For more than 300 years, employers have controlled their employees by making them attend and leave work at a prescribed time.
Around 700,000 Australians are in a formal teleworking arrangement with their employer. Many are women, sole traders and Boomers, and as the NBN comes on line, there will be many more.
A significant part of our private life has already been colonised by work. The notion that work takes place between the four walls of an office rather than between our ears – whether we are at home or sitting in an airport – is false.
The benefits of teleworking to South Australian employers and employees are not in dispute. A 2013 Melbourne University study found that teleworkers got more done and had less distractions than office workers. Companies with teleworkers experienced lower staff turnover.
In 2011, a Stanford University experiment of 255 Chinese travel workers found that those randomly chosen to work at home over an eight-month period had a 13 per cent increase in performance and took fewer sick days than their office-bound counterparts.
Even so, in Adelaide there's an enduring assumption that being present equals commitment. This may be true for staff who need supervision or those working in line manufacturing or 'on the tools' – but commitment and attendance are two different things.
Yahoo and Google frown on teleworking, stating that personal collaboration is more conducive to creating 'magical moments' – those serendipitous meetings of staff who solve problems standing around the water cooler. This is an HR fantasy.
Geographically distant online teams are the norm for many corporations in Europe and the US and they will be here too. When the National Broadband Network is finally completed, teleworkers will be able to partake in multi-party videoconferencing and enjoy a network speed about four times faster than ADSL2.
The great bonus for self-directed staff working from home is focus. This is what the best employers want – the ability of staff to draw upon their deepest capabilities to solve complex problems and produce high order work.
Another benefit is traffic reduction. More than 200,000 vehicles enter and leave Adelaide every day. A recent Australian Infrastructure Audit said that without new investment in infrastructure, "car travel times are expected to increase by at least 20 per cent in the most congested corridors".
The RAA predicted that drivers on the most congested routes might spend up to an extra 50 hours a year in their cars. What a colossal waste of petrol, money and time. If one in 10 Adelaide workers teleworked two or three days a week, traffic speed would increase dramatically and traffic snarls would vanish.
Instead of the state and federal governments spending billions of dollars on SA roads over the next 20 years, that money could be spent on long-term job creation. We'll need it as the state drifts in to mass unemployment.
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