South Korea’s ambitious Smart Work Centres project aims to decongest the capital, raise productivity and make Korea greener. But if it is to work it will require new laws, buy-in from the private sector and a shift in Korean work culture, a senior official at the National Information Society Agency has told FutureGov.
Launched this year, the smart work project aims to see 30 per cent of the public sector workforce - eight million employees - work in wireless broadband-enabled SMCs located in areas outside of Seoul, a densely populated metropolitan area where one quarter of the country’s population lives, by 2015.
Two of the 50 SWCs planned for public-sector workers will be opened this year, 10 others by 2012 and the rest by 2015. Running in tandem is a plan to encourage five hundred private sector SWCs to be set up within the same period.
The idea is to change the mentality of a workforce that works long but unproductive hours, clear clogged roads (Seoul is consistently listed in rankings of cities with the world’s worst traffic), and curb carbon emissions, which have risen faster than any OECD country.
The prevalence of smart phones in Korea (penetration is now at 20 per cent) is seen as a positive sign that the project will work, as civil servants get used to the idea of increasing work mobility.
However, a big challenge the decentralisation effort faces is the Korean work ethic, Yoonseok Ko, a Senior Researcher at NIA, told FutureGov.
“People think that, if they are going to get promoted, they need to put in face time with the boss. There is also a sense of detachment colleagues might feel from being away from the mothership. We want to create a new work culture that pushes out the old.”
Ko and his colleagues at NIA, part of the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, have been drafting a bill for regulatory reform that would ensure that public officers do not have to visit their offices to do their jobs. The new laws would define SWCs as remote working offices.
The success of the project also depends upon the involvement of the private sector, Ko noted. “We talk to experts all over the world, including cities such as Amsterdam in the Netherlands, where are also smart work initiatives. They all say that private sector involvement is a critical ingredient.”
The government is in the process of creating a forum for public officials and company executives to share ideas on how SMCs can be used effectively by both sectors operating in remote locations.
“We are planting seeds so that industries around Smart Work Centres can bloom,” said Ko. “The government is leading the initiative. But we want the private sector to drive it.”
A Data Leak Protection System is being developed to set data boundaries between public and private operators. Electronic certificates will be issued to limit access to government SMCs.
The hoped result of the project is a self-sustainable market for SWCs, underpinned by concrete guidelines for urban redevelopment, residential construction and the development of new cities.
“We are also looking at the option of setting up an independent corporation to manage the project and ensure the continuity of SWCs services,” said Ko.