“When I want to get some real work done, I set aside a day away from the office and get it done.”
I’d like a pair of Jimmy Choos for every time I’ve heard someone at my workplace say something like that over the years. The office is very often a great place to work. It can be where we arrange to meet clients and consult with colleagues, where we plan long-term projects and head off short-term crises. It’s also where we shoot the breeze over morning-tea and arrange to get together with work friends after hours.
But there are also things that need to be done that are best completed over a sustained period without breaks in concentration. Things like writing a major paper, preparing a complex budget or drafting a tricky report. Many office work environments aren’t ideal for those activities and quiet home surroundings are often better.
As workplaces move unstoppably towards valuing results achieved over time spent on tasks, the value placed on the office as the main location where all work is undertaken will recede in importance in the workplaces of the future.
That trend will undoubtedly proceed apace, especially as Australia’s houses and businesses become increasingly connected to broadband technology over the next few years. The promise of broadband brings with it astonishing speed and reliability of communication so that things like file sharing and high definition video conferencing will be widespread and efficient.
For the first time in this country, the Government has decided to officially lift the profile of this type of work by naming the week of 12-16 November, Australian Telework Week.
The trend to telework will enable greater workplace flexibility, especially for employers wanting to offer employee work-life balance. It will also enable reduction of employee time and money spent on commuting in congested capital city traffic and the consequent boost in productivity that can bring.
Among the benefits is the opportunity that telework should provide for greater participation in the paid workforce by groups such as people with disabilities where mobility is an inhibitor, people living in regional areas who don’t want to move to a city location, and mature age people who want to remain in employment without travelling to an office every day.
However, there are few advances in civilisation that don’t bring a downside with the upside, and telework is one of those. HR practitioners are very well placed to see the potential benefits as well as the issues that call for caution. Among the latter is the issue of occupational health and safety. HR departments are invariably involved with policy making and administration of OHS, and are aware that there are legal compliance issues that arise from off-site work. Those issues are not insurmountable but they are real and businesses need to take them on board in their planning.
Other issues are less legalistic and include matters to do with the potential for isolation of employees who rarely or never visit the office of the business that provides their employment. Those issues can affect promotional opportunities as well as the pleasure that can be derived from the social inclusiveness of a being in a workplace.
Another challenge is management. It takes astute management to train, lead, motivate and keep productively engaged workers who are regularly or permanently operating off-site.
And of course, there will always be IT issues for remote workers that need to be managed.
Australian Telework Week has been initiated to promote the potential of working anywhere in the present and future workforce. For HR practitioners, that means becoming acquainted with the benefits and shortcomings of telework.
Lyn Goodear is the interim chief executive officer of the Australian Human Resources Institute
AHRI has participated on a telework week panel under the auspices of the federal Department of Broadband, Communication and the Digital Economy. During Telework Week a program of seminars and other events will commence with a launch on Monday 12 November by the Prime Minister at a full day Telework Congress from the University of Melbourne, and broadcast nationally.
Australian Government telework website http://www.telework.gov.au/telework_events
AHRI telework web page http://www.ahri.com.au/scripts/cgiip.exe/WService=AHRI-LIVE/ccms.r?pageid=11970