The federal government has moved to link the need for higher productivity with its National Broadband Network (NBN) via the creation of a national Teleworking Week to be staged in November.
In a statement federal communications minister Stephen Conroy said the Telework Week would highlight, for both employers and employees, the social, economic and environmental benefits of telework.
"An increase in telework can lead to benefits across the economy and community, from big business through to individual workers and families as well as the environment," Conroy said.
"These benefits include cost-savings and productivity gains, increased workforce flexibility, expanded supply of skilled labour, reduced impact on the environment, reduced stress from traffic congestion and increased time available to spend with family and the community."
According to Conroy, the NBN was the “game changer” which would allow telework to become an “everyday reality” for workers across the country.
Big name technology companies IBM, Cisco, Intel, Microsoft as well as industry groups such as Australian Human Resources Institute, Australian Industry Group (AIG), Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) have signed on to support the initiative.
Telework has been on the government’s agenda for at least the last six months. In August last year Conroy told a Telework Forum in Sydney that businesses needed to change their attitudes about people working from home and use the internet to connect employees.
"In Australia the number of people with an arrangement with their employer to work from home has been low by international standards," Conroy said at the time.
“According to the ABS, just six per cent of employers from Australia have reported having any kind of telework arrangement with their employer.”
Telsyte analyst, Rodney Gedda, said telework was a relatively low priority for many employers, and that Telework Week had the capacity to highlight the benefits of working from home. However, he was wary of the government’s linking of telework to the NBN.
“Telework is one of the many benefits of the NBN and the government wants to market the NBN, so it is promoting the tangible benefits of working from home,” he said.
“But let’s be clear: You need high-speed broadband [for telework], but let’s not confuse that with the NBN as such. You could work from home with cable or DSL or even wireless.”
Research conducted by Telsyte on telework had indicated that less than 20 per cent of workers regularly worked from home, Gedda said. About 24 per cent of organisations had workforces that did not telework at all.
These statistics, Gedda said, were very much linked to the fact that, while useful for many industries and workers, telework is highly dependent on both nature of the work being done.
“People need to understand that [telework] depends a lot on the type of industry,” he said.
"The information industry… the legal industry… any industry that doesn’t require someone to be on site or with a customer [can benefit].”
“Being able to work from home very much depends on the type of role. If you were an engineer who needs to work out on site then that would be impractical or impossible to work from home. If you are a sales person you want to be out there meeting people."
On top of industry and job-function related challenges to telework, Gedda said that, culturally, many organisations may view working from home as a byword for bludging.
“Some organisations may not view [telework] as in keeping with their traditional business practices,” he said.
"They want to keep an eye on people and may say that if you are not at work then you are not doing any work. There is a cultural barrier there.”
Gedda suggested organisations should reappraise telework and view it as a means to cut costs, such as through a lower need for office space as well as less IT equipment and other overheads. Employee loyalty could also be boosted through providing staff a better work-life balance.