Telework – it’s time to let Dracula run the bloodbank

| February 19, 2013

As our lives move online and become increasingly mobile, Tim Fawcett explains the benefits of telework and moving away from the traditional bricks-and-mortar approach.

The greatest success of Australian National Telework Week 2012 (12-16 November) was to put the idea of working from anywhere in the uppermost minds of employees who are increasingly looking to use their mobile devices in more and more aspects of their lives.

Each day reveals media coverage of a new report outlining how Australians are voting with their feet and demanding more services they can use on their mobile devices whether that be banking and finance, shopping, news and media, books, music, games, social media or simply booking a flight, restaurant or tickets to the movies.

The same goes for small, medium and larger businesses, agencies and organisations who are learning about the benefits of employing and deploying a mobile workforce; benefits that include cost savings, increased productivity, lower environmental impact, higher employee engagement and retention, continuity of operations and improved staff wellbeing.

In a report released during Telework Week, Deloitte Access Economics’ Partner, Ric Simes, said that telework “would be the biggest change to the labour market this decade”. If you think about ‘traditional’ disruptions to the labour market, things like the Fair Work Act review or Work Choices come to mind. But Deloittes’ research shows that telework will play a significant role in disrupting traditional employment models now and for the next seven years and beyond.

As technologies continue to evolve and access to fast broadband speeds increases, the barriers to teleworking or working your way are coming down rapidly. But the biggest hurdle in medium and larger workplaces is the resistance from middle managers who are challenged by the concept of not knowing their staff is sitting outside their office door.

Despite the evidence that ‘presenteeism’ is not a guarantee of improved productivity, there is some comfort for managers in knowing that they are better able to manage their staff when within earshot.

So while business leaders may buy into the telework revolution and workers themselves are on board – it is the group in the middle who are most likely to resist a move toward an anywhere workforce, partly because training for managers revolves around traditional models that have not caught up with the disruption that the global shift toward a digital economy has caused.

My solution to shift this resistance to telework is to let Dracula run the bloodbank!

That is, employers should open the floodgates to telework by adopting a Telework First policy for new and existing jobs and require their middle managers to justify why an employee should not be teleworking if they are in a job that is deemed suitable for working outside the office.

The cliché about putting Dracula in charge of the bloodbank is often used negatively (by politicians) to suggest that if Dracula ran the blood bank he would drink it dry and there would be no blood supplies available for crucial life-saving purposes.

However, I argue the opposite. Dracula is, after all, an economically rational agent who will always act in his best long-term interests. And Dracula’s definition of long term is much longer than us mere mortals, so short termism is not on his radar!

A rationalist Dracula would recognise that it is in his long term interests to not only run the bloodbank in a sustainable way, but to find ways to increase productivity and boost supply for both his needs and that of the wider community. In that way, Dracula benefits from access to a regular supply and the community benefits from a more efficiently and effectively run blood service.

Similarly, by adopting a Telework First policy – and allowing as many employees as possible to telework – some might say workers would be tempted to slacken off at home or the local café, golf course or beach and, as a result, productivity would drop.

However, it is more likely that employees would relish the additional flexibility that teleworking brings to their lives as well as the improved wellbeing they experience from teleworking and their productivity would improve.

Research supports this thesis, with Cisco’s employee retention rate among teleworkers higher than those working in traditional, bricks-and-mortar ways. And a Melbourne University Research paper also supports the increased wellbeing and productivity that employees experience from teleworking.

Commendably, one very large employer, the federal government, has committed to having 12 per cent of its workforce teleworking one day a week by 2020 – a pledge made the Prime Minister Gillard during National Telework Week 2012. While not quite letting Dracula run the bloodbank, it is a wonderful step in the right direction.

Managing change in organisations can be difficult, particularly when existing management methods are entrenched and new ways of work challenge the status quo. But there is a peaceful revolution taking place in the community with the ubiquitous adoption of mobile devices and they are infiltrating the workplace, with or without the knowledge of IT Departments.

As National Telework Week demonstrated, employers are increasingly realising the value of having a mobile workforce.


Tim Fawcett is General Manager of Government Affairs & Policy for Cisco ANZ and a telework advocate. Tim leads Cisco’s public sector engagement team and would like to see technology move to the centre of public policy development.