While it has long been feasible for a large part of the workforce to embrace teleworking, a range of cultural and technological issues have rendered it a novelty rather than the norm. A recent survey of 1,000 SMEs by MYOB1 suggests a tipping point was recently reached demonstrating that a clear majority of SME employers and employees now subscribe to the view that work is something you do rather than a place you go to.
Dialling it in
While 57 per cent of SMEs already had employees who did some teleworking by March 2013, six months later almost two-thirds of employees could be found working out of their lounge room, local café or hotel suite.2 While part of that growth is no doubt due to a shift in attitudes, particularly a lessening of concern amongst managers that staff were not working when not being watched, much of it is down to the fact that technology is making it easier to work remotely and people are becoming a lot more comfortable using the file-hosting services and project-management software that facilitates this.
The chief technology officer at MYOB, Simon Raik-Allen, observed of the survey's results, "[Business operators are] more comfortable with how technology transforms the way we work and how we communicate with each other. A greater number of operators are realising the bottom line benefits and a wider range of cost-effective telework-enabling technologies are entering the marketplace."
Confirming the findings of other similar studies, the MYOB survey revealed the benefits of remote working include improved employee morale, reduced travel costs, increased productivity, the ability to employ staff from around the world, reduced rental costs, reduced carbon footprint, reduced sick days, reduced IT costs and the ability to attract higher calibre employees.1
Teleworking early adopters
Of course, remote working is still distributed unevenly across the business landscape and given that some industries require people to be physically present at a particular location, this is likely to remain the case to some extent. For example, only 35 per cent of enterprises in the agribusiness, forestry and fishing industries make use of remote working, compared to 70 per cent in the business, professional and property services sectors.
Nonetheless, all the signs suggest remote working will continue to grow strongly in the years to come. The MYOB study found, for example, 69 per cent of Gen Ys telework, compared to only 50 per cent of baby boomers, and 68 per cent of start-ups made use of it as opposed to only 47 per cent of established businesses.1 (Perhaps because so many of them of them don't employ any staff, only 53 per cent of micro businesses use teleworking, compared to 78 per cent of medium-sized businesses.)
It has long been predicted that cloud computing would be the next big thing impacting on workplaces, and the leap in the popularity of teleworking over the course of six months in 2013 seems to suggest the revolution has begun. The days of commuting for hours each day to sit in an (expensive to rent) office with colleagues who all live within a 100 kilometre radius of each other, will likely soon seem as a distant memory of the past.
1 'Three in five SMEs now have teleworkers within their business', MYOB
Monitor, April 2013 (survey conducted by market research firm Colmar Brunton)
2 'Two in three SMBs embrace teleworking', Dynamic Business. Posted on November 19, 2013 by Gina Baldassarre in Business Tech, Digital, Featured, News, Technology
This article represents the views of the author only and not those of American Express.
Nigel is a freelance journalist and web content provider. Over the past 15 years he has worked for many of Australia's major print media companies and written for a wide range of newspapers, magazines, trade publications and websites. Nigel most enjoys writing about entrepreneurship, popular culture, politics, social trends and small business.