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We examine how the use of mobile information and communication technologies (ICTs) among self-employed homeworkers affects their experience of work, focusing particularly on where work is carried out, how the work/non-work boundary is managed, and people's experiences of social and professional isolation. Positively, their use enhanced people's sense of spatio-temporal freedom by allowing them to leave the home without compromising their work availability. This also helped reduce people's feelings of social isolation. More negatively, their use enhanced people's sense of ‘perpetual contact’, creating a sense that work was difficult to escape from. However, the extent to which mobile ICTs were used, and the extent to which their impact on people's experiences of work were understood, were found to vary significantly, highlighting the agency that users have with regard to technology use. The findings are framed by combining Nippert-Eng's boundary work theory, with an ‘emergent process’ perspective on socio-technical relations.
Arguably, one of the main implications of mobile ICT use by homeworkers was that the use of these technologies meant that the home ceased to be their only possible workplace. This was because the ability to access email via a smartphone or via wireless Internet facilities at disparate locations meant that people no longer had to be at home to access what were regarded as potentially important emails from clients. Thus, in Halford's terms, mobile ICT use has facilitated the, ‘spatial reconfiguration of work’, (2005, p. 19). Ultimately, for the type of homeworkers examined here, while the home-based workspace may continue to be the central work-hub, using mobile ICTs for work purposes anywhere means that work can be undertaken from any location where a phone signal can be received. For office-based workers who use mobile ICTs to work extended hours at home during evenings and weekends (technology assisted supplemental work—see Derks & Bakker, 2012 and Fenner & Renn, 2010), the blurring of the work–home boundary occurs through work intruding into the home space. In contrast, for the homeworkers examined here, the opposite happened, with the work–home boundary becoming blurred due to work escaping the home (via mobile ICTs). The increased levels of spatio-temporal flexibility, this resulted in enhanced the homeworkers' ability to balance the demands of work and non-work commitments. One of the articulated benefits of homeworking was the flexibility that it gave to people allowing them to balance their work and non-work commitments (Maruyamaet al., 2009; Tietze et al., 2009). The findings presented here reinforce such conclusions and suggest that working in the home provides people with opportunities to effectively balance work with childcare commitments and other home-based domestic responsibilities. However, the research data presented here suggest that one of the key positive benefits of mobile ICT use by the homeworkers was that it further enhanced existing levels of spatio-temporal flexibility through allowing people to leave the home to undertake non-work commitments (such as shopping), but still remain able to either be contactable by clients via email, or to work in a location outside of the home (with examples being given of this being done in cafes and shopping centres). In relation to understanding the experience of home-based workers, this is an important insight, as studies of homeworking have typically focused narrowly, in spatial terms, on the home. These findings suggest that, due to the ways mobile ICTs can be used, homeworkers have an increased level of spatial autonomy and flexibility, and ongoing research on home-based work requires to take greater account of this.