The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, said yesterday that Australia's low rate of teleworking was due in part to cultural barriers. He suggested that this could be changed through education and awareness of telework’s benefits. I suggest that e-learning could teach the needed skills and provide experience with an on-line working environment.
The minister was speaking at the announcement of "National Telework Week", to be held 12 to 16 November 2012. Senator Conroy emphasized that the National Broadband Network (NBN) will allow easier access to work from home, with high-definition multi-party video conferencing, large file transfers and real-time collaborative business tools.
However, the Minister did not announce any education initiatives to address the issue of the low take up rate of teleworking. As the Minister suggested, employers and employees need training in how to set their business up for teleworking and how to use it. This is, in the main, not a technical problem of not having computers and Internet access, but of not knowing how to use what they have effectively.
Teach Teleworking via e-LearningI suggest that one very effective way to introduce personnel to tele-working is trough e-learning and blended learning (a mix of on-line and classroom learning) at secondary school, TAFE, university and work short courses. The some tools and techniques used for teleworking are also now used for education. While teaching staff directly about how to telework, or while teaching them some other subject, students can be introduced to new ways of working.
Learn to Use On-line FormatsWorking out how to teach students on-line has taught us a lot about how to communicate on-line in general. One lesson is that documents need to be clear, direct and technically efficient. Documents designed for paper, do not provide the best on-line experience. An example is the Department of for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) National Telework Week Fact Sheet. This contains very useful information about what employers and employees can expect from teleworking, but has been poorly presented in the form of a four page 1.1 Mbyte PDF file. The document is formatted as a traditional paper brochure, with two columns of text. This is hard to read on a small smart phone or tablet computer screen. Also the PDF formatting makes the document ten times as large as it need be. While that size is not significant for someone on a high speed NBN connection, it could be slow and expensive on a wireless device, so I have appended a copy of the text of the brochure.
Effects of Telework on the Environment
Having the NBN's ability to carry high-definition multi-party video conferencing, large file transfers and real-time collaborative applications will enhance teleworking. But what what people first need is to know how to use text, audio, email and the web. National Telework Week (NTW) will help with awareness, but needs to be backed up with more substantial education for Australian employees.
NTW has an interesting list of human resource, IT and building industry backers: Australian Human Resources Institute, Australian Industry Group (AIG), Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), the Australian Network for Disability and the Local Government Managers Australia. Cisco, the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Unity4, Telstra, BlackBerry, Polycom, Infrastructure Australia and the Green Building Council of Australia.
At first glance it would appear that teleworking would be negative for the building industry as if more workers stay at home, fewer office buildings will be needed. But in practice many teleworkers only work a few days a week from home and still need an office to go to. Those offices need to be designed differently for the more mobile workforce. Fewer permanent offices and more meeting rooms and casual areas are needed. The same trend is seen in educational institutions, with learning centres which look more like an airport business lounge than a school.
Teleworking causes challenges for human resource management, as business has to manage staff they do not see much of the time operating out of home office environments they have little control over.
Teleworking also create opportunities and challenges for building and business environmental ratings. If fewer staff are in the office, the electricity bill may be lowers. But the business may have to cool a large building to hold peak staff demand, even though the building is part empty most of the time. This requires changes to building design and meeting scheduling. Also if the energy used by staff in poorly designed home offices is included, the organization's environmental rating may be in jeopardy.
National Telework WeekTelework is working regularly from a place other than the office, in most cases from a home office. Telework utilises information and communications technology to stay connected to colleagues and work systems.
The Australian Government is declaring 12–16 November 2012 as National Telework Week and is encouraging businesses, not-for-profits and government agencies to commit to participating.
Telework offers a range of benefits to both employers and employees. Employers find it easier to attract staff from outside of their local areas. They find they are less likely to lose teleworkers, who appreciate the benefits of telework and are often more productive than their office counterparts. Telework provides employers with a way to save on office costs and increase business continuity during disasters and crises. Meanwhile, teleworking employees typically report a better work/life balance, reduced cost and stress from less daily commuting and better job satisfaction.
Telework benefits the community. It reduces urban congestion on roads and public transport and reduces pollution and fuel consumption. Because of the savings in commute times, and people spending more time in their local areas, local communities also benefit from telework, which is good for local business and community life. With telework, some teleworkers may be able to move to more affordable housing areas—a particular benefit for young families and those with regional or rural ties.
What will National Telework Week in Australia involve?
National Telework Week will provide a national focus on the benefits of increasing telework in Australia. It will encourage businesses, not-for-profits and government agencies to trial or adopt telework.
During Telework Week, the employees of participating organisations across Australia can commit to telework for at least one day, or a number of days. In particular, organisations connected to the National Broadband Network (NBN) will be encouraged to participate, to take advantage of the greater telework opportunities it creates.
For businesses, not-for-profit organisations and government agencies, the lead up to Telework Week is a time to consider how to incorporate telework into their operations. Case studies, information and advice will be available to participating employers and employees on a range of important issues.
For employees interested in working from home, the lead up to Telework Week provides an opportunity to approach managers to sign up to Telework Week to trial telework.
A number of other countries have an awareness week for telework, including Finland, France and the United States (US). One of the largest and most successful is the Telework Week organised by Telework Exchange in the US.
During the first US Telework Week in 2011, nearly 40 000 employees committed to teleworking that week, saving US$2.7 million on commuting costs, gaining back more than 148 000 hours into their days, and removing some 1800 tons of pollutants from the air while not driving more than 6 million kilometres. To read more about these results and what is possible, go to www.teleworkexchange.com/teleworkweekTelework reduces urban congestion on roads and public transport and reduces pollution and fuel consumption.
What will telework using the NBN be like?What does telework using the NBN mean in practice? Here is a picture of it from the perspectives of employers and employees. Of course, the situations will change depending on who you work for, what you do or what your home set-up is like.
After logging onto the network in the office, managers can see who else has logged in for the day—either in the office or from home—using any number of web- based management tools. A quick status update lets everyone know who has logged on and is available for contact.
On the days that employees are working from home a quick video-based team meeting (that is, a many- to-many connection) could be called early in the morning. The NBN will not only enable these multi- party videoconferences but will simultaneously enable participants to use electronic whiteboards and other web-based collaborative tools.
Such meetings serve a number of purposes. Managers can clearly communicate the day’s outcomes expected of staff in the office or working from home. They also establish a connection between staff members at the beginning of the day, which reinforces that those working from home are a fully functioning part of the team. Known barriers to telework include reluctance by office-based staff to initiate contact with colleagues at ‘private’ residences, and people working from home feeling isolated from their colleagues.
Throughout the day, work continues as usual. Occasionally, if a home-based staff member has a quick question or needs an informal chat that person could message the manager or a team member using a desktop communications application. This is a quick and easy way to talk—much less time-consuming than the back and forth of email. However, email could still be used for more formal requests or correspondence.
Next-generation telework using the NBN will enable managers to supervise employees no matter where they live. As webcams, web-based collaborative tools and high-speed broadband connections become commonplace, managers will interact with teleworkers in a way that is little different to interaction in the office.
At the end of the day, another quick video-based meeting could be scheduled to ensure outcomes are being met or work is on track. It is also an opportunity to manage team performance and provide guidance or feedback with all home and office-based members present.
After breakfast it is time to get to work. But instead of heading outside for a long and stressful commute, the office is set up at home. By working from home employees have, on average, an extra hour outside of work each day leading to improved work/life balance.
After logging onto the office network, it is business as usual. Thanks to the high-speed and stable broadband connection delivered via the NBN, staff meetings are held as a videoconference. Employees at home can see everyone in the office via continuous, full-screen video and everyone in the office can see them. Bluetooth headsets and voice over internet protocol connections mean employees are no longer tethered to a computer or phone and can move freely around the home or office while working.
Throughout the day teleworkers can use the NBN to interact seamlessly with clients or colleagues located anywhere around Australia. Large files are transferred quickly and network connections remain uninterrupted. Managers, colleagues and clients can collaborate in real time using a range of innovative communication tools and interactive software.
Employees at home find there are fewer distractions and they can be more productive. Reduced stress and greater flexibility leads to greater job satisfaction and teleworkers feel more valued by employers and enjoy better relationships with colleagues.
At the end of the day there is another quick meeting with the office to report on what tasks have been achieved. For teleworkers, the end of the day is stress-free, with no peak-hour traffic to negotiate.
For more information
The Australian Government will partner with a range of organisations to support National Telework Week.
Organisations interested in partnering with the government to promote telework are encouraged to make contact via email@example.com For more on telework, including to sign up for Telework Week (12–16 November 2012) email updates, view other factsheets and videos, and participate in ongoing discussion and networking, go to:
From: National Telework Week Fact Sheet, Department of for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE), Australian Government, 2012