Office of future looks like home

By Diana Clement

Many Kiwis try out teleworking this week.

The rise of more sophisticated technology is making the need for a central workplace obsolete. Photo / Getty Images
The rise of more sophisticated technology is making the need for a central workplace obsolete. Photo / Getty Images

Whoever said working in the same place was necessary for a team to function? Historically workers needed to gather together where the paper, equipment or machinery was located.

Technology is making that need to be centralised obsolete. In many industries the daily grind can be conducted wherever the individual is. Cisco country manager Geoff Lawrie says we're evolving towards a new era of Smart Work.

Cisco is one of several organisations championing New Zealand's first Teleworking Week, which began on Monday. Thousands of Kiwis will be swapping the office for home this week to try out teleworking. For many it is a glimpse of the future.

We've not yet made it to the era of Smart Work. When it comes the office will no longer exist and traditional work conventions such as work hours will be irrelevant. Staff will perform their work in the locations and hours best suited to the task. Work/life balance will be improved and sustainability enhanced.

Abbie Reynolds, corporate responsibility manager at Vodafone, is especially keen on the sustainability implications of teleworking.

Reynolds describes herself as a greenie and is a champion of telework because it reduces cars on the road, the consumption of fossil fuels and the consequent emissions. She says it is also important for organisations to prepare themselves for a world where fossil fuels run out.

Reynolds began teleworking in a previous job because the work was technical and she found the quiet of home better for focusing on certain tasks such as report writing and strategic planning.

In the office, Reynolds does the "relationship work" where she needs to interact with others and gather information. "I see how we are tracking on the projects that I am working on," she says.

Commuting to Vodafone's office (on foot) takes 30-40 minutes each way. The reality is that when she's at home Reynolds commits that commuting time to work. Her employer gets bang for its buck.

Lawrie says working longer at home isn't uncommon. Research by Cisco found 45 per cent of workers did two to three hours more work a day when teleworking.

Technology such as that provided by Cisco and Vodafone and the Government's ultra-fast broadband roll-out is what has finally made teleworking happen on a large scale.

"This is the first time in human history where you can work and engage with work pretty much anywhere, any time," says Lawrie.

While some managers and IT departments remain sceptical, networks and security systems have reached a level of sophistication, which allows an employee to work remotely with full connectivity to the organisation's systems and servers.

"There are also elements of culture that are starting to mature as well," says Lawrie. "It is not a commercial endeavour. This is a broad based and fundamental social change."

And Reynolds says flexible working polices can help make an organisation an employer of choice.

Those embracing teleworking the most are Gen Y workers, and parents who need a better work/life balance.

Anna Verboeket, stakeholder relations manager at Crown Fibre Holdings, is one such parent who, with colleagues, is "participating eagerly" in Teleworking Week.

Verboeket teleworked for nearly two years in a former role at the Ministry for Heritage and Culture. The role as executive director for digital switchover was Auckland-based and teleworking was ideal.

Verboeket could schedule her three-day work week around her primary-age school children.

Verboeket recommends teleworkers pay particular attention to the ergonomic set-up of their work stations and also have a dedicated space. "Working from the kitchen table is not a long-term solution."

Employers who offer teleworking do need to consider employment law.

Michael O'Brien, senior associate employment law at Kensington Swan, says there are some key issues to consider and any flexible working arrangements should be properly documented.

He says employers need to decide if the arrangements are permanent or temporary, when reviews will be scheduled, how the programme will be monitored, what the logistics are, and who will pay for expenses.

At present, an employee may make a request for a flexible working arrangement under the Employment Relations Act 2000 if he/she has been working for their employer for six months and cares for a dependant.

A law change is expected next year making it easier for other employees to request flexible working arrangements.

- NZ Herald

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