Recently I went to a conference at Melbourne University where I observed Julia Gillard make the announcement on a 12% telework target for our public service.
For a technologist like me, this surely represents an opportunity to provide systems and services to people working from home. I know a lot of people perceive this as a bludge, but for people with work to do who do not need to be in the office, there are fantastic opportunities to get stuff done by using technology.
Interestingly many of the systems required for teleworking (or working from home) already exist and are put to use in companies like Microsoft and Commonwealth Bank today. What most of us don’t yet realise is that the technologies used are not expensive and are very liberating.
Some of the solutions are in cloud technologies such as Office 365 which gives us video conferencing systems that let us meet in a virtual board room or do a one-to-one meeting or a broadcast to 250 viewers. Others are the functions of Terminal Server that let us run any of our installed applications from anywhere in the world via the internet or a private network.
Julia Gillard suggested we could anticipate a $3.2 billion boost to the GDP from this initiative by getting marginalised workers into the workforce. This sounds like a great idea as it makes use of technology to help people provide services in more flexible ways.
One of my concerns with this is that as we get used to doing jobs remotely we will get used to sending them to the cheapest possible places and have telework done out of Asia, where wages and other overheads are lower.
What will keep these jobs on shore are skills. To have these teleworker skills that are worth paying an Australian dollar premium for we will need to ensure the right training is done for these jobs that do not currently exist.
There is no doubt that there are jobs for teleworkers to do and that as technology enables us to do jobs remotely, from bookkeeping to IT services to marketing and web development, we will see the nature of office jobs and office utilisation changing.
There are many social and structural issues to resolve along the way. No doubt we need to ensure we are learning new skills faster than ever and making use of the latest technologies while we can afford them to ensure we remain a clever country.
If you think your business productivity can be improved by teleworking, don’t wait for emerging technologies to come to you. Go out and talk to your IT experts to find out what can be done now. I know you will be amazed by the technologies out there. Many companies have even set up display suites where you can go and experience the technology first hand to make the point it is not the technology of the future, it is here now.
David Markus is the founder of Combo – the IT services company that ensures IT is never an impediment to growth.