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taken a backward step with the announcement by the CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer that all telework arrangements would be rescinded.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?
What is telework?
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