Telework – Trends and New Opportunities for Collaboration

The adoption of telework is a strategic government objective in the National Digital Economy Strategy.  The stated goal is that by 2020 Australia will have doubled its level of teleworking so that at least 12 per cent of Australian employees will report having a telework arrangement with their employer. Trends indicate that employees are working more flexibly and employers are more accepting of this way of working. Yet, recently the debate has taken a backward step with the announcement by the CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer that all telework arrangements would be rescinded. Google have also been reported in the media as saying that they don’t encourage telework. What is the future of telework?

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Telework is generally referred to as white-collar or professional work conducted outside the main office, usually from home and requires the use of information and communications technology (ICT). Reliable statistics about who teleworks, how and when are difficult to ascertain, largely because the definition of telework is not universally agreed.

Telework is not a new concept.  The IT and software development domain has adopted this work practice since the early 1970s allowing software developers to work from areas remote from central offices.  More recently, the ability to work from anywhere has become more viable due to new developments in the ICT domain.  For example, the internet has increased our networking and collaboration activities allowing us to connect with colleagues nationally and internationally.

The Future of Telework

The capability of workers in Australia to telework will increase as the National Broadband Network (NBN) becomes available for more businesses and their employees. Additionally, the evolution of hand held and mobile devices allows for greater flexibility to access content from anywhere.

A number of studies from industry have predicted that telework will increase significantly. According to a recent report from IBIS World ‘A snapshot of Australia’s Digital Future to 2050’, one in four employees are likely to have some form of teleworking arrangement by the middle of the century. Employee flexibility and increased productivity are frequently cited in the literature as key benefits of telework.  Other benefits include cost savings, increased workforce participation and infrastructure savings.

The potential limitations include not all employees having access to telework, resistance by managers, work, health and safety issues, communication and supervisory issues.

Another trend is the adoption of smart work centres, co-working spaces and hubs that are either being trialled or utilised by governments and organisations to resolve some of the limitations of working from the home while achieving the benefits.

Telework: An Emerging Research Agenda

The trends and issues around telework are yet to be fully explored and are a fertile area for research. The Australian Anywhere Working Research Network’s (AAWRN) aim is to provide a framework for collaborative national (and international) research around flexible ‘anywhere’ working practices that include telework using mobile devices.

There are a number of research projects that are either underway or planned. The Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society (IBES) in an Australian study in 2012 found that telework increased productivity and wellbeing. The New Zealand Work Research Institute, AUT University and Cisco New Zealand with IBES have extended this research to enhance our understanding of current issues around telework and productivity and employee wellbeing.

Macquarie University and IBES are working on a project to investigate the impact of Telework and Telehealth delivery on worker productivity, wellbeing and service quality in rural, regional and peri-urban areas of Australia. The focus of the study will be on Teleworkers engaged in various forms of Telehealth delivery, in order to explore the types of ICTs used in providing services, and how this impacts worker productivity, wellbeing and quality of service delivery to clients.

Opportunities for Collaboration

Macquarie University and the AAWRN are working on a research project proposal around smart work centres.  The overarching question for this research is “How to develop smart work centres so that they are viable and sustainable to achieve the anywhere working objectives in Australia”.

To continue the conversation, a Digital Productivity in the Workplace Conference will be held on Monday 17th June 2013. We welcome papers on existing and proposed research projects.  This conference will provide an opportunity for all interested parties to engage on this topic.

– by Dr Yvette Blount

Carbon Accounting: New Reporting and Assurance Challenges

The growing international impetus to address climate change means that it is increasingly important for organisations to understand and manage their environmental impacts. In a 2012 article, Nonna Martinov-Bennie reviewed the introduction of carbon management legislation in Australia, and explains the key reporting and assurance issues. Legislation in Australia

The main climate change legislation in Australia is the Clean Energy Act 2011. The Clean Energy Act has four major initiatives: a carbon pricing mechanism, support for innovation in renewable energy, energy efficiency and enhancement in land management. Arguably, the policy with the most significant reporting implications – and also the most controversial – is the carbon pricing mechanism or ‘carbon tax’. The carbon pricing policy establishes an initial fixed price of $23 per tonne of CO2. This price will increase at 2.5% plus inflation until 2015, and then transition to a price determined by a carbon market. While the carbon price is new, it builds on an on-going legislative and reporting framework in Australia that began with the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act in 2007.

Carbon pricing: key issues

As Martinov-Bennie explains, carbon reporting and pricing challenges business to improve their reporting and management in several key areas:

  • Reporting rigour: Because organisations’ survival has not historically depended on its control of environmental impacts, non-financial reporting has not attained the same rigour as financial reporting. By putting a cost on environmental performance, carbon pricing provides incentives for firms to bring environmental reporting standards and controls up to the same high standards.
  • Timely data: Emissions data is typically reported annually. However, the creation of a carbon price questions whether annual reporting is adequate. More frequent   reporting better reflects organisations’ costs and liabilities and can support more effective management of outputs. At least one large mining company is already moving to monthly reporting for operations of over 50-kt CO2.
  • Robust reporting systems: The current legislative framework requires secure data storage and audit trails of changes for five years. Most firms are reporting based on spreadsheets, but it is unlikely that this will be adequate over the long term.
  • Effective reporting teams: Producing effective carbon data requires organisations to create interdisciplinary teams that have the range of skills that effective carbon reporting requires.

Measuring carbon: organisational strategies

Martinov-Bennie also highlights new governance and measurement challenges involved in measuring carbon output:

  • Periodic or Continuous Carbon Reporting: Periodic reporting is the cheapest and most popular method of measuring carbon liability; however, it is also the least accurate. Organisations need to consider whether a more expensive continuous measurement system might better manage the risk of highly variable emissions.
  • Measuring the Right Activity: Accurately measuring carbon emissions requires a thorough and holistic understanding of production, especially when using contractors. For example, a landfill company that outsources emissions to a third party through gas flaring needs to report those emissions.

The future of carbon pricing in Australia?

Despite calls for certainty by the business community, the federal opposition in Australia has promised to repeal carbon pricing legislation if elected in September. However, while many commentators are predicting a change of government and policy, the long-term future of carbon pricing is uncertain. As a small, trade dependent nation, there are limits on Australia’s capacity to remain isolated if other nations move towards carbon reporting and assurance, as recent suggestions that China is considering a carbon pricing mechanism have highlighted.

Also, the long-term value for organisations in rigorous reporting and management of climate change data is not solely a consequence of the Clean Energy Act. Independent international initiatives to report environmental impacts, such as by the Global Reporting Initiative and the International Integrated Reporting Council, suggest growing pressure from stakeholders to report environmental outcomes. The growth in investment funds with sustainability criteria will also benefit firms who can report on their environmental management practices, and suggests a growing need for assurance of these reports.

Finally, as Martinov-Bennie’s article highlights, developing effective reporting of carbon outputs is one part of understanding and evaluating an organisation’s production process. From this perspective, carbon reporting and assurance is not solely an exercise in compliance, but also an opportunity to develop a more rigorous assessment of an organisation’s non-financial impacts and management strategies.