Written by Tim Fawcett, General Manager Government and Policy at Cisco Australia and New Zealand
Until recently, the term telework was unfamiliar to many Australians. We have for a long time, however, understood the rewards of flexible work arrangements that empower employees with the freedom to work from home or anywhere away from the office. Last November, the Australian Government recognised and celebrated telework and Prime Minister Julia Gillard elevated the profile of telework into the mainstream when she opened the Telework Congress, which explored the concept of telework, its benefits, challenges and the barriers to its widespread adoption
Along with telehealth and telelearning, teleworking is an obvious return on the Government’s investment in the NBN. Video conferencing is a key enabler of effective teleworking, yet its thirst for bandwidth has meant that high definition video conferencing has been out of reach for many Australian businesses. The NBN is set to overcome the bandwidth barrier. It will increase the average broadband speed by 4.6-fold and supercharge the efficacy of teleworkers, providing access to seamless video conferencing, fast and formidable file transfers and access to cloud-based applications.
Telework Week (12-16 November 2012) was the first step in inspiring a national conversation on the benefits and challenges of teleworking. Those conversations will be within businesses and organisations’ leadership teams and with their employees as they begin to understand the many possibilities of telework.
Employers may focus on the productivity returns and cost benefits of teleworking. The most obvious of those returns is the time saved in commuting. Anecdotal evidence suggests staff give one hour back for every two hours they save in commute and up to 45 per cent of end users will work an extra 2-3 hours per day because they are able to work remotely. Teleworking also delivers office savings. For every three teleworkers, one desk can be discarded, saving between 2.8 and 9.3 square metres per teleworker depending on their seniority.
There are also benefits for employers and employees in improved workforce wellbeing. A Melbourne University report released during Telework Week concluded that teleworkcan create a positive attitude to work, lower stress, and give workers a greater sense of control; improve work-life balance, and contribute to a general sense of wellbeing. Employers know that a happy workforce is the key to productivity and job satisfaction and that translates to real savings through lower attrition rates.
Teleworking and mobility are innately interwoven. The Cisco Visual Networking Index also shows a revolutionary uptake of Internet connected devices by Australians (142 million by 2016) and some 23 million internet users by 2016: more than the current population. The huge increase in data flowing across mobile networks reflects Australians’ demand to be connected to networks where they want, when they want.
The community and businesses may also focus on how we leverage telework to facilitate greater gender equality. ABS statistics released in May 2011 show that women’s average full-time weekly earnings are 17.2 per cent less than men’s. The impact of caring responsibilities on women's patterns of work is a key causal factor of this imbalance. During the pre- and post-maternity period, parental leave and flexible work practices can help women to strike a balance between maternity and work. Teleworking can help foster a family-friendly workplace, complementing and facilitating measures like child-related emergency leave, school holiday adjusted leave and flexible hours.
Teleworking can also reduce barriers to employment. An estimated 340,000 unemployed Australians have a barrier to employment which would be at least partially overcome through telework. Engagement in the workforce by some of these individuals, who often include the disabled, will increase total economic output, increasing the overall welfare of citizens. People in rural and regional Australia and older Australians will also benefit with Deloitte Access Economics reporting that by 2020, some 10,000 jobs would be created outside of city centres through teleworking and some $3.2 billion would be added to GDP in 2020/21.
The environment also stands to benefit. Not only are teleworkers saving energy in the office by using half the energy than their office-bound colleagues, they’re also significantly reducing carbon emissions by avoiding the commute.
As the research continues to support the benefits of telework, the next step is about making teleworking happen. Businesses and organisations will need to develop policies; run pilot programs; and IT managers will need to procure telework enabling technologies which will facilitate more than just high quality video conferencing. Teleworkers need seamless and secure access to files and applications, as well as accountability tools that show the activity status of team members in real time. HR managers need the right policies in place, including workplace health and safety, to ensure that teleworkers are not disadvantaged but remain clearly accountable. Those managing teleworkers need to ensure that they are outcomes focused – perhaps the biggest obstacle to overcome in the widespread uptake of telework in the Australian economy. This includes deliberate strategies to ensure teleworkers are not overlooked in promotions or special projects because they’re physically in the office less often.
If your organisation has not begun the telework conversation, now’s the time to start. Without the conversations, the benefits of teleworking will remain an enigma to many.
About the Author
Tim is the General Manager Government Affairs & Policy for Cisco in Australia and New Zealand. As a key member of Cisco’s public sector leadership team, Tim leads Cisco’s government engagement across all portfolios including digital productivity, health, education, emergency services and public safety, transport, infrastructure, defence, sustainability and environment.