Thanks in part to encouragement from the national government, more Australians are learning about the benefits of telework — conducting business across the organisation without requiring employees to be in the same physical location by leveraging technologies old and new.
Imagine this scenario: You get out of bed, eat breakfast, perhaps get the kids ready and off to school, and then you go into your home office to start your working day. There are no traffic jams to endure, no crammed train carriages packed with commuters. You simply turn on your laptop or tablet, securely connect to your company network and there you are — at work. This is what the new class of workers in Australia is starting to look like. Greater remote access to virtual private networks (VPNs) and mobile and tablet devices are supporting the increased number of ‘teleworkers’, enabling people to work from home or on the road almost autonomously.
Since the Australian Federal Government announced its intention to host a National Telework Week in Australia in November 2012, the concept has enjoyed a renewed focus. Teleworking is not a new phenomenon. However, it is gaining traction in Australia through increased access to reliable, high-speed broadband supported by the NBN. Investments such as this are facilitating widespread use of enterprise-grade technology solutions and applications that can be accessed remotely from anywhere, anytime.
The enormous uptake in the use of mobile devices in Australia for both personal and professional use has contributed considerably to the increased availability of mobile applications that offer enterprise-grade collaboration and productivity capabilities. In fact, Australian mobile users are the biggest spenders on mobile data throughout the Asia-Pacific region (ex-Japan), spending an average of US$36.20 per month, according to a recent report published by market researchers IDC.
The proliferation of mobile devices, applications and networks, has created new trends in the mobile space, including bring your own device (BYOD). BYOD demonstrates a shift that is seeing more and more people demand the same standards of reliability and usability on their personal devices, as they would on their traditional work-related hardware and software-based applications, and the expectation that they can use devices of their choosing on the company network.
Australian mobile users’ expectations for faster broadband speeds and high network bandwidth, combined with a tech savvy generation of prospective employees entering the workforce, makes the idea of mainstream teleworking — either full-time or part-time — a reality that organisations must acknowledge and embrace to remain productive and competitive.
While recent advancements in technology, especially mobility and the lower cost of higher bandwidth are among the key drivers spurring interest in teleworking, there are broader business drivers that are driving rapid adoption throughout Australia.
Higher property prices driving workers farther away: In today’s increasingly competitive property market, where shortages in rental accommodation in cities such as Sydney and Perth are keeping property prices high, we are seeing more people moving further away from city centres in pursuit of affordable housing. With a greater number of people being forced to buy outside the CBD and surrounding suburbs, people are faced with longer commutes, more traffic congestion, and less time to spend with family.
Economic pressures on business: Businesses large and small are trying to reduce spending in difficult economic times, including spending on office space and business travel. As a result of globalisation, businesses are becoming more distributed, and the locations of their employees or members — and providing them with a centralised office — is not as important as it once was. Traditionally, this decentralisation has made it more difficult for workers to collaborate face to face, unless businesses invest in costly business travel. Lower cost video conferencing solutions are changing that reality.
Greater emphasis on work/life balance in a 24/7 business climate: A global economy means business is now conducted around the clock, and many workers need to collaborate outside of ‘normal’ business hours. More work at odd hours means less time focused on activities outside of work. The work/life balance debate is one that has dominated HR discussions in recent years. This notion may seem elusive to some. However, it can be achieved through flexible teleworking practices, with relatively little investment from employers or employees.
While there is significant value in organisations engaging in teleworking practices from the perspective of cost, environmental awareness and as part of a greater need to keep up-to-date with the demands of ‘Generation Y’, some people still remain skeptical. This is particularly true in terms of the productivity gains that are lauded as a key benefit of teleworking.
Overcoming pre-conceived challenges
While voice solutions — like conference calls and traditional phone calls — have an enormous role to play in helping to facilitate teleworking practices, software-based video applications are playing a growing and more critical role in helping to remove distance barriers to human collaboration. High-quality video conferencing tools help provide the context of communication that is missing in a voice call. As a participant, you are not meeting in the dark any longer and, more fully engaged, you not only better understand the team members’ reactions, but also can play a more prominent role in meetings. And it’s harder to check your email during a meeting when you know others can see you. The power of body language for effective communication and collaboration no longer requires a plane ticket and hotel room when high-definition (HD) video solutions enable people to meet face-to-face regardless of their physical location.
Long gone are the days where video conferencing technology was an expensive perk for the C-suite, or synonymous with a feeling of dread when a video call ‘dropped-out’ or the quality of the visual experience was not good enough. Video has kept pace with the rapidly evolving technology landscape and now — with adequate network bandwidth and reliable, high-speed broadband — open standards-based video collaboration solutions are available across a multitude of devices ranging from traditional boardroom-based solutions to the desktop, or for workers on the move, mobile devices including tablets and smartphones. The flexibility of video solutions today means it is just as easy to make a video call as it is a voice call, regardless of what device you are using.
Gary Denman is managing director at Polycom Australia and New Zealand.