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Speech to the Telework Week Congress



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The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP

Minister for Communications

The Telework Week Congress

19 November 2013

Well, good morning and welcome to National Telework Week. I'm delighted to be here remotely via teleworking, of course, because it demonstrates the flexibility that teleworking offers. I'm here in Canberra today, parliament is sitting, so I can't be with you in person, but what I'm doing is demonstrating that we don't all have to be in the same place to be productive and effective. Teleworking is combining technology, flexibility, and imagination to enable to us to overcome the tyranny of distance. It will make an enormous difference to millions of families over time.

Every day we've got millions of Australians leaving their homes, going to their office or workplaces, stuck in crowded traffic, congested public transport, and all of those challenges that we face in our working lives, but it's not all necessary. Employers, in my view, are not nearly imaginative enough. They don't take up the opportunity that technology offers. And the real question employers should be asking is "Can I use technology to make my workplace a more enjoyable, empathetic, family friendly workplace?" And by workplace I don't mean a physical location, I mean the space - both actual and virtual - within which your team works.

But if you think about it, one of the most underutilised parts of our community is families, mothers mostly, and also fathers at home with small children who are not able to work nine to five or eight to six or long, you know, traditional work days. Teleworking enables them to work much more flexibly. It enables us to be just as productive, just as connected, but better balance our work and family. It means that employers have a wider range of employees to choose from. Now, I'm not just theorising at the moment. I'm quite happy to theorise, but at the moment, I'm now talking about practical experience.

Over the years in the various businesses that I've run before I came into Parliament, Lucy and I always ensured we had a flexible workplace and we were always very focused on what employees produced. I really didn't care how long people were at the office. Face time at the office is obviously something you can't do away with entirely, but the real issue is what are they producing. And over the years we've found some of our best colleagues and best employees have been those that have worked flexibly, typically because they had family obligations, but technology enables you to do most of what you would do in the office remotely from home or, indeed, from somewhere else.

Now, there are very, very big pay offs here and let me just give you some statistics to support this. There's been recent research by the Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society and the Auckland University of Technology which has found that employees who telework between one to three days per week are as much as 12 per cent more productive than workers who are in the office all the time. There are also Australian examples of this. Microsoft has been able to reduce its office accommodation footprint by around 25 per cent by introducing more

flexible workplace practises and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia has found that introducing flexible working practises contributed to a $1 million per annum saving in reduced staff attrition.

Now, with the help of our telework partners, my department has produced a telework kit which provides guidelines and tools for employers and employees to successfully implement telework. You can download it from telework.gov.au. It draws on the experience of nearly 180 organisations across Australia that have become telework partners with the department. Their experience tells us that organisational leaders need to understand how to leverage ICT to create value and a collaborative culture of trust and engagement in their businesses to underpin increasing productivity.

The telework kit also draws attention to the growing international interest, particularly from the Netherlands, South Korea, and Singapore in multipurpose smart work hubs to bring work closer to where people live as an alternative to teleworking from a home office. These hubs combine secure spaces for employees to telework to their main office with more public areas for co-working.

Regional Development Australia organisations are very interested in this idea as are Enterprise Connect, regional innovation coordinators in South East Queensland, New South Wales, Central Coast, Greater Western Sydney, and the Illawarra. They're concerned about the stress and the cost to local workers of the long commutes into work, also the fact that not everyone has the right circumstances to have a home office, and some employers want more secure health and safety and ICT environments for their employees than a home office might provide.

That's why the Coalition Government has committed to provide $7 million to fund the development of the Kibbleplex in Gosford which will include a teleworking hub under our growth plan for the Central Coast. Importantly, these smart hubs can also provide the social interaction that can be missing in working remotely or in isolation. So it is possible to combine intense, effective one-to-one engagement with teleworking. It isn't one or the other, as some critics of teleworking suggest. The fact is that we live in a much more connected society, but, nonetheless, that physical person to person, face-to-face communication and engagement is more important than ever. Teleworking enables us to ensure that that face-to-face engagement is of the highest quality because so much of the routine - our routine work can be done remotely.

Now a fair question for you to ask is what is the Government doing about it as an employee if telework can be a clear productivity driver? Why have government and agencies been so slow to get on board? Why haven't they sought to seize the productivity gains of more flexible working arrangements? The reality is that government agencies have been very slow compared to the private sector. The level of teleworking arrangements is as low as four per cent. Now the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that more than one-third of micro-businesses now use the internet to enable staff to work from home which represents an eight per cent increase in two years.

And 75 per cent of larger businesses now have the facility for staff to use the internet to work from home. At present seven agencies across the Australian public service are trialling telework and the results so far are promising. We're seeing early productivity increases with the disciplines finding it easier to concentrate at home and complete various tasks they often

find hard to get done in the office because of the many distractions. Once we have the final evaluation of those trials the Government will need to consider how best to take advantage of the lessons learned. So today we're going to have a great deal to talk about as we explore the new ways of working in a completely new digital environment.

And new ways of thinking about working and thinking about geography. I look forward to hearing the results of what - I have no doubt - will be very lively and energetic discussions. And I wish you all a very enjoyable and productive day of discussing teleworking and the opportunities for creating more flexibility, more choice, more family-friendly workplaces, more productive workplaces, more effective one-to-one engagement when we make it happen by allowing ourselves to combine with the technology that is there, that is readily available with just a little bit more imagination.

The biggest barrier to teleworking and flexible workplaces is not the availability of technology, there's plenty of that. The biggest barrier is a lack of imagination and flexibility on the part of employers and so this conference, the discussions today, this whole Telework Week should be able to release that imagination to ensure that more Australians can have a more productive and flexible working environment.

Thank you very much and good luck with your deliberations