Why are we not working remotely? Leaders need to step up | Women's Agenda

Why are we not working remotely? Leaders need to step up

Minister Stephen Conroy frequently reiterates that the NBN’s implementation can double the level of teleworking (or ‘anywhere working’) for Australian workers, while also boosting GDP and creating the equivalent of an additional 25,000 full-time jobs; 20% of those in regional Australia.

But according to government data, only 4 to 6% of Australians currently work in their main job from home most of the week, compared with 25% in India and 18% in China. This is despite ‘anywhere working’ being found to deliver cost savings, productivity gains, increased workforce flexibility, retention and better work/life balance.

So why are more Australian employers and employees not realising the full potential of anywhere working?

Last month at the Women On Boards conference, author Dr Alison Maitland concurred that most organisations have ‘anywhere working’ or flexibility policies, but employees see taking up these arrangements as a career killer.

A key reason for perceiving it this way is that flexible working is an HR policy; seen by most as an accommodation, rather than a business benefit. Dr Maitland reminded us that the move to future ways of working will not be the end of face to face meetings, will not see everyone always working from home, will not result in empty office buildings and not signal an end of meetings.

Future ways of working will be about giving people the tools, information and goals required to move away from an office environment, freeing them up to let them get on with working anywhere, subject to business need.

Crucially, the future of work needs to be viewed as a business strategy that’s modeled by senior leadership. A key barrier to enabling future work is middle management resistance, and their fears about losing control over their people.

Trust is the key ingredient in organisations where future work hasn’t been adapted, according to Dr Maitland. She has identified five principles for successful transition to future work: trust your people; reward outcomes and output not hours; understand the business case for your company; start at the top (without leaders role modeling the behaviour, the future of work will not happen); and treat people as individuals.

The key skills needed for future work include team building, emotional intelligence, feedback and reward, external orientation, energising people and tenacity. At an individual level, we need to challenge our organisations and our leaders to move to anywhere working. Our workforce can only be truly inclusive when employees who cannot be in the office from 9am to 5pm are able to work anywhere.

If Australia wants to realise the benefits of the NBN and a much needed boost to jobs, leaders need to take a step up to future ways of leading.

Leith Mitchell will address ‘anywhere working’ at Macquarie University’s Women and Leadership conference in Sydney on 18-19 July. Click here to see more on Dr Maitland’s work.

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