Telework: The future of work?


It’s becoming increasingly accepted wisdom that a new work culture is emerging in Australia, and that it’s here to stay. I refer to studies such as a recent Deloitte report that predicted flexible work options enabled by NBN technologies could create 25,000 additional jobs by 2020.

One of the papers given at our national convention in August was by Cisco’s Martin Stewart-Weeks, an authority on flexible work, or telework as it’s sometimes called. He noted that the impact of fast broadband technology is eroding the idea of the ‘office’ as central to the generation of work. What we are increasingly witnessing in its place, he said, is the rise of new forms of flexible or ‘smart’ work, and he alluded to companies such as the Commonwealth Bank and Macquarie Bank that have moved many employees into newly designed ‘activity-based workplaces’ that do not include a designated workstation for all staff. This development has spawned yet another abbreviation: ABWs.

According to Stewart-Weeks, ABWs combine new technologies with more openplan layouts that encourage collaborative, flexible and modular work patterns. The expectation is that they will boost employee engagement and downplay hierarchies, though his prediction does not envisage the overnight demise of contests for the corner office. His paper added that the impact of ABWs will enable the participation of groups of people who might otherwise be unable to find and keep jobs, such as parents returning to work, people with disabilities and those from rural locations.

Implied in this scenario is the inexorable movement towards a workforce that does not uniformly characterise a “day at work” as a day at a particular office or industrial location. Many workers will instead come in to a central office now and then, but otherwise perform their work at a place and time that suits them. That might mean working at a home office or at the hubs or smart work spaces that are becoming increasingly accessible. Some HR practitioners I speak with see the productivity benefits that might transpire from a workforce that spends less time commuting and more time and energy on the task. There are also potential real estate savings for employers whose workforce is routinely dispersed or working from home offices.

That said, there are also employers such as Google, Yahoo and Hewlett Packard that want their employees in line of sight at the office each day. And there are others who simply want to wait and see how the actual benefits of fast broadband scrub up when the promised facilities are more widely available. There are also those who are not confident of their management capabilities with respect to off-site workers or who express caution arising from the 2011 Telstra case, in which the telco was found liable for costs incurred by a Queensland employee injured while working formally from home.

At the time of that case, around 750,000 Australians worked at least a couple of days a week from home, and reports are that number has grown considerably since. Telstra can no doubt afford the ongoing compensation costs of the injured worker’s medical expenses and lost income into the future, but such a prospect gives other employers pause for thought. The solution might be as simple as assessing a worker’s home environment for risk and making adjustments if required, but it is still an exercise that prompts the merits of a cost-benefit analysis.

The fact remains that many employees like the flexibility offered by telework, and the pressure on HR practitioners and line managers to accede will be supported by the flexibility provisions in the Fair Work Act. AHRI is an active sponsor of Telework Week in November and is keen to explore the opportunities and challenges implied in teleworking. At present that involves being engaged in the conversation, and early next year it will take the form of a survey of member perspectives.

In the interim, I would be interested in your thoughts on this workplace development.

Lyn Goodear is the chief executive officer of the Australian Human Resources Institute

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Ben Marris
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Ben Marris

Hi Lyn,

A fascinating topic. Enrico Moretti’s book the ‘New Geography of Jobs’ has some great insight into the power of having creative people together, and the decisions some of the worlds most innovative companies are making I that respect.

Yahoos approach to ban work from home is also worth a look …http://venturebeat.com/2013/04/19/marissa-mayer-wfh/. I understand that originally the decision was based on data about employee productivity, but the messaging around it has changed.

My observation is that the data is showing that some flexibility is great, but creativity is about getting people in the room.

I will watch this question with interest

Ben

Tania Evans
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Tania Evans

Hi Lyn Great points raised. The ‘telework’ train has certainly left the station. Given the urban sprawl, skills shortages in some industry’s, the increasing cost of office locations, and the desire for employers to attain the best staff, telework is becoming very attractive. From a work health and safety perspective, the employer has the same if not more responsibility for teleworkers, and our understanding is that employers are far from compliant in this area, including ‘where to start’, let alone implementation and management. Quite often, the employer’s first priority is measurement of performance. Your reference to the Telstra case and… Read more »

Brendan
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Brendan

Certainly an interesting article, it reminds me of a related TED Talk questioning ‘Does work happen at the office’. I think this article, and indeed the Ted Talk, isn’t so much about the changing nature of where we work, but rather how we work. We seem to spend alot of time debating how best to engage or motivate employees, when really what we want is for the task or project etc to be done. Employees are simply a mechanism for this to happen. With the technologies you mention in your article, and the frequency of work not happening at the… Read more »

Helen Lamont
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Helen Lamont

Our Asia Pac workforce all work from home, apart from a small office in Mumbai. It has been very successful for us, and I dont think we woudl find an employee or business manager who would see us revert to using offices. I hope Australia continues to encourage Teleworking.

Peter Nicholls
Guest
Peter Nicholls

This brings to light an emerging issue with OHS management. Traditional OHS policies have focused on physical injury during the course of work, usually at a designated workplace. Teleworking as described in the article under discussion brings out the fact that the mind is now the core of every workplace and can be used for work at any time 24/7. Employers have a legal obligation to minimize mental health risks, especially as the emerging situation adds greatly to sustained prolonged worker stress. Effective management needs more than a punitive legal system.

More on HRM

Telework: The future of work?


