Meet productivity challenge through move to digital economy

| November 17, 2013

The importance of telework and its positive influence on productivity should not be underestimated. Cisco’s Tim Fawcett explains.

The ‘P’ word – productivity – is on everyone’s lips.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey singled out the need to boost productivity, if we are to improve our standard of living and continue to drive our comparative economic advantage in the Asia Pacific region.

There is little doubt that boosting productivity is an important area for economic policy focus and that there needs to be reform and innovation to deliver improvement.

Unfortunately, the debate on how to improve productivity tends to get narrowly focussed on the need to boost investment in traditional built infrastructure and to reform our industrial relations laws to create more ‘flexibility’.

While regulatory reform and infrastructure investment are crucial for improving productivity, the digital economy, estimated by Deloitte Access Economics to be worth $70 billion in Australia in 2016, ought not be ignored or overlooked.

The digital economy is growing very quickly, as Australian retailers, media outlets and other industry sectors are experiencing.

But it is not just the delivery of goods and services to consumers that is being transformed through digital platforms.

The way that work is being done in an increasingly knowledge based economy is revolutionising many Australian businesses that see real productivity benefits in moving to new workplace models that defy the traditional workplace approach.

The rise of telework or mobile work in small, medium and large businesses and organisations, smart work centres that are being trialled in NSW and activity based or ‘agile working’ models within  the corporate environment are challenging traditional bricks and mortar workplace models.

This, in turn, puts further pressure on traditional management practices as managers may no longer have their employees within yelling distance as more workers work ‘their way’ and work from outside the office for part of the working week.

New research has also confirmed that teleworking can increase workforce productivity by up to 12 per cent.

The University of Melbourne’s Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society and Auckland University of Technology’s (AUT) New Zealand Work Research Institute surveyed over 1,800 employees and 100 managers across Australia and New Zealand.

The report found that “Hybrid Teleworkers” – those who telework between one and three days a week – are the most productivity workers, recording a 12 per cent higher perception of productivity.

Additionally 71 per cent of employees agreed that teleworking had a favourable influence on their overall attitude to their job which is manna from heaven for employers, who know that engaged workers are productive workers that are likely to stay in a job for longer.

This extensive research confirms what many workers and the employers know to be the case – that teleworking can improve productivity and deliver a range of benefits including cost savings to both parties.

With the Australian government having set a target to have 12 per cent of its workforce teleworking by 2020 – sooner under Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull’s policy – it is setting the bar high for adopting telework and leading by example.

However, many employers still worry about their liabilities as a responsible employer if they allow their staff to work outside of the traditional corporate workplace environment.

This and other regulatory obstacles to the swift uptake of telework act as a major barrier to the productivity boosting initiatives that the digital economy can bring.

Something practical that state and federal governments can do is to have the Productivity Commission conduct an inquiry designed to identify and recommend appropriate amendments to legislation and regulations that inhibit the uptake of the digital economy.

This could include occupational health and safety laws, workers compensation insurance laws and laws that prevent employers and employees reaching agreements that deliver benefits to both parties.

If we are to achieve our goal of boosting productivity to maintain and grow our standard of living, our 21st Century digital economy needs laws and regulations that are not based on 20th Century economies.

With National Telework Week beginning on 18 November 2013, it would be a good time to deliver a 12 per cent boost to Australian productive capacity by accelerating the shift to telework.

To view the full report, follow this link: Trans-Tasman Telework Survey Report.