However, the experts say, the need to get information to and from remote employees still raises workplace challenges for Australia's employers.
The panel of four industry experts meeting in Sydney at an HR IT forum, says the workplace transformation is happening as Australia's baby boomers make way for Generation Y, and with changes to industrial relations and occupational health and safety legislation. The panel included Matthew Franceschini, CEO, Entity Solutions, Craig Osborne, managing director, Sage MicrOpay, Daniel Sheahan, general manager, ComOps, and moderator, Mark Dougan, managing director of Frost & Sullivan ANZ.
On the rapid adoption of mobile and remote access technologies, Craig Osborne of Sage MicrOpay, points out that much of the focus on mobility has been about how to get information out of the business to the employee. 'What hasn't received so much attention is how organisations can best manage their remote workers and how to get employee information back into the business. For example, how do we get accurate information about the hours worked or billings of an employee working from home?' Osborne predicts that this will become a necessary focus for HR in the short to medium term.
ComOps' Sheahan agrees saying, that 'technology evolves at the same rate that new laws and new work practices are coming in to place, and organisations need to be aware of what's actually out there to allow these technologies to enable the transition to the new workplace environment quickly and painlessly.'
And, on the same issue, Mark Dougan of Frost & Sullivan ANZ, says Australia is likely to witness a 'strong continuation of the trend for mobility devices like tablets and smartphones to be used for business as opposed to consumer applications in 2012.'
' This creates opportunities for employers to use their workforces more flexibly and more productively, whilst at the same time creating a fresh set of challenges in areas like data security,' Dougan says.
Along with what they see as the 'conflict between the benefits and risks new technology provides', the expert panel defined the top six workforce challenges facing employers in 2012 as being:
'¢ Employers must seek skills not roles
The Generation Y desire for flexibility plus a growing number of semi-retired baby boomers seeking part time or casual work is gradually blurring the lines between contract and permanent staff engagements.
Matthew Franceschini, CEO of Entity Solutions, says, 'Rather than seeking to fill a title, companies will find they need to search for particular skills. They'll have to spread the net far and wide to find the right talent and then work out the terms of engagement that best suit both parties. While there will always be a role for permanent staff, our expectation is that skills shortages and changing work practices will lead to a greater prevalence of assignment and project-based engagements.'
'¢ A resurgence in unionisation
The public perception of overpaid executives benefiting at the expense of the general worker is strengthening the reception of unions in the workplace.
Increased union access to the workplace due to the introduction of Fair Work Australia, and the development of enterprise bargaining agreements, are being well received by a disgruntled workforce.
Daniel Sheahan, General Manager of ComOps, cautions, 'Although unions are not always as pragmatic as they might be in terms of conditions in the workplace, unionisation doesn't have to be a problem for employers. It's just a fact of life that needs to be dealt with. Employers who recognise the need for union involvement and quickly handle the issues will find this trend painless, but those who ignore it do so at their peril.'
'¢ OHS legislation is an opportunity that needs managing
Depending on how an organisation responds, the 2012 introduction of nationally consistent occupational health and safety (OHS) laws will either help to build good culture and increase productivity, or significantly complicate OHS management.
The new legislation, which is designed to create safer workplaces, holds directors directly liable for the consequences of their companies' compliance, and significantly increases their duty of care.
For companies to avoid these penalties, the new culture of safe workplaces will affect the way a company employs people, their roles and responsibilities, and even their hours of work. The benefits available to organisations that embrace this change are significant, both in terms of cost reduction, and employee satisfaction.
'¢ The skills shortage is not going to disappear
The global nature of the workforce, the retirement of experienced baby boomers and an under supply of suitable replacement skills will ensure that Australia's skills shortage continues to have a negative impact on employers in the year ahead. To mitigate the problem HR professionals will need to become more creative in the way they retain their existing organisational skills base, for example through the creation of part time, contracting or mentoring roles for personnel nearing retirement. This may require changes to employment arrangements and revisions to recruitment, retention, performance management and occupational health and safety (OHS) policies.
Osborne says, 'If you take payroll as an example, we've been talking about a shortage of payroll skills for at least eight years. Today, the average payroll manager is over 50 and it's highly likely that in the next five to ten years the industry will hit a critical point because there are just not enough new people coming through. It's a real recruiting challenge that requires foresight and planning. And this is just one of many similarly -affected industries.'
'¢ Employees expect to be recognised for being 'always on'
Where baby boomers traditionally remained in one job for lengthy periods, sought order, structure and defined workplaces, Generation Y is more typically attracted to the type of work on offer rather than a particular position.
They want access to information at their own moment of need using their own preferred device and they want recognition by their peers as being seen as 'always on' no matter the time of day.
They seek collaboration and look for less rigidity in terms of when and where work is performed. To attract these younger candidates organisations will need to respond by offering greater choice in remote working and telecommuting, providing access to mobility technologies and incorporating changes to the physical workplace layout.