battery men rescue

It was the great workplace revolution that never happened. It was supposed to help unclog our roads, increase productivity and reduce stress levels.

It was the humane solution to fluorescent batteries where workers toiled side-by-side in cubicles – together but alone – routinely debeaked by human resources departments.

In this, Australia’s inaugural National Telework Week, it seems a good time to ask whatever happened to telecommuting?

The week itself is part of the federal government’s National Digital Economy Goal – a concerted push to maximise the use of high-speed broadband and double by 2020 the number of people who work remotely.

A present just 6 per cent of Australian workers benefit from an arrangement with their employers which allows them to work from home and, according to a decade-long Melbourne University study, the numbers are declining.

This puts us well behind the global average, with an estimated one in five workers telecommuting internationally and nearly 10 per cent working from home every day.

Interestingly telecommuting rates are highest in non-OECD countries – that’s those that arguably have the least-efficient technological infrastructure to support it.

The reason? It comes down to what researchers coyly call cultural issues.

It seems in the West, most managers simply do not trust their workers enough to let let them out of sight.

So in spite of a body of evidence to show teleworkers are more productive, less stressed and more committed to their employer than their office counterparts, most remain trapped in Kafka-esque bureaucracies.

But with the social cost of congestion set to reach $20.4 billion by 2020 according to the federal government’s Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics, it’s high time Dilbert went home.

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