It’s becoming increasingly accepted wisdom that a new work culture is emerging in Australia, and that it’s here to stay. I refer to studies such as a recent Deloitte report that predicted flexible work options enabled by NBN technologies could create 25,000 additional jobs by 2020.

One of the papers given at our national convention in August was by Cisco’s Martin Stewart-Weeks, an authority on flexible work, or telework as it’s sometimes called. He noted that the impact of fast broadband technology is eroding the idea of the ‘office’ as central to the generation of work. What we are increasingly witnessing in its place, he said, is the rise of new forms of flexible or ‘smart’ work, and he alluded to companies such as the Commonwealth Bank and Macquarie Bank that have moved many employees into newly designed ‘activity-based workplaces’ that do not include a designated workstation for all staff. This development has spawned yet another abbreviation: ABWs.

According to Stewart-Weeks, ABWs combine new technologies with more openplan layouts that encourage collaborative, flexible and modular work patterns. The expectation is that they will boost employee engagement and downplay hierarchies, though his prediction does not envisage the overnight demise of contests for the corner office. His paper added that the impact of ABWs will enable the participation of groups of people who might otherwise be unable to find and keep jobs, such as parents returning to work, people with disabilities and those from rural locations.

Implied in this scenario is the inexorable movement towards a workforce that does not uniformly characterise a “day at work” as a day at a particular office or industrial location. Many workers will instead come in to a central office now and then, but otherwise perform their work at a place and time that suits them. That might mean working at a home office or at the hubs or smart work spaces that are becoming increasingly accessible. Some HR practitioners I speak with see the productivity benefits that might transpire from a workforce that spends less time commuting and more time and energy on the task. There are also potential real estate savings for employers whose workforce is routinely dispersed or working from home offices.

That said, there are also employers such as Google, Yahoo and Hewlett Packard that want their employees in line of sight at the office each day. And there are others who simply want to wait and see how the actual benefits of fast broadband scrub up when the promised facilities are more widely available. There are also those who are not confident of their management capabilities with respect to off-site workers or who express caution arising from the 2011 Telstra case, in which the telco was found liable for costs incurred by a Queensland employee injured while working formally from home.

At the time of that case, around 750,000 Australians worked at least a couple of days a week from home, and reports are that number has grown considerably since. Telstra can no doubt afford the ongoing compensation costs of the injured worker’s medical expenses and lost income into the future, but such a prospect gives other employers pause for thought. The solution might be as simple as assessing a worker’s home environment for risk and making adjustments if required, but it is still an exercise that prompts the merits of a cost-benefit analysis.

The fact remains that many employees like the flexibility offered by telework, and the pressure on HR practitioners and line managers to accede will be supported by the flexibility provisions in the Fair Work Act. AHRI is an active sponsor of Telework Week in November and is keen to explore the opportunities and challenges implied in teleworking. At present that involves being engaged in the conversation, and early next year it will take the form of a survey of member perspectives.

In the interim, I would be interested in your thoughts on this workplace development.

Lyn Goodear is the chief executive officer of the Australian Human Resources Institute

7
Leave a reply

avatar
100000
  Subscribe to receive comments  
Notify me of
Ben Marris
Guest
Ben Marris

Hi Lyn,

A fascinating topic. Enrico Moretti’s book the ‘New Geography of Jobs’ has some great insight into the power of having creative people together, and the decisions some of the worlds most innovative companies are making I that respect.

Yahoos approach to ban work from home is also worth a look …http://venturebeat.com/2013/04/19/marissa-mayer-wfh/. I understand that originally the decision was based on data about employee productivity, but the messaging around it has changed.

My observation is that the data is showing that some flexibility is great, but creativity is about getting people in the room.

I will watch this question with interest

Ben

Tania Evans
Guest
Tania Evans

Hi Lyn Great points raised. The ‘telework’ train has certainly left the station. Given the urban sprawl, skills shortages in some industry’s, the increasing cost of office locations, and the desire for employers to attain the best staff, telework is becoming very attractive. From a work health and safety perspective, the employer has the same if not more responsibility for teleworkers, and our understanding is that employers are far from compliant in this area, including ‘where to start’, let alone implementation and management. Quite often, the employer’s first priority is measurement of performance. Your reference to the Telstra case and… Read more »

Brendan
Guest
Brendan

Certainly an interesting article, it reminds me of a related TED Talk questioning ‘Does work happen at the office’. I think this article, and indeed the Ted Talk, isn’t so much about the changing nature of where we work, but rather how we work. We seem to spend alot of time debating how best to engage or motivate employees, when really what we want is for the task or project etc to be done. Employees are simply a mechanism for this to happen. With the technologies you mention in your article, and the frequency of work not happening at the… Read more »

Helen Lamont
Guest
Helen Lamont

Our Asia Pac workforce all work from home, apart from a small office in Mumbai. It has been very successful for us, and I dont think we woudl find an employee or business manager who would see us revert to using offices. I hope Australia continues to encourage Teleworking.

Peter Nicholls
Guest
Peter Nicholls

This brings to light an emerging issue with OHS management. Traditional OHS policies have focused on physical injury during the course of work, usually at a designated workplace. Teleworking as described in the article under discussion brings out the fact that the mind is now the core of every workplace and can be used for work at any time 24/7. Employers have a legal obligation to minimize mental health risks, especially as the emerging situation adds greatly to sustained prolonged worker stress. Effective management needs more than a punitive legal system.

More on HRM