The number of people teleworking from home has jumped by a quarter since last year, and the trend is set to continue with the development of broadband technologies.
The Institute of Employment Studies (IES), using figures from the Government's recently published Labour Force Survey, says that 1.5 million people are now teleworking.
This compares with 1.2 million one year ago - an increase of 25%. The institute says the increase has occurred despite bosses' fears about having a lack of bodies to manage in the office.
Managers' concerns about losing the prestige of supervising people close-up could be swept away by the introduction of more efficient broadband connection technologies that will make it even easier for teleworkers to match or even surpass the efforts of their office-bound colleagues.
Alan Denbigh, director of the Teleworkers Association, says technology has been one of the main drivers for the growth in people working from home. "The increase in the availability of broadband technologies is bound to be a major factor as far as growth is concerned.
"Up to the beginning of the 1990s home workers had to work on slower PCs than their office colleagues, and did not have access to many of the disparate databases companies were using," he says.
"With the growth of the Internet, intranets and extranets, all this information is now available to everyone, and the introduction of technologies like ADSL [Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line] will make it even easier to download."
The introduction of key broadband technologies such as ADSL and wireless Lans (local area networks) has made it easier for teleworkers to process high amounts of data without the distraction of office gossip.
ADSL is currently being rolled out in homes and businesses across the UK. It is at least eight times faster than a 64kbps ISDN line, currently the most popular means of keeping in touch among serious teleworkers.
The broadband trend is set to continue with the introduction in 2002 of mobile phones and PDAs that will eventually allow users to receiving data at speeds of up to 2mbps.
IES associate fellow Ursula Huws says managers will have to come to terms with the increasing trend of teleworking. If office workers are continually sending e-mails from one side of the office to another, what is the point of them being there? She asks.
The best UK example of teleworking is BT, which says that two-thirds of its 40,000 white-collar workforce are able to work from remotely. BT says its hiring regime assumes new staff will be able to telework when required, and that 10% are exclusively hired to work from home.