Joanne Hutchins Photo: Simone De Peak
More Australians will be encouraged to ditch the office for a desk at home under a new federal government campaign to be launched this month.
The government aims to double the number of teleworkers to 12 per cent by 2020 as part of its National Digital Economy Strategy.
About 6 per cent of Australians have a teleworking arrangement with their employers, a number which has slightly decreased, according to the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey.
It is a move workplace experts say is long overdue, with Australia lagging behind other countries, such as the US, Canada and Britain, in developing a telework culture.
Australian Institute of Management's public policy manager, Robyn Clough, said Australia had been slow to adapt despite benefits such as increased productivity, reduced traffic congestion, cost savings and opportunities for the 340,000 Australians out of work because they cannot get to an office.
''In Australia, telework is just not accepted from a cultural perspective,'' she said. ''There does seem to be a block at a management level.''
A senior research analyst at the University of Sydney's Workplace Research Centre Catherine Raffaele agreed suspicions about telework still prevailed. ''There is a perception that if you are working from home you are not really working and that's not true,'' she said.
''There is plenty of research to suggest that people who work from home are more productive. Also, they feel more in control of their work so they have higher satisfaction levels and are more engaged.''
A 2010 report by global technology giant Cisco found that 69 per cent of people are more productive when working remotely, while a separate study from US telecommunications group Bell Atlantic Corporation found that 25 hours spent working from home is the equivalent of 40 hours in the office.
But some employees also have reservations about teleworking, according to Talent2 recruitment executive Paul Jury.
''Five years ago when I was surveying job seekers, what I found was that they were reluctant to raise their work from home preferences,'' he said. ''Now we have taken some significant steps forward but there is still a reticence. People think they will be disadvantaged in a job selection process.''
The roll-out of the NBN and growth in cloud computing will make it easier for businesses to implement telework policies.
''Technology will be a huge enabler,'' Ms Clough said. ''I think the 12 per cent target is quite achievable.''
Economic pragmatism will also be a driver as businesses save money by reducing office space.
''Organisations are having to deal with the whole movement of business to online,'' Mr Jury said.
''Organisations are really trying to adapt business models and costs to manage that movement.
'' There is a focus on the key costs of business and obviously your office space is one of your largest overheads.''
A place in the world - from home
At 36, Joanne Hutchins has been out of the workforce for most of her adult life, despite being articulate, well presented and tertiary-qualified.
It seemed the only thing between her and a fulfilling career was her wheelchair.
''I would go through the job ads and just draw a line through anything which I couldn't get to by public transport or any building which wasn't accessible,'' Ms Hutchins, who has a rare condition called juvenile dermatomyositis, said.
''It was so frustrating because I knew I was capable of doing the work. I just couldn't physically get to the workplace.''
She got a paid job for the first time last year, working for Physical Disability Australia, an entirely virtual organisation whose employees all work from home.
The executive officer of Physical Disability Australia, Sue Egan, said telework was the way of the future not just for people with disabilities but also older workers and people with caring responsibilities.
For Ms Hutchins, telework has not just provided a career path but also a sense of personal worth. ''Obviously financially it's wonderful but the biggest thing is the self-esteem,'' she said. ''I feel like I'm contributing to society. When you meet people for the first time, often the first thing they ask is what do you do. I used to say, 'well, nothing.' It feels really good to be able to say that I have a job.''