Teleworking (working from home) uptake in Australia lags behind other developed economies. The arguments in favour of teleworking are many. There are environmental benefits from reducing daily commuter numbers, and reduced real estate costs for employers.
The most often-cited benefits, however, relate to employee engagement, satisfaction and productivity. Teleworking enables more flexible working that may better suit workers’ lifestyles, particularly in relation to mobility or child-minding responsibilities. It also gives them more options for where they can live.
But many teleworking proposals still encounter strong resistance from management cultures that consider teleworking as opening a can of worms in terms of worker safety and productivity. After all, how can you effectively manage a worker whom you can’t see?
Poor uptake of teleworking
According to Macquarie University researcher Dr Yvette Blount, the failure of many organisations to embrace teleworking stems from:
- Not viewing it from a strategic perspective.
- Where it is implemented, it is often in response to sporadic requests from staff in relation to child-minding duties.
- Senior management not thinking about telework in a strategic way.
That means retraining managers to manage a workforce that is often outside their direct line of sight. This also means ensuring that the job is actually suitable for being performed remotely.
The telework concept
While the concept of telework has existed for decades, it is only now achieving a degree of maturity in Australia, as measured by the few organisations that have run programs for an extended period and at significant scale. What they have learnt is proving crucial for those who intend to follow in their footsteps.
Aegis Services Australia case study
Chris Luxford has very clearly set out a strategic plan for teleworking. As the president of business outsourcing service provider Aegis Services Australia, Luxford is aiming to see teleworker numbers within his 2600 staff grow from 4 per cent today to as much as 15 per cent. His motivation is in part based on findings that employee engagement among his telework workforce is twice that of other workers.
“The average tenure is significantly higher and the attrition is almost zero,” Luxford says. “When you get someone working from home really, really well, the productivity levels are actually higher than people in the office, and the quality of output, the accuracy of output, is much, much better. And many of our clients rave about the work ethic and the quality that is produced by those people who work from home.”
Luxford says teleworking is also a strong incentive when recruiting, and he even has two workers in the US and UK. “In the war for talent you have to continuously look at how you offer more flexible working conditions that align with the needs of people today,” Luxford says. “And the feedback that we get from employees is phenomenal.”
Salmat marketing services case study
When the marketing services company Salmat launched a new call centre in 2006, it made an important strategic decision. Rather than take office space and fill it with row upon row of call centre operators, it created a virtual call centre called Salmat@Home.
Today Hugh Bryant manages a team of 350 contact centre contractors from North Queensland to Tasmania, connected via telephone and broadband. He has never met many of them.
Bryant says the model enables him to hire workers with skills that would otherwise be unavailable due to where they live, with 45 per cent residing in regional Australia. And should a contractor choose to relocate, they are not lost to him.
Crucial to making the model work is selecting people with the right mindset and temperament to work at home. Bryant believes it’s a cultural or behavioural trait that one inherently has or needs to be taught. “Where we have seen teleworking fail at other organisations is where they get 10 of their best and longest serving employees and send them home for a month and see what happens. And what often happens is they hate it, because they liked being in that office culture and liked getting out of home.”