As reported in the Australian Financial Review, a key theme emerging from the recent Digital Productivity in the Workplace of the Future Conference, sponsored by Macquarie University and CSIRO, was that the conversation is moving on from ‘telework’ from a home office to ‘anywhere working’. Increasingly we will see employees working from locations such as a café, a partner’s, supplier’s or customer’s premises, a smart work centre, a co-working centre, from home, a car, an airport lounge or anywhere that is conducive to achieving the outcomes and levels of productivity required to achieve organisational strategic objectives.
On the latest statistics, around six percent of Australian workers have formal anywhere working arrangements. The statistics on informal arrangements for working from anywhere are more difficult to ascertain. This is an important area for research because workers with informal anywhere working arrangements typically have more autonomy to complete their tasks and projects, and so this is where we are more likely to see productivity gains.
Clearly not all organisations see anywhere working as an effective strategy, and prefer their employees to work from an office. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, famously (or infamously) banned all work from home arrangements early this year. Ms Mayer argued that innovation and creativity only occurred when people were together. Yahoo are not alone. Google publically stated that their organisation did not condone working from home.
However, several developments may mitigate the limitations of working from home that Yahoo and others have cited. Co-working or collaborative working spaces are providing opportunities for freelancers and entrepreneurs to collaborate and connect. Hub Australia has hubs in Melbourne and Sydney with another to open in Adelaide later in the year. Fishburners is a co-working space for technology start-ups and has two locations in central Sydney.
Smart work centres (SWCs) provide an alternative for those employees who are unable to work from home for a variety of reasons including social isolation and lack of space. Employers may be more open to employees working from SWCs because these centres can address issues that arise when working from home such as work, health and safety and difficulties in managing remote employees. A sustainable business model will be critical for the success of SWCs, which is another key area for future research.
A second key theme emerging from the conference was the perceived lack of management and leadership for anywhere working employees. Job design should include autonomy so that employees are able to be productive without the constraints of ‘presenteeism’ (being seen in the office). As Dr Blount from Macquarie University discussed on Sky News, management are unclear about how to develop a business case for anywhere working, and are unsure about the skills required to manage workers who are not office-based. While many employers have the HR policies in place for anywhere working, management resistance is an ongoing barrier to an increased uptake of working more flexibly. Alan Dormer – research leader at the CSIRO’s Government and Commercial Services division – has used research from the The Economist to argue that the reluctance of management to devolve responsibility might be preventing significant gains in both worker productivity and well-being.
The Australian Anywhere Working Research Network – which aims to provide a framework for collaborative research on anywhere working – invites any researchers, employers or government representatives interested in this field to join. To become involved, please contact Dr Yvette Blount in the Department of Accounting and Corporate Governance at Macquarie University.