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What ever happened to the working from home revolution?

It was supposed to give us more flexibility and freedom, but the long-anticipated working from home revolution has mostly meant people working longer hours for no pay - on top of a full week in the office.

Laptops, smart phones and faster internet services have laid the foundations for round-the-clock access to information and communication, allowing people to work from anywhere, at any time.

But that opportunity for greater flexibility has not been fully realised because cultural attitudes in many workplaces have not changed.

Workplace researchers have found that most bosses still believe a physical presence in the office is the best way to get the most out of their employees - despite indications that working from home could, in many cases, improve productivity.

Some government departments are among employers who still choose to send workers from one end of metropolitan Sydney to the other for face-to-face meetings instead of saving hours in travel time by using tele-conferencing and Skype.

Barbara Pocock, an adjunct professor at the University of South Australia school of business, said an increasing proportion of people are working from home. But her research for the university's Centre for Work and Life shows most people are working a few extra hours from home.

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Fewer are working from home as part of a formal arrangement with their boss.

"Instead, we see a lot of people turning on their computer early in the morning or late at night trying to stay in front of their work load," Professor Pocock said.

"There is certainly growth in that more informal working-from-home pattern. 

"This is happening much more than people saying I work from home every Monday to cut my commute as a formal regular agreement with the boss."

Professor Pocock said three quarters of people work in the services sector.

" You could never work from home if you were on a production line in manufacturing or agricultural mining. And these sectors have shrunk as a proportion of employment," she said.

Some large companies including Telstra and Westpac have promoted a more flexible approach to working hours.

"There has been less of it than we expected," Professor Pocock said.

"I think what we have is a lot of sticky cultures in a lot of workplaces where presenteeism is the dominant culture. You have to be seen. You are nervous about missing out on key information. Or you are in a low-trust environment.

"Trust is really important to working from home successfully."

University of Sydney's Rae Cooper, an associate professor from the business school, said the much anticipated working from home revolution had failed to turn the workforce on its head.

She said about 10 per cent of workers do some work from home.

"Most of those people haven't negotiated that on a formal basis and most don't do it on a regular basis," she said.

"I think there still remains in Australian work places a bit of a suspicion of people who aren't present in the workplace.

"There seems to be an assumption that being present equals being committed. And being not present equals not being committed and a lack of engagement.

"Interestingly, from the employees, you get a strong narrative from them that they feel more productive when they work from home and they feel they contribute as much if not more because they are not interrupted as much by colleagues."

Dylan Nelson, 20, has been working from home since August providing over-the-phone support to iiNet internet customers.

"I live about 90 minutes away from the office by public transport," he said.

"I find working from home, I'm more focused and able to work through things a lot faster."

Mr Nelson's manager, Anthony Fisk, said he found many staff members were more productive and happier working from home.

"Staff with young children or other family commitments can spend time at home, work part time, or even enjoy split shifts. But work from home is not just for parents, it also cuts down on both commuting time and costs," he said.

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