JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Telecommuting - the future ain't what it used to be

Date

Asher Moses

Zoom in on this story. Explore all there is to know.

Wollongong animator Phil Jennings moved from Sydney to get early access to the NBN and now works from home.

Wollongong animator Phil Jennings moved from Sydney to get early access to the NBN and now works from home. Photo: Sylvia Liber

With Yahoo and Google sledging teleworking as slow and detrimental to work quality and creativity, has working from home lost its lustre?

Yahoo's head of human resources Jackie Reses sent out a memo on Friday telling remote staff they must be working in the office by June and if they had an issue they could quit.

Is this the end to what Deloitte said would be one of the biggest structural changes to the Australian labour market this decade?

Teleworkers report having more time to spend with the family and increased productivity.

Teleworkers report having more time to spend with the family and increased productivity. Photo: Eve Fisher

Not so fast, say experts including Dr Yvette Blount, research co-ordinator at Macquarie University's Australia Anywhere Working Research Network, who argues that while Silicon Valley innovators may thrive on being together in the office, teleworking in Australia is taking off.

A new Melbourne University study published in the Telecommunications Journal of Australia found people who work from home start earlier, work up to three hours longer and get more done, while they felt more energised, less stressed and had fewer distractions.

Millions of Australians already do some work from home and this number expected to increase with the National Broadband Network (NBN). “There is a lot of telework occurring that is informal that's not being captured in the official statistics,” said Dr Blount.

Some people have more distractions at home than at work.

Some people have more distractions at home than at work. Photo: istock photo

However it is clear that teleworking isn't for everyone, including, ironically, some of the very companies building the online email, instant messaging, office productivity and other tools that enable us to work from anywhere.

“Being a Yahoo isn't just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices,” said Reses in the Yahoo memo.

“Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”

BusinessInsider quoted a source saying Yahoo had many people working exclusively from home who were not productive.

In Sydney last week Google's chief financial officer Patrick Pichette, said “as few as possible” Google staff worked from home because it was not as conducive to collaboration and creating “magical moments”.

But Tim Fawcett, general manager of government affairs and policy at Cisco Australia, a key promoter of teleworking, said these companies were swimming against the tide. Around 90 per cent of Cisco's 75,000 global workforce telework at least one day a week, with 40 per cent classified as “mobile workers”.

“Our workers who work outside the office are consistently more engaged, more productive happier [and] have a higher sense of well being than traditional bricks and mortar workers,” said Fawcett.

In the latest teleworking statistics available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as at November 2008, about a quarter of Australian workers - or 2.4 million people - worked at least some hours at home of which 32 per cent worked only or mainly at home. The number of teleworking hours increased with age.

However, the number of workers who have a formal teleworking arrangement is thought to be much closer to 6 per cent. The federal government aims to have at least 12 per cent of employees teleworking one day a week by 2020 (a target the federal public service has adopted itself), and teleworking has been pushed heavily by Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

The NBN is being touted as a game-changer for teleworkers and, according to Senator Conroy, will “potentially revolutionise how we will work”.

Deloitte has said teleworking will deliver nationally an extra $3.2 billion a year to the gross domestic product by 2020-21, the equivalent of 25,000 full-time jobs. In a report released late last year it called teleworking “one of the biggest structural changes to the labour market this decade”.

Dr Blount said telecommuting was not a one-size-fits-all solution and in each case a business case needed to be made.

Her research has found that in some instances team members and managers felt reluctant to “bother” teleworkers at home which could hinder collaboration, while at the same time the teleworkers themselves reported being far more productive and satisfied. Some however experienced “social and professional isolation”.

“One of the things that Google and Yahoo are aware of is they want to create a certain culture in their organisations and it's really difficult to do that if people aren't physically there,” said Dr Blount.

Teleworkers also reported working longer hours to justify the privilege of working from home. Dr Blount said this raised the question of whether teleworkers were more productive or just working harder, however more research was sorely needed.

She said a key question her research would be asking was, “we've been talking about this since the 1970s so why isn't it [teleworking] business as usual?”.

NBN Co chief Mike Quigley said he had previously employed software developers who worked from home and were “immensely productive”, in some cases 10 or 20 times more productive than average.

“There's some jobs that don't lend themselves to teleworking but there's a lot of jobs that do”, said Quigley, adding many workers mixed it up spending some time at home and some time at work. While that flexibility was “pretty powerful” there had to be a level of trust between the employee and employer.

He could not say how many NBN Co workers worked from home but a formal policy was in place so that “if somebody is going to telework somebody from our HR department goes out, has a look at where they're going to be working from” to see whether the appropriate conditions were in place.

- with Ben Grubb

Is working from home discouraged or encouraged at your work? Email us

10 comments

  • I've always assumed that teleworking would only ever be 1 or 2 days a week for the vast majority. How else are businesses going to have their endless timewasting meetings?

    Commenter
    MerriD
    Date and time
    February 25, 2013, 1:17PM
    • One of the potential benefits of teleworking, is that people are not forced to live in overpriced and congested cities. That isn't going to work if people still have to travel to an office three times a week.
      It isn't going to suit all types of work, but there are some teleworkers who never need to go to an office.

      Commenter
      enno
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      February 25, 2013, 2:38PM
    • Overpriced and congested cities? Why do you think that is? It's because Councils are allowing the expansion of our cities beyond their carrying capacity. Urban consolidation is the way to REDUCE the cost of living in major centres. We have some of the lowest population densities on earth in our cities. All this does is to increase the cost for everyone.

      Commenter
      zapkvr
      Location
      Geelong
      Date and time
      February 25, 2013, 2:54PM
    • @zapkvr...

      Yes. You are correct on one point.. we have very low (on world standards) population density in our cities, yet you fail on the second point... towit "they are overpriced".

      We now have businesses requiring our presence in overpriced CBD office space to perform duties that can be adequately discharged in real estate at a third of the 'value'.

      One only has to prove equivalent productivity at (approximately) 1/2 of the value of the same productivity of the over priced CBD office space to make WFH viable.

      But wait... that doesn't quite work... it's about 'the dick'. Who would 'the dick' kick around if there's nobody in the office?

      Seriously... the denial of the bleeding obvious is more about office politics than it is about economic imperatives.

      Commenter
      yup
      Date and time
      February 25, 2013, 3:20PM
    • If everyone worked from home 1 day a week in a staggered rotation the city would no longer be congested. A 6% reduction in traffic during school holidays has a huge impact on the roads. If a quarter of all workers took at least 1 day a week off from commuting the result would roughly resemble school holidays.

      Commenter
      Paul
      Date and time
      February 25, 2013, 3:32PM
    • Yup WRONG mate. The primary reason our real estate in the cities is overpriced has more to do with the overvalued currency. Don't expect the Guvmint to introduce a mining tax to deal with the speculators though. You saw what happened to the PM who tried that.

      Commenter
      zapkvr
      Location
      Geelong
      Date and time
      February 25, 2013, 3:38PM
    • I am waiting for my car mechanic and barber to start teleworking. Working at home is not all it's cracked up to be...the refrigerator keeps calling to me........

      Commenter
      luke
      Date and time
      February 25, 2013, 4:30PM
    • Zap, how exactly does the high currency contribute to expensive housing and then only in cities?

      Commenter
      NooNoo
      Date and time
      February 25, 2013, 5:31PM
    • Brilliant logic from Paul at 3.32pm, out traffic congestion problems solved in one fell swoop. For a year or so anyway until our population growth soaks up the temporary reduction again. What a useless and illogical suggestion, this would do nothing for congestion at all, it requires other solutions - more roads and more public transport.

      Commenter
      SteveF.
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      February 25, 2013, 9:35PM
    • I find it sad we have to change our working habits based on availability of core infrastructure where we're lagging behind so many other countries

      Commenter
      Anonymous
      Date and time
      February 26, 2013, 12:50AM
Comments are now closed
Advertisement
Featured advertisers
Advertisement