The Role of Teleworking in Britain : Its Implications for the Transport System and Economic Evaluation

The Role of Teleworking in Britain : Its Implications for the Transport System and Economic Evaluation


P White, G Christodoulou, University of Westminster, UK; R Mackett R Thoreau, University College London, UK; J Polak, Imperial College London, UK


The current extent of teleworking in Britain is examined. Much teleworking is a of a part-week, informal nature, and by those in higher-income groups. Implications for travel patterns and economic evaluation are identified.


The current extent of teleworking has been examined through interviews with a number of large organisations in the London area, and analysis of data from the National Travel Survey (NTS) for the whole of Britain (covering the period 2002-2004 inclusive), which provides extensive evidence on the extent of working at home and related travel patterns.

In principle, teleworking can greatly reduce the need to travel by enabling people to work from home instead of commuting. However, basing work entirely at home is relatively rare (comprising about 3% of the working population), and a more common pattern is that of a mix of working from home on certain days (for example, about 5% of the working population work from home at least once a week), and continuing to commute on others. This mix of activities appears convenient both to staff and employers, enabling greater flexibility in working, while retaining face-to-face contact with colleagues. There is also a large number of staff who work from home, on a less frequent basis. The proportion who telework appears to be slightly higher in London and the South East than the national average.

Where home to work trip length is unchanged, and teleworking occurs on some days of the week, then a pro rata reduction in weekly commuting distance occurs. The NTS data also enable all trip purposes, and total distances travelled, to be examined, in addition to home - work travel per se, indicating total volumes of travel by those who telework.

Those who telework (especially on a part-week basis) tend to be from higher income groups, and of higher employment status, than the workforce as a whole. This is indicated both from the NTS data data and organisational interviews. Conversely, scope in other types of occupation may be more limited. There is some evidence of higher-than-average total travel distances by those who telework part-week from home, although this is also correlated with the social status of those concerned.

Much teleworking appears to be of an informal nature. The technology required for its use at home is already widespread and the main constraints on its expansion appear to be social and managerial rather than technical. Employers gain through better staff morale, increased productivity, and in some cases savings in office space.

The findings have interesting implications for economic evaluation. Where car travel is reduced as a consequence of teleworking, direct savings are made in energy consumption, emissions and possibly congestion. In the case of public transport, reduction in peak demand is of greater significance, enabling savings in peak-only capacity at high marginal costs. However, of potentially greater significance is the increased productivity per worker, especially when working time is valued at rates appropriate to the income levels of those concerned : this dominates the outcome of economic evaluation in illustrative cases shown.

An extensive literature review was also undertaken. The findings reach in Britain appear broadly comparable with results from research into teleworking in the USA.

This paper is derived from work sponsored by Transport for London and British Telecom, but all views expressed are those of the authors alone.


Association for European Transport