Remote working improves productivity — but bosses aren't getting the memo

By David Donaldson

July 12, 2017

Although the public sector is gradually rolling out flexible working to more and more roles, it is being taken up across the economy more slowly than expected due to concerns about productivity, argues workplace psychologist George Mylonas.

“Employers worry they will lose control over remote workers and be unable to supervise them, provide constructive feedback and deliver performance appraisals,” he says.

Yet evidence shows concerns about productivity are misplaced, Mylonas will argue at the 2017 APS College of Organisational Psychologists Conference, which runs from tomorrow in Sydney.

“The most significant benefit for employers is that remote work improves productivity because there are fewer distractions and employees are better able to concentrate.

“Plus, employees have enhanced autonomy and control over their work environment, including how they dress, lighting, temperature and background noise, which enhances job satisfaction,” he says.

“For employees, remote work provides more time to balance work and family responsibilities. What’s more, since remote workers are not subjected to direct face-to-face supervision, they experience increased feelings of freedom.”

It can also help workers avoid lengthening commute times in fast growing Sydney and Melbourne.

All senior executive jobs in the NSW public service will be open to employees choosing flexible working arrangements by 2019. Victoria recently announced all roles would be flexible by default, subject to business needs. Currently around one quarter of Australian workers engage in remote working. Only 10% of APS employees used teleworking in 2013, according to the State of the Service report.

Offering remote work as standard practice rather than a perk or privilege is the key to its successful implementation, Mylonas argues. Shifting organisational focus from face time to results and developing a pro-remote work culture is part of making sure that happens.

“Concentrate on managing objectives and set specific performance targets, timeframes and communication guidelines so remote workers know what’s expected.

“Employers should assist managers to change their perception of remote work by outlining the benefits and providing information on how it is a strategic business tool, standard operating procedure and legitimate way to conduct work rather than an employee perk or exception.

“There shouldn’t be any difference between managing remote workers and non-remote workers.”

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