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Let's hope PM's telework push births new age of life

Some of the best days I've had at work have been when I've been at home. I am lucky to be working in a profession that enables me, upon occasion, to work from places other than my desk in Fyshwick. Those days when there's more writing to be done than production, for example; when all I need to complete a full day's work is a computer terminal and my interview notes.

I gain a great deal of satisfaction from days at home where I churn out - I mean delicately craft together - thousands of words. Days when I can also get a cake in the oven, two loads of washing in, and out onto the line, and back in again, dinner prep started and perhaps a quick walk of the dog.

Think of the time you waste in the office. Chit-chatting to colleagues, going out for coffee, surfing the web for Christmas presents (only 38 days away - get to it), watching the cricket on the television while pretending to catch up with the latest Sky News breaking story. I know it's not just me.

I'm not a time waster, by any means, when I'm on the clock, yet we're entitled to some personal moments during the day, wherever we are, and I'd rather use mine being productive.

Don't get me wrong, I love coming into the office. Some of my best friends are here. It's nice to get dressed up, have adult conversations, talk about things that might lead to stories, be on the pulse, if you get what I mean.

But that doesn't mean I love doing it every day. And I don't have to be here, at my desk, where I'm writing this today, to be able to write.

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Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced just this week that she's aiming to have 12 per cent of federal public servants regularly ''teleworking'' from home by 2020.

Only 4 per cent of public servants now operate primarily from home. According to 2009 figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, just 6 per cent of all Australian employees have agreements with their employers to work part of the time away from their usual base.

How can I help her sell it?

Diversity Council Australia chief executive officer Nareen Young says businesses should embrace telework and other forms of flexible working to achieve substantial benefits.

''There's plenty of research in Australia and overseas that says flexible working, like telework, provides significant benefits for employers and employees, such as improvements to productivity and performance; employee engagement, health and job satisfaction; and attraction and retention of people talent - not to mention the environmental benefits of eliminating the commute to work,'' she says.

It does, however, have to be managed well. As an employer I would have to be confident that the people who were keen to telework were actually going to work. I've probably dobbed myself in that I squeeze in so many home duties on company time when I'm working from home, but I've never failed to deliver the actual work. That's the clincher. If the work is getting done, does it matter where it's being done?

I once had a sympathetic supervisor here who said to me: ''I don't care if you're working from the moon as long as the work is getting done.'' He had a wife and children. He got it.

But it's not just working mothers who are keen to get the occasional, indeed the regular, day at home. Research by Deloitte released for National Telework Week this week showed that six in 10 people nearing retirement age said they would undertake telework and as a result delay retirement by an average of 6.6 years.

DCA says research shows ''having the flexibility to manage family/personal life'' was in the top five on the job wish list for all men, particularly young fathers wanting to be more involved in the upbringing of their children.

People with carer responsibilities who were not in the labour force also realise the benefits of teleworking.

So what's delaying the uptake? I know when I do it I get a case of the guilts (which quickly diminishes once my sheets are sun crisp and smelling sweet). I think of people in the office who are being loaded with extra work that comes in, and those who think I'm a shirker. The Aussie worker has had a long history of the nine-to-five - which is more like eight-to-seven now - and if we're not being seen, do people think we're not working? And if that includes our bosses, are we more likely to be passed over for promotion and the like, if we're not physically in the office? And what about the number of jobs where it just wouldn't be possible?

Yet it's about finding the balance that works for everyone, in their own situation.

Perhaps, then, the Prime Minister's push for teleworking should just be the beginning of a greater acceptance of flexible working conditions. Perhaps her next move should be to work with businesses to outline the benefits of such flexibility.

And there's more to it than teleworking. If we can work out ways to incorporate flexible, moveable hours, at home or in the office, compressed working weeks, being able to buy back holidays, career breaks and job-sharing, then we'll truly be working towards a better future.

Should we take it further, looking for ways to better achieve the work/life balance? For at its core, that's what working flexibly is all about.

Every year I look forward to reading Working Mother magazine's list of top 100 companies for women (see www.workingmother.com). While the US economy appears to be in bad shape, some of its companies are getting it very right. Imagine a workplace offering not only flexible working conditions but in-house childcare, summer camps, onsite gyms, paid days off to volunteer, support groups and - my favourites - nap rooms, massage chairs and treadmill workstations.

We need to rethink the way we work. We need to rethink the way we live. Most of us can't give work up, but unless it's allowing us to live a life what's the point?

twitter - @karenhardyCT