Teleworking: Making it work for you
This article appears in the March/April 2014 issue of Business Franchise Australia & New Zealand
Implementing successful telework policies to improve your workplace flexibility and attract and retain talented employees has never been easier.
Recent research by ACMA has revealed that 39 per cent of SMEs allow their workforce to work at home at least one day a week. SMEs, including home-based micro business and virtual companies, are leading the way, taking advantage of the Cloud to gain affordable access to the latest information and communication technologies and support services and deliver flexibility to their employees and customers.
Drawing on the experience of the 185 organisations that have become Telework Partners with the Department, the Telework Kit, www.telework.gov.au/kit steps you through the issues. It provides four tools on how to assess your readiness to telework, assess different types of telework to suit your needs, assess your technology and assess ICT security needs, as well as tools to take you through the ‘how-to’, to successfully implement telework.
The most common form of telework is working from a home office in a hybrid arrangement that combines some days working in the office with some days working from a remote location, including your home. However some teleworkers successfully work full time from their home office. Megan Reed, the Global Leader of Language Strategy for IBM, works with a global team across five continents from her home office on the Gold Coast. Her approach is to start any team project with a budgeted face-to face meeting where possible, to build trust and engagement around shared goals and communication protocols. This then allows the team to work virtually using a range of tools from telephone hook-ups to high end video conferencing, depending on local conditions and individual member preferences. There is also growing interest across Australia in telework via smart work hubs that create new style local work communities, combining telework for employees, coworking for freelancers, and local economic and business support services.
The proven benefits for employers include improved productivity and the ability to attract, engage and retain staff with the skills that will build your business’s strategic competitiveness. This is especially important for firms with global reach across different time zones, or who are attempting to provide help desk and sales service to their customers, sometimes on a 24/7 basis. Staff engagement and loyalty to meet these requirements through flexible arrangements, including the ability to provide this assistance as a home-based agent, translates into greater productivity and cost effectiveness.
The proven benefits of telework for employees include job opportunities independent of location and the ability to improve their work-life balance by reducing the number of days in the week they have to commute to work. For many thousands of workers in our large cities, this can involve daily commute times of between three and five hours for those who live in the more affordable housing areas on the urban periphery with high environmental value, such as the Sunshine Coast, Moreton Bay and Gold Coast near Brisbane and the Central Coast, Blue Mountains, Southern Highlands and the Illawarra near Sydney. This is especially true for working families with carer responsibilities for young children or older adults, with women now being the principal income earner in 1 in 4 households.
While some organisations have outsourced services to call centres in low wage countries, principally India and the Philippines, others such as Westpac’s BT Financial Group, Canon, iiNet and Medibank have developed ‘work@home’ policies to provide help desk functions through home-based help desk staff, known as home-based agents. The BT Group’s ROI metrics report a 94 per cent engagement score for their home based agents. iiNet, Australia’s second largest ISP is set up as a virtual company, providing staff wherever they are located with online access to all of their corporate systems. Of Medibank’s 4,400 employees, 2,600 of them, including health professionals and help desk service workers, work as homebased agents. This trend is growing rapidly, and there is advice on how to do it well: http://www.telework.gov.au/kit
The 2012 Australian Work and Life Index survey (Centre for Work and Life) found 41 per cent of workers take work home and about half those hours were unpaid. If telework is to deliver on improved work/life balance, it is therefore important to distinguish between the use of digital connectivity to allow staff to work from home or another remote location instead of coming into the office and allowing staff to work from home or while travelling in addition to their work in the office, often referred to as ‘day extenders’.
The most significant lesson from Telework Partners is that while technology enables virtual teaming, it is the people who make it work. Therefore, while it is important to get the right technology solutions that are appropriate to your business, attention to business strategy and culture is where you will get the dividends. This is particularly important if you are seeking to save on the cost of your downtown office accommodation by introducing activity based-work (ABW) organisation, whereby
it is assumed that less than 80 per cent of employees will be in the office on any one day. Flexible use of space is combined with an emphasis on team collaboration to drive innovation and productivity, with work spaces are assigned according to changing activity rather than permanently assigned to functions according to status. Prominent Australian examples of the adoption of ABW include the GPT Group, Macquarie Bank, and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia in Sydney and Microsoft in Canberra, who report real estate savings of up to 30 per cent.
Maximising the benefits of adopting telework as part of your flexible workplace arrangements requires an organisation to make this part of its corporate strategy, rather than an adhoc arrangement. This requires attention to the development of, or access to, telework training and culture change programs that address the following:
• a focus on management by agreed task outcomes on a regular short term and medium term basis, rather than visual surveillance of staff at their desks and adhoc allocation of tasks;
• the recognition that not all employees are suitable for telework, which requires a good understanding of your job and its responsibilities, an ability to plan and organise your work to meet agreed task outcomes, to have good communication skills using phone and other virtual technologies, and an ability to handle the extra dimension of virtual teaming;
• as part of any transparent telework agreement, to have agreed communication protocols, WHS assessment of remote office environments and KPIs for regular reviews;
• monitoring work/life balance to address any tendency for work to intrude unacceptably into an employee’s personal and family life; and
• the provision of training to both employees and line managers to meet the demands of virtual teaming and running a home office.
In addition to the downloadable Department of Communications’ Telework Training Program, www.telework.gov.au/training for employees to implement telework is provided by many of our Telework Partners, including online training providers www.telework.gov.au/partners and through a range of industry associations as part of their Digital Business Kits – see: http://www.communications.gov.au/digital_economy/digital_business_kits.
The Commonwealth Government’s support of digitally enabled anywhere working is part of its strategy to advance Australia as a leading digital economy. Working with its Telework Partner organisations and stakeholder engagement networks, the Government has highlighted the benefits of telework and its implementation challenges in a National Telework Week campaign in November 2012 and 2013.
For further details contact Barbara Lepani, Stakeholder Engagement and Senior Policy Officer on:
Phone: 02 6271 1692
1 ACMA, Research Snapshot 3, October 2013
2 The Future of Regional Work Space, the Digital Work Hub Project, a collaborative Regional Development Australia Project (Sunshine coast, Moreton Bay, Brisbane, Logan/ Redland, Gold Coast), December 2013
3 Department of Finance and Deregulation, Flexible and Efficient Workplace Design Guidance, September 2013, Australian Government.