While debate rages over the cost of Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) and where it will be rolled out first practical benefits such as teleworking are not getting the coverage they deserve.
One of the federal government’s Digital Economy Goals is to increase the number of Australian employees who have telework agreements with their workplace to at least 12%, which is double the current rate. In order to create awareness Australia’s first National Telework Week will be held from 12–16 November 2012 to highlight the importance of working from home.
Australia Is Becoming A Services Economy
Australia is becoming a services economy, which makes it much easier for governments and businesses alike to encourage teleworking amongst their workforce.
Teleworking means regularly working remotely from a place other than your employer’s office, most commonly from a home office. Ideally it uses high speed connectivity and access to business systems in the cloud or by VPN so that a teleworker is as efficient, if not more, than a worker who commutes to their organisation’s office.
By delivering reliable, high-speed broadband to all Australian premises, the NBN will give more employees and employers the confidence to negotiate telework clauses in workplace agreements. The NBN will make it easier to share files, collaborate in team work projects and take part in high-definition video conferencing so that crucial visual communication clues are not missed.
Many Australians already use smartphones, tablets and laptops in conjunction with 3G/4G wireless data conectivity to work out of office on occasions such as during long train commutes or while waiting for a flight at an airport.
However relatively few Australian workplaces offer employees the opportunity to participate in telework on a regular basis even though it has been shown to result in real benefits to employers, workers and through externalities to society as a whole.
For example a knowledge worker could negotiate working on Monday and Tuesday at their employer’s office and on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from their home office.
Blurred Line Between Work and Home
The rollout of cloud services, BYOD policies and rapid adoption of tablets/smartphones means the traditional barriers between the workplace and home have become fuzzy or even non existent.
However work hours are still officially often still 9am-5pm on weekdays. Do workers feel pressure to answer work emails 24/7 even on weekends or work on tasks while they are commuting to and from home? How does this effect work life balance?
- Improved workforce participation opportunities – people who otherwise might be sidelined from the workforce eg: retirees and mothers of school age children could telework for 4 hours during the school day from 10-2pm covering peak load times for customer service call centres.
- Boost enterprise productivity – employees who currently commute long distances eg: to the Sydney CBD from Gosford would be easier to retain due to improved work life balance and more effective at their jobs because they could get more sleep.
- Reduce urban congestion on roads and public transport, especially at peak times – Every person who telecommutes takes pressure off over burdened transport infrastructure.
- Reduce air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption associated with commuting – helps to achieve Australia’s targets to address climate change.
- Improve the economic and cultural vitality of local areas as the workforce decentralises
Flavio Romano has been recently appointed to the newly created role of Principal Regulatory Economist with Telstra, Australia’s leading telecommunications company. He is responsible for overseeing the economic analysis of regulation during a period of intense change in the Australian telecommunications sector.
We interviewed him to learn more about these issues which he will discuss at CeBIT’s AusInnovate Conference.
His main message is that there are massive existing opportunities in Australia where smart infrastructure could be utilised to extract efficiency and avoid costly new infrastructure builds.
Romano emphasised that there are real opportunities to use digital infrastructure, particularly with the advent of ubiquitous fibre broadband via the NBN, to make real inroads into deferring costly builds of new infrastructure and increasing efficiency of how we use existing infrastructure.
Australian Infrastructure Task
He said that there is a big opportunity for government departments to lead by example, encouraging their staff to telecommute. Asking even just 20% of an organisation’s workforce to telework via fast broadband for a day/week would cut office space requirements, reduce office heating/cooling bills, lessen the pressure on urban transport systems and so forth.
Telework in the USA
The US Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 generated tremendous momentum toward increasing workforce mobility options for their federal government employees. However it should be noted that according to Cisco the American telework experience shows that:
“The most significant barriers to telework are organizational and cultural rather than technological or financial … the relatively slow adoption of telework and the consequent failure to realize the benefits of mobility are issues of organization and personnel management, not of technological maturity”.
“Office culture cannot be altered with the stroke of a pen; it will take time and effort to develop new coverage models, address concerns about performance evaluation and recognition for remote workers, and help managers understand the trade-offs involved in expanding telework options for their employees.”
Teleworking can be a win/win situation for employers and employees but it needs to be noted that employees require a good quality “teleworking tookit” to be at their most productive:
- Broadband – Fast, reliable and with high upload speeds to access and share large files with ease. Ideally an NBN connection would be best as ADSL2+ and Cable internet have low upload speeds.
- Laptop/Tablet – Long battery life, rugged, screen that is easy to see in bright light. Good choices include Dell Ultrabook’s and the Lenovo Thinkpad series.
- Monitor with laptop/tablat dock – large high resolution computer monitor to allow employees to view all the information required to complete work tasks.
- Smartphone – the high resolution Samsung Galaxy Note android smartphone is being used at the moment by CeBIT’s writer and social media manager.
- Wireless Connectivity for use at client office meetings – Low latency, fast download and upload speeds such as Telstra 4G/dual channel 3G.