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Telecommuting - the future ain't what it used to be

Asher Moses and Ben Grubb (via SMH) | Feb. 25, 2013

But Tim Fawcett, general manager of government affairs and policy at Cisco Australia, a key promoter of teleworking, said these companies were swimming against the tide. Around 90 per cent of Cisco's 75,000 global workforce telework at least one day a week, with 40 per cent classified as “mobile workers”.

“Our workers who work outside the office are consistently more engaged, more productive happier [and] have a higher sense of well being than traditional bricks and mortar workers,” said Fawcett.

In the latest teleworking statistics available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as at November 2008, about a quarter of Australian workers - or 2.4 million people - worked at least some hours at home of which 32 per cent worked only or mainly at home. The number of teleworking hours increased with age.

However, the number of workers who have a formal teleworking arrangement is thought to be much closer to 6 per cent. The federal government aims to have at least 12 per cent of employees teleworking one day a week by 2020 (a target the federal public service has adopted itself), and teleworking has been pushed heavily by Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

The NBN is being touted as a game-changer for teleworkers and, according to Senator Conroy, will “potentially revolutionise how we will work”.

Deloitte has said teleworking will deliver nationally an extra $3.2 billion a year to the gross domestic product by 2020-21, the equivalent of 25,000 full-time jobs. In a report released late last year it called teleworking “one of the biggest structural changes to the labour market this decade”.

Dr Blount said telecommuting was not a one-size-fits-all solution and in each case a business case needed to be made.

Her research has found that in some instances team members and managers felt reluctant to “bother” teleworkers at home which could hinder collaboration, while at the same time the teleworkers themselves reported being far more productive and satisfied. Some however experienced “social and professional isolation”.

“One of the things that Google and Yahoo are aware of is they want to create a certain culture in their organisations and it's really difficult to do that if people aren't physically there,” said Dr Blount.

Teleworkers also reported working longer hours to justify the privilege of working from home. Dr Blount said this raised the question of whether teleworkers were more productive or just working harder, however more research was sorely needed.


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