Training, consultancy and maintenance services as part of the service agreements will enhance business viability and sustainability.

Connectivity will be in the form of subscription intranets based on ISDN or fibre optic cabling. These intranets, offering a higher level of content and systems management than the public Internet, will incorporate an array of digital conferencing functions, including white boarding techniques, video conferencing, increasing utilisation of audio platforms and much more sophisticated e-mail. They will enable use of applications similar to Lotus Notes.

All telecentres need staffing of some kind: the majority of telecentres have paid staff to run then though I suspect many depend heavily on volunteers. This imposes costly overheads. In addition the buildings themselves are costly overheads with a range of running expenses. By comparison networks are capital rather than labour intensive. The overheads of C-nets can be spread amongst a much larger number of users; even the largest telecentres probably will not have more than 20 or 30 people using their facilities at peak times. C-Nets can support hundreds or even thousands of simultaneous users. The comparisons pose a number of problems of course. In C-nets the working capital involves the users owning their own equipment; in Telecentres, users come in and rent equipment and software. C-net users do not of course use their computers solely for the purpose of accessing the network.

Unit costs of telecentres are likely to be higher than those for C-Nets because overhead costs can be spread amongst a much higher population of users. The producers in telecentres are comparatively few: often only the staff working in them. But in C-Nets all users are potentially producers. Any users who contributes a comment, piece of information or message to the system become one of a multitude of content producers. C-Nets are more likely than are telecentres to have a multiplicity of people and groups involved in information provision, content management, training and advice provision and development functions.

7. The impact of C-Nets on Teleworking

The needs of teleworkers for training and support services will probably not change very much during the growth of C-Nets but the means for meeting these needs will. Teleworkers will access support functions on-line rather than by a visit to a local telecentre. The connectivity of both the local C-Net and the global Internet will generate more and more scope for collaborative working. Teleworkers will have increased potential for working together in teams, exchanging skills, information and knowledge, forming virtual businesses and securing contracts collectively that would be denied to them as individuals.

As markets become increasingly global, so too will producers. C-Nets are both geographical and interest-oriented. It is quite possible for there to be a C-Net for teleworkers at European level and indeed the ETO (European Telework On-Line) is just about there in the range of functions it delivers.

Local C-Nets can and do support teleworkers by meeting those informational, communications and training needs are a best provided on a local basis. C-Nets can help to develop teleworking locally and provide forums and packages for teleworkers. Companies might be more willing to allow employees to telework if they knew that there was a local C-Net which would provide support. The cost of deploying teleworkers would decrease a little if some support services were to be provided by the C-Net rather than the company. Some local governments in the UK are providing teleworking employees with support services through telecentres and neighbourhood offices but there is scope to also provide these services on-line. Both national and local governments should encourage the growth and development of C-Nets as infrastructures for business, education and community needs. There should be a synergy between local C-Nets and the Internet.

8. Conclusions

The growth of ICTs is likely to present a serious challenge to the continuation of telecentres in their present form. There is no reason to conclude that telecentres will become extinct but their role and function is likely to change considerably as C-nets become more and more common. Instead of producing access to computers, C-Nets are likely to radically curtail this service or cease it altogether. If they continue to provide access to software it will be through file transfer, allowing down loading of software files or through client-server use – allowing the user access to software packages on-line. Telecentres in C-net areas are likely to become very much smaller and to operate mainly as part of the C-Net. Their main function will be to provide access to peripherals – high specification and high cost equipment that most users could not afford to own individually and who would use such machines relatively infrequently.

Telecentres as part of C-Nets are likely to offer high specification colour printing, a variety of presentation and graphical technologies, on-line software libraries and a variety of multi-media support facilities. In a nutshell the telecentre will be an on-line facility concentrating on providing access to equipment or software which is either too expensive or too low-use for the individual user to maintain.

C-Nets will lead to much more collaborative working of people within business communities. In fact, the availability of the technology will incubate virtual businesses. This has already begun to happen, with teams and virtual companies already being a familiar aspect of cyberspace. What we are likely to see is the development of knowledge managers, such as professionals with higher degree qualifications being supported by the system, a range of technicians with skills and competencies in various niches of the emergent work market and clerical and administrative support workers covering a range of functions.

Hence what we will see is the replacement of the electronic village hall by the electronic business centre. Facilities previously concentrated in buildings will be invested in networks and distributed over a wider geographical community. Telecentres are likely to experience a transition from being free-standing, independent units to being adjuncts to other community operations. It will become less and less necessary to have dedicated employees running such centres. The new breed of C-Net telesupport hubs are likely to merge with the servers for the C-Nets . Some telecentres might well grasp the nettle and start up C-Nets themselves and replace on-site with on-line users.

The creation and development of C-Nets will have far reaching impacts on work markets (previously called labour markets or job markets). In our vision the word job will become an anachronism. Economic activity will become more varied than in the past, including a wider variety of modes of income creation.

Urban areas will no longer need to provide the main location for economic activity. In the knowledge economy, networking will allow people to live in rural and suburban areas. Transportation will become more diffuse with commuter rush hours diminishing. One area where change is required is education. We need to find ways of stemming the increasing tide of women driving children to school at set times. Schools need to become resource centres.

At present there are intentions of providing schools with internet connections as though this was something experimental with perhaps one computer having a dialup internet account. We think this piecemeal approach should be avoided in favour of a much more strategic approach to community networking.

In order to make C-nets work effectively, there needs to be a coherent and comprehensive telematics strategy at local authority or regional level. This can be achieved through joint public and private investments.

Trevor Locke at 'The Admiral Restaurant', Herengracht
Trevor Locke at ‘The Admiral Restaurant’, Herengracht

Trevor Locke was the Proprietor of Event and Project Services.

MyServices

16th August 2015

Consultancy and services

I used to provide a range of services, including consultancy.  This is not now my primary focus. I do however run training workshops, from time to time; these are usually concerned with the music business.

My focus now is on writing and I am completing two novels that I plan to offer for publication.

I also write on a variety of subjects (that interest me) as this blog will testify.

I have provided copy-writing services relating to publicity and marketing.

I also run a small Internet business that provides website hosting and web site design. This is called B2B Web Consultants has has been in existence since the year 2000 [it closed in 2016]

Retirement

4th February 2015

Retirement

Planning for retirement

Some time ago I announced my ‘retirement’. It was a big mistake.  People keep asking me things like “Are you enjoying your retirement?” My usual reply is “The only thing I have retired from is retirement.”

Far from having retired, I am just as busy now as I ever have been. Don’t get me wrong:  I am not complaining about this.  I am just recognising this as a fact of life.  Retirement, I think, might have been a concept (or a procedure) that came about in history when people used to have jobs.  The work till they became of retirement age (traditionally 65 for men) and then they retired from work.

I ceased to be in paid employment many years ago. I gave up being employed by other people to run my own business – and be my own boss. That is not something you can easily retire from. If you set up your own business (becoming self-employed) then that is not something you can easily walk away from. Not if you are a sole trader. If you a member of a partnership or group, then yes you could do this and let the others carry on.  I have always been a sole trader. I can’t leave the business to others.  It’s me and only me. That’s why the only thing I have retired from is retirement.

Does any of this have any relevance for anyone else?  Well, it does if you happen to be in the same circumstances as me; or, if you have made so much money you really do not need to should the responsibilities of having the run a business any more. If that is you – well done and good luck! Me – well I carry on doing what I do for two reasons:

Firstly,  I love what I do.  I can’t live without it.  I work now mainly in the fields of music, history and journalism. Often, I do all three of these at the same time. I find I can’t easily walk away from my greatest passions. If I give all this up – what am I left with?  Not a lot.

Secondly, I don’t need the money.  I am very adept at living comfortably on my pension and making ends meet. The business helps financially in so far as it breaks even; it covers most of its costs (operational overheads) but it isn’t making me wealthy. Running magazines you do for love not money. Working in the arts and history is something that I do as a service to the public; I certainly don’t do it to make money for myself.

As one gets older, it is, I think, very important to keep the old brainbox going. Having something to do every day is important to keeping the mind in robust health and this prolongs active life. Admittedly you don’t have to work with the same level of pressure as was the case when your life depended on it. I spend a lot of my time writing.  I have several books on the go and I am running two magazines. That gives me a life.  I think the problem that many people faced when they retired is that it left them with nothing much to do, apart from the endless round of every day activities – gardening, playing with their grand-children, taking holidays, or whatever gives them pleasure. All very expensive pastimes. I enjoy the cut and thrust of having challenges, keeping up with my own deadlines, responding to the demands of the people I work for  (readers) and that keeps me in rude health.

Will I ever let go and do the retirement thing properly?  I doubt it. Retirement these days is a luxury afforded only by the rich.  Us poor people have to work till we drop.  the great thing is that I don’t have to work. I choose to work because it gives me a sense of fulfilment and keeps me active and connected.  Our society needs to update the concept of retirement for the 21st century. Or abandon it altogether (probably a more honest approach.)

Working with the web-o-sphere

The world of the Internet is constantly changing

I started to use the Internet shortly after it became widely available in the UK.  Since then it has changed a lot and keeps changing all the time.

Who would have thought that Facebook would have become so popular? Who would have thought that smart phones would begin to replace desk top computers as the main instrument to connect to the ‘net?

These changes keep us on our toes. We have to understand what is happening in the web-o-sphere; the growth of social media offers a wide range of opportunities. There are also several ‘threats’ posed by the changes taking place and I have already written about web sites becoming redundant.

Those who use the Internet for business purposes need to be aware of the opportunities.  Enterprise is largely about seizing opportunities.  so, if your business does not have a page on Facebook, you are missing opportunities to make contact with new customers.   If you do not use Twitter, you are missing opportunities to push your message out to people.

All of these facilities now exist on the Internet but they will work for you if and only if you use them regularly. I appreciate I am writing for myself but I guess we are all in the same boat. Running a business is a complicated activity that requires a good deal of dedication and considerable agility with personal time management.

If you have a blog, you should go on it and post at least once a month. If your blog is simply one of a number of on-line facilities that you use, then monthly updates are a must do line in your calendar.  If your blog is your main outlet, then it’s either a daily or at least weekly duty.

Tweeting is fine if you have several hundred highly relevant followers. If your  Twittersphere includes less than 50 high relevance people, then your main job should be trying to get more quality followers. It matter not how many people you follow, What matters is who is going to read your tweets.

If you have set up a business page on Facebook, you need to go on it regularly.  How regularly will depend on how many people are seeing it. There is little point in writing daily postings if no one is reading them. The world of social media is all about audience.

Without an audience you are performing to an empty room. Like a singer or band,  you have to go out there and win fans. In the business world, it is also about the quality of the fans you attract. That means finding people who are likely to buy from you.  There is something to be said for being a familiar face in the market place. When your name pops up all over the place, people become familiar with your name or brand. That increases consumer confidence.

I could write all day along these lines but I have a long ‘to do’ list to get through.  If you would like to attend a workshop on using the Internet for business, drop me a message on my Facebook page.

If I have events coming up I can tell you about them;  alternatively if you come with a few other people, I can do a workshop – just for you.

[My business – B2B Web – closed in 2016 when I retired.]