Does anyone care about Teleworking?

Without the NBN on the agenda, National Teleworking Awareness week faded into obscurity. For this event to survive it needs to cement teleworking as an economic issue, not a technological one.

The National Teleworking week has come and gone and all that's left is a resounding sense of just how important the allure of the NBN is for the trend. Without it, the exercise designed to promote teleworking sank like a stone.

As you may recall, National Teleworking Week was set up last year by the Labor government as a backdoor means of promoting the productivity gains of a fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) NBN.

But as ZDNet journalist Josh Taylor foreshadowed on Twitter, those three magic letters failed to feature during this year’s event.

The absence of the NBN angle kept coverage to a minimum and the blitzkrieg of news from the NBN Rebooted forum further relegated teleworking to the back burner.

Even with some of the largest tech vendors pushing teleworking like there's no tomorrow, the best the event could muster, in terms of media interest, was a few survey stories. The National Teleworking Congress keynote event in Melbourne last Tuesday, was completely devoid of journalists. Media navel-gazing aside, this lack of attention is another symptom of the fatigue plaguing the issue.

Just how much can you write on teleworking anyway? As we pointed out last year, the topic has been floating around in one form or another since the early 1990’s.

Time for a refresh

Teleworking adoption is just as big a HR issue as it's a tech one and the debate needs to aim higher than a meditation on the role of ergonomic chairs in the home. It can latch onto something more inspiring and interesting: the Australian economy.

The link is not obvious, but let me explain by pointing out two economic buzzwords: productivity and staff retention. The idea is, if you give staff the ability to work how they want and when they want, they are likely to work more effectively, and secondly, they will be less likely to jump ship.

That’s the message coming from the firms currently engaged with the teleworking trend. Cisco - who as well as selling the requisite tech also promotes the trend within its own ranks - recently revealed that it gains an extra 79 hours per employee per year for promoting teleworking in its business.

And these ideas aren’t limited to desk jobs either. The same technology that is enabling teleworking is also promoting flexible work systems that give employees greater power in choosing when and how they go about their business.

Sure, nurses may not be able to telework, but by implementing a sophisticated rostering system that offers greater control and flexibility over shifts, Mater Health Services has seen a drastic increase in productivity and staff retention.

Executive director of people and learning at Mater Health, Caroline Hudson says that since implementing the Kronos rostering system three years ago, her HR department productivity has increased by 400 per cent - and it's having a flow on effect throughout the business.

Hudson also hopes that the rostering system will help the it retain talent when competition heats up in the health sector over the next couple of years.

Back to teleworking, global unified communications provider Polycom’s Australian MD Gary Denman rightly notes that HR should revolve around which employees are able - and capable - with being productive at home, and not around home office OH S.

As highlighted in a trans-tasman teleworking study, jointly conducted by the University of Melbourne and the University of Auckland, the big disconnect is a lack of data on the benefits a structured teleworking policy offers to on any given business.

As the study confirmed, most teleworking situations revolve around a silent agreement with the employee and the employer, whereby the worker can work at home as long as things get done. Few actually measure how much more (or at times, less) is achieved for the business as a result of this arrangement. Perhaps this could be a key theme for next year’s National Teleworking Week?

Rather than encouraging a trend that’s largely already happening, perhaps the week should focus on making employers measure the productivity impact teleworking is having on their business.

Who knows, if the results are interesting enough they just might encourage some of us to shift our gaze away from the NBN.