CBI chief backs teleworking as the route to less road traffic and higher productivity

The Confederation of British Industry has called for greater use of videoconferencing and teleworking to reduce the impact of...

The Confederation of British Industry has called for greater use of videoconferencing and teleworking to reduce the impact of road traffic on UK productivity.

In a teleworking report published by BT, CBI director general Digby Jones said that thanks to increased bandwidth, business communications are far easier, allowing remote staff to have secure access to company networks.

The CBI estimates that road congestion costs the UK economy £20bn a year. Jones said, "The UK must be ambitious, we cannot afford to lag behind European and international competitors on transport.

"The UK has the capacity to be a leader in innovation and the adoption of new technologies for the development of high-value services. We need to use these technologies to reduce the need for unnecessary travel and to facilitate efficient, speedy and effortless journeys."

Edmund King, executive director at motoring organisation the RAC, commented, "If each employee could work from home just one day per week, we would see a 20% cut in commuting traffic. Today's broadband technology is better and cheaper, so more employees have the chance to work from home at least some of the time."

Research by NOP in 2003 found that among internet users who travel to work every weekday, 23% would like the option of working from home. But the proportion of employers prepared to allow them to do so was just 13%.

With employees increasingly communicating with colleagues via e-mail, the need for every member of staff to be in the office is diminishing. This is reflected in teleworking figures from the Office of National Statistics.

In 1999, there were 1.2 million teleworkers (defined as those working from home at least one day a week). In 2004, this figure had risen to 2.2 million teleworkers, and this may climb to about 33% of the workforce by 2006.

One reason for the increase is the introduction of flexible working laws. But the falling cost of broadband is also a factor. Users now have a choice of services which can give them a broadband connection from just £18 a month.

As well as taking advantage of vanilla data broadband links, BT estimates that 10% of business mileage could be eliminated by conferencing via audio, video and the web. However, only about 2% of the UK's 1.9 million businesses currently use conference calling, according to the Office of National Statistics.

The increasing adoption of Wi-Fi is another factor in the increase in teleworking. The Communications Management Association's annual membership survey this year found that 67% of those surveyed had adopted Wi-Fi for remote and flexible working.

Paul Reynolds, chief executive at BT Wholesale, said, "By next summer broadband will be available to more than 99% of the UK population. It is time to start thinking about how people can use our new national communications network innovatively and creatively. Travel substitution is just one of the ways we envisage it making a difference."

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