Contrary to a stingy trend uncovered in the United States where employers are resisting paying for laptops and mobile phones, bosses in Australia appear to be light years ahead on providing tools, reimbursing communication expenses and defining teleworking policies.
With the number of people working from home in Australia on the rise, employers seem to have understood that flexibility and productivity are more important than cost-cutting.
According to the most recent survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 25% of all workers – or 2.35 million people – worked some hours at home in 2005, up from 20% five years earlier. Of these, more than 724,500 people worked only or mainly at home, with more than eight in ten of them using both a computer and the internet to do so. The number is expected to increase given the current skills shortage, the need to negotiate flexible arrangements to attract workers and higher broadband penetration rates.
Teleworkers at the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA), for example, have all their hardware, software and associated equipment provided for them. An RTA spokesman says the teleworking arrangement also covers the cost of work-related phone calls and communication links. The authority officialised teleworking in 1996 when it published its first ‘working from home’ policy, following a test pilot in 1993/4. The policy is available to those working in computer systems analysis, data entry, computer planning, engineering and design, project management, telephone customer service and marketing, among other departments.(CONTINUED PAGE 2)
Despite being an American company, IBM too has championed teleworking here and in the US for years. Most of its local office workforce is issued with a laptop and a mobile phone on their first day on the job. Many work from home at least one day a week and have their phone and internet expenses reimbursed, according to a spokesperson. It has been reported that up to 25% of the company’s worldwide workforce telecommutes.
Federal and state governments also have well-defined teleworking policies and advice for companies looking to do the same (see www.teleworkaustralia.net.au). Some policies have their origin on surveys conducted by Telstra’s sister company Sensis.
Its latest study, the Sensis Business Index Teleworking Report July 2007, advocates wide adoption of the practice. “It forms an important part of the contemporary business environment, allowing the freedom to do business wherever and whenever they want,” it says. The study found 22% of businesses have employees that telework. This has overwhelmingly positive impact on workplaces, including higher levels of business confidence and performance, it says.
Peter Noblet, regional director pf recruiter Hays Information Technology, says electronic devices are taken for granted when new employment contracts are negotiated in Australia.
“If a company offers an opportunity to work from home, the person will get what they need to do that. It’s just a given, there isn’t the need for negotiation. It’s not the same mentality.
“There’s an expectation that if an IT person, a sales person or other will be working outside (the office), they will be furnished with the tools of the trade,” Noblet says.
He says in the US contract negotiations tend to include additional benefits such as health cover and gym membership and perhaps because of this, employers see electronic devices in the same light – as “an added bonus”.
Employees who work from home in Australia can always claim tax benefits on work-related equipment and expenses if their companies are not willing to come to the party.