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Will bosses accept telecommuting?

Knowledge workers are more likely to use telecommuting than other workers.

Dealing with numbers and information lends itself to remote working. Knowledge workersalready have the skills and hardware needed to run a remote office. They are self-motivated enough to make telecommuting work.

Yet high-tech employees in Australia and New Zealand are less likely to work remotely than those in other countries.

This has nothing to do with the ease of getting to the office. The highest concentrations of information elite in the region live in Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland and Wellington.

All these cities suffer traffic congestion. Workers in Sydney’s outer suburbs face a 90-minute or longer journey twice daily. The rush-hour drive from Paraparaumu to Wellington would test the patience of a saint.

Employers don’t like telecommuting

Australian employers need to audit homes before allowing employees to telework because they face industrial injury liability.

This is do-able and it is no excuse in New Zealand thanks to the state-operated Accident Compensation Corporation. I suspect the reluctance stems from the two countries’ unique labour histories.

By world standards, Australia’s white-collar workers are highly unionised. Consequently, managers are more suspicious of their workers than managers in other countries. This is not entirely without reason – few other countries have an institution like the Australian ‘sickie’.

New Zealand is less unionised, but there’s still the same attitude.

Despite the changes that have happened in the workplace over the last 20 years, managers in Australia and New Zealand fear employees left to work at home will spend all day in the pub or at the golf course when they should be working.

This might be understandable when overseeing poorly motivated unskilled workers, but when it comes to information age employees it is insulting.

Management insecurity

In the normal course of events,  it takes a lot of effort to overcome management insecurities. Both countries had brief flirtations with officially sanctioned telecommuting.

In the run-up to the 2000 Sydney Olympics, ORTA the Olympic Roads and Transport Authority decided the city’s transport system wouldn’t cope unless companies made alternative arrangements. ORTA ran a campaign promoting teleworking to Sydney employers. For a while companies tried it, most said it was successful.

Auckland had telecommuting thrust upon employers in 1998 when the CBD power network failed. Bosses had staff working from home. My previous employer set up temporary offices in suburban garages.

Although both telecommuting experiences were satisfactory, employers reverted to form and now prefer to see their workers come in through the door each day. After the brief, enforced trials, telecommuting is back to being something of a freak show. That’s a pity.