Teleworking to test employers and planners

Once people realise teleworking gives more freedom on where to live, I am sure many will prefer a roomier house with garden as opposed to a cramped little box, even if it is farther away from the office.
Written by Darren Greenwood, Contributor

New Zealand has finally got around to marking its first teleworking week.

Even though the concept of working from home has been around for decades, its time has come at last, now that we have the tools to make it easy.

Last week, Cisco's New Zealand country manager, Geoff Lawrie, said that teleworking could bring productivity gains of 25 percent to 30 percent.

Lawrie argued that workers would not be distracted by colleagues at home, and that by saving a lengthy commute, staff members would be so grateful that they would give back more than half of that saving in extra work for their employers.

Vodafone added that firms also save money by people working from home, as they don't need as many desks or as much office space. In the UK, according to Vodafone's HR expert, companies even make staff work from home for a couple of days per week, as commuting and office space in London is increasingly too expensive.

It seems to be a win-win for all, but there are some hurdles to consider.

How will managers manage their staff remotely and plan the work? It's all about outcomes, we were told.

There are health and safety issues, too. Under New Zealand law, if you work from home, that becomes your workplace, and firms are thus responsible for the safety of that environment, as well.

Then you have the issues of who pays for what, with the equipment you might use, the various bills for phone, broadband, power, and so on. And who is responsible for the security of data?

Certainly, it looks like employers as well as staff face a potential minefield, should they look at teleworking as an option. Indeed, they might have to, with the New Zealand government planning legal changes to allow staff to ask for flexible work practices.

It looks as though issues of teleworking, remote working, and flexible working will have to be grappled with by many in the months ahead.

As Geoff Lawrie at Cisco pointed out, ultrafast broadband allows for easy working from home, along with any necessary videoconferencing tools. Cloud computing also allows data to be stored anywhere, making it easier for home workers to access all of the company information they need.

With the touted benefits, it looks like Lawrie will be right in his claims that for the first time in history, work is no longer the place where we go to work; we can instead work anywhere.

I can only wonder whether the powers that be have thought this through.

I live in central Auckland in an expensive little box, paying top dollar for the convenience of being just a few minutes' walk from the office. But it's noisy in the CBD, and the flat is cramped, so I will be moving out at year's end.

Now, if I gain the right to telework flexibly, I just might shift 45 minutes to 60 minutes away up the motorway, where property is so much cheaper, and I would have a garden and a pretty view. If I can work from home one or two days per week, I'll miss the peak traffic of outer suburbia, the commuter belt. It will be so much better.

Lawrie said that such flexibility will affect how we live and the shape of our cities.

I have been talking to Auckland Council's chief of planning this week, and council policy is for high-density housing, with many high rises to make public transport economic.

The council claims support for this, but many residents in the inner suburbs fear that their neighbourhoods of character-filled villas will be ruined by ugly apartments, and a compact city is already making home ownership ever more unaffordable.

Once people realise that teleworking gives more freedom on where to live, I am sure that many will prefer a roomier house with a garden as opposed to a cramped little box, even if it is farther away from the office.

The real "smart cities" won't be those that force its residents into high-density housing; the real "smart growth" will come from giving people room to breathe, and letting them enjoy some space and quiet in semi-rural suburbia, all thanks to teleworking.

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