Telecommuters sometimes feel isolated and cut off from their colleagues and companies. Companies, in turn, fear that distance involved with telecommuting will harm relationships between telecommuters and their managers and colleagues. This article explores the efforts made by a number of Australian firms to strengthen the relationship between telecommuters and the office. Deloitte’s Australian headquarters, for example, has a “fly home Friday,” where employees are encouraged to return to the accountancy’s headquarters on Friday afternoons and for social drinks afterwards. IBM, with more than one-third of its 10,100 staff telecommuters, launched a program that includes face-to-face business meetings as well as social events that involve the whole family.

Despite the evidence that shows greater work efficiency, real estate savings and boosts in morale, many companies have been resistant to telecommuting. Instead of a nation of home-based workers, this author sees the Australian workforce fragmented into four different types of workers: fully mobile workers, occasional teleworkers, home workers and the office-bound. Because the data on teleworking in Australia is poor, the author looks to Europe to get a clearer picture of teleworking trends. There, occasional teleworkers are growing at a rate of 40% annually. This represents only 5.5% of the workforce, however, and the numbers for the other categories are still very small: those who telework most of the time amount to only 0.22% of the workforce [with a growth rate of only 2%] and mobile workers – those who spend more than 10 hours per week away from home and office – range from 6% [Finland, Germany] to 8% [Switzerland] of the workforce.

The author notes that 38% of Australian and New Zealand organizations have implemented flexible working/teleworking programs for employees, with knowledge-based and skills-based sectors leading the way. Distrust of employees by managers, the limited availability of broadband and cultural opposition continue to keep the numbers of full-time remote workers low, with small- and medium-sized businesses proving to be the most inflexible about allowing telecommuting. Only increased data about efficiencies and productivity gains is likely to change this picture soon.

Source: Fiona Smith, The Press (Christchurch, New Zealand); Sep 10, 2005

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