As our friends and colleagues in the United States participate in Telework Week, you may like to know that us Aussies also held our own Telework Week in November 2012 based on the success of US Telework Week.

Australian Telework Week successfully put the idea of working from anywhere uppermost in the minds of employees, who are increasingly looking to use their mobile devices in more aspects of their lives, and employers who are looking to increase productivity and cut costs.

The media is full of reports of how Australians are voting with their feet and demanding more mobile device friendly services; whether that is banking and finance, shopping, news and media, books, music, games, social media or simply booking a flight, restaurant or tickets to the movies.

It is the same for small, medium and larger businesses, government agencies and organisations who are learning about the benefits of employing and deploying a mobile workforce, such as cost savings, increased productivity, lower environmental impact, higher employee engagement and retention, continuity of operations and improved staff well being.

A report released by global consulting firm Deloitte Access Economics during Telework Week said that telework ‘would be the biggest structural change to the labour market this decade.’  That means telework will play a significant role in disrupting traditional employment models now and for the next 7 years and beyond.

As technologies continue to evolve and access to fast broadband speeds increases, the barriers to ‘working your way‘ are coming down rapidly.

But the biggest hurdle to the widespread adoption of teleworking is the resistance from managers who are challenged by the concept of not having staff sitting outside the office door.  Despite the evidence that presenteeism is not a guarantee of productivity, there is some comfort for managers in knowing that they are better able to manage their staff if they are within earshot.

While business leaders may buy into the telework revolution and workers themselves are on board – it is the group in the middle who are most likely to resist a move toward an anywhere workforce, partly because training for managers revolves around traditional models that have not caught up with the disruption that the global shift toward a digital economy has caused.

My solution to shift resistance to telework is to let Dracula run the blood bank and adopt a Telework First policy where all new hire workers are offered telework, where their job permits it.

The cliché about putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank is often used negatively to suggest that he would drink it dry and there would be no blood supplies available for crucial life-saving purposes.

However, Dracula is, after all, an economic rationalist who will act in his best long-term interests.  Being immortal, short termism is not on his radar!

A rationalist Dracula would recognize that it is in his long term interests to not only run the blood bank in a sustainable way, but to find ways to increase the productivity of the blood bank and boost the supply of blood available for both his needs and that of the wider community. In that way, Dracula benefits from access to a regular supply and the community benefits from a more efficiently and effectively run blood service.

Similarly, by adopting a Telework First policy – and allowing as many employees as possible to telework – some managers might say workers would be tempted to slack off at home or the local café, golf course or beach and productivity would drop.

But it is more likely that employees would highly value the additional flexibility that teleworking brings to their lives as well as the improved wellbeing they experience from teleworking and their productivity would improve.

Cisco’s employee retention rate among teleworkers is higher than those working in traditional, office based roles. In addition, a Melbourne University Research paper says that teleworkers report increased well-being and productivity, because teleworking helps them take more control over their working and non-working life.

Telework is a good thing for managers in the long run as they get more productivity from their staff, improved well-being, employee retention and cost savings.

The US government’s Telework Enhancement Act 2010 promotes a Telework First policy – and the world is taking notice!

The Australian government announced during Australian Telework Week that 12% of its workforce would telework regularly by 2020, a pledge made the Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard, who launched Australian Telework Week.

While not quite letting Dracula run the blood bank, it is a step in the right direction and the Australian community has embraced it.

Managing change in organisations can be difficult, particularly when existing management methods are entrenched and new ways of work challenge the status quo.  But there is a peaceful revolution taking place in the community with the ubiquitous adoption of mobile devices and they are infiltrating into the workplace, with or without the knowledge of IT Departments.

As Australian National Telework Week demonstrated, employers are increasingly realizing the value of having a mobile workforce.


Tim Fawcett

General Manager, Government Affairs & Policy

Cisco Australia and New Zealand