Andrew Bibby



Andrew Bibby is a professional writer and journalist, working as an independent consultant for a number of international and national organisations, and as a regular contributor to British national newspapers and magazines. He is also the author of a number of books.

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European Telework Awards

This article by Andrew Bibby, in a slightly different form, was first published for the European Commission, 1999

Companies and organisations in Denmark, France, Italy, and Scotland walked off with the prizes at this year's European Telework Awards at a ceremony held in Brussels on November 5th. To do so, however, they had to beat off tough opposition from a range of other innovative teleworking initiatives from across the European Union.

The Awards have become an established part of the events of European Telework Week, which was held this year from November 1st-8th. The week, which is supported by the European Commission's DG Information Society (formerly DG XIII), provides an opportunity to put the spotlight on the new ways of working made possible by information and communication technologies. Teleworking, usually defined as remote or distant working facilitated by new technology, potentially offers important business and employment opportunities for Europe.

"Nine million Europeans are now engaged in new working practices, so this is not something just for the technological elite," said Peter Johnston, Head of Unit in DG Information Society, speaking at the Telework Awards event. He added that the Awards allowed an opportunity to highlight innovation and initiative. "It is important to learn from best practice. We must increasingly focus on the best in Europe."

Six European Telework Awards were on offer this year, and the eighteen shortlisted entries included large IT and telecommunications corporates, public administrations, and a number of smaller businesses and community-based ventures. Each had the opportunity at the event to make a brief presentation.

France Télécom took the Award for best telework technology or service on the strength of the telework trial it had conducted in 1998 in Lannion, Britanny, using the emerging broadband ASDL technology. The trial involved an employee of a locally based electronics company who was able to work two days a week from home, whilst remaining in full video and audio communication with his office colleagues.

France Télécom tried to repeat its success in a second Awards category, that of the best telework example in a large organisation, with its training and management package for remote sales staff. Also shortlisted was a strong entry from the Swedish National Energy Administration for its extensive telework programme, which now covers 127 of the organisation's 167 staff. The Award was won, however, by Danish insurance company Danica. Danica has recently undertaken a major restructuring of its administration, closing almost forty customer service centres and instead routing calls to four call centres. It has also equipped 150 of its 260 sales staff with ISDN lines at home, enabling them to operate effectively away from a conventional office base.

Denmark walked off with a second Telework Award, for the best initiative supporting the disadvantaged. The New Pathways project in Næstved Kommune offers access to distance learning courses for local people suffering social exclusion, including the unemployed and early retired.

Denmark completed its hat-trick of Awards a short while later when TeleDanmark won the award for best contribution to public awareness. The company has been running a campaign to promote the idea of telework, which has included the publication of a telework guide (also available on the Internet).

The best supporting public initiative for telework went this year to the commune of Naples, for its Telework and Local Development project. The telework initiative in the city includes a municipal teleservices centre.

The European Telework Awards event offers a valuable platform for innovative small enterprises, as well as for larger companies and organisations. Shortlisted for the category of best telework example in a small or medium-sized enterprise were the Italian employment services agency Ali Spa and the IT venture in Norrbotten in Sweden's far north. The Award went, however, to the Work-Global ICT facilitation service in the Scottish Western Isles which helps provide employment opportunities through teleworking for people living in these beautiful but remote islands.

The complex voting system for the Awards took into account the views of an expert panel of judges and the votes of the audience in Brussels who were listening to each presentation. However the organisers, as last year, also reserved a third of the overall vote for those votes cast previously on-line, over the Internet. This innovative use of technology was complemented on the day by the live webcasting of the Awards ceremony itself.

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