June 26, 2013

Could teleworking be good for business?

The NBN will make it possible for more employees to work anywhere - could that be good for your business? Dr Yvette Blount, Research Coordinator of Macquarie University’s Anywhere Working Research Network, discusses the benefits and obstacles you might want to consider.

Technology has made it possible for many people to work outside a conventional office and the National Broadband Network (NBN) will create even more opportunities. It’s a good time to consider whether your business could benefit from a more flexible approach to the workplace.

“Work is what you do, not where you are, and there are many different ways to manage the time you spend working,” says Dr Yvette Blount,Research Coordinator of the Anywhere Working Research Network at Macquarie University.

“For example, you could work at home and go into the office for varying periods of time when you need to collaborate, communicate and work as part of a team or you could spend a regular two or three days at the office each week. Alternatively, if the business has other branches or offices, you might be able to save commuting time by working at a location closer to home. And these days, a growing number of people think nothing of working in places like airport lounges, cafés, co-working spaces and client’s offices. That’s why we prefer to talk about ‘anywhere working’ rather than ‘working from home’.”

The most obvious benefit for an employer is the opportunity to reduce high real estate costs with smaller premises. You could also tap into the skills of workers outside your geographical area or who’d find it difficult to travel to work every day, such as parents of young children or people with disabilities.

“Research tells us that people with flexible working arrangements tend to see this as a privilege rather than a right, which can have a positive impact on retention,” says Blount. “In general, they also tend to be more productive and work longer hours – for example, they might start at 7am when they’d normally be commuting or continue after five when they might be rushing off to catch a train.”

Last year,Australia’s first National Telework Week raised awareness of NBN-enabled telework, though we’ve been slower on the uptake than some other countries. Census 2011 data confirmed that just 4.4 percent of Australians worked in their main job from home for most of the previous week compared with 25 percent of employees in India and 18 percent in China.

“I think some employers overlook the potential benefits because they’re thinking in terms of ‘working at home’ or ‘working in the office’ being mutually exclusive alternatives,” says Blount. “In fact, ‘anywhere working’ encompasses a wide range of possibilities.”

Five points to consider

That doesn’t make ‘anywhere working’ right for everyone. Blount has identified five major points to consider before taking the plunge.

  1. Do you have a strong business case for making the change? For example, would you save money, improve your customer service, improve employee retention or have more affordable access to specific skills?
  2. If you decide to go ahead, should your employees work at home every day or divide their time between home and office?
  3. The same requirements for work, health and safety apply regardless of where an employee works and employees should be aware of the legislation in their own state or territory. Are you confident that your employees’ working conditions are appropriate? Some businesses provide a checklist for employees to sign while others prefer to inspect the home environment.
  4. Are there aspects of the job that need to change? For example, does it need to be redesigned so that you can you can continue to measure the outputs? Do your managers need training to help them to manage their staff remotely?
  5. Personalities differ and not everyone has the motivation or commitment to work without physical supervision. Does your employment contract or agreement include a strategy for bringing an employee back into the office if working elsewhere doesn’t work out?

Find out more and see teleworking in action at telework.gov.au 

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