It won’t come as any surprise telework is becoming a more common practice as a result of the coronavirus COVID-19.
Telework, also called telecommuting, remote work and a bunch of other terms, simply means employees do not commute or travel to a central place of work. With the advent of faster internet connections and better collaboration technologies, it’s becoming easier than ever to work from a remote location for extended periods – or even all the time.
In the USA, preparations have been under way at a government level to increase telecommuting since early March. For example, last week, NASA trialed a telework day for many employees in preparation for a scenario where the coronavirus outbreak worsened – which it did.
“The purpose of this exercise is to test our capabilities, resources, and preparedness for large-scale teleworking,” said Associate Administrator Steve Jurczyk prior to the trial.
NASA isn’t alone – early in March, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) advised:
“To be prepared for COVID-19, departments and agencies must incorporate telework in their continuity of operations (COOP) plans.”
Here in Australia, the Federal Government hasn’t had a lot to say on the issue of telecommuting specifically, but does advise that depending on the type of work and provided an employee is well, employers may want to discuss alternative arrangements such as working from home for those in isolation for whatever reason.
But there’s a bit more to it than just saying “you can work from home”. In early March, former Australian Computer Society (ACS) President and computer science lecturer Tom Worthington stated it was time for IT professionals to start thinking about the issue.
“You need to think about what you will do to support many people who are suddenly teleworking,” he said. “There are the technical matters of figuring out if you have enough network bandwidth or equipment like microphones and cameras to accommodate people working from home.”
Beyond the technical matters, there are also the more human ones – not everyone is used to or will be comfortable with working from a home environment. For some employees, it will be very well-received and for others it could be a nightmare. This could be due to needing to learn new tools or living in an environment not particularly conducive to telework.
However, telecommuting has been quite popular in Australia for years. Even as early as 2008, around one-quarter of Australian workers (24%) were working at least part of their time from home. Survey results published by Indeed last year noted 2 in 5 employees searching for a new job think a remote work policy is important for a company. Almost two-thirds (65%) of employees stated their current company didn’t offer a work from home policy at that point – but 68% of employers say they did.
If COVID-19 becomes more common in Australia, and it most likely will, some workers may avoid public transport – which could mean more vehicles on our roads. This is another area where telecommuting can provide benefits; saving fuel, wear and tear on vehicles and pollution.