Teleworking – or using technology to work in locations apart from an organisation's central office – is now mainstream across New Zealand and Australia but mainly on an “informal” basis according to research conducted by the AUT University’s NZ Work Research Institute and the University of Melbourne’s Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society
Half of organisations do not have a formal agreement and are not taking steps to manage teleworking effectively, according to the Trans-Tasman Telework Survey jointly conducted by the two organisations.
The study, sponsored by Cisco, interviewed almost 100 HR and team managers, and more than 1800 staff across 50 New Zealand and Australian organisations.
The survey finds only 22 per cent of respondents had a written agreement to telework and 47 per cent have an “informal arrangement” with their manager. Meanwhile, 3 per cent teleworked without the knowledge of their manager.
Thirty eight per cent of those surveyed are “hybrid teleworkers”, meaning they telework one to three days a week. The survey finds this group is the most productive and satisfied on the job compared to their peers who do little or no telework.
Over a third – 35 per cent – are “low intensity teleworkers” meaning they telework less than eight hours per week.
Six per cent teleworked more than three days per week. This means the mean number of telework hours was 13 per week, or 1.5 days a week.
Eleven per cent of respondents do not telework.
The survey finds 85 per cent telework at home. The rest, including managers, said they “work from anywhere”.
For the first time, we have a substantial piece of trans-Tasman research to quantify the benefits and opportunities telework presents.
“For the first time, we have a substantial piece of trans-Tasman research to quantify the benefits and opportunities telework presents,” says Tim Bentley, professor of management and ergonomics at AUT and director of the New Zealand Work Research Institute.
Bentley, who led the NZ research team, says the benefits of teleworking have been recognised informally for a long time. They include access to a broader talent pool, reduced traffic congestion and contributions to environmental sustainability. One of the benefits – business continuity for major disruptions – resonates particularly in New Zealand, where a number of companies turned to teleworking during the Christchurch earthquakes.
“We are dealing with radical change” in the workplace, says Geoff Lawrie, Cisco New Zealand country manager. Teleworking is a naturally occurring phenomenon, and the drive is coming from both employees and employers, says Lawrie.
“We are the first generation that is genuinely untethered – location independent,” says Lawrie.
We are the first generation that is genuinely untethered – location independent
Other key findings of the survey, conducted between April and September, include:
• Productivity was significantly higher (up to 12 per cent) for hybrid teleworkers than non-teleworkers.
• Seventy one per cent of employees agree teleworking has a favourable influence on their attitude towards the job, suggesting telework opportunities are key for staff retention.
• Meanwhile, 73 per cent say teleworking technologies fits well with the way they like to work.
• On the negative side, 4 per cent say teleworking makes it difficult to communicate and collaborate with colleagues, and 5 per cent had problems coordinating work with manager
• Seventy per cent of respondents say their manager trusts them to be productive and focused on work outcomes while teleworking.
People, not technology, limit telework effectiveness, says Bentley. Less than half of respondents in the study have received telework related training in areas such as management of teleworkers, effective use of technology to stay connected with colleagues and work systems with the appropriate levels of security.
The majority of managers indicated they would like more training to help them manage remote employees and help teleworkers successfully set up their home office.
Teleworking is not suited for micromanagement, Bentley says. The focus should be on meeting targets and goals rather than focusing on how staff are doing the job.
He says hybrid teleworking – one to three days – is most beneficial to productivity. “If you are a hybrid teleworker, you have opportunities with your co-workers face-to-face.”
He recommends enterprises start with a pilot programme and consider hybrid teleworking. Then roll it out to a broadbased teleworking programme. He says organisations that do so should ensure ample provision of management, technical and peer support.
